Off the Top: Content Management Entries
Nothing makes me happier than to see the winter holiday begin and 24 Ways start its annual release of web development and design goodness. Drew McLellan and the 24 Ways crew have done another great job and I look forward eagerly for every day’s gem that is released.
To make all of this better, 24 Ways is in its 10th year. Congratulations for all the great content and work, from the very first to the current offering of the day.
People & Medium Preferences
Talking to people about the peeves about the flood of information they deal with in their lives there is a trend that seems completely unaddressed. This is the understanding that people have preferences for voice, text, and/or media. If you leave a text person an voicemail they do not process it well. IMing a voice person will frustrate them.
Medium Is the Attractor
I am ever more sure Marshall McLuhan is as valid as ever with his maxim, "The Medium is the Message". But, more importantly the medium is the attractor (or detractor). The voice people love other voice people and tend to ignore text people and their text attempts to interact with them and visa versa. Text people tend not to get into podcasts. When using news sites text people get frustrated with no text version of a video and media people like video over text.
Closing the Gap?
What needs to be done to fix this? I have not seen easy voice to text and text to voice solutions pop-up that will solve the message leaving problems to match information consumption preferences. There are tools out there, but they are not filling into the mainstream and not easily integrated into the tools people regularly use.
The solution for content creators is to provide more than one medium. I keep hearing complaints from friends and others in airports (my favorite place to interact with regular people) about CNN only having text or video versions of their stories and not both side-by-side. It seems like CNN is making a lot of changes lately, so hopefully this will get resolved (as well as their videos not playing on Mac easily, or PCs for that matter if the airport population of regular people is any indicator).
Okay, things have been quite busy here. But, here will be changing as I am hitting the skies a bit in the short term. This means I may be near you so reach out and we can hang out and chat. I am completely looking forward to all the places on my schedule and seeing all of the people.
On Saturday I will be attending BarCamp Amsterdam for part of the time.
Following the Amsterdam trip I should be in the Seattle area for work. I don't have dates as of yet, but if you shoot an e-mail I will be sure and connect.
Microlearning 2006 Conference
I will be heading to Innsbruck, Austria for the Microlearning Conference and preconference (June 7). I will be talking about microcontent in the Personal InfoCloud and our ability and desire to manage it (one means of doing this is folksonomy, but will be discussing much more).
Following Innsbruck I may be in Europe a bit longer and a little farther north. I will be in Amsterdam just following the conference, but beyond that my schedule has not yet fully jelled.
I will be heading to WebVisions 2006 in Portland, Oregon July 20th and 21st. I will be speaking on Friday the 21st about Tagging in the Real World. This will look at how people are making use of tagging (particularly tagging services) and looking at the best practices.
In September it looks like I will be in Brighton, UK for a wonderful event. I should also be in Australia later in September for another conference.
As these events get closer, I will be letting you know.
Yes, I know I need to be publishing this information in hCal, but I have been quite busy of late. But, I am moving in that direction very soon. You can also follow what I am watching and attending in Upcoming for vanderwal.
Those interested in making friendly with their mobile users trying to consume their content aimed at the desktop browser market should take a peek at Make Your Site Mobile Friendly by Mike Davidson. This is one method that makes for a little less sweat and keeps some dollars in our budgets for other needs.
The "My" portal hype died for all but a few central "MyX" portals, like my.yahoo. Two to three years ago "My" was hot and everybody and their brother spent a ton of money building a personal portal to their site. Many newspapers had their own news portals, such as the my.washingtonpost.com and others. Building this personalization was expensive and there were very few takers. Companies fell down this same rabbit hole offering a personalized view to their sites and so some degree this made sense and to a for a few companies this works well for their paying customers. Many large organizations have moved in this direction with their corporate intranets, which does work rather well.
Where Do Personalization Portals Work Well
The places where personalization works points where information aggregation makes sense. The my.yahoo's work because it is the one place for a person to do their one-stop information aggregation. People that use personalized portals often have one for work and one for Personal life. People using personalized portals are used because they provide one place to look for information they need.
The corporate Intranet one place having one centralized portal works well. These interfaces to a centralized resource that has information each of the people wants according to their needs and desires can be found to be very helpful. Having more than one portal often leads to quick failure as their is no centralized point that is easy to work from to get to what is desired. The user uses these tools as part of their Personal InfoCloud, which has information aggregated as they need it and it is categorized and labeled in a manner that is easiest for them to understand (some organizations use portals as a means of enculturation the users to the common vocabulary that is desired for use in the organization - this top-down approach can work over time, but also leads to users not finding what they need). People in organizations often want information about the organization's changes, employee information, calendars, discussion areas, etc. to be easily found.
