How Would You Design a Content Management System?

Rendered Concept of a Digital Content Lifecycle.

By Cathy Hodson

What is a content management system (CMS)? According to Wikipedia, “A Content Management System (CMS) is a computer program that allows publishing, editing and modifying content as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment. These procedures can be manual steps or an automated cascade. CMSs have been available since the late 1990s.”

In other words, a CMS allows multiple content creators (frequently called “authors”), a managed workflow (approval process), and either automated or manual features.

I have experience with two content management systems: Ektron and SharePoint. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I have also kicked the tires on other CMSs, and they too have the good, the bad and the ugly. Recently I asked the members of the Web Editors group, “If you could design/develop your own content management system, which features would be ‘must haves’?

Must Have Features
The responses were interesting. J.D. desired more project management features, “The CMS should know that nothing goes public until an assignment of copyright agreement has been executed.”

He also recommended staging features, workflow integration (“you should get a view of works in progress”) and annotation, in particular, fact checking and documenting the fact checking.

Barbara wanted “True WYSIWYG. Period.”

Ken wanted to “work on a system that has all the parts that were promised. Twice this week I’ve been told…’Oh, that’s scheduled for the next version.'”

Control
If you were designing your own content management system, which features would you want to include? For me, there are a few, and they have to do with control. Being able to control the style (rules and guidelines used for consistency across a website) within the CMS so authors not well versed in your company’s or your website’s style cannot stray from it. Another feature I’d like would be to have the HTML view of your content be color coded, such as in Dreamweaver. It makes it easier to pick things out when you’re looking for something rather than having everything in black type on a white background. In Dreamweaver, if there’s a problem in the code, the color coding stops where the problem is so you can find where the snarl is a little easier also. (If you’re colorblind, however, that may not be as effective.) It would also be nice to be able to use a global replace in the HTML view.

There are times when it seems that developers of content management systems don’t understand what a content editor or author does. They are not aware of the publishing process that a writer or editor goes through in order to add or maintain content on the website. This disconnect can be a major issue at times. For instance, when my company was going through its most recent redesign, we expressed our desire to the developers that, as all content funneled to me for approval, I needed to be able to see what had changed on each page. I needed a redlined version, in other words. Our company, at the time, had several thousands of web pages. There was no way I could possibly memorize each page and instantly recognized what an author had changed in an existing page when it came to me for approval. Because we have such a high volume of content, I didn’t have time to dig through everything on every page that was submitted to me to try and figure out what the author had changed. Had they deleted any paragraphs? Had they linked to something new? Was there an update to the photos? It would be helpful to see only what had changed so that I could review those changes and then send the page on its way to the website, or back to the author for more work. There was great puzzlement on the developers’ part, not understanding why this was so critical. We finally got across to them why it was so necessary, and were able to implement a customized tool that allowed me to see what an author had done to a page.

Gibberish code
About the time we were discussing this topic, I received an email newsletter, Fierce Content Management, and read the Editor’s Corner: “Content Management Systems drive me nuts!” by Ron Miller. I read with particular interest, “Last week for instance, I tried to drop in some code for the content marketing infographic we published. Typically, it’s like dropping in the code for embedding a YouTube video. You access the source code, paste the embed code, and presto, you have an infographic in your post. But lately our CMS has decided to spontaneously add gibberish to the infographic embed code making it virtually useless and forcing my co-worker, Emily Poe, to have the added work of dropping it in as an image instead.”

That hit home with me, as our CMS also will add gibberish when our authors copy and paste from a Microsoft Word file. Sensing a kindred spirit, I contacted Ron and asked him for his “must have” features. He sent the lists below:

Back End:

  • Make sure it supports multiple writers easily.
  • Make sure it’s easy to update the CMS. (WordPress is drop-dead easy).
  • Make sure you set up a good set of tags ahead of time.
  • Leave a place for the writer to include a one or two sentence excerpt and encourage writers to create this for you.
  • Make sure it’s easy to add alt text to your photos (very important for disabled community).
  • Make sure it’s easy to embed content like video and inforgraphics (easy access to HTML code)
  • Make sure it’s easy to add and edit photos. (visuals are really important in my view).
  • See if you can find a plug in for creating a weekly newsletter and linking it to a mailing list app like MailChimp.

Front End:

  • Accessible contact info.
  • Some sort of comment security like Disquus. Doesn’t prevent morons, but helps.
  • Prominent search box.
  • Resources like white papers and ebooks.
  • Include all your site’s social media info
  • Make it easy to subscribe
  • Make it drop-dead easy to share across all major social networks.
  • Easy to copy and paste text from outside sources and maintain style

None of the CMSs will be perfect. They all have their quirks, and web editors must find work-arounds and solutions we can live with. But it sure would be nice if we could design our own, or at least catch the ear of the developers and have them truly understand what our needs are. Anyone?

