Monthly Archives: December 2012

Designing Websites With Content Management Systems

Should we use a Content Management System (CMS) or a flat site for our group project?

This week we had to make a key decision regarding the construction of the website; the choice was between building a flat site from scratch or adapting a template from WordPress.org, the version of this blogging site which requires paid-for hosting.

Why adopt a CMS?

CMSs are an increasingly common method of managing information in a wide range of information environments.  As discussed by Namer, (2012) and Boag (2009), benefits can include consistency of layout, enhanced usability, increased security (anti-spam, anti-hack software), multiple author facility, capacity for increased usage and reduced administration costs.

There are certainly several advantages to an organisation using a CMS instead of a flat site. However, the adoption of a CMS can also have negative consequences.  My initial observation of its adoption by a small charity reflects a need to consider and plan for the implicit costs and long-term consequences.  Garrett (2003) supports this view by including discussion of CMSs in the “Scope Plane” of his 5-Plane model, thus ensuring consideration of issues such as staffing and workflows once the CMS is active.  Harrison (2009) discusses how CMS databases place additional demands on expensive, limited server space.  The abovementioned charity has seen its server space reduced dramatically since the introduction of a CMS-based website.  Given that the organisation cannot fund additional server space, it is urging all staff to review their files in order to make more space available.  Graham and Kramer (2012) discuss the high financial, time and staffing costs involved in website development and maintenance.  For example, staff need to be allocated time to update the website (who is going to reply to the daily emails and posts that arrive via the website?) and training must be undertaken on a regular basis to keep up with software changes.

Our group decision…

After undertaking a brief trial of WordPress.org, we have opted for constructing a flat site.  The decision was based primarily on the group’s desire to gain coding experience and to accurately reproduce the prototype /wireframes we had developed through testing.  Although this approach supports our personal and academic development, I  think that the time and expertise required to build a flat website would be beyond the reach of small, community groups such as the one we are working for.

In terms of the group project I am pleased with our decision to build a flat site; I think that the thought-process involved in constructing a site from scratch will definitely help us to develop a better understanding of usability and coding which can both be applied to a CMS.

In the meantime, I am conscious of the relevance of skills related to using a CMS in the information job market and I have therefore spent some time experimenting with two packages.  This is a summary of my findings from a short trial.  (More detailed and accurate comparisons of a wide range of CMS packages are available online to individuals and organisations.)

WordPress (Hosted Version)

  • Intuitive, clear user interface
  • Good range of customisable templates for non-expert users
  • Clear support documentation

Drupal

  • Wide range of customisable templates
  • Support documentation is very technical
  • User interface is not very intuitive: e.g. uploading images requires user to modify file settings
  • Potential to extend site-specific functionality

Given that the charity that I am volunteering for is using Drupal, I decided to experiment with this CMS by signing up with Native Space, a web hosting company and I am now the owner of a website.

I have constructed my (very) basic site using Drupal but I have encountered some difficulties.  This is largely due to my inexperience with online CMS systems and the use of web hosting.  On balance, it was easier and more intuitive to design in WordPress than Drupal.  I was disappointed by the amount of time I spent looking for and creating functionality in Drupal which was readily available in WordPress.  Mark (2011) suggests Drupal offers greater flexibility and functionality in the long term for an experienced designer.  Indeed, it is evident from the limited functionality  and content of my Drupal website that this CMS is not suitable for non-expert users.  If the aim is to support a wider range of people to build and maintain websites, WordPress would be my choice in the future.

REFERENCES

Boag, P. 2009. 10 things to consider when choosing the perfect CMS [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: http://coding.smashingmagazine.com/2009/03/05/10-things-to-consider-when-choosing-the-perfect-cms/ [Accessed: 03 January 2013].

Garrett, J. J. 2003. The elements of user experience : user-centered design for the web. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders

Graham, R. and Kramer, J. 2012. Introduction to web content management systems site development [online]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Extension School. Available at: http://www.trainingcraft.com/Harvard/CMSWeek1/CMS-Week%201-slides.pdf [Accessed 03 January 2013].

Harrison, D. 2009. The advantages and disadvantages of content management systems [online]. Available at: http://daveharrison.net/articles/the-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-content-management-systems [Accessed: 11 December 2012].

Mark, J. 2011. How WordPress took the CMS crown from Drupal and Joomla [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: http://wp.smashingmagazine.com/2011/11/29/wordpress-cms-crown-drupal-joomla/  [Accessed: 11 December 2012].

Namer. 2012. The best content management systems to use [online]. Available at: http://www.name.com/blog/contentmarketing/2012/12/the-best-content-management-systems-to-use/ [Accessed: 03 January 2013].

 

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Learning to code is like learning to read

It’s just like learning a new language…

Learning English

I remember learning to read in English; my class teacher presented me with a thin A5 “beginners’ reading book” from the Infants’ department.  I was 9 years old and had left my home in Milan as a fluent reader and writer in Italian as well as being a fluent speaker of Marathi.  Needless to say, during that first year, I amassed a collection of unread “easy-readers” in my desk.  In the meantime, I spent my time in the local library, tussling with the social and linguistic complexities of Paddington Bear and The Famous Five.  Thirty six years later, I have become fluent in several more languages and worked as a primary teacher; a positive outcome to a rather sorry start to my English education.  This experience came to mind when I undertook a coding workshop as part of this week’s lecture.  It was evident that I was encountering a familiar problem; I needed to learn to read.  Again.

Learning HTML and CSS

Of course, HTML and CSS are strictly not languages, they are simply a way of adding context, style and structure to text so that it can be displayed in a web browser.  Nonetheless, as with a language, the pages of code needed to be understood and used to communicate something.  My strategy at the age of 45 was the same as that which I used at the age of 9. Firstly, I ignored the complex details and looked at the broad meaning of the written code.  (As with any language, you do not need to know every word to understand the meaning of a sentence.)  Secondly, I trotted off to the Library where I found some accessible manuals and online references (dictionaries and grammar books).  Lastly, I am spending time trying to build a basic understanding using contexts, phrases and expressions borrowed from web designers (native speakers).

Enjoying Learning

As with any of the languages I speak, there are major gaps in what I understand and can currently achieve using HTML and CSS.  However, I am heartened by the fact that a year after dispensing with my “beginners’ reading book” I finished  the “The Hobbit”. I don’t know if I will make similar progress with coding but in the meantime, I am enjoying learning and I am rather pleased with my achievement to date:

First Page

REFERENCES

Duckett, J. 2011. HTML and CSS: design and build websites. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley and Sons

McFarland, D. 2009. CSS: the missing manual. 2nd ed. Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly Media