Monthly Archives: June 2006

Content Entry System Update – Editor Preview

I think we’re finally on the proper track with our content entry system redesign.  Today we had a wireframe preview for a group of publishers in our headquarters.  They were unusually pleased with what we showed them – definitely a good sign.

The system ended up being designed pretty much by us – mostly by our Web Systems Manager, with some input by me.  The outsourcing company did a lot of the leg work, but the overall architecture and layout is ours.  The biggest problem with Vignette v7 is that it divides content into the content side – where you input everything and the site side – which is how it is displayed on the website.  This is very difficult to navigate for end users when all they want to do is enter content and have it published to the website.

To simply things for our editors, the interface that we designed is as simple as possible – focused entirely on entering content.  Minor pieces of content, such as authors, images and links can be entered inline while entering an article – no more having to enter everything necessary to enter an article first.  The system has the flexibility to allow the editors to enter/edit/delete minor content by itself if they want to, but everything is based upon our major types of content – articles, showrooms, classified ads, industry links, etc.

Publishing, unpublishing, deleting, editing and creating new content is all driven from the home page, which simply has few action buttons.  Finding a piece of content is fascilitated using a search box and a set of filters.  Editors can publish, unpublish, and delete multiple pieces of content simply by checking their box and hitting the appropriate action button (with an ‘are you sure’ dialog, of course).

The editor interface is greatly simplified but gives them all the flexibility of Vignette v7.  For our designers and site administrators, they have access to everything they had before – except again we got rid of the site versus content system.  They have multiple ways to find content, but everything in the system is geared towards where it is on the site.
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We had a jeep day on Friday – went out to lunch in one of my co-worker’s jeeps with the top down. It was a beautiful day to cruise to the bar for lunch and a Bell’s Oberon.

As we were walking back to her car, a guy we passed said ‘Yah, Way to go EFF!’ Yep, I was wearing the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) shirt I just got for donating some money, and he had recognized it from the front – which only has 4 icons (padlock, earphones, lightbulb, megaphone) and the words: privacy, fair use, innovation, free speech.

Now this might be commonplace in San Francisco – but it was in the middle of Birmingham, MI, which is in the middle of a very conservative Republican county. I thought that was pretty kewl.

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Content Entry System Design

We have been trying to avoid having to do all the design and architecture of the new content entry system ourselves since we are paying the outsourcing company to do it. However, we have had quite a few false starts, which I think could have been avoided if we had gotten together to explain things much earlier in the process.
The first week after we signed their proposal, they said they wanted to work on brainstorming by themselves.  We tried several times to be involved on some level because we felt it was important for them to understand how the Vignette system worked and how our Content Delivery Application (CDA) works because they will have to integrate with it.  They came to us at the end of the second week with a highly abstracted design, which had some pluses to it, but they thought all they had to deal with was articles, when in fact, we have about 30 different content types.  We had mentioned this to them several timeswhile they were writing the proposal, but somehow it didn’t completely sink in.

They decided to do some more braintorming and design sessions by themselves and again we offered assistance severral times.  They wanted a copy of our Oracle tables, so we exported them to a DVD so they could have their own install.  They came back at the end of the third week with a hybrid system which would use their system for content entry of items the editors deal with and the Vignette system for control of the websites themselves.  This might seem like a good solution for breaking the large project up into smaller pieces, but again, we had already told them that they could not integrate with the Vignette system tables – there is too much prioprietary code which inserts items all over the tables – and it would be a lot of work for the CDA to handle pulling some content from Vignette’s tables and some content from the content entry tables.  The database object layer would be a mess – plus we’d have to rewrite the CDA twice (or more) to handle the steps from the content entry project.

Finally, they sat down with our lead programmer (now the web systems manager) to really listen to how the Vignette system worked and how our CDA works.  After a couple of hour+ sessioins, we think they are finally on the right track.  They have a database layout that seems to be doing in the right direction, and now we are waiting for them to integrate versioning.
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