IBM Readies Content Management System

IBM's Internet division is putting the finishing touches on a prototype of what could be the first content management system based purely on XML.

Referred to internally as the Franklin Content Management Project, the system allows users to separate content from style and to break down that content into components.

This capability would make it significantly easier and faster for users, for instance, to update or create Web sites without having to change or migrate content, according to company officials.

"Once you separate content from style, you can then change the color on a Web site without touching every page to do it. You just select a different style sheet and those changes are propagated throughout instead of doing them manually," said Maria Hernandez, IBM's manager of Internet technology, in New York.

Few flexible content management systems have been delivered, despite what appears to be a shining opportunity for them in the market.

Some say the reason for this lack is that such systems tend to be an afterthought for many users. Also, many IT shops are not yet up to speed on XML.

"Most companies just want to get the Web site up fast and don't consider early on how to manage its growth. [Content management] is almost an after-the-fact consideration," Hernandez said.

Some users agree with Hernandez's assessment, saying they wished they had more intelligently planned the content management functions of their Web sites and e-commerce applications.

"Competitive pressures of getting the site up sort of rushed us through our judgments on how to manage everything. I guess if we did it over we would do a better job of anticipating growth and how to manage it," said Joseph Townsend, CTO of a medical products distributor in Minneapolis.

The only competition for Franklin now are products from Vignette Corp., in partnership with Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, and Interwoven Inc. But Vignette's product is based on Tcl code -- older technology that some contend is more expensive to maintain than XML.

Hernandez does not see the Vignette deal, which is largely a marketing one, conflicting with Franklin. IBM will likely offer a choice to users, depending on their application needs.

What IBM has tried to accomplish with Franklin, according to Hernandez, is to create an infrastructure, tools, and set of APIs to manage content in a consistent and controlled manner, Hernandez said.

Franklin will serve as a key piece of technology during the next few years for what IBM officials have been referring to as the Next Generation Internet.

A plethora of new wireless devices are expected to debut, and content will have to be more adaptive than it is now.

"With devices coming all the time carrying new interfaces, [content] must be more flexible and reusable," Hernandez said.

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