Posts tagged "web publishing"

Challenges With Transparency, Usability and Government Websites

Think you know what websites have the best usability?

A survey by the UK-based research firm Webcredible found that the top performing industry sectors were news and media websites, followed by travel and utility websites. The sites voted most unfavorably belonged to local authority and government sector websites.

The study surveyed 1,000 users during the last quarter of 2009. The results indicate that some industries could improve from a renewed focus on their interfaces.

Promoting Transparency with Usability

While the survey may represent a small cross-section of actual web users, a recent study by ForeSee Results also supports the need for better usability among government websites.

ForeSee Results conducted its first ever E-Government Transparency Index and found that transparency has a direct impact on citizen satisfaction. Maybe not a big surprise for those of us immersed in usability design, but it’s a big kick in the pants for those at the federal level.

The ForeSee Results E-Government Transparency Index surveyed more than 36,000 U.S. citizens who visited federal websites in the fourth quarter of 2009 and assigned specific quantitative transparency scores in order to create a baseline from which agencies can benchmark progress.

Satisfied Users Make Engaged Citizens

When citizens find a website highly transparent (80 or higher on a 100-point index), they indicated that they were 85% more satisfied than citizens who rate a federal website’s transparency poorly (69 or lower). In fact, citizens who perceive a federal website to be highly transparent are also more likely to participate in communication with the agency, collaborate and use the agency's Web site.

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Such insight may help guide agencies to make user-centric decisions about how to disseminate information to users so that it can be perceived as being both transparent and informative. Ultimately, improving usability on a government website not only improves the user experience, it can lead to better citizen interaction. For democratic governments, the web can be one of the best tools to engage users and disseminate information in a manner that promotes transparency and citizen satisfaction.

BuddyPress 1.2 Turns WordPress into a Social Network

It seems like everyone and their mother is trying to integrate social media into their solutions, and WordPress (news, site) is no exception.

BuddyPress, a package of social tools initially designed to add networking to sites based on WordPress MU, can now be used with standard installs. 

Meet BuddyPress

The WordPress team describes BuddyPress as “social networking in a box” because of the range of included features, but like the rest of the WordPress fam, it’s open source and free. This equals a virtual ton of glitzy add-ons from the community, no doubt.

The basic features that work to bring people together include:

  • Activity Streams: Global, personal and group activity streams with threaded commenting, direct posting, favoriting and @mentions. All with full RSS feed and email notification support.
  • Extended Profiles: Editable profile fields allow you to define the fields users can fill in to describe themselves. 
  • Extensible Groups: Public, private or hidden groups allow users to break the discussion down into specific topics. Extend groups with your own custom features using the group extension API.
  • Friend Connections: Users can make connections to track the activity of others, or filter on only those users they care about the most.
  • Private Messaging: Private messaging will allow users to talk to each other directly, and in private. Not just limited to one-on-one discussions, users can send messages to multiple recipients.

Additionally, features can be turned off, so if there's something that doesn't strike your fancy — like private messaging or group discussions — getting rid of them isn't that difficult.

Meet BuddyPress 1.2

The new release of BuddyPress brings all that social goodness to standard WordPress installs (or WordPress MU 2.9.1 and up) in “six minutes flat.” That’s assuming you don’t yet have WordPress anyway, which has a famous installation time of 5 minutes. So really, adding a social media package to your Web CMS only takes a minute.

If you’ve already got a WordPress install up and running, head over to your Plugins page and select Add New from the menu. There you can find and auto-install BuddyPress. Note: There may still be some customization required, particularly within standard WordPress themes. Or, WordPress offers a stock BuddyPress theme that works nicely.

Moreover, WordPress.com's newly boosted VIP hosting and developer-to-developer support program for their elite users offers additional support for BuddyPress (because it's becoming kind of a big deal).  

Check it out.

Selecting a CMS: Developing Usage Scenarios

In my last article, I described how to avoid the analysis-paralysis trap and quickly make your way to a short list of content management software options. If you missed that article, check out Selecting a CMS: How to Build a Short List.  If you followed the recommended approach, you should have a good idea of your high-level vision (what type of website you need to manage), your financial and technical constraints and few promising products to look at.

