Content Management Systems

  Taran 12:31 20 Feb 04
Locked

More of a request for thoughts and past experiences than anything else...

Content management systems are something I've been toying and playing with for some time. Most web designers spend a great deal of time on minor upgrades and changes to clients sites and this sort of thing can become inconvenient at times, as well as offering low financial reward for high potential risk.

If I put a clients product on a page for a tenth of its actual value and they acknowledge orders for it without checking the price [automated order systems tend to do this quite often] I've just robbed my client and probably lost them as a long-term customer. It hasn't happened to me yet but we have all seen cases where it has.

I've been working hard this last few of weeks on a small scale website content management system. It runs using PHP/MySQL [I'm coding the ported version now to ASP/Access] and features a simple to use WYSIWYG web page editor that runs in the web browser to edit existing pages or create new pages to expand the site. Rather than being yet another "web portal" type of thing, with polls, memberships, chatrooms and all kinds of other junk I deliberately wanted this to be geared to a 'website in a box' approach.

Once installed to a clients web host they can use it to their hearts content to expand their own site and chop and change it at will. The initial site design and layout is undertaken by the designer as normal but for a relatively modest cost the client has the option of full control over their own content and the designer is freed from all of the bad points of the low return, high risk situation that site updates can present.

There are several solutions available already in free-to-use open source form or on a paid for basis but I dislike using someone elses product when nothing I have seen or tried to date covers the bases I want.

So, to cut to the chase, has anyone played with a CMS before and if so, or if you have considered it, what would you expect or like to see featured in one.

So far, mine outputs valid XHTML and CSS, it resolves dynamic page URL generation in a search engine friendly manner, it has a fully blown WYSIWYG editor that runs in IE, Mozilla and Netscape and features upload scripts for images, automated image thumbnails and pre-set main image sizes so you can upload images straight from a digital camera [in JPG only at the moment] and the PHP scripting I've done resizes it on the fly and displays in a web and download friendly fashion when you embed it into your page.

I very much intend this to be a self maintaining option for a normal small business site with your typical layout of Home, About Us, Products, Services, Ordering, Contact Us etc. Additional plug-in modules that I've started on include a small scale shopping cart with product database including available stock management and a contact management system.

I don't want this to be yet another portal/chat system a la PHP Nuke et al.

Any thoughts or [polite] suggestions ?

  IClaudio 12:39 20 Feb 04

Yes. First, how much and when can you deliver? ;)

Second, presumably this is more than the Dreamweaver 'Editable Region' approach? Hmmm, that doesn't offer Editable Database, does it?

Third, what are the other solutions you mention?

Tony

PS more serious thought will be given to this after lunch (and the painting of the woodwork in the kitchen...)

  Taran 12:55 20 Feb 04

The web editor is basically a Word/FrontPage program running in a web page in your web browser. Sign into the admin section of the site and you get the ability to create or page content using browse buttons to find your images, save, hyperlink buttons to choose which pages to link to, whether to insert a site navigation link for the new page into the general site nav structure and so on.

There are two main ways I've set the editor up so far:

1. it creates a database entry for the page elements, including the page hyperlink, text content, images and so on so everything is saved into the underlying database and pulled out of it when the page is requested

2. it uses partial database content and the main bulk of the page is XHTML output from PHP code. In plain English, the PHP runs on the server when you click the link leading to that page. The server processes the code in the document and returns plain HTML or, in this case, XHTML code to the visitors browser. Images and whatnot are still referenced from the database.

It takes longer to explain than it does to demonstrate.

;o)

Just imagine a set of Word/FrontPage toolbars in your web browser where you can add and edit pages to your site in true WYSIWYG form.

I'm just curious to know whether anyone has ever thought about what they would like to see from such a system, with the condition mentioned above that I DO NOT WANT to develop yet another community portal. It is strictly intended for small-scale site management.

If you want to find out about Content Management Systems in general, go to Sourceforge.net and search for them. Most are for intranet portals and are a variety on the theme of PHP Nuke which, although I admire it and what it is capable of, is a totally different kettle of fish to the target audience I intend this system for.

  Taran 12:57 20 Feb 04

"The web editor is basically a Word/FrontPage program running in a web page"

This was intended to mean that visually, you'd be looking at and working with familiar toolbar layouts and icons for the functions you would normally use in a WYSIWYG editor. I just realised that it could be taken that I was running a third party program from a web server embedded into a web page...

  PurplePenny 19:52 20 Feb 04

I abandoned OsCommerce primarily because it is so very, very, VERY boring visually and an absolute fag to customise as very few of the design and text elements can be altered through the admin module. Even heavily customised sites are still recognizable as OsC! Obviously that wouldn't be a problem with the system that you propose since the site would be designed first.

Before I abandoned OsC I did play around a bit with the content management and wasn't aprticularly happy with its ease of use. What I and, it would appear, many others found was that it was very tedious populating the site with products through the admin module. To get around that people have written a couple of add-ons that allow the underlying database to be downloaded and populated in Excel. I've had a fiddle with trial copies of a couple of other e-commerce packages and the method of population in all of them seems to be equally tedious.

Penny

  Taran 20:21 20 Feb 04

That's a welcome comment Penny.

I can easily design an import function into the e-commerce module to pull information from an Excel spreadsheet, and I'm surprised this hasn't featured in other OS e-commerce packages, although there are certain limitations to consider.

However, the e-commerce aspect of the application is a secondary function at present and will never be developed to a large extent beyond certain boundaries I have already decided on.

I want to concentrate as much effort as possible on a simple to use but feature rich method of allowing small site owners to edit their own content with a similar function set to FrontPage. Above all it has to be capable of good output with a comprehensive set of functions and controls, but be easy to use in a Word like manner.

I can see this turning into a personal crusade, even though it is based on a percieved need based on client discussion in the past - a few clients have shown initial interest in the concept so that is enough incentive to complete the project.

Plus I'm rather enjoying myself...

I'll upload it to a test server and get a few people to play with it before releasing it to my unsuspecting public.

;o)

  jgosden 20:46 20 Feb 04

sounds great, i can see that many people will like that as it allows your site to be maintained anywhere without having to have the applications on the pc and using ftp, so could have uses for many people who want to be able to update their site easilly when the time suits them,

  jgosden 20:47 20 Feb 04

also... how much would it cost , roughly just wondered

  Taran 21:04 20 Feb 04

That's exactly the idea.

I've checked the WYSIWYG editor in all mainstream browsers on Windows, Apple Macs and Konqueror on Linux and it runs perfectly in all of them. There are some simpler JavaScript based WYSIWYG editors that you can cobble together and some of them are IE only, but I wanted to work ona level playing field for allcomers and many of my clients use Apple Macs rather than Windows so it makes sense to code a cross platform web based application.

Price is not something I've come close to deciding on as of yet. I'm more interested in completing it to the point where it can be tested for ease of use and functionality. At the very least I'll install it on one of the servers at college and get my students to pull it apart and try and break it. If it can be tripped up they will find a way...

I very much like the idea of no FTP, no software running on a computer other than a web browser and the ability to edit or create web pages at will. The only components of the site that would need to be uploaded are image files or download files.

  jgosden 21:51 20 Feb 04

i did have a look for

  jgosden 21:55 20 Feb 04

something similar a while back but found nothing that was any good, i can imagine your clients really liking this as it allows them to change their content quickly without knowlage of complex software. This will hopefully be able to stop people having really out of date websites because no one has the time or knowlage of how to update it, which will be really usefull. Let us know when its done because we would like to see a demo of it.

jonathan

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