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WebReference.com - Chapter 1 of Content Management Systems, from glasshaus (4/9)

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Content Management Systems, Chapter 1: Foundations of CMS

The Root Problems

We've looked at the reasons why web sites are hard work, and the problems behind them, but why do these problems arise?

The root cause of many of these symptoms is that the site uses a handcrafted approach, which doesn't scale to bigger teams or larger amounts of content. In the Internet Age many of us are still, curiously, using production techniques from an earlier era.

Coding pages in HTML by hand is a useful skill. In some cases, it approaches an art. However, coding every page in HTML by hand is a tremendously inefficient and unpleasant way to spend your working days. Manual production of web sites is a leftover from a simpler era (1994) and it doesn't make sense for a modern production site.

Those of us who've spent so much of our creative energy in building the Web may be uncomfortable with applying Industrial Age automation techniques to our web sites. After all, doesn't it cheapen and devalue the skills we've developed, and isn't there a danger that we'll be replaced by machines? The short answer is that automation hopefully will lighten your load of monotonous, repetitive work, and free you to plan and implement redesigns.

A notable legacy of this handcrafted approach is inter-dependency between design, code, and content. Most often this is because, early on in the web site's life, one or two people did everything. Today, this is seldom the case. While core web development teams are still small, successful developers work alongside writers, editors, designers, and production artists to create their web sites. The effort is larger, more collaborative, and more complicated.

When design, code, and content are mixed together, it becomes extremely difficult to manage or change them independently of one another. If your web team audibly groans when a redesign effort is announced, it's probably because they intuitively understand that the process will be slow, painful, and error-prone. But a redesign should not require weekends of hand coding. Although it takes more effort to keep content and design separate, the payoff during the eventual site redesign is well worth it.

Another legacy of the handcrafted approach is lack of a production process. There is little need for a process when you are the only one working on the site, but the instant you start working with others (developers and content authors, for instance) you need to define a process and have the tools in place to enforce that process.

Finally, no site can thrive unless there is a clear vision of its message and audience. While not a technical problem, lack of strategy and direction influences the quality of the technology, content, and design choices made throughout. Let me rephrase: if you don't know what you want, you're not going to get it, but you will waste a lot of time, effort, and money trying to do so.

How This Book Can Help

It's no fun to work on a web site that doesn't work. This book is about how to stop the hurting. It proposes that a philosophy, methodology, and practice known as content management will provide web professionals with hope for their projects, and the pride of shaping a web site that not only works, but is continually getting better and better.

Content management applies technology to automate the most tedious parts of the old handcrafted approach. It helps you define a system for maintaining your site designs separately from your server code, which is kept separate from the content created by your authors. It provides the means and the opportunity to make your site into what you want it to be: usable, attractive, localized, accessible, fast, and up-to-date.

Our task in these pages is to explain what content management is, and how to apply basic principles of content management to your web site. Ultimately, I hope to help you make good choices about content management.

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Created: August 22, 2002
Revised: August 22, 2002

URL: http://webreference.com/authoring/languages/html/cmsystems/chap1/4.html