2008 – Low End Mac needs a good content management system.
Ever since I began the site in 1997, Claris Home Page has been my trusted companion. It hasn’t had an update since 1997, and it’s far from the only tool I use, but when it comes to writing and editing for the Web, it’s my first choice. (For the record, the free KompoZer program is my second choice – a distant second, as the program, currently at beta version 0.7.10, is nowhere near as fast and friendly as Claris’ ancient offering.)
In the early days, the glory of Home Page was that the WYSIWYG HTML editor produced pages that displayed well in all of the then-current browsers. The code wasn’t standards compliant, but it worked. It also has a site manager module that is smart enough to only upload new and changed pages and images (JPEG and GIF only).
Problem is, the Web has changed, browsers have changed, HTML has changed, XHTML has arrived, PNG images exist, and Home Page doesn’t run on Intel Macs short of using emulation.
My Work Flow
I do most of my writing and editing for the Web in Home Page. I resize and export graphics as JPEG and GIF images using Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0. I apply style sheets to images and some text using KompoZer, because it supports CSS while Home Page does not. I then open the HTML page in TextWrangler, run the code through HTML Tidy to convert it to XHTML, and then it’s ready for use with our page template.
And then I go back to Home Page to upload site changes. After that, I update our MySQL database with information about the new article.
It’s a convoluted process. It works, but it’s time consuming and inefficient.
I want to find a better way, but every time I think I’ve found a possible solution, I discover things it won’t do.
Content Management Systems
A content management system (CMS) is the solution. It lets you separate design from content. It lets you edit articles online. It can handle comments and forums and email feedback. The vast majority of blogs are created using CMS systems like WordPress.
PHPnuke, Drupal, and ExpressionEngine are three of the CMS systems I’ve played with. None have really worked for me. They are too opaque. The documentation seems to be written by and for geeks. And they require that you code your articles with tags for bold and italic.
I’m a Mac user. Although I remember the days of inserting codes in word processing documents to turn bold and italic on and off, I don’t miss them. I like WYSIWYG, but that seems foreign to most content management systems.
Low End Mac’s Needs
Problem is, there are dozens and dozens of CMS programs out there, and nobody has the time to be familiar with even a small number of them. I’ve run into roadblocks that kept me from switching, and it seems to me that someone somewhere has to have solved these problems.
Some people love coding. More power to them. I’m a writer, not a programmer. I want to see what my writing looks like as I write and edit it. I can do that in Home Page and KompoZer. I want to be able to work the same way with a CMS.
The Internet is designed for multimedia, and we often want to include images with our articles. The ideal CMS would spider my website to create a database of existing GIF, JPEG, and PNG images, let me attach descriptive words, and make it easy to search through that database and paste an image into the article I’m working on. The programs I’ve tried force me to write raw HTML to incorporate images within my articles.
Cascading Style Sheets
The CMS should integrate with our existing Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). That should be part of the WYSIWYG editing process. Our styles include things like displaying an image on the right or left of the page with space around it and the text flowing around the image. KompoZer handles that nicely.
I’d eventually like to move a lot of our existing content into the CMS, and I don’t want that to be a lot of work. Fiddling with ExpressionEngine last week, I discovered that there’s no easy way to work with existing HTML, which means that importing existing articles would be way too much work. (I’ve had the same problem with a lot of website authoring apps as well – although they produced HTML code, they can’t import existing pages.)
The biggest change to Low End Mac would come through adding room at the end of articles for readers to add their comments. I know some of you really want that.
Another CMS advantage is webmail that keeps our writers’ email addresses private. We already do what we can to protect them, but spammers always seem to find a way.
We have changed our page design numerous times over the past 11 years, and we’ll undoubtedly do it again. Right now that means either updating thousands of existing pages or having lots of old content that doesn’t look anything like current content. With a CMS, design and content are separate, so we could update everything by modifying the template pages.
A good CMS will allow several types of users: editors, writers, subscribers, and regular visitors. For instance, while a writer would be able to write and edit articles, only an editor might be allowed to let the article “go live”. And we would set things so only registered users would be able to comment on articles.