Think of personalized portals as very large umbrellas. If you can think of logical umbrellas above your organization then you probably are in the wrong place to build a personalized portal and your time and effort will be far better spent providing information in a format that can be easily used in a portal or information aggregator. Sites like the Washington Post's personalized portal did not last because of the cost's to keep the software running and the relatively small group of users that wanted or used that service. Was the Post wrong to move in this direction? No, not at the time, but now that there is an abundance of lesson's learned in this area it would be extremely foolish to move in this direction.
You ask about Amazon? Amazon does an incredible job at providing personalization, but like your local stores that is part of their customer service. In San Francisco I used to frequent a video store near my house on Arguello. I loved that neighborhood video store because the owner knew me and my preferences and off the top of his head he remembered what I had rented and what would be a great suggestion for me. The store was still set up for me to use just like it was for those that were not regulars, but he provided a wonderful service for me, which kept me from going to the large chains that recorded everything about me, but offered no service that helped me enjoy their offerings. Amazon does a similar thing and it does it behind the scenes as part of what it does.
How does Amazon differ from a personalized portal? Aggregation of the information. A personalized portal aggregates what you want and that is its main purpose. Amazon allows its information to be aggregated using its API. Amazon's goal is to help you buy from them. A personalized portal has as its goal to provide one-stop information access. Yes, my.yahoo does have advertising, but its goal is to aggregate information in an interface helps the users find out the information they want easily.
Should government agencies provide personalized portals? It makes the most sense to provide this at the government-wide level. Similar to First.gov a portal that allows tracking of government info would be very helpful. Why not the agency level? Cost and effort! If you believe in government running efficiently it makes sense to centralize a service such as a personalized portal. The U.S. Federal Government has very strong restriction on privacy, which greatly limits the login for a personalized service. The U.S. Government's e-gov initiatives could be other places to provide these services as their is information aggregation at these points also. The downside is having many login names and password to remember to get to the various aggregation points, which is one of the large downfalls of the MyX players of the past few years.
What Should We Provide
The best solution for many is to provide information that can be aggregated. The centralized personalized portals have been moving toward allowing the inclusion of any syndicated information feed. Yahoo has been moving in this direction for some time and in its new beta version of my.yahoo that was released in the past week it allows the users to select the feeds they would like in their portal, even from non-Yahoo resources. In the new my.yahoo any information that has a feed can be pulled into that information aggregator. Many of us have been doing this for some time with RSS Feeds and it has greatly changed the way we consume information, but making information consumption fore efficient.
There are at least three layers in this syndication model. The first is the information syndication layer, where information (or its abstraction and related metadata) are put into a feed. These feeds can then be aggregated with other feeds (similar to what del.icio.us provides (del.icio.us also provides a social software and sharing tool that can be helpful to share out personal tagged information and aggregations based on this bottom-up categorization (folksonomy). The next layer is the information aggregator or personalized portals, which is where people consume the information and choose whether they want to follow the links in the syndication to get more information.
There is little need to provide another personalized portal, but there is great need for information syndication. Just as people have learned with internet search, the information has to be structured properly. The model of information consumption relies on the information being found. Today information is often found through search and information aggregators and these trends seem to be the foundation of information use of tomorrow.
Tantek mulls a means to keep contact info upto date. This should be much easier than Tantek has made out. This could be as easy as publishing one's own vcard that is pointed to with RSS. When the vcard changes the RSS feed notifies the contact info repositories and they grab the vcard and update the repository's content. This is essentially pulling content information into the user's Personal InfoCloud. (Contact info updating and applications are a favorite subject of mine to mull over.)
Why vcard? It is a standard sharing structure that all contact information applications (repositories understand). Most of us have more than one contact repository: Outlook at work; Lotus Organizer on the workstation at home; Apple Address Book and Entourage on the laptop; Palm on the Cellphone PDA; and Addresses in iPod. All of these applications should synch and perfectly update each other (deleting and updating when needed), but they do not. Keeping vcard field names and order constant should permit the info to have corrective properties. The vCard RDF W3C specifications seem to layout existing standards that should be adopted for a centralized endeavor.
What not Plaxo? Plaxo is limited to applications I do not run everywhere (for their download version) and its Web version is impractical as when I need contact information I am most often not in front of a terminal, I am using a Treo or pulling the information out of my iPod.
While Tantek's solution is good and somewhat usable it is not universal as a vCard RDF would be with an application that pinged the XML file to check for an update daily or every few days.
Simon hit on plinks as an echo to Tim Bray's comments and variation on Purple Numbers (Purple Numbers as a reference). As I have mentioned before, page numbers fail us and these steps are a good means to move forward.
Not long ago Jeffrey Veen posted about Will you be my friend, which brought up some needs to better stitch together our own disperse information. An excellent example is:
For example, when I plan a trip, I try to find out who else will be around so I have people to hang out with. So my calendar should ask Upcoming.org, "Hey, Jeff says he's friends with Tim. Will he be in New York for GEL?"
