I was recently (justly) taken to task for assuming that readers of this blog would know what the acronyms in the content management space mean. Not just what the three- and four-letter acronyms we throw around stand for, but also what technologies and processes they actually represent. The funny thing is that even within the content management community, there isn't always agreement. So here's an attempt to try to demystify things a bit. A content management system (CM or CMS) is software used to create and edit content, or in some cases manage existing content. It's often used to post materials to a Web site, but it also can be used within an organization to manage documents within a repository.
A Web content management system (WCM or WCMS) is basically the same thing, but is generally limited to creating and posting materials on the Web. Blogging tools such as WordPress and Movable Type and systems such as Drupal and Joomla are examples of CMS and WCM tools.
A document management system (DM or DMS) is generally a searchable system used to store and keep track of documents, both as electronic files and scanned versions of paper documents. Some document management systems also include tools to help support workflow. This is particularly good for organizations with a high volume of documentation that needs to be easily searchable, as well as organizations with regulatory restrictions and requirements.
Digital asset management (DAM) covers content and files of every imaginable type, including images, video and audio files, Microsoft Office files -- just about anything that can be electronically digitized. DAM usually refers to a hardware/software system that helps to store and manage these digitized files.
Enterprise content management (ECM) tends to be a bit of a catch-all but generally refers to feature-rich systems that include content management and digital asset management components. ECM systems are usually fairly expensive and hardware intensive, and often require a significant level of IT experience to set up and run.
Prescient Digital Media's Web site has an interesting piece by Jed Cawthorne titled "CMS Or ECM -- What Is The Difference?" that does a good job of dissecting the two:
The first obvious difference we see here is that the CMS definition explicitly mentions software; it's a software system (or systems) for a specific use (managing and publishing content -- whatever that is!). On the other hand, the ECM definition mentions both strategies and tools.
Tip of the hat to Toby Ward's IntranetBlog.com, where I first read about Cawthorne's piece.
These definitions just scratch the surface of the jargon that comes up in the content management community, but hopefully it will help conversations and articles on the topic make a bit more sense. Did I miss anything, or is my definition different than yours? Let me know in the comments.