What Is Distributed Content Management?

What Is Distributed Content Management?

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Thought byHank VanZile
April 06, 2016
Distributed Content Management

If you ask a group of experienced Drupal users “Is Drupal a good choice for distributed content management?” the majority will likely answer yes.  Ask those same people “What exactly is distributed content management?” and answers won’t be nearly so definitive.  But why should we let a little ambiguity derail a perfectly good concept?

Understanding distributed content management is critical for organizations managing a large number of websites within their broader digital portfolio. Consider the challenges of a large university and its need for content to be created and published across numerous sites, from small research labs to individual colleges or the main university site.  Or those of a multinational pharmaceutical company that can only publish content after many levels of review and approval and requires consistent management across hundreds of sites and channels globally.  Handling these complexities is at the heart of distributed content management.

This is the first in a series of blog posts in which we’ll discuss distributed content management and how it can be central to the strategy of organizations using Drupal to provide and manage a modern digital experience.  Let’s start by defining it.


Why Distributed Content Management Is Hard To Define

The definition of “distributed content management” can be challenging to pin down.  Plug it into Google and you’ll find that although people have been actively discussing it since the early 2000s, they aren’t always talking about the same things.  It’s easy to assume these differences might correlate to the age of the search result - after all, how often are technology articles from 2003 still relevant? - but the inconsistency is still present in results from the last few years.  Believe it or not, in this case the cause of the divide is grammatical ambiguity.  Simply put: when talking about distributed content management, some people are concerned with the distributed management of content while others are discussing the management of distributed content.  Happily, defining both of these concepts is pretty straightforward.


The Distributed Management of Content

Often referred to as “decentralized content management” or “decentralized content publishing,” the distributed management of content refers to the idea of spreading content management responsibilities across an organization, usually with a prevailing goal of empowering users.  In some contexts this is expressed through providing friendly tools that allow non-technical users to make content changes without the help of a web developer or even “webmaster.”  In others, the focus is on increasing the volume and quality of content by having subject matter experts directly involved in content creation rather than funnelling it through a central marketing or communications team.


The Management of Distributed Content

The management of distributed content, on the other hand, alludes to dealing with existing content from a variety of sources.  In reference to websites, this might include both inputs (data from other websites or external systems being published to the website), outputs (content from the website being copied or “pushed” to other systems), or both.  Unlike our first concept, the goals for management of distributed content are generally around efficiency and control.  By implementing some process of management, organizations can eliminate the time and opportunity for error introduced when users enter content in multiple places.


A Unified Theory Of Distributed Content Management

With both concepts clearly laid out, the next question seems pretty obvious.  Don’t we need to think about both?  The answer is “absolutely,” and successful organizations are already doing so.

  • The distributed management of content - particularly publishing workflows and content governance - are core elements of an organization’s content strategy
  • The management of distributed content -  whether that’s integrating data from external systems into a website or optimizing content for sharing beyond a website - is a fundamental consideration in an organization’s digital strategy

Think back to our earlier higher education example: the benefits of distributed management of content are unmistakable.  Researchers can directly publish meaningful content targeted to the appropriate audiences for their lab’s website.  College administrators can provide compelling stories to their departments’ prospective students.  But what happens when the university changes a policy that’s posted on all those sites?  Surely they’d benefit from a way to manage their distributed content that’s more efficient than mobilizing 150 content managers to copy and paste.

How about our multinational pharmaceutical company?  A universal content approval workflow that automatically publishes regulated content to all brand sites is highly efficient, but it’s only part of an overall solution.  Many of those brands likely have an entire team dedicated to their digital strategy.  It’s essential that they have appropriate tools and access to manage their site’s content.

The concept of distributed content management should not be limited any single aspect of these considerations.  Like content strategy or digital strategy it must encompass a number of concerns to be truly beneficial.  Its inconsistent usage as a term may have lasted into our modern digital landscape, but it shouldn’t persist. In that spirit, I’d like to propose the following definition of distributed content management:


Distributed Content Management refers to the processes and technologies used to coordinate digital content from multiple sources and systems.  It encompasses a number of considerations and strategies, adapts to a variety of use cases, and may be a fundamental element of an organization’s digital experience.

We’ve already made peace with other umbrella terms like “omnichannel marketing” or even “open source software.”  Surely there’s room in our hearts for one more.


What’s Next?

With our newly unified definition in hand, we’ll delve deeper into the many faces of distributed content management.  I’ve already teased a few use cases that benefit from it.  Future posts will investigate these further as well as discuss prerequisites for organizations looking to incorporate distributed content management into their digital strategies.  Finally, we’ll have a look at some of our favorite Drupal solutions for effective distributed content management.