Editing and Publishing
A CMS should make it easy for a writer to submit a column, an editor or proofreader to edit it, and it then go back to the author for approval of the edits. Once the author and editor agree that it’s ready, the article can go live.
Different kinds of pages could have different templates. The home page would have a unique design, and editorial content would share a page design. Index pages would have a different design, and computer profiles might have a still different page layout.
Because we have profiles of computers from the 1980s and want to be able to import existing pages into the CMS, it is important to have a CMS that allows us to publish articles with dates that far back. It is also important that it allow us to schedule articles for some point in the future. (I’m writing this on Wednesday but plan to post it Friday.)
Meaningful File Names
One change we’ve made at Low End Mac in the past year is to meaningful file names. A year ago, this page would have been 0829.html and stored in the /08mm/ directory within the /musings/ directory. Today it can have a name like content-management-system.html.
Why the change? Because of the way Google and other search engines work. If the URL for your page includes words, they will be indexed and rated higher because of it. The trick is to use hyphens between words rather than underscores, as search engines tend to see content_management_system as a single word (underscores and all) but content-management-system as three words, ignoring the hyphen.
Over the years, we’ve added some features to Low End Mac’s PHP/MySQL publishing system. For instance, every time someone reads an article, its count in incremented by one. We can always know how popular a column is. Over the past year or so, we’ve also added counters so we can tell how many people have read an article in its first week, 28 days, and year online.
For several years we’ve also sorted our “new content” listings by weighting the time stamp and the number of times an article was read. If a column is especially popular, it will be listed before a less popular one that was posted a bit later – but probably not ahead of one posted several hours later. That was a useful addition, and it took a little tweaking of the hit multiplier to get it to work the way I wanted.
More recently we’ve added a popularity rating to editorial content. This was originally at the request of writers, who wanted a quick way to know if a lot of people or only a few were reading their columns. Our system displays the word NEW for the first 72 hours an article is online (or is it 96 hours?) and a LEM logo when it hits a certain traffic level. The system is designed so that a moderately popular article will have 2 LEMs and a very popular one will have 3 within a day or two of publication. Each additional LEM indicates twice as many readers. A few of our articles have had hundreds of thousands of hits and display the maximum number of LEMs, which is 8.
We sometimes re-feature an article: one about the end of the clone era might be featured again on the anniversary of the day Apple announced its purchase of Power Computing. The CMS should allow an article to be featured again while retaining its original date.
Likewise, there should be a mechanism for handling updates, including the date an article was last updated. Ideally the writer or editor could distinguish between a minor edit (fixing spelling, punctuation, or a link that had gone dead) and a significant edit (revised content, additional material, etc.).
Because some of our writers are on dialup, it would be nice if the CMS could work with a front end program that lets you write and edit content locally before posting it to the CMS.
The Final Benefit
Right now, Low End Mac has one publisher, senior editor, proofreader, designer, and site manager. That would be me. With a CMS, it will be possible for me to authorize others to edit and approve columns, and that will mean no need to stop posting new content when I go on vacation.
That would eliminate a real bottleneck, reduce my stress level, and might result in more content being posted in a more timely manner, as everything wouldn’t have to go through me. I’d really like that!
There are dozens and dozens of CMS options, but there don’t seem to be any sites that let you sort through them based on your needs. My hope is that some of you will write in with suggestions based on your own experience with content management systems.
Installing and learning a CMS to the point that you realize it’s not going to work for you is tiring and frustrating. I look forward to hearing from some of you about a CMS that might meet our needs.
- Joomla and WordPress: Highly Recommended Content Management Systems, Dan Knight, Low End Mac Mailbag, 2008.09.09. Low End Mac share their suggestions for a powerful, friendly, WYSIWYG content management system.
Update: We eventually settled on WordPress.
Keywords: #wordpress #cms #contentmanagementsystem
Short link: http://goo.gl/W7vJy7
searchwords: cms, contentmanagementsystem