This example would allow up to interact with our shared information in a manner that keeps it within our extended Personal InfoCloud (the Personal InfoCloud is the information we keep with us, is self-organized, and we have easy access to). Too many of the Web's resources where we store our information and that information's correlation to ourselves (Upcoming.org, LinkedIn, etc.) do not allow interactivity between online services. Some, like Upcoming and Hilton Hotels do provide standard calendaring downloads of the events and reservations you would like to track.
Some of this could be done with Web Services, were their standards for the interaction. Others require a common API, like a weblogging interface such as Flickr seems to use. The advent of wide usage of RSS feeds and RSS aggregators is really putting the user back in control of the information they would like to track. Too many sites have moved toward the portal model and failed (there are large volumes of accounts of failed portal attempts, where the sites should provide a feed of their information as it is a limited quantity). When users get asked about their lack of interest in a company's new portal they nearly always state, "I already have a portal where I aggregate my information". Most often these portals are ones like My Yahoo, MSN, or AOL. Many users state they have tried keeping more than one portal, but find they loose information very quickly and they can not remember, which portal holds what information.
It seems the companies that sell portal tools should rather focus on integration with existing portals. Currently Yahoo offers the an RSS feed aggregator. Yahoo is moving toward a one stop shopping for information for individuals. Yahoo also synchs with PDA, which is how many people keep their needed information close to themselves.
There are also those of us that prefer to be our own aggregators to information. We choose to structure our large volumes of information and the means to access that information. The down side of the person controlling the information is the lack of common APIs and accessible Web Services to permit the connecting of Upcoming to our calendar (it can already do this), with lists of known or stated friends and their interests.
This has been the dream of many of us for many years, but it always seems just around the corner. Now seems to be a good time to just make it happen. Now is good because there is growing adoption of standards and information that can be personally aggregated. Now is good because there are more and more services allowing us to categorize various bits of information about our lives. Now is good because we have the technology. Now is good because we are smart enough to make it happen.
It also comes down to poor initial analysis, poor product choice based on the initial analysis, poor implementation, and trying to solve a people and process problem with technology, which often just compounds the problem.
Also take a look at Peter's comments on Enterprise Content Management. Peter is Jeff's partner and has some great insights that I have experienced also. The framing the issue as a technology problem is one of the common failures and difficulties I have run into in the past seven years dealing with CMS. It did not take me long to figure out it is an information problem, process, and mostly a people problem. I seem to continually deal with people that do not understand the variables in the equation.
In my current role I am always witnessing managers on the client side wanting the glitzy and having little and&047;or poor quality content. Just as a content management technology will not solve content generation problems or turn your ragged tabby cat into a beautiful tiger, having a beautiful site will not solve the lack of good content. Hiring technologists to solve information and people problems is pouring money down a hole. The approach to the problems will not discover the problems as the right questions have not been asked, the right discovery methods have not been used, the right analysis has not been done, the right deliverables are not produced, which does not lead to success.
There have been a few additions to Off the Top this weekend. The most noticeable is the Quick Links in the side bar. The Quick Links are just links to check out and will be posted when I either have nothing to say about them or I do not have time to post much else. The links have categories associated with them and may be pulled into a global category page at some point in the not too distant future. I have built the whole of my admin tools so that they are quite usable from a mobile device.
The other addition is just one for me, a comment tracking tool. This may get further expanded into a tool you can see and use, but for now I just needed a way to aggregate all the comments into one interface.
There are a couple other large modifications coming in the near future. I have set and tweaked the databases, now it is just getting the time to code and test.
There are times when I think I am going to move the site to Movable Type or some other tool, but I have fun building and tweaking my own tool. I get to see the tools built and integrated how I can best use them. I do have a few side endeavors that use TypePad as they are somewhat separate from the things done here and the limitations (although few) still bug me.
The Web Standards Project interviews Todd Dominey, who was behind the standards-based PGA redesign. The interview raises the problems Content Management Systems cause with valid markup. Todd also highlights it is much easier to move towards standards when working from scratch than cleaning up previously marked-up content.
The site is filled with all the good stuff we love, valid XHTML, CSS, accessible content (meaning well structured content). The site is clean and highlights the content, which is what Harpers is all about - great content. The site is not overfilled with images and items striking out for your attention, it is simply straightforward.
We bow down before Paul and congratulate him on a job very well done.
There are two articles that are direct hits on managing information for the individual and allowing the individual to use the information when they needed it and share it as needed. Yes, this is in line with the Personal Information Cloud.
The first article, The inter-personal information manager (iPim) by Mark Sigal about the problem with users finding information and how the can or should be able to then manage that information. There are many problems with applications (as well as the information format itself) that inhibit users reuse of information. In the comments of the article there is a link to products that are moving forward with information clients, which also fit into the Personal Information Cloud or iPIM concept. (The Personal Information Cloud tools should be easily portable or mobile device enabled or have the ability to be retrieved from anywhere sent to any device.
