Vignette launches StoryServer 3

October 20, 1997

Victor Votsch

The Seybold Report on Internet Publishing
Vol. 2, No. 2

Spurred by new venture capital, the company introduces a Java client, moves into new markets

Victor Votsch

Delivering on promises made earlier this year, Vignette has released version 3.1 of StoryServer, its content-management system for Web publishing. The new release features a Java-based client that team members use to participate in creating and managing complex sites. It also adds impressive personalization features.

StoryServer already has an impressive track record at news sites, including C/Net, Pathfinder, NCN's Newsworks, and the Chicago Tribune. It is now trying to increase its presence at commerce-oriented sites by pitching "smart content," the highly customized content that is based on the business rules or user preferences that StoryServer delivers. Jeff Erramouspe, Vignette's VP of marketing, asserts that "smart content" fosters customer loyalty and helps a publisher build a community whose demographics appeal to advertisers.

Vignette has entered into partnerships with 13 companies in order to increase its presence at commercial Web sites. Partners include Adobe, FireFly, iChat, NetGravity, Open Market and Verisign.

  • Java client. The Production Center provides the status of the all assets and activities from the project level down to individual components.

Content components. The underlying architecture of Vignette's approach is built upon components as well as page templates. StoryServer handles each element of the site (e.g., content, format and application logic) independently, which increases content and application reuse across the site and reduces site-construction and management problems at large, complex and quickly changing Web sites. StoryServer is also being used successfully at multiple-site installations that share content, but maintain unique brand identities for each participant.

Dynamic assembly. StoryServer is now neutral to the underlying database. Images from Informix can be mixed with text from Sybase and ad banners from Oracle, all on the same page. While StoryServer's basic unit is the component, it still uses templates with an embedded scripting language based on TCL to build pages. Pages can be independently customized and updated. In this way, each visitor to a site can receive a customized view, depending on his or her configuration, location or other parameters. For instance, navigation bars for a user coming into the site through WebTV might be simpler than for someone using Communicator 4.0.

StoryServer makes use of a combination of dynamically served pages from the database and cached pages. This combination is designed for high-traffic sites that need to deliver many versions of a page extremely quickly. An additional benefit is that the system does not require high-performance hardware to deliver dynamic content.

The Production Center. A significant addition to this version of StoryServer is a Java-based client application dubbed the Production Center, which incorporates the technology Vignette previously sold as the StoryBuilder product.

The Production Center helps teams collaborate on site development and management by working at the component level and allowing automated workflow and tracking. A page might contain an article's text, along with artwork and photographs, a banner ad and a navigation bar. An editor can track the status of each item in the context of the page prior to updating the live site. Tasks can be assigned to individuals or groups; users are notified of assignments via the Production Center GUI or by E-mail. Customizable features include user-defined workflow, proactive notification, and audit trails.

The Production Center has an "at a glance" mode that gives managers an overview of the status of multiple projects on the Web site. Managerial-level approval of content and scheduling can also be done through the Production Center.

Asset management. StoryServer 3 supports complete control over an application's content assets. It supports a number of different views based on the type of asset, project assignment, status and so forth. Assets can reside as objects in the file system or inside a database. As noted above, multiple databases are supported.

Replication and deployment are managed strictly by meta-data rather than by directory structures. This facilitates the deployment of a complete project without errors. There is automated control over live and development records, which minimizes the need for database mirroring. The system also supports user uploads of content from within a browser.

Getting personal. One of the key features of StoryServer 3 is its ability to deliver personalized content. Content may be personalized by four categories:

  • • Browser personalization: ActiveX or Java components are only served to appropriate browsers. Over 30 browser types are supported, including robots or spiders from search engines such as Yahoo or Alta Vista.
  • • User environment: Content varies depending on the client's operating system.
  • • User profiles: Group or individual preferences can be set to filter content.
  • • External personalization mechanisms: Collaborative filtering or any other third-party personalization engine, such as FireFly or NetPerceptions, can be used.

Browser and user environment personalization are integrated into a single property-sheet panel that is accessible from the page template editor.

Server integration. StoryServer 3 supports native access to databases rather than ODBC connectivity for increased performance. It also is tightly integrated with Netscape and Microsoft Web servers via NSAPI and IAPI, respectively. StoryServer can be further customized via API calls.

StoryServer 3 for Solaris is currently available, and a Windows NT version is due by the end of 1997. Supported databases include Sybase, Oracle, Informix, and Microsoft SQL Server. It also supports Netscape, Microsoft, and Apache Web servers. StoryServer 3 development licenses start at $20,000, and live site licenses start at $40,000.

Our take. This release of StoryServer goes a long way toward delivering on the promise we saw at last year's Seybold San Francisco. Vignette's core technology has always been leading edge, but it lacked refinement. The company seems to be moving in the right direction, expanding its platform base and incorporating the StoryBuilder functionality into the core product.

Vignette recently completed its second round of venture funding, bringing the capitalization to $13.4 million. It's well-positioned to compete in the market for large-scale installations. Undoubtedly, some of this funding is going toward expanding its market beyond its base in news-oriented sites.

The expansion beyond news-oriented and into commerce-oriented sites is a sound move to and should help the company to grow. Vignette has already had successful installations at Nike ( and Vignette is moving into a market segment that is filled with strong competitors, all of whom offer a slightly different approach to the problems of doing business on the Web. Increasingly, its success will depend not on its advanced technology, but on its ability to continue to form quality partnerships with vendors that complement its core functionality.

What the company seems to lack is a product that addresses the needs of smaller workgroups or departmental-level sites. It is at this level that skunkworks projects get developed, and these prototypes often, rightly or wrongly, are later implemented as enterprise solutions. While the move to NT may seem like a step in that direction, the licensing structure doesn't reflect much of a change. Vignette runs the risk of finding that its superior technology is overshadowed by less functional, lower cost competitors, or by homegrown solutions built by managers with tight budgets.

Victor Votsch

Vignette Corporation One Far West Plaza 3410 Far West Blvd., Suite 300 Austin, TX 78731 Phone (512) 502-0223 Fax (512) 502-0280