Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Calgon...manage my content!

The need for a sustainable content management strategy is finally coming to light within our small College community. As we're looking to overhaul our institutional site, we're seriously grappling with the importance of academic departmental web sites for prospective and current students. These sites are mostly self-supported efforts of the individual departments. Quality of design and freshness of content are all over the map, as they are determined by the level of success of various ad hoc efforts.

These web sites have a lot of data elements to manage. We recently performed a quick review of the types of data that each department was attempting to publish on its site. (You may download a copy of the overview table.) You can see at a glance that there's a lot of structured and repeatable information that most of these sites use. Unfortunately, the College's administrative database systems are not used in any way to develop this web content.

Unless you count some cutting and pasting.

My colleagues and I will be taking a hard look at what our options are in the next few weeks. We may find our answer in one of the commercial or open source enterprise-level CMS applications. There's a part of me that's really resistant to that idea of a full-fledged CMS. (As successful a product as it has been for us, this may be a byproduct of Blackboard fatigue.) While I know such environments have a lot to offer, I'm very cautious about potentially building an XXL-sized infrastructure to solve an L-sized issue. Some within our ranks would prefer we stick with a smaller, cheaper strategy built around Macromedia Contribute and its new multi-user server product. The "aesthetics of cheap" are in play here, for sure, but I'm most committed to getting the tool that fits-just-right. Does it exist?

(I just had an image flash though my mind of "Goldilocks and the Three CMS's." "This CMS is too big. And this CMS is too small. But this CMS is JUST RIGHT." I, humble reader, am playing the role of Goldilocks. A big, thirty-something, geeky Goldilocks.)

I've been investigating for a while, but I've not yet heard the argument that convinces me of the right way to go. We'll be talking to some fancy schmancy consultants about this issue in a few days, and we'll see how they shape my perception of what we need for a project of our scope.


Blogger Laura said...

We, of course, have the same problem and implemented Contribute in the fall--with some success. We were having secretaries use Dreamweaver and that was wholly unsuccessful. We were spending way too much time training and then repairing web sites when secretaries "broke" them via Dreamweaver because it had been two weeks since they'd last touched Dreamweaver. We've tried to allow users to use more of the data from our administrative systems, but everything is kind of band-aided together. There's no way to directly pull data. Some people don't like the data they do pull. They want to customize it. Partly, that's because people don't think ahead during the data entry process and give accurate data, so it's a little bit of education. I think a flexible CMS would be great. Some are not so flexible and leave us feeling "corporate." I'll be interested to see what you discover.

6:50 PM  

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