The second article is from the MIT Technology Review (registration required) titled Trash Your Desktop about Mitch Kapor (of founding Lotus Development fame) and his Open Source project to build Chandler. Chandler is not only a personal information manager (PIM), but the tool is a general information manager that is contextually aware. The article not only focusses on Mitch and the product (due late 2004), but the open and honest development practices of those that are building Chandler at the Open Source Application Foundation for Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. distribution.
I keep running into a deep information habit that has never worked well for its intended purpose, the page number has been an information curse. Printed documents use page numbers, which are intended as a reference point (not bragging rights often referenced in Harry Potter and Neal Stephenson books - I am on page 674 and you are on page 233). All of us are familiar with this problem from high school and college if you happened to have a different printed copy of a classic text. Page 75 of Hemmingway's Old Man and the Sea was not the same in everybody's copy.
Even modern books fail when trying to reference pages, just look at the mass market edition of Crypnomicon with 1168 pages and the hardcopy version of Crypnomicon with 928 pages of the same text. Trying to use a page number as a reference does absolutely no good.
Now we try and reference information on the Web, which should not be chunked up by page count, but by logical information breaks. These breaks are often done by chapter or headings and rightly so as it most often helps the reader with context. Documents that are placed on the Internet, many times for two purposes - the ability to print and to keep the page numbers. Having information that is broken logically for a print presentation makes some sense if it is going to be printed and read in that manner, but more and more electronic information is being read on electronic devices and not printed. The Adobe reader does not easily flow from page to page, which is a complaint I often hear when readers are trying to read page delimited PDF files.
So if page numbers fail us in the printed world and are even more abysmal in the realm of the electronic medium, what do we use? One option is to use natural information breaks, which are chapters, headers, and paragraphs. These breaks in the information occur in every medium and would cause problems for readers and the information's structure if they are missing.
If we use remove page numbers, essentially going native as books and documents did not havepage numbers originally (Gutenberg's Bible did not rely on page numbers, actually page numbers in any Bible are almost never used Biblical reference), then we can easily place small paragraph numbers in the margins to the left and right. In books, journals, and periodicals with tables of contents the page or article jumps the page numbers can remain as the documents self-reference. The external reference could have a solid means of reference that actually worked.
Electronic media do not necessarily needs the page numbers for self-references within the document as the medium uses hyper-linking to perform the same task appropriately. To reference externally from a document one would use the chapter, header, and paragraph to point the reader to the exact location of text or microcontent. In (X)HTML each paragraph tag could use an incremented "id" attribute. This could be scripted to display in the presentation as well as be used as hyperlink directly to the content using the "id" as an anchor.
I guess the next question is what to do about "blockquote" and "table" tags, etc., which are block level elements? One option is to not use an id attributes in these tags as they are not paragraphs and may be placed in different locations in various presentation mediums the document is published in. The other option is to include the id tag, but then the ease of creating the reference information for each document type is eliminated.
We need references in our documents that are not failures from the beginning.
Three times the past week I have run across folks mentioning Hand/RSS for Palm. This seems to fill the hole that AvantGo does not completely fill. Many of the information resources I find to be helpful/insightful have RSS feeds, but do not have a "mobile" version (more importantly the content is not made with standard (X)HTML validating markup with a malleable page layout that will work for desktop/laptop web browsers and smaller mobile screens).
I currently pull to scan then read content from 125 RSS feeds. Having these some of these feeds pulled and stored in my PDA would be a great help.
Content, make that information in general, stored and presented in a format that is only usable in one device type or application is very short sighted. Information should be reusable to be more useful. Users copy and paste information into documents, todo lists, calendars, PDAs, e-mail, weblogs, text searchable data stores (databases, XML respositories, etc.), etc. Digital information from the early creation was about reusing the information. Putting text only in a graphic is foolish (AIGA websites need to learn this lesson) as is locking the information in a proprietary application or proprietary format.
The whole of the Personal Information Cloud, the rough cloud of information that the user has chosen to follow them so that it is available when they need that information is only usable if information is in an open format.
Chiara Fox provides and excellent overview site maps and site indexes in her Sitemaps and Site Indexes: what they are and why you should have them. This overview and is very insightful. Many experienced users find well developed site maps very helpful.
The odd thing is that for the great assistance site maps and site indexes provide, new users and even general users rarely turn to these assistive tools. In the past five years I have only seen one or two users click on the site map or index in user testing sessions. When questioned why the user often states they do not find the tools helpful (read Chiara's article to build better tools) or they did not know to look for the links.
