Content Management Systems: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

By Kouros1950  (June 6, 2013)

Screenshot OpenRat-CMS
Screenshot OpenRat-CMS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Technical writers are “…trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writing. This makes them freaks in

the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to the reader.”–Kurt Vonnegut. Wikipedia.”Technical Writer.”  Web.

As an inspiring technical and creative writer, I’m very much interested in Content Management Systems (CMS); and would like to provide a clearer understanding of them from the perspective of a student, user, and designer. My choice of research may, I feel, strengthen my peers resolve and patience with Content Management Systems in general and provide useful and inspiring insight into the underpinnings of said systems that Online Students encounter.

“Make your decision based on familiarity, personal preference, and curiosity—How to Decide, Writing For Your Public

Experience has taught me that in relating to the Internet, Content Management Systems are very important element in the user-internet relationship. If the interface is not user friendly, the format and content will not really matter because no one will use it and the project will be still-borne. Much to my chagrin as a user, online student, and designer, I have found this subject to be the most important element in this genre of learning. I think that this is a very important element in distant learning, and much has been said about the content management system, by students, that I share my online experience with.

Research on this subject shows that–(“Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction. Students who mix online learning with traditional coursework (i.e. blended learning) do even better.” Source: Jamie Guide.)

Content Management Systems (hereto referred to as (CMS) are to Internet what the printing press was to the Bible. It disseminates information in such a distilled way that few are even aware of its influence. Take for instance Google, although largely viewed as a “search engine,” and not ever thought of a CMS (Content Management System), but it is per definition: “The core function and use of content management systems is to present information on websites.” — management systems

The face of dating is inundated with online services that make a lot of nickels from this seemingly misunderstood rhetorical medium. Why–almost everyone, everywhere, in every tongue, has a Facebook page…

Whenever a person hears these three words: “content management system,” they rush head-long to the abstract inherent design features built into in it and often refer to it as a strange computer program of many confusing flavors with time consuming developmental-design models, and beta tests necessary to deploy one. Often never ever seeing intrinsic value underlying this genre of media. CMS’s have always been involved in our learning and the dissemination of our information and ideas. Why—our first encounter with one was probably back in High School when the teacher told us to turn to “The Table of Contents” or the “Index” in our school history text books. Let’s examine this further. What really is a “Content Management System?

Wikipedia defines a  Content Management System as a computer program that allows publishingediting and modifying content as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment

Let’s see what Encarta has to say about the rhetorical meaning of these three words: “contentmanagement, and system”– it list content as meaning: “the various issues, topics, or questions dealt with in speech, discussion, or a piece of writing.” It defines management as: “the act of handling or controlling something successfully;” and, system as meaning: “a combination of related parts organized into a complex whole.” Does this sound familar?

Let me be anecdotal for a moment, if I may, to illustrate this point further…

We all remember the movie “The Matrix” and how in this dystopian world computers had taken over mankind and had “mankind–us” living inside a computer generate reality that they designed and controlled.

Well–in an online learning environment, the CMS is the student’s “Matrix.” A make believe classroom where student interact with the instructors through videos, do assignments, and communicate with a fellow students from around the world. This “matrix,” like all artificial environments is very much creator dependent for its success. Users usually have little or no control over the environment itself. Their interaction with it is autonomous, thus affording them no control over content. Point being, learning is entering into a new era and the vehicle that is taking learning there is: Content Management Systems–The dirty little secret behind the internet experience as whole. The internet is chucked full of “good” examples to this end and the first one that comes to my mind is, Coursera–Ohio State University. This online learning experience is what’s good about CMS’s in general. Here large bodies of the world’s people learn, express themselves, and share different cultural exchanges that a classroom could not provide; and grow as human beings in a global environment that has a certain synergy that only—again–this type communication format garners.

(Daphne, Andrew and your Coursera Team Ohio State University. ” Writing II  Rhetorical Composing”.Web. ”Hi Student, Welcome to Coursera! You’ve just joined a community of hundreds of thousands of students who are taking courses, and changing the face of higher education. At Coursera, you can take courses from the top universities, for free…” Enrichment: Professor Scott Lloyd DeWitt on Peer Review [16:55]—Peer Reviews.Web)

Now for the bad, in this “matrix” the very nature of learning differences are exasperated. Different language skills, systems of rubrics, all muddled together in a management system that is too large, cumbersome, and unforgiving in misplaced efforts. Why assignments can get lost; interfaces can fail to work properly; and, tempers can flare. Resulting in what I like to call a “MOOT” (most often over time) phenomenon unique to this genre of communication– people will become frustrated with the CMS’s short-sightedness, user problems, and over worked screens (GUI’s).

The end results, chaos, disingenuous criticism of said system and lost participation from frustrated learners. I won’t, because of my love for and understanding of the intrinsic value all CMS’s garner, list one as an example of the bad–that I leave to the reader’s own experiences to define. But I have listed a frustrated user’s email quote–and could have listed many more–from the “Frequently Asked question” Section of my learning environment which is listed below as my supporting argument:

(“Hi Herbert, somewhat ambiguous course info – in the Syllabus and Frequently Asked Questions–Complete at least five CHECK YOUR PROGRESS activities by the course’s conclusionby the course’s conclusion– but this statement contradicts  the statement on the Check Your Progress submission section which states: Fri 7 Jun 2013 4:00 PM CEST (UTC +0200) If you submit any time after the hard deadline, you will not receive credit–I’ve done all other work – i just missed that check your progress item – given the ambiguity of statement, i hope i ain’t going to get peeved” –Anonymous  :-/)

But image if you can, extrinsically speaking, what is the untold challenge facing the designer of an artificial world? Why–not even God made a perfect one. An artificial world where anybody can enter and learn about something that would otherwise be unavailable to them due distance, time, and cost, is silently changing the landscape of learning—just ask, Wikipedia

And now for the “ugly“—the ugly is the “Help Me Links” and the “Frequently Asked Questions Links;” these sometimes are worse than the system as a whole. Where do you really go for help with design problems? Who is that goto person about “this and that?” Or if you really want to see what’s ugly about CMS’s in general, try designing one yourself. CMS’s are ugly sometimes for the most part because of what each is designed to do. Most CMS’s have a tall glass of water to fill. Click on the word “ugly” above and see what a design package looks like. Most are easy to use and have a wealth of features. Much could be said about each but that would be beyond the intended purpose of this article, which is simply to inform. This article does not represent all there is to know on CMS’s; neither is an in-dept study on said subject. But moreover, it is an synopsis of what dictates the online learning experience...

And finally, the a priori:

The analytic and astute will suggest that the subject should be online learning and that Content Management Systems is, at best, extrinsic to the subject herein. I say to that, very good, I have done my job as technical writer—I took what was unfamiliar and used it to illuminate the familiar and also I informed the reader about something he or she never even thought was even relevant to learning at all. Content Management Systems have a unique place in the online learning experience–they are a necessary evil. So the next time you encounter one, remember what the task was at hand when this site was being developed and humbly ask yourself rhetorically: “ What was Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg–thinking”

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