Macromedia simplifies content control

Department and agency officials make significant investments to set up their Web sites, but they often give little thought to post-design content management. Thankfully, a strength of Macromedia Contribute has always been providing a way for users to enter and publish content without altering the underlying design. More importantly, it doesn't require the time or attention of Web development staff. This approach gives control to end users and allows Web development employees to work on design and back-end issues.

Macromedia has taken this concept a step further this year with the release of Contribute 3 and the Web Publishing System (WPS). The latter is a bundle of three Macromedia products, including Studio MX 2004 (reviewed in the Feb. 23 issue of Federal Computer Week), Contribute 3 and the new Contribute Publishing Services server tool, which provides a way to manage content and users in an enterprise setting. This review looks at Contribute 3 while also taking a peek at the new Contribute Publishing Services.

Maintaining control

After you invest in designing a Web site, you want to make sure you control its underlying structure. Contribute's tools allow administrators to do just that.

You can define roles and assign them to users, enabling you to allot different privileges to different users. For example, you may want to allow some employees to edit content but not add graphics or other page elements. You can control who can publish directly to a Web site and who must receive approval first.

The process of adding roles and users is easy and should be a snap for experienced information technology administrators and less technical administrators.

Because the Contribute Publishing Services server tool allows administrators to add users to the system from a Microsoft Active Directory or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol list, they can set up users and groups at the server level more easily. If you want to manage content on a site with only a few users inside a department, you can probably get by with a few Contribute 3 licenses. But larger organizations will want to use the server component. The tool is browser-based, installs in a few minutes and offers an easy-to-use interface that experienced IT staff can set up and use.

You should be aware that the server tool has a license deal based on the number of users on the system, not the number of servers. You could place it on multiple servers — such as one for your intranet and one for your external portal — then pay for access licenses based on the number of users on each server installation. Download the server component for a free test.

Managing content

Contribute uses a far simpler model than most Web content management packages, giving users rather than IT administrators the bulk of the control over the system, leaving administrators to manage user access levels. Basically, Contribute controls user access based on roles defined by administrators. But the product also provides an easy way to update content on the Web site by allowing the content contributor to make changes directly to the site.

In most organizations, after the site design team designs and deploys the site, business workers are responsible for maintaining current content. This can pose a problem, though. Because several employees work with content before it reaches the site — the final step usually involves the Web development staff posting the new material — the process can become mired in bottlenecks. Contribute gives full control — or as much control as you desire — to the content producers, a structure that makes much more sense.

To update the Web site, users enter the site's URL in the Contribute browser and log on to the site after entering an access key provided by the site administrator. Writers can then edit pages to which they have access by clicking Edit Page and typing new content directly onto the page. As users enter the new content, Contribute maintains the layout and styles of the original design, providing an "idiot proof" way of ensuring design consistency.

Users with proper rights can add or edit pictures, enter links and add multimedia, such as Flash movies or FlashPaper documents. FlashPaper allows users without any technical knowledge to easily incorporate existing content, such as a Microsoft Office document, into a Web site.

Contribute 3 will help you simplify your Web content management and take some of the load off your Web development team, and that's a win-win situation for you and your team.

Miller is a freelance writer based in Amherst, Mass. He can be reached at ronsmiller@ronsmiller.com.

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