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Don’t Trust Your CMS

In the digital era, publishing is easier than ever. But so is making mistakes.

Source: Don’t Trust Your CMS

Liz Fraley of Single-Sourcing Solutions brought this to my attention through social media, and now I’m sharing with you.

As a person who has spent, oh, at least a decade (if not more) in either a CMS or an LMS (same thing, except it has a testing component in it and other database stuff attached to it), this is an interesting read.  I’ve dealt with more haphazard, Frankenstein-like CMSs than I have with out-of-the box CMS products, and none of them are perfect and allow you to publish things exactly the way you want. Part of this is due to how the CMS is set up, and how the CSS files are set up. Based on those things, no amount of markup is going to change those overriding parameters.

One CMS, I’ve determined, that is generally vilified by the technical communication community is SharePoint. I’ve had to use it for at least two or three jobs in the past decade. And every time it was awful.  Why? Microsoft, in all its infinite wisdom, has not created something that delivers what it says, or is intuitive in any way.  Or, it could just be how the developers who set up each instance of SharePoint that I had to deal with did a poor job.  For example, I’m using SharePoint for a current job right now.  Theoretically, a user can copy something in Word, and paste it into SharePoint, and retain its formatting. It’s only partially true. If you need to tweak the formatting once it’s pasted, it gets ugly quickly.  Now, to be dangerous, you can edit the HTML to clean up the code, but that is terrible and time consuming because between Word and SharePoint, a lot of unnecessary tags are added that aren’t needed.  In the current version that I have to use for my job, a simple bullet point is never a bullet–it’s always an arrow instead.  Not great when you have to create long lists of things.  The big joke to me with another version was that it doesn’t like to format tables nicely. I would often copy the table into Dreamweaver, strip the extraneous code, or recode without anything crazy going on, and then copy the clean code back into SharePoint, and it would look beautiful. Now, I’m not a developer or programmer, but I know enough HTML to be dangerous and have been using some version of Dreamweaver for 20 years, so I know what I’m looking at. People thought I was some sort of coding genius to clean up their table for a SharePoint page, but it was really very elementary stuff. And forget about the back end–I can’t find where anything is, because it’s not intuitive in the set up at all.

The point is, this is where content strategist need to speak up to ensure that the tools they are using at a given company actually provides what the company needs. Content strategists and experienced content managers understand information structure, taxonomy and all that good stuff than a regular IT guy, because they are the ones in the trenches.  Because so many CMS programs are bad, content strategists have to be creative with work-arounds. A common one, for example, is that if a video can’t be embedded on a page, you create an image that looks like a video with the player going, so the user will click it, and it will open up a separate window or browser tab to actually play the video.  It shouldn’t have to be so hard! Some CMS systems get it right, or get it closer to being more intuitive. When I used AEM, it was very simple. Even WordPress or Drupal is more intuitive than some of the big enterprise/industrial CMSs out there.

What are your experiences? Do you agree with the author of the article? Include your comments below.



Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who currently employed at Cox Automotive, Inc., and freelances as her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, BASF North America, Merck, and Deloitte, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog,, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. She is very active in the STC, as a former chapter president for the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter, and is currently serving on three STC Board committees. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog. All content is the owner's opinions, and does not reflect those of her employers past or present.

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