Sunday, November 20, 2005

Consumer Content Management

Could there really be a huge and important consumer software category that is not being properly addressed? I got to thinking this when I happened across a piece that proposed the emergence of a new type of software, the media file "Type Manager". The concept is that each type of media like pictures and music needs its own file manager that knows about that type of media.

I could write a long harangue about how awful these programs are and how far I will to go to avoid them. For example, one major peeve is that they deliberately hide the location of the file so that when I want to edit it or use it in another application, I have to resort to some trick to find out where it is located so that I can open the file in that application.

However a long harangue would just obscure a much more important point. There already exists a category of software that addresses all the issues raised by the media file type manager and does a lot more. It is called Content Management.

As a software category, Content Management has gone through the usual evolution. The original applications were high-end one off applications created for demanding users like CNN and the BBC that have enormous content management problems. At the same time a mid-range thread emerged from web media organizations like Salon who developed their own software to manage their production (and which has now gone Open Source). Now Content Management is expanding into general use as all organizations discover that they have digital content to manage. The final step is for Content Management to become a consumer product.

Content Management has three major components:
  • Version management. Every time you edit a media file, for example, changing the level of an MP3 or cropping a digital image, you create a new version of the file. Version management keeps track of all the versions of a piece of media and how they are related.
  • Metadata management. All types of media files contain metadata, sometimes known as tags. However, there is always the need for more metadata, some of which, like version information, does not really belong in the file. Better to extract all the metadata and put it in a database where it can be searched, collated and aggregated.
  • Workflow. This is the major part of professional Content Management and in some sense its reason for being. In a consumer application, a single person does all the tasks so there is less need for workflow, however it can still be useful for automating repetitive tasks.
The most important feature of Content Management is that it handles all media types. I do not want a separate application for each media type, each with its own user interface and set of annoying little quirks. Also, it is useful to relate media, such as keeping documents of lyrics with songs, keeping track of the music used in video and slide shows, connecting pictures, text and perhaps music in web posts.

There is a lot more to say about metadata, version management and the structure of a universal content manager. We will have to get to them at another time. For the mean time, are you ready for Consumer Content Management? I know that I am.

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