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03 Feb,18

"Two-way conversation is both the present and future of digital. Content isn’t just a one-way street anymore."

Coupled vs. Decoupled Publishing: An Outdated Debate?

February 3, 2018 Technology Admin for site

A lot goes into choosing a Content Management System for your brand or organization, whether you’re looking for a consumer platform like WordPress or Joomla! or an enterprise solution like Sitecore. Variables like ease of use, available support features, aesthetic, and price all play significant roles. But one of the most fundamental decisions you’ll need to make will be whether you pursue a coupled or decoupled content management system.

At least, for now.

“Coupling” refers to the binding – or lack thereof – between the editorial tools and content delivery aspect of your website. The traditional Content Management System paradigm categorizes platforms as either coupled or decoupled, with both representing drastically different publishing models.

But the old paradigm may be ripe for change.

Coupled vs. Decoupled, Then & Now

Before we examine the shifting landscape of web content management, let’s start by understanding where we’ve come from and where we are now.

Inside a coupled platform, at present, a single platform or server handles both creation and delivery of content. A typical coupled CMS might look something like this:

In a decoupled system, authoring and delivery exist in separate applications and possibly even entirely separate infrastructures.  

Both methods have their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, coupled platforms are most popular with small businesses and bloggers. They’re easy to set up and launch, offer streamlined administration and can be managed and customized by users without immense technical backgrounds.  Decoupled platforms, on the other hand, are much more powerful. They support sites with more dynamic web functionality, integrate with outside applications, scale effectively and reduce the processing load on the delivery server. Unfortunately, both options come with compromises. Coupled platforms are user friendly, but less secure and harder to scale. Decoupled platforms are more comprehensive, but require more heavy lifting by the content and tech teams.

For a long time, these trade-offs were simple to navigate. In many cases, they still are. But the way organizations, brands and bloggers create and deliver content is changing. Independent writers need to be able to reach huge audiences that they’ve built across social platforms and through their own offline marketing efforts, while global brands need to be able to publish with agility and quickness – the way a small blogger might. The lines are no longer as black and white as they used to be. The web is social. It’s mobile. It’s multi-channel. And we need Content Management Systems to keep up. For years, publishers have been laboring over these two options – Coupled vs. Decoupled – weighing the compromises of each.  Soon, they might not have to.

A Loosely-Coupled Future

In a very general sense, decoupling is the best solution to address complex content needs. But there are some unique drawbacks to pure decoupling and the static publishing model in general. For example, user-­‐generated content (comments, submitted forms, etc.) needs to be pushed backward in order to be manipulated inside an editorial environment. Another challenge is that pages often need to be republished to reflect a change on an adjacent page.  The solution to these tangential problems may be what’s starting to become known as “loosely-coupled” publishing. Within these hybrid platforms, administrators can control how closely tethered their editorial and delivery environments are, in order to more fully customize their content workflow experience.

Two-way conversation is both the present and future of digital. Content isn’t just a one-way street anymore. Inside a loosely-coupled publishing platform, publishers may finally be able to access the benefits of interactive, dynamic web experiences while enjoying the agility of traditionally less scalable systems. But we’re not there yet. Very few polished, commercial options exist within this fledging sub-market. Today, many enterprise publishers are reduced to adapting existing platforms to become more or less coupled, depending on their individual needs. This is an arduous and technically demanding task.  An opportunity exists to make this process simpler for publishers, which will ultimately lead to more enriching content experiences for users.

We owe it to both of them to reach this inevitable future as soon as possible.