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CMS Platforms, Mobile and Device Detection

Content Management Systems or CMSes as they are known to most of us, form the backbone of content publishing on the web. The largest and most well known of them - Wordpress, Drupal, Joomla inter alia - are as familiar to those working in the web industry as the HTML they help to seamlessly produce. The basic premise of the CMS is to easily create and publish content for the web. So how well do they cater to today's web, accessed by countless different device types every minute of every day?

CMS and device detection

The answer to this question is as multi-layered as the web itself. It really depends on how far you consider blogging and social network platforms go along the spectrum of web publishing, and at what point the CMS takes over. While Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other such services provide the ability to easily publish content to a device-diverse web, they are hardly in the domain of a true CMS which can provide the flexiblity and functionality to publish structured content and the ability to customize design and publish a unique site beyond the contraints of the microblogging services. The true CMS, typically a self-hosted platform, offers a heavy-lifting publishing solution to design a site, publish and edit content and allow a range of users to interact with that content.

Today, many of the main CMSes standard approach to mobile devices is to use separate templates for desktop, tablet and smartphone views, serving the appropriate view with the help of some light device detection. The device detection in place relies almost entirely on keyword detection from the browser's UserAgent. This approach can lead to a lot of false positives, and even false negatives.  As new devices and their associated UserAgents enter the market every day it becomes an ever more difficult task to cater to this complexity. With over 6 billion new connected devices set to enter the market this year alone (IHS), the extent to which devices may be mishandled by regex is likely to be substantial.

Another common approach is to employ templates which use responsive techniques. And while responsive may offer a way to support multiple device types, it is not a solution that is right for every business for 2 (fairly widely accepted) reasons;

  1. It is not fully context aware, only offering a reflowed version of desktop content rather than a different experience for different device categories, and
  2. It adds significant bulk to what is being served to the non-desktop client device.

While most CMSes reformat images according to the device, they don't provide support for responsive images by producing resampled versions of images per device.

And so while the CMS world has broken away from its origins as a vehicle to create content for the web when common screen widths were the order of the day, there remains some distance to travel between its current support for mobile and tablet devices and the capability to support the kind of a multi-device web environment that has now become a reality across the globe. As we a enter an era of ubiquitous connectivity, smart watches, smart fridges and so on, the CMS model will have to accommodate a much wider array of publishing scenarios.

Device diversity

For more on this, see the original article on mobiForge, dotMobi's resource site for those working in the mobile and web technology space.

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