This is post 1,001 in my homebuilt weblog CMS. Yes there have been other odometer parties on this site, but turning over 1,000 was one that really has pleased me. My tool is missing some elements that others now have, but I still have fun tinkering with mine and extending it. There are some plans for the summer to add functionality by embracing the categories and using them in conjuction with the links page as well as tying the links and entries together, sort of like a Web strawberry banana shake. I have a book review repository planned too, but it has not moved out of the ERD phase yet (uh, yes I plan, chart, and document my apps and changes for the site, it eases making changes in the future -- I just need to get all the docs on one machine and in one directory).
Lift you glass to 1,001 entries and no digi-barfing
Tantek discusses Jeffrey Zeldman handrolling his own RSS feeds (as well as his own site). Tantek also discusses those who still handroll their own weblogs as well as those that have built their own CMS to run their blogs. This was good to see that there are many other that still build their own and handroll (I stopped handrolling October 2001 when I implimented my own CMS that took advantage of a travel CMS I had built for myself).
There was great news this week from Anil who has recently become a member of Six Apart, which was recently funded (yes, great products do still get funded and money is still around for great products). Six Apart are the makers of Movable Type, and just introduced, Type Pad. This was the best string of news I have heard in a long time.
Okay, here is the list of booty from Powells Books... Metarepresentations: a multidisciplinary prespective edited by Dan Sperber, a description of this Cog Sci overview book help understand it better. Kunstler's The City in Mind. Feynman's Six Easy Pieces, which I started this morning on the train and really enjoy. William Gibson's Pattern Recognition that I started reading on the plane and has really pulled me in. A string of tech books, MySQL Cookbook, Perl and XML, and Java and XML, and based on Peter's recommendation Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. This and yesterday's mentioned Hofstadler book should about cover it. I really wish there were a Powells Books where I lived, but my wallet does not wish the same. It is great to be able to see the books and evaluate how helpful the book will actually be to you before buying.
I also added Information Architecture: An Emerging 21st Century Profession by Earl Morrogh while at the IA Summit. It seems to be a very good overview on first pass and it comes very highly recommended. I met Earl at the Summit and he is purely delightful and very much a part of the IA community.
Elearningpost interviews CMS wiz Bob Bioko. The article has an e-learning bent to it, but it is a great interview discussing content management. I really enjoy Bob's approach as it separates information from technology and stresses the importance of understanding the information and its needs prior to digging into the technology. This is brought out in this quote from the interview:
Firstly, technology changes a lot and focusing on technology is not the right thing to do. What's really important to me is figuring out what exactly you want from your learning system or information system. From my point of view, I have certain information resources that I would like to deliver to certain people in a certain way. That's not a technology question. That's not about what system I have. Rather its about what information do I have, who wants it and how do I deliver that information in the best possible way. Now obviously I would need a system to do that, but the infrastructure follows from the need I have, not the other way around.
When someone makes the decision the other way around, focusing on the platform, the software, the features etc., they limit and constrain themselves to what the system allows them to do. This is not to say that technology wont be a determining factor in what you actually have to, its just that technology should be a response to the problem not a definer of the problem.
Two other bon mots in this article include discussions of "context management" and the perenial question of "build versus buy".
Speaking of future proofing your information, Mark discusses CMS and information reuse. One quote that brings this to light is:
This ties you to your content management system. The further removed your raw data is from your published form, the harder it will be to migrate away from the tools that convert one to the other.
Mark also discusses how using HTML he then created PDF files of his Dive into Accessibility essays. HTML has much of the semantic tools needed and the structure to provide a reusable information repository.
Dean is building a text to HTML tool to add structural and typographical features easily. This would provide proper tagging and encoding of typographical characters without the user having to know what these elements are, just what they do.
The Model of Attraction ouline version 1 is now posted. The outline has been structured to set up a structure for filling in the blanks and providing a better strucutre for understanding the MoA. Outlines are my foundations for writing more serious works. Outlines help me find holes and provide a structure to rest content upon. This verion is largely attributed a train ride to Philly that allowed me time and untethered space to think, order, and write.
Please comment if you are so inclined. Find holes are areas that do not seem fully fleshed out enough. Thank you in advance.
It is a personal snowday as the U.S. Federal Government is open (so far), but on unscheduled leave. Oddly enough the OPM (Office of Personnel Management) status site does not have a no-cache setting in the header. This means you browsers, even your modern browser, will cache the page and require you the user to manually refresh the page. These pages may even be cached locally by ISPs and connectivity providers, meaning the information is not up to date. The page is rather light, with few graphics, but it is not a static page, meaning each page is generated dynamically, which requires more horsepower to serve the page. One days like today every Washington, DC area federal employee and contractor is hitting this page, as well as many DC area private sector employees (most DC companies are open if the Federal Government is open).
