University Web Developers

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If we adopt a CMS, what else should we have in place before choosing one, assuming we should have one at all? What kind of problems will it not solve for us? I am with a small private college (under a thousand students) with limited human and financial resources. Most of our staff and faculty are 50ish, and not Web-savvy.

Our current website is built and maintained in the traditional way with Dreamweaver. We want to empower people to create their own content, and I wonder if there is some way other than a CMS so that they can have the basic necessary permissions to do so.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has been through this decision making process or could point me in the direction of how to find out more about how to create such a process.

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A CMS comes with its own grab bag of problems to consider. You'll have to have individual departments determine who is responsible for maintaining their content, and make sure they're in charge of it (put it in their job descriptions). Then you'll have to train them. And that means training them over, and over and over, because many of them will only touch the CMS once per semester, and then they'll forget. You'll have to train them to use the thing, but also train them to write good web copy; train them to not use animated gifs and make everything purple and bold; train them that there is a right and wrong time to use the school colors and that "creativity" is not the enemy of consistency, but that subtlety is creativity's best friend.

And when you've done all that, then you'll still have to spend a bunch of your time auditing the changes they've made.

 

CMSs are also fairly complex, so if external hosting isn't your cup of tea, you'll need to make sure you have adequate in-house support. I don't have statistics, but I have no doubt CMSs play a significant role in website outages when they're on the front lines without adequate support.

 

That's all I got for now -- if you want to discuss this in depth, I'd be happy to help.

 

-Mike

Mike Smith,

Thanks so much for your help and your offer of more. One other human resource issue that concerns me is, job description or not, I think many department heads will use their people in ways they consider more crucial than supporting their websites. Not only because they are short of staff, but because their focus and their skills are not in creating and maintaining web content. So, I wonder how it would work if we assigned support people to work with those departments but they are under the supervision of the chief web officer. Then they would do this work regularly, not just once a semester, and the training could be better used. What do you think?

I'm always ancy about changing people's roles, even in a controlled way. There will probably be some organizational discomfort no matter how you do it, but it's bound to be better than having one team or person responsible for all the edits on a 900 page site.

A CMS is essential for any website bigger than a 4-5 pages. And there are all sorts of options, both local and hosted, WordPress and Sharepoint are both CMSs. Plus there are free open source options like Drupal and Joomla. And many, many fine higher-ed only choices, we use Ingeniux. Also, you can do quite a bit internally with some php and mysql code.

I would look to a CMS first and foremost to streamline your process, and look to bring users in later.

Good luck, I am happy to chat with you anytime!

Michael Santoroski,

Thanks much for your reply. Well, our website is a lot more than 4-5 pages; I alone manage more like 900.

How will a CMS 'streamline my process'? If anything, I see obstacles to such tasks with a CMS. For example, I can do search-and-replace across static web pages, but how is that done with CMS articles?

It depends on your CMS. For example, in our CMS, Plone, a global search is trivial, but a search-and-replace on the editable part of articles would require an experienced Python developer to step into the back-end. On the other hand, it's never happened, because there isn't much repetition on that part of the site. The CMS allows users to replicate content across site hierarchies (so down entire branches) so it only need to be changed in one place.

But that's a great specific point to keep on your requirements document as you search for a CMS.

Seriously, this is a Michael heavy thread!

I just caught this:

I wonder if there is some way other than a CMS so that they can have the basic necessary permissions to do so.

Please do not get tempted by Adobe Contribute. It may sound like exactly what you're seeking, but it will not make your life easier. We switched from Contribute two years ago after