Next time: Editor vs. Programmer

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Finding Free Images Through Image Search

by Alan Eggleston

Images (photos) can add impact to an article. They can add emotion. And they can add understanding. An article on a website or blog without an image may inform, may entertain, may even motivate, but it certainly won’t convey in the same way as one with an image. At least, a well thought-out image. For all those reasons, every editor should consider balancing the web page with text and an image.

Images add value to articles.

Photo: JoshArdle Photography by Creative Commons license.

Yet, one very good reason many websites and blogs don’t include images on their pages is cost. A good image can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, well beyond the budgets of many small businesses and certainly beyond those of most bloggers. But using images doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ll show you how to find useful, meaningful images without the cost.

Some Images are Free

There are free image sites. Google the string “free images” and you’ll find them. Some are free to access the catalog but there is still a licensing fee to use any of the images. Some are free to access the catalog and use the images, but the quality isn’t always the greatest. Some you don’t find out whether the image is free until you locate the image and check the photographer’s licensing agreement.

Well, there’s a much better way to find free images.

I find my images by doing an image search on one of the major search engines. They all work a little differently, but all involve filtering the image search for creative commons license use when I do the keyword search. The easiest, by far, is with Bing. Google is second easiest. And Yahoo is the third, with the side benefit that it’s allied with Flickr.

Finding Free Images with Bing

To find an image to use for free using Bing:

  • Go to the Bing home page and click on the “IMAGES” main navigation tab.
  • In the search window, enter a keyword or keyword string for the image you want (example: “chains” or “chain link fence”). Hit the enter button or click the search icon.
  • Now in the gray top filtering bar, click “License” and in the drop-down list of choices click:

for commercial sites or blogs

    • “Free to share and use commercially” or
    • “Free to modify, share, and use commercially”

for non-commercial (personal) sites or blogs

    • “Free to share and use” or
    • “Free to modify, share, and use”

Bing cautions in their online help page, and it’s always wise to follow:

“When you find an image that you want, go to the originating website for the image and determine the actual license for the image. Next, go to the Creative Commons website and make sure you read and understand the license and its provisions, restrictions, and attribution requirements.”

Finding Free Images with Google

To find an image to use for free using Google:

  • Go to the Google home page and click on “Images” in the main navigation.
  • In the search window enter a keyword or keyword string for the image you want. Click the enter button or the search icon.
  • On the results page, click on the gear icon at the far right above the image display. In the drop-down list that appears, click on “Advanced search.”
  • At the bottom of the Advanced Image Search page, under “usage rights” (defaulted at “not filtered by license”) choose:

for commercial sites or blogs

    • “free to use or share, even commercially” or
    • “free to use, share or modify, even commercially”

for non-commercial (personal) sites or blogs

    • “free to use or share” or
    • “free to use share or modify”

Again, once you select an image, go to the image on its original website and verify the license language to make sure it is indeed free and that you understand what is required and allowed.

Updated: Google Chrome offers a plug-in for finding duplicate images, which may make it easier to find an image’s original owner and original licensing. Read about it here.

Finding Free Images with Yahoo

To find an image to use for free using Yahoo:

  • Go to the Yahoo Image Search page.
  • In the search window, enter your keyword or keyword string. Click the enter key or the search button.
  • When the image results page comes up, click on the double arrows “>>” in the upper left under the tabbed main navigation.
  • Now look at the new left hand navigation and click on the last item: “Labeled for Reuse.” That will filter the images for those that allow you to reuse them. Unfortunately, that’s as focused as the filtering goes.
  • When you find an image you like, go to the original image on the original website and see what the licensing requirements are.

Finding Free Images with Flickr

A photo storage service allied with Yahoo is Flickr. Each user gets a terabyte of storage for their photos and they can determine as they store their photos how they want to license them. You can search the site for photos and the ability to use them. Here is how:

  • Go to the Flickr home page (or access it through the Yahoo home page).
  • In the search window at the top right, enter your keyword search word or search string and hit the enter key or click the search icon.
  • On the image results page, beneath the search window at the top right, click on “Advanced Search.”
  • At the bottom of the Advanced Search page, click the box for “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” and if they apply, click also either or both:
    • Find content to use commercially
    • Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon
  • Click the “Search” button

Always verify that the image you want is free for use as filtered by going to the original image and reading the licensing restrictions and requirements.

Attribution

Often one of the restrictions listed with a creative commons license is the requirement that you attribute ownership of the image. It probably makes good sense whether or not they ask for attribution to give it, since you are using their work. I usually go one step further by linking the photographer’s name with their website. Often their work is on Flicker, allowing them to showcase their other works.

  • Here is what my photo attribution usually looks like:

Photo: Rusty Clark, creative commons license

(See it here.)

So don’t let cost be an excuse for not adding visual impact to your articles. You can afford “free!” – with a little image search and time.