I thought most IT folks learned their lesson with the need for "dynamic" pages a year or two ago, but I guess not. Many previously dynamic pages are not dynamic on the back end with content management systems doing the same work they always have done, but building static pages. If the content on the pages is not changing often (this is a subjective term and can roughly defined as content changing ever few hours with heavy site loads are usually candidates for static pages) or are not serving parsable datapoints (tables of data that can have subsets of data selected for viewing). Much of the "dynamic page" hype was generated by marketing folks to non-technical types who made decisions on cool or manly mindsets. Many folks started actually thinking about the need for dynamic pages a couple years ago. Those that decided they did not need dynamic pages for all or even most of their site began to realize they could save on the heavier hardware needed to churn out everypage. These static output folks also found they could withstand much higher hit rates with ease. I have been in meetings with folks that were asking about stress testing site that were static running on boxes that were formerly running dynamic sites. Those of us that understood the processor savings knew this was a foreign concept and they did not understand the server would be able to handle twice to eight times the load previously handled.
Yes, I finally got up to speed with the rest of the world and added an RSS feed and have added a new page that will track available vanderwal.net XML documents and RSS feeds. I may make a couple category specific RSS feeds as there is interest. Use the (now working again) comments or the contact to let me know what you would like.
I have only put out the first RSS feed in 0.91 at the moment. I may upgrade it in the near future as I now have it relatively easy to build from my end. I have been getting a decent amount of pestering and bother from folks asking for the feed. You see I still build my own CMS for the site and it takes time and priority to get around to some of these things.
Why not move to Movable Type or Drupal (the only two I would currently consider)? I enjoy building my own system, but it does require that I build my own APIs or even my own applications to mirror functionality. I like building CMS and this one is one of six that I have designed and/or fully built since 1997. It is like a hobby for me as well as a job.
Yesterday, October 31st was the one year anniversary of this weblog's home rolled CMS (Content management system). In the past year I have posted 722 entries, set 142 keywords to classify and cross-classify these posts, had 122 comments posted, and had 2,055 category entries in the database to help find related information posted.
This was a wonderful step as the tool did exactly what I wanted it to do. Mostly stay functional and usable from where ever I am. I had started rolling it about six months before it went live and used it as my "travelblog". I had been hand coding every entry for six months to a year, which was getting to be a drag. To post hand coded posts I needed FTP capability, which was not available everywhere. I could find a web browser much more easily. This was functionality I found I had with Blogger, which I started playing with out of curiosity with the interface and desktop application like functionality.
I have been asked why I do not use one of the other all ready rolled tools. I like what I built and it works for me. I can also add functionality to it that I want to play with. Some of the lack of functionality is my own lack of time or motivation on with this tool, but it because of me. I also like the quick responsiveness when posting comments and the general posts themselves.
Here is to another year and more, with time to add everything I want to add.
I have been tweeking the code in the weblog and modifying the CSS too. I have the whole of my CMS running on my Mac, which gives me the ability to tweek and update the code. Having Jaguar behind the scenes made adding the MySQL component much easier than in previous builds. In the past it was similar to a Linux or Solaris compile and build. The Mac build was much easier and worked seemlessly with PHP and Apache. The downside was the Data Load element is not available so I used cat to import just the each table's data.
The CSS I started tweaking tonight as the pages were rendering very small on Mac IE 5.2 and oddly in Mozilla 1.1. Last night's updates to the weblog code have it a little closer to validating 4.01 transitional, and fixed a few font oddities of class clashing. I am using a body with 12 points and using percentages in to size the elements in the pages. This is giving me an adjustable font size in IE on Mac, which I will test tomorrow at work on a PC
One of the next steps on the tool side is building a RSS feed and making a few needed changes to the administration tools to ease editing submitted entries.
Lou discusses the relationship between information architecture and technology, which sparked the following brain dump on my part:
This subject of information and technology has been of interest with me for quite sometime. The term "IT" has been vastly dominated by the technology portion of the term. Oddly, in organizations that have Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and with out Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) the CIOs role is largely focused on technology to serve the information (this is fine), but the stress has been technological solutions. As nearly all of us in the IT field know, the technical solutions are far from perfect (I know nothing is life is perfect) and many times require reworking business processes to take advantage of the technologies best traits. This is much akin to Keith's point about technology companies selling products and not whole solutions.
In my work I came to it from the information and communication side many years ago and along with it I married the technology side, as it was a wonderful pairing with great promise. Over the years I have heard more than anybody's fair share of, "we don't have to worry about knowing the information, we can code around it". This is the point, I learned when you pull in the reins on the technical team. This is what drew me deeper into the realm of the technical side.
