In the craziness of this week, I missed a good post from Jeremiah Owyang over at Forrester about the coming collision between social software vendors and CMS vendors. This is something I have written about several times before.
As is evident particularly in some of the comments on this post, there’s still a lot of confusion out there about all these terms we use — CMS, content management, social networking, social software etc. Jeremiah gets it, as he covers “white-label” social software vendors that sell software or software-as-a-service for external, community sites. So he’s not talking about social software for internal deployments or collaboration at all, or at least not as a primary function (some communities cross boundaries so things aren’t always so clear).
In this context, we’re talking about a particular set of “CMS” vendors, what I would generally refer to as Web content management (WCM) vendors. Poster children here are the likes of Interwoven, Vignette, FatWire Software, Percussion Software, Clickability, Day Software and SDL Tridion, along with open source efforts like Drupal and Alfresco. These vendors primarily sell software to develop, publish and maintain high-end, customer-facing web sites. Again, this generally isn’t about internal collaboration or document management or enterprise content management (ECM) at all.
So there are vendors focused on building customer community sites and vendors focused on building customer Web sites — seems like a natural meeting point, doesn’t it? The WCM vendors that I track (those listed above) are well aware of this and some are further along in developing these technologies I think than Jeremiah’s giving them credit for in this post.
But the social software vendors seem much less aware of what the WCM vendors are doing. This is something I ask about regularly when I meet with social software providers and few seem to think of (or at least admit to) WCM vendors as potential competitors or to be aware of what they’re up to. It’s not surprising really as these are smaller vendors doing their best in a competitive segment that is still just emerging.
More partnerships are definitely imminent and are a good idea, though I think most WCM vendors will get to a point of proficiency pretty quickly, through both organic and inorganic means, making partnerships less necessary. I think we’ll see WCM vendors with fairly complete offerings that can cover company-generated, controlled and targeted content alongside user-generated, community-managed content. There will still be room for a few best-of-breed, SaaS providers and no need in this day and age for every customer to purchase all its content infrastructure from the same vendor.
But for many customers that simply want to make their existing sites a bit more interactive, gather some customer feedback, enable customers to communicate with each other for particular needs like product support, there may be fewer and fewer reasons to stray from a WCM incumbent already running the rest of a site, provided that encumbent has social software capabilities that make sense for the environment.
Jeremiah asks a question towards the end of his post that I wonder about often when speaking with social software vendors: “How will these commodity social features be monetized, with everyone having them, how will you differentiate?”