In this article I describe how to define some practical usage scenarios which you will use to shape the product evaluation process.

Up to this point you have been thinking very objectively — asking direct yes/no questions and eliminating anything with a "no" response.  But you haven't addressed any of the subjective factors like efficiency, usability and manageability.  All of the products on your short list could work  — given enough compromises and customization — but that isn't good enough. You want something better than nearly adequate.

Writing Effective Scenarios

To find the product that will be the best fit for your organization, you need to dig into your requirements; but put those spreadsheets away.  Spreadsheets are great for naming features but they won't guide you to understand how these products would work with your users and the content that your organization needs to manage.

This is where scenarios come in

A scenario is a short story — written in a language that regular people understand; not business analyst-speak —  that describes a user's interaction with the system to achieve a business objective. A scenario encapsulates lots of specific requirements and gives them greater meaning and context.

These are the four attributes of an effective scenario:

  1. It is written with specific users in mind
  2. It addresses an important and commonly executed task
  3. It references the content that you intend to manage
  4. It is open-ended enough to expose the difference in product design and approach

That list was dense so let me unpack it a bit.

1. Understanding Specific Users

Understanding users is the most important element of a CMS project because in the end, a content management system is a tool for users. The perceived success or failure of your project will hinge on how effective those users feel when they interact with the system. 

I typically write scenarios for four different user groups:

  • content contributors
  • content consumers or visitors
  • system administrators
  • software developers

Each of these groups have different responsibilities that can either be eased or frustrated by the technology: 

  • Scenarios for the content contributor will be about adding, editing, organizing, finding and approving content. 
  • Visitor scenarios will be about front end functionality like searching, reading content on different devices and potentially interactive functionality like commenting and user profile management.
  • Administrators will be concerned with managing contributor accounts, system upgrades and backups. 
  • Developers will need to define content types, develop presentation templates and potentially integrate with other technologies.  

Some people like to build "personas" that give personality and character to these abstract user types but I don't think that adds much value to this exercise. You might as well think of the real person (your actual co-worker or customer) than some made up symbol of him. Personae are more useful for branding and design exercises. But please don't let that stop you from creating an imaginary friend if you want to — we all have our special needs.

2. Prioritizing the Tasks

For each of the user groups outlined above, brainstorm their most important activities with regards to the system. 

What do they spend their time on? What do their "clients" hound them for?  What are they most afraid of messing up? All these are good candidates for scenarios. But don't forget the tasks that they take for granted with their current systems and processes. A new CMS means the old tools go away and even the worst systems do somethings well.

While the types of scenarios will be similar across CMS buyers, the details of how the tasks need to be executed can vary widely. This is why simply naming tasks is not enough. 

For example, if the scenario involves finding a piece of content, we need to think about what information the user starts with. Does he just have some key words that he thinks should be mentioned in the title or the body of the asset? Does he know the URL or the path? What additional information will help him filter down to the asset? The date it was published?  Where it occurs on the site?

This is why scenarios are so different from features. All CMS products will claim to support finding content; the differences will be in these critical details.

While how people work is important, be careful not to get mired in your dysfunctional processes.  Some tasks will go away or be redefined when your broken system gets retired. With that said, don't wander down that slippery slope of business process re-engineering either. Stumble onto that path and before you know it your project will get too big and political. Focus on not re-creating your big, obvious problems

3. Deconstructing Content

When thinking about your content, there are two dimensions to consider: structure and organization.

From a structural perspective, content is often more than simple pages with a title and body. Some content is hierarchical and inter-related. For example, I recently completed a project for a museum that had exhibitions with start and end dates, and ordered collections of works of art. Each work of art has a reference to an artist. Works of art could be re-used across exhibitions and could also be in permanent collections.

This example also presents a question of organization. An individual work of art can appear in different contexts but one is considered the primary. By making the structure and organization of your content part of your scenarios, you will get to see different approaches to meeting these requirements. You will see how the user interface handles input validation, content relationship building and content placement.

