What Happens to Content Management When the Web Browser Fades Away

Ten years ago, I had a flip phone. It had roaming. It had six MIDI ringtones. It had a Block Breaker knock-off game. Today I have an iPhone with an app for every facet of my digital experience. I can cash checks, speak face to face with my wife, and manage client relationships. I can even ask my phone to complete tasks for me. And, apparently, I use those apps 90 percent of the time I’m on my phone.

How do you think you’ll use the Internet 10, maybe 20 years from now? What do you see? Are the things in your home interconnected and intelligent? Do you wear devices that help you manage your life? Is your brain hardwired into the network?

The science fiction of the Y2K era is today’s reality (and then some). That means you can get pretty creative in this little day dream about the future and you can remain very much in the realm of possibility. Your wildest dreams may be more achievable than you realize. But, let me ask you one more question about your science fiction daydream:

Does any of what you’re doing happen in a web browser?

What Web Browser?

Look at some of today’s emerging innovations: wearables, the “Internet of Things,” virtual reality, Bitcoin. None of these are fundamentally based around requesting web pages through a web browser. These phenomena aren’t even necessarily occurring on devices that have them.

The browser will probably have its place for a long time. It may never go away. But it’s clear that the browser’s role has begun to wane in lieu of other interfaces to the web. Given these inevitable changes to the nature of content, where will the CMS fit in?

At first, web content -- the stuff of the Internet -- was all text. Then text and some images. Then we added a whole bunch of animated GIFs of dancing hamsters. Now the web has transformed from a static, text-based platform to a dynamic, rich media and data platform. (It only took a few years.) The era of page-based web content as the dominant information medium is coming to an end.

Redefined Content Requires a Redefined CMS

As the nature of web content evolves, the core of the content management system will as well. Content cataloging, metadata management, workflow and content delivery will all still be required, but they won’t knock anyone dead. Those concepts, which today’s content management systems tout as features and even differentiators, will become as fundamental as the power button on your TV’s remote control -- if you even have a TV anymore.

The future’s CMS will concern itself with more complicated notion of content. Today, we worry so much about managing content that can adapt to three screen sizes. The future CMS will worry about delivering content in ways that allow it to be ingested and transformed into infinite manifestations. Adaptation to screen size may not even matter. Some manifestations won’t require a screen.

The future CMS will break down the idea of content into fundamental pieces: the information, the medium, the delivery, the metaproperties. Then it’ll break those down even further. Content will exist as abstractions of information that the CMS will synthesize. It’ll deliver the right content to the right person at the right time. That may be a web page through a web browser for you. But it may be one of a thousand other content expressions for a million other people.

Some CMS vendors are starting to innovate around this concept of “content as an abstraction.” Contentful is a promising SaaS-based content management startup built around the premise of API-first content delivery. Hippo empowers personalization and adaptability by fundamentally separating content from medium. Even enterprise darling Adobe Experience Manager, while still mostly web page-based, is built upon Apache Sling (an open-source platform built on the principles of REST and content adaptability).

The winds are just beginning to shift, but a hurricane is coming.

Some time in the future (maybe not so far off), the web browser will be far less important than it is today. You won’t only have to worry about writing and serving a web page full of text and images. Content management will be far more challenging, and CMS vendors must and will evolve to fulfill these needs. Your strategy will need to evolve as well.

Title image by Danny Choo (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license