A worthy contribution

A worthy contribution

The pain associated with Web site content management, main­tenance, and updating is complex and multi-faceted. On the one hand, the development team, whose primary tasks should be developing new areas and adding new functions to the site, is often roped into spending too much time making content revisions and last-minute emergency posts at the behest of the providers.

On the other hand, content providers require timely, regular updates, but typically lack the technical expertise or the means to do so — without compromising the integrity of the site’s coding and design. The consequences of charging Web developers with posting duties or giving non-coders unfettered access to Web files can be disastrous and costly. Publication of time-sensitive information may be delayed, mis­information may be projected to the public, business-critical development deliverables may fall behind schedule, and the corporate brand may be compromised.

Short of implementing a costly and complicated content management system, how do you enable content providers to publish content without threatening site design or functionality, and without depending on the development folks?

Macromedia addresses these issues with Contribute, a new client-side content main­t­enance and publishing tool for HTML Web sites. Contribute is a standalone application — it has no server component — that allows ordinary folks to update content, including text, graphics, and tables, without knowledge of HTML.

Contribute uses the same authoring engine as Macromedia Dreamweaver MX. Although it also works with Microsoft FrontPage (via support for cascading style sheets) as well as hard-coded sites, there are advantages to using it alongside Macromedia’s Web development tool: Contribute and Dreamweaver MX users may access the same versioning and rollback system and benefit from the same administrative features, including the connection keys administrators may provide to simplify site access. Once installed on a content contributor’s PC, the user can update existing content and publish new content to sites depending on the permissions granted them by the administrator.

From a business perspective, Contribute’s strength lies in its ability to integrate with leading Web development platforms and to administer to large user groups. But Contribute lacks the workflow oversight capabilities found in many database-driven content management systems, such as the ability for users or administrators to view where a file is in the approval process. The severity of this drawback greatly depends on the corporate culture and division of labor. Built on the premise that it’s in a content providers’ best interests to move the content they’re responsible for along in a timely manner, Contribute will meet the needs of many large organisations. But in scenarios where content files must regularly move through multiple departments, and a single content contributor has been designated to oversee the entire process, Contribute’s lack of workflow features could be a showstopper.

Contribute’s system requirements are reasonable: a 300MHz Pentium II processor, 64MB of RAM, 40MB of available disk space, and Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer 5.0 or better. We installed Contribute and configured an FTP connection to our test site in less than 10 minutes using Macromedia’s hard copy Quick Start tutorial. The user interface is easily recognisable if you’re familiar with other Macromedia tools, and fairly intuitive. The tutorial was above average, and the how-to guide was well organised, well written, and actually helpful. One would expect Macromedia to have everyday functions such as Web page creation, import, export, and basic editing down to a science, and Contribute doesn’t disappoint in these respects. So we focused our attention instead on administrative and review features.

The administrative management console allows administrators to quickly apply site-wide settings to all users — such as the number of page version rollbacks permitted — and to specify what users and groups may do to the site. When setting up a permission group, administrators can specify file deletion and editing parameters and impose design restrictions for page, template, image, and font selection. Permission groups can be duplicated. Adding users is done by sending them a connection key that automatically sets up their Contribute connection and adds them to the specified permission group.

Contribute also provides a file lock or checkout system that prevents others from editing a file already in use. This lock can be overridden and the file deleted if necessary, provided the user attempting to delete the page has the appropriate level of permission.

We were pleased that Contribute’s email review process utilises the specified default email client to send a message containing the Web address for review, and allows the sender to keep track of requests they have sent out in their Contribute toolbar.

The reviewer can return the draft with comments via email but cannot edit the review draft. It’s a workable method when updates don’t need to be approved by several parties and when individual reviewers aren’t responsible for a high volume of updates.

Content management has long been a thorn in the side of countless communication and development departments. Contribute goes a long way toward simplifying the process.

It’s worth serious consideration, especially if teamed with a Dreamweaver MX development department.

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