It is a good idea to include a model of one of the more complex types with the scenarios. It doesn't have to be fancy. A simple outline with field names and data types will do. If there are rules that restrict privileges to different areas of the site, it is a good idea to include a site map with those rules as well. Some CMS restrict access by content type; others restrict by placement in the content tree; others do a hybrid of both. Know the implications of the vendor's approach in regards to how it will interact with your business rules.

4. Using, not Abusing the Level of Detail

When you are writing these scenarios, be careful not to be overly prescriptive or rigid about how the system works. Some details will not be relevant to certain systems. Focus on the details that are important to your business rather than arbitrary implementation decisions like how you might navigate to a piece of content or what the save button is called.

Save time by glossing over functionality that is more or less homogeneous and ubiquitous across the marketplace. For example, nearly all of the Web CMS platforms on the market use a handful of third party rich text editors. Rather than describing mundane features like bolding and underlining, concentrate on areas where they differ like browsing and searching through content repository to find links to other assets.

If you have a requirement that different types of users should have more control over rich text than others  — like the ability to embed  objects and JavaScript — describe those types of rules in your scenarios.

The scenarios that I write tend to be between one quarter and three quarters of a page. If a scenario is really long, maybe it needs to be broken up into multiple scenarios. Or maybe it just has too much detail.

Using Your Scenarios

Once you have written you interaction scenarios, it is time to put them to work.

First, you will include your scenarios in your RFP. This will help educate the supplier about how you work and what you are trying to do with their software. Keep in mind that the scenarios are also an excellent means to beginning a dialog that will map your specific needs to the features and configurations of a vendor's software. They speak in ways that simple requirements matrices never can.

Next, you should plan and construct your evaluation processes around these scenarios. The scenarios — and your content model — will dictate at least part of your product demonstrations. This is key. If vendors fail to address your scenarios, then work with them to reformat the demonstrations, or recognize that the vendor is side-stepping your demands.

Next Up: Custom Product Demonstrations

Stay tuned. In my next article, I will walk you through preparing for and conducting customized product demos, including how to best process what you have seen. In the mean time, the following articles provide valuable context and advice for the software selection process.

CoreMedia and Forrester: Cross Channel User Experiences Must Improve

Demanding modern consumers want not only rich, engaging online experiences, but, according to Forrester's research, they also expect these experiences to extend transparently across multiple channels — from the web to call centers, to direct mail, mobile, social networks and in-store displays. In fact, recent research says that more than 70% of U.S. consumers use the Web plus another channel when making purchase decisions.

We've said it before, 2010 is shaping up to be a year where experience management needs drive the Web CMS sector in new, and in our opinion, interesting directions.

On Thursday February 25 at 8am Pacific, 11am Eastern and 4pm GMT CoreMedia and Forrester are holding a webinar entitled The Role of Web CMS in Cross-Channel Customer Relations.

The live event will be presented by Forrester's Tim Walters and aims to:

  • Review the emerging trends in cross-channel communications and experience management
  • Explore how Web Content Management solutions can a play key role in driving customer responsiveness
  • Demonstrate that synchronizing, updating and optimizing your digital content for a wide variety of consumer end points can quickly increase your customer engagement

If you're tasked with optimizing your customer communication and interaction channels, then this event might be just what you need. Inquiring minds can register here.

WordPress Treats VIP Users with Primo Hosting and Support

Are you among the WordPress.com (site) elite? The team behind the popular Web CMS just re-launched their VIP services, providing exclusive hosting and developer-to-developer support for high-profile and high-traffic sites.

WordPress.com – VIP Support and Hosting

Previously two separate sites for two separate services, the WordPress VIP perks are now a package deal. Check out the basics via video:

Essentially, WordPress.com VIP is designed to offer “rock-solid uptime” and other automated niftyness to WordPress.com users that bring traffic in by the millions, as well as some handy support for users that run and operate their own WordPress installs.

Also, everything is unlimited. As in: traffic, page views, uploads and storage space. Neat.

VIP 2010

WordPress says they have some exciting stuff in store for the VIP program this year, including a dedicated VIP Hosting Portal (complete with documentation of all special functions, theme and system info, and best practice coding guideless), and a streamlined ticketing system and support for a better look at general activity.

