Content Services

Service offerings make sense for a wide range of corporate content management needs.

A couple of years ago, during their peak hype, application service providers claimed that they could make it possible for companies to outsource even the most vital enterprise applications. But as ASPs began to fall, many companies questioned the wisdom of placing key applications outside of their own control.

So why are service offerings for content management—certainly a critical enterprise application—thriving? Probably because Web content management was a good candidate for hosted delivery in the first place, given the fact that content management is almost always managed through a Web interface. Also, most of these new services separate the content from the management layer, meaning that even if the service provider goes away, the Web site will stay up.

In addition, a service provider can alleviate many of the management and uptime headaches that CMSes (content management systems) have gained a reputation for causing.

When the first Web CMSes appeared a few years ago, they almost always required that sites also be hosted by a service provider. This system worked well for dynamically creating content, but it was a turnoff for many companies that wanted complete control over their content. In addition, it meant that often-small CMS vendors had to also function as hosting companies, something many were not well-equipped to do.

To evaluate the capability, reliability and performance of Web content management services, eWeek Labs tested three services that span the CMS gamut: Atomz Corp.s Atomz Publish, CrownPeak Technologys Advantage CMS and SurfMap Inc.s iUpload.

Each of these products provides a good level of design and access management for corporate Web sites, and all of them make it easy for novice users to add content to a site in a controlled manner.

However, although the services from Atomz and SurfMap will work well for most intranets and information Web sites, only CrownPeaks Advantage CMS provides enough workflow, rights management and high-end management capabilities to run busy and complex Web sites.

All three services give companies the option of following a model where the actual content management application is hosted at the provider but content is pushed out (usually through FTP) as HTML to a live Web server that is controlled by the company using the service. This model provides much more flexibility and choice in Web serving platforms and means that companies have ultimate control over their own content. The drawback is that changes wont be reflected in the live site until content is updated.

When evaluating content management services (or any hosted service, for that matter), an important thing to keep in mind is that services are updated much more frequently than standard software applications. We reviewed the content management services based on the features available at the time testing took place, but some of our issues with the products, such as iUploads lack of versioning, may have been addressed by the time you are reading this.

Another important issue to consider when evaluating any service, and one that many companies confronted to their dismay during the ASP boom, is that providers sometimes fold. Reassuringly, all the services we tested offer a code escrow option, usually for an additional fee. This makes it possible for companies to run the same software internally should the provider go under.