If we look at information from the communication viewpoint and what role the information will play as it transfers information to humans and to other machines for use and also reuse. We have to understand the information as its basic levels, similar to Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs". What are the human elements thatare intended, i.e. what purpose does the information serve? What properties does the information need in order to transmit this information for best use? If the information is corporate sales trends and assessing and tacking variables that impact these trends, then we have to identify the human audiences that will be using this information. The basic level of "Information Need" is do we have the proper data or information to be able to create this type of report. Do we have the information types to provide usable information for the various audiences and do we understand the vocabulary of these audiences (vocabulary in this sense can be textual and visual as some audiences may best understand the information in charts and graphs, while others will best understand textual quantitative indicators). Do we have the basics to begin building this content, which will be tied to a technological question as to how the data and information is captured and stored? Once we can answer yes to these information, human, and technical questions we can move up the "Information Needs” hierarchy. It is also at this point that we know we can publish some information to have some folks make use of it, but we know the use of the information at this point will be far from optimal and the information may not be used in its proper method.
The next level would be questions of information use. We have established we have the data and content to build the information, but how will the information be used and who/what will be using the information. These questions will help shape the information structures and the medium(s) used to convey the information. The information may require different vocabularies that need to be established or used so the different audiences can best understand and make use of the information. What is the environment that the information will be used in and in what context? When these answers are established, only then can the technology to be used for the varying mediums be established. This level gives a great level certainty that the information and its use will be effective.
Far too often the technology is chosen with out asking these questions and the medium is used is driven by the technologies limitations, which limits the information's use and efficiency. Many organizations found that their reliance on storing all information in Adobe Acrobat did not fit their efficient information needs. Acrobat works best for replicating print versions of information and has other properties that work passably, like searching the text, providing information that is accessible to those that are handicapped, quickly accessing sections of that information over a network connection, etc. Many corporations found it was best or even desired to not store their information in Acrobat, but to offer the information in Acrobat as an output of another information storage methods that provided far greater information use and reuse (this does not apply to every organization as their are some organizations that make proper and efficient use of Acrobat and it serves that organization perfectly). These organizations came to the conclusion that the information was the primary importance and the information and its use should drive the technology.
The next step is to determine how the information can be optimized to take advantage of the mediums being used. This will allow the information to have the most impact. As the medium and technologies have been chosen to best present the information, at this point there are steps that can be taken to improve the marriage between the medium and the information. For example, we know that one of the mediums for the information will be Web pages; the information will need to be structured in a manner that takes advantage of the possibilities with that medium. The Web browser gives us the ability to present textual information and charts together, while providing relatively easy access to more detailed information and/or an interactive media presentation that permits the user to see the charts change over time based on the selection of these different variables (done with Flash, DHTML, etc.). Similar information could be offered in a PDF of the printed report that would print on 8.5 by 11 inch paper and one for A4 paper (the international standard paper size).
The last phase it validating and testing the information dissemination. We continually need to test to ensure we have identified all the audiences that are using the information, we are capturing all the data and information is required and makes sense to have for the information's use, we are capturing and storing the information in a means that is efficient for our needs to use the information, we are providing the audiences the information in a means that is most usable and efficient for them, and the information is being found and used.
This Information Needs hierarchy allows the marriage of technology to information where and when it makes sense. This Information Needs seems to be the basis for the user centered design, information architecture, knowledge management, experience design, etc. There is an understanding of the balance that is required between the creators of the information; the information itself; the technology to capture, store, process, and present the information; and the users of the information.
In the past few years the technology and not the information nor the user of the information were the focal points. Money has been spent on technologies that have failed the purchasers and the technology and the whole of the information technology industry gets blamed. There is a great need for people that are willing to use their minds to create the foundation for information, its use, and the technologies that can help make this more efficient. The balance and the steps in the proper order must be there to give information and technology a chance.
Aaron discusses baking versus frying with content management and updates bake and fry CMS ideas. The idea is to bake content, which is using your content management system to produce static pages. The alternative is to fry from the CMS by providing truely dynamic content. There are a few reasons why one should choose the frying method:
- Frequent (hourly or semi-daily) updates of informaiton
- Multiple dependancies (information linking to and from many points)
- Unlimited resources
- Many variation of presentation of the data
- Providing user slicing and dicing of informaiton capabilities
- Many external content providers
This list does not capture everything, but also provides maleable guidelines. There are many advantages to baking (publishing static content pages) from a CMS:
- Speed of delivery
- Archievable version
- Ease of troubleshooting and maintenance
- Editable output pages
- Use templates to generate valid mark-up and perfect 508 compliant pages
- Using reusable content pieces that provide consistancy and accuracy of information on all presentation layers
- Keeping various application elements well maintained
Aaron provides good links for further discovery of your own.
USC Annenberg School offers a light personal review of the WSJ redesign. Those of us that use the online version of the Journal on a daily basis have noticed a great jump since the redesign began implementation over a month ago. The site is much quicker and the interface is cleaner. The queries now are very quick again and there is a deep pile of data/information to search through.