WordPress also plans to add some private forum features that will “make finding answers more efficient and provide our team clearer information that will make interactions better.”

Check out the details at the new VIP site.

Improving EdenWeb CMS: Usability, Marketing & Management

When we last visited the garden, we introduced the Eden Platform, a self-optimizing web content management system released by Preation. Designed to let entrepreneurs and marketers create and maintain an optimized website and generate more results without the need for any technical or web marketing expertise, Eden proved to be both affordable and useful.

Since then, the platform has seen a number of updates and enhancements directed at improving usability, marketing and website management. Let’s take a look.

May '09 — File Manager

The SaaS model CMS otherwise known as Eden Platform added functionality to their dashboard, which let users add and integrate marketing events (including Twitter and PRWeb), documents and other files from the file manager to pages.

The file manager interface was also upgraded, optimized to be more intuitive and user friendly. Page editing functionality was also improved so that anything pasted is properly formatted.

eden-pageediting.jpg
Image 1: The first step to adding content to the page is moving your mouse over the blue General button on the page editing interface. General content elements will be displayed. For example, most websites at least have the Content and Sub-Navigation elements.

July '09 — Page Tree

During the summer, the Eden Platform page tree was completely redesigned and improved, allowing users to expand and collapse the pages of a website's page tree. As well, the page tree now remembers how you left it and reloads with the last settings used.

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Image 2: The page tree interface is one of the most powerful and flexible parts of Eden Platform.

Multiple documents can be loaded simultaneously via the file manager and a new forms module interface improved its design and functionality.

September '09 — Form, Email & Image Management

As autumn approached, the Eden Platform administrative area added support for Internet Explorer 8.0 and above. In the forms module, users can now include details submitted in a form in responder emails as well as deliver responder emails to the email address of the person who filled out the form.

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Image 3: Eden allows you to create the online forms you need to connect with your website’s visitors directly on your website.

Image Management

More updates to the file manager allowed users to import images from external web pages in bulk, simplifying the process of importing content from an old website into Eden Platform. Additional updates enabled resizing and cropping capabilities.

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Image 4: Upload one or more files directly from your computer or point Eden to a page on your existing website and it will import them for you.

December '09 — Affiliate Referral Program

Winter in Eden brought an affiliate referral program that allows users to share their unique affiliate URL. If referrals sign up for Eden, a user’s account will receive an automatic credit for commission.

January '10 — Domain Name Management

The New Year brought even more improved capabilities for the Eden Platform. Among the updates was a domain name management interface, which allow users to assign a domain name to an Eden website and apply additional domain names that will forward traffic to the website.

A new special content element, called an iFrame element, lets users add outside content to any page of an Eden site through an iFrame.

What does the rest of 2010 plan to bring for Eden?

A continued focus on site optimization and marketing strategies. The Eden blog has already tackled issues of customer retention, social media integration and email marketing. The future of Eden is poised for more updates and increased functionality.

Interview - Drupal, WoodWing and How Web Publishers Can Survive

As we watch the many drama's in the media, the drama of the media itself trying to survive and the many micro dramas of competition and collaboration in the content management space, it's fun to get points of view from different seats at the table.

Recently we had a chance to discuss the web publishing business, Drupal partnerships, new revenue models for publishers and the quality of modern journalism with Erik Schut, the President of WoodWing Software.

As a provider of Web Publishing technologies and a company that has integrated with the likes of Alfresco, Drupal and most recently eZ Publish, the company is in the thick of the modernizing efforts of publishers. Erik had some interesting ideas to share.

CMSWire: What do you think is the most technically innovative thing happening for digital publishers today?

Erik Schut:
See how capable Smartphones like the iPhone, the upcoming Palm Pre or many others are today. You can imagine, that these devices will become one of the most important new channels in the mid future. Publishers all kind need to develop strategies to address this challenge and ways to monetize them.

CW: How do you see products like Drupal fitting into the future of digital publishing?

ES:
Regardless, if it’s print or online - publishing has been and will be about attracting communities. Drupal is one of the most powerful systems to develop Web 2.0 platforms and to support communities. So, in a nutshell, it is a perfect fit.

CW: Do products like Drupal threaten to take market share from vendors like Woodwing, why or why not?

ES:
We don´t think so. Our products focus on the entire Publishing process — from conception to publication — for all required types of media and channels. Although there are some Web CMS's trying to move into the earlier phases of the publishing process, their structures are not designed to do so and therefore they fail or require endless customizations. Drupal (like other Web CMS's) is focused on delivering the best Web enabling functionality hence very complementary to our products.

CW: What do you see as the most important concern for digital publishers in 2009 (more specifically than generating revenue)?

ES:

That depends where you come from. Being a start-up digital only publisher, having found a new business model, even today you are still looking at great opportunities. Being a well know publisher from the print days and moving into a digital only publishing environment you will have tough times seeking comparable revenues than you have had in the print-days, cost cutting is unavoidable since the online revenue usually does not even come close to the printed revenue - at least, when they continue to think just about ads as the major source of revenue.

CW: What new sources of income do you think are most promising for publishers?

ES:
Well, I see all the "Pay per"-models as most promising — Pay per Sale or Lead, Pay per Download, Pay per Service.

You can see already, that the classic full page ad is more or less a thing of the past — cross media strategies including all the models I mentioned open up new business chances both for the publishers as well as their customers.

CW: Some people say new technologies like twitter and blogs are eroding the quality of journalism. Can you share some thoughts on how you view the relationship between publishing technologies and journalism?

ES:
Our products do not influence the informational value of content, and as a vendor we are probably not the right institution to comment on these more philosophical issues.

Let me give you my personal view — it depends, on what you call quality. If quality means non-biased, based on in-depth research, written by a professional journalist, published only based on facts and after hearing all parties involved — yes quality will drop.

If quality means on-the-spot, instantly, covered by a larger number of writers, juiced with opinions and emotions, I'd say quality improves. Probably both forms will coexist with different pricing models in future.

About WoodWing

WoodWing was founded in 2000 and started life as the first company to fully commit to the Adobe InDesign and InCopy platform. Their core product, Enterprise — the Publishing Platform, is focused on what the company calls Editorial Content Management.

Drupal vs Joomla: Which CMS is Best?

Anyone trying to evaluate open source content management systems is aware that there aren't a lot of recent, useful comparative reviews. What's surprising is that this issue is true even for such popular solutions as Drupal and Joomla.

Stating in January that, "most comparisons of Drupal (site) and Joomla (site) conclude that you should select the one that best suits your needs. However, they give too little guidance about how to do that," Webology eBusiness Solutions set out to quantify the pros and cons of each by releasing a survey.

The Survey

The survey divided questions into five categories:

  1. Developers
  2. Documentation
  3. Performance/Functional Aspects
  4. Appearance
  5. Ease of Use/Learning

Users were classified by their response to "CMS most experienced with," with those answering "Not Applicable/Don't Know" to this question being removed from the analysis.

In general, the respondents were slanted a bit more toward Joomla users than Drupal users. Their roles when working with their respective CMS's break down to the largest group being Project Managers, and other large groups including Programmers and Designers. The Drupal users were, somewhat unsurprisingly, more experienced, with a median of 7 years experience in web development, while Joomla users claimed 5.

The Results

In general, there were a lot of responses that fit expectations.

Drupal Users Love Drupal, Joomla Users Love Joomla

Drupal users list the highest client satisfaction with Drupal, and Joomla users list the highest satisfaction of their clients with Joomla. Drupal developers feel that Drupal is easier for developers to learn, and Joomla users feel that Joomla is easier to learn. After all, if you already chose Drupal or Joomla, there was probably a reason you chose it at the time.

Drupal Better for Extensibility and Large Sites

Once you get down to slightly less biased issues, it gets more interesting.

Drupal users rate their CMS higher than Joomla users rated theirs in areas such as documentation (especially core and module documentation) and bugs (core and modules). Drupal users apparently feel that their add-ons integrate better with the core, and their framework makes it easier to extend their CMS's capabilities.

