<p>There is a fatal flaw in many of the content management systems (CMS) out on the market today. I refer to it as the 10/90 failure. The CMS has naturally evolved to provide complex functionalities that are desirable to about 10% of its eventual users, often...</p>

There is a fatal flaw in many of the content management systems (CMS) out on the market today. I refer to it as the 10/90 failure. The CMS has naturally evolved to provide complex functionalities that are desirable to about 10% of its eventual users, often created in response to the request of developers and more experienced computer users. In an effort to continue to offer more advanced functionalities (or often simply a case of over-engineering from the outset) you end up with an interface and set of tools which alienates and confuses the needs of the remaining 90% of the users. So you cater to 10%, in spite of the needs of the 90%.

The balance between usability and complex computing and data management is the stuff of legends. It can make or break a product, a company and to some degree the client who is making the purchasing decision. One must never underestimate a system's inherent "like-ability", just as hiring a wildly unpopular or disruptive staff member can upset the entire balance of a team. Let's not forget the ongoing demise of MySpace in favor of Facebook, which is often credited to the overly complex customization options available to MySpace users (which resulted in a noisy and often disjointed virtual space). People who use systems like order, they like processes that make sense, and they like visually appealing interfaces.

When considering CMS options, it is critical to evaluate the needs of your 90%, ensuring the CMS meets those needs, before you focus on the needs of the 10%. Otherwise you end up catering to such a small set of your resources that you will never leverage your total potential. It is assumed that the 90% will get on board, go to training meetings, read the manuals, suddenly develop a love for complex interfaces and terminologies like "null", and become nimble CMS users. This is a dream seldom realized.

Now I'm not advocating you forgo the needs of your most computer savvy and technically minded subset, simply that you ensure those tools and interfaces are not "required reading" for the 90%. A good CMS should separate the tasks of the masses and the tasks of the experts - they should not share the same user space. Your developer tools should be clearly indicated as "for geeks only", and the things that are user friendly for the rest of us should be front and center. Trust me, your IT developers won't care if they have to click through a few nicely designed screens to get to the parts they want, they probably won't even notice. But if the reverse is asked, you can assume much of your 90% will be intimidated, get confused or become overwhelmed, choosing to opt out of whatever task they had tried to undertake.

I think about the things I enjoy doing everyday. The ones that have succeeded and become part of my daily routine are those things that offer the lowest barrier to success, and even provide a little encouragement and fun along the way. We've all seen the success of the iPhone over most other smart phones, and now the iPad over the straggling competitors in the tablet market. Apple has excelled in providing the best user experience for the majority of its users. Sure there are a small fraction who will prefer an Android device or a tablet that allows them to hack into it and do very specific things, but this is not the needs of the majority. The majority usually need to perform more generalized tasks, such as updating content, or adding a new publication to a bio, or perhaps starting a FAQ or setting up some other online resource. Many simply want an easy way to work with words, pictures, video and documents. Simple needs, which should not require tasks akin to launching missiles to achieve.

In a society dominated by personal voices and the social networks fueling constant self-publishing, it is an absolute imperative that every team member is empowered to publish, moderate, discuss, interact and share the things that are important to them, in a way that encourages frequency and consistency. If these aspiring publishers are part of your team, are you giving them the best tools possible? I recommend frequent brainstorm meetings where team members (representing the 90%) are asked to write down the top 10 things they want to be able to do online everyday. Then make sure your CMS is allowing them to do those things.

Have a good tip for determining what makes for a good CMS? Have a CMS you love and want to world to know about? Have a CMS wish list item you'd care to share? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published March 15th 2011