Snippets: I have noted the redesign more than once... Nihal ElRayess has shared part of the IA perspective on the main WSJ redesign and the WSJ Company Research redesign parts of the project... The Guardian provided its insight in February (a good piece of researched journalism)... It looks like the WSJ redesign began in at least March 2000... The $28 million spent on the Web reworking (hardware, software, visual, and information architecture) is much less than the $232 million spent on a new printer for the WSJ print version or the $21 million for an advertising campaign to tout the new WSJ... The previous version of the WSJ site was a hand rolled CMS and now have been moved into Vignette... Those interested in the overal WSJ plan will like what is inside the presentation of Richard Zannino, Executive Vice President and CFO of Dow Jones & Company.
Metatorial offers a great selection of papers regarding content management on their site. The papers are great discussions on the subject of CM. The site also offer interviews, a great CM poster, and a promo for the Content Management Bible.
This site is unfortunately a great poster child for why one should not use frames. Frames make pointing to the desired content far more difficult than it needs to be. If people link directly to great content they lose the site's links to their other great resources. This site is horribly frustrating as there is great content wrapped in the absolutely wrong method for presenting great information to be shared. I guess folks can't be great at everything, I know I am not.
Content management is back at the forefront of every aspect of my digital life again. Content management revolves around keeping information current, accurate, and reusable (there are many more elements, but these cut to the core of many issues). Maintaining Websites and providing information resources on the broader Internet have revolved around static Web pages or information stored in MS Word, PDF files, etc. Content management has been a painful task of keeping this information current and accurate across all these various input and output platforms. This brings us to content management systems (CMS).
As I pointed to earlier, there are good resources for getting and understanding CMS and how our roles change when we implement a CMS. Important to understanding is the separation of content (data and information), from the presentation (layout and style), and from the application (PDF, Web page, MS Word document, etc.). This requires an input mechanism, usually a form that captures the information and places it in is data/information store, which may be a database, XML document, or a combination of these. This also provides for a workflow process that involved proofing and editing the information along with versioning the information.
Key to the CMS is separation of content, which means there needs to be a way to be a method of keeping links aside from the input flow. Mark Baker provides a great article, What Does Your Content Management System Call This Guy about how to handle links. Links are an element that separates the CMS-lite tools (Blogger, Movable Type, etc.) from more robust CMS (other elements of difference are more expansive workflow, metadata capturing, and content type handling (images, PDF, etc. and their related metadata needs)). Links in many older systems, often used for newspaper and magazine publications (New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle) placed their links outside of the body of the article. The external linking provided an easy method of providing link management that helps ensure there are no broken links (if an external site changes the location (URL) it there really should only be one place that we have to modify that link, searching every page looking for links to replace). The method in the Baker article outlines how many current systems provide this same service, which is similar to Wiki Wiki's approach. The Baker outlined method also will benefit greatly from all of the Information Architecture work you have done to capture classifications of information and metadata types (IA is a needed and required part of nearly every development process).
What this gets us is content that we can easily output to a Web site in HTML/XHTML in a template that meets all accessibility requirements, ensures quality assurance has been performed, and provides a consistent presentation of information. The same information can be output in a more simple presentation template for handheld devices (AvantGo for example) or WML for WAP. The same information can be provided in an XML document, such as RSS, which provides others access to information more easily. The same information can be output to a template that is stored in PDF that is then sent to a printer to output in a newsletter or the PDF distributed for the users to print out on their own. The technologies for information presentation are ever changing and CMS allows us to easily keep up with these changes and output the information in the "latest and greatest", while still being able to provide information to those using older technologies.
One of the elements that is missed in this article is a greater need for a strong designer in the template development process. Where sites in the past could modify the design of a page to meet those ever occurring "special occasions", these elements need to be woven into the templates. Templates need to have the ability to absorb these "special occasions". Great graphic designers are more than up to this challenge and often provide great results. The work of a graphic designer changes to more task based work and a string of template design projects rather than solid design work on a regular basis.
The Web is no longer just static pages. It has not been for some time. Dynamic pages have there limits too and we all have found wonderful balances to build a better Web that is a better tool and information source for the users. The Web has also burst its seams and spread back out over the broad Internet. The Internet has become mobile and Web content has been repurposed and is now showing up on handheld devices and developers are creating versions of their information to ease this adoption (this will be an addition to this site in the next month or two, so to accommodate those that read this site on wireless AvantGo readers). Information is also syndicated using XML (RSS) so others can pull the information and use it in a manner that best suits them.
There will be a need for Web pages for quite some time. The great skill of Web design (from folks like Jeffery) will continue to be a needed profession as the design and visual presentation of information is essential to better understanding of the information and eases the adoption/internalization of information. I look forward to the new content from Builder.com, but I also will miss some of their focus too.