Drupal users also rated Drupal higher than Joomla users rated Joomla for their support of multimedia, social networking, SSL, forums, event calenders, blogging, document management, SSL, internationalization, user management and permission features (a huge gap of 40%), ease of external integration, the ease of developing large, complex web sites, and the quality of add-ons for enhancing functionality.

Joomla Easier for the Non-Geeks

However, Drupal didn't win in every aspect. Joomla users rated Joomla higher than Drupal users rated Drupal when it came to the ability for non-technical people to learn the CMS interface (another large gap), maintenance and upgrading, the ability to create a new and functioning site quickly, the ability to teach clients to use their CMS effectively, and their willingness to put time and money into improving poorly performing extensions.

Which Web CMS is Better?

Sorry, there's still no cut and dried answer, and for that matter, we don't even believe in the question.

If this survey proves anything, it's that the choice of Web CMS depends on what you're trying to do —  which is what we've been saying all along. At least now folks have a more quantifiable set of opinions to look at.

For the complete list of questions and responses, along with all of the numbers, see the Webology eBusiness Solutions blog

Drupal vs eZ Publish vs WordPress vs CMS Made Simple

As nearly every article we publish on the topic attests, there is no best CMS — there's only best fit given the context, if that. At the recent DrupalCamp in Helsinki Exove, a Finnish technical consulting company focused on open source solutions, presented their take on how to choose the best CMS given the client's project context.

They looked at 4 web content management systems: Drupal, WordPress, eZ Publish and CMS Made Simple.

Given the context, it's no surprise that their point of reference was Drupal. But what convinced us to mention the presentation was their concise yet useful take on how the 4 products differed and in what circumstances they encouraged the use of one versus another. Let's have a look.

Drupal vs. WordPress

WordPress has its strengths and Exove acknowledges this. What they point out is that the product excels in blogging scenarios and fares OK in the community and UGC areas.

WordPress, as they point out, is not meant for sophisticated or large corporate websites, nor is it terribly strong on the caching side. Lower implementation costs and simplicity were boons they noted for this option.

Drupal vs. CMS Made Simple

Simplicity is not what Drupal is best known for. CMS Made Simple obviously attempts to lay claim to this domain, and it does. The key themes for CMS Made Simple were low cost, ease of administration and ease of implementation.

It's not a product you want to extend much and it is not a good fit for multi-lingual environments. When requirements fit the CMS Made Simple features list well, this is when Exove goes with this option.

There are probably a number of well known Web CMS options that fit in at this level — barrier to entry is low, competition is healthy.

Drupal vs. eZ Publish

eZ Publish is a sophisticated content management system that is backed by a commercial entity, eZ Systems. When we look at the line-up that Exove has chosen, it's eZ and Drupal who we consider most competitive with one another.

eZ Publish Strengths

The strengths for eZ Publish include sophisticated caching, a flexible admin — either a simple toolbar approach to content management or a fully featured and extensible administrative back office, commercial support and the ability to more easily implement complex workflows (this is also an area of active development for eZ Publish).

A strong point for eZ Publish is the web publishing space. They company has invested considerable effort to meet the needs of online publishers and also has the eZ Flow add-on which gives sophisticated content controls to newsroom managers.

The downsides to eZ which Exove points out are that it is not as strong as Drupal with UCG or community features, that the product can be harder to extend and that the last release cycle was a bit slow.

For the most part, I'd say that these are fair criticisms. Though I know from my many conversations with eZ Systems that 2008 was a restructuring year for them, and they have now changed their release process such that it's locked on a 2x per year schedule.

Drupal Strengths

When does Exove choose Drupal over eZ Publish? The say often this is a client request — Drupal has better brand awareness. Other deciding factors are the level of UGC or community features required — Drupal is strong here — and the amount of customization required. On the customization side Drupal can win for 2 reasons.

For one, the huge body of contributed modules means rapid prototyping and/or implementation of new production ready features tends to be faster than with products that have a less energetic community. The second reason is just familiarity. If you have a dev team that knows one product or the other better, then customization is going to be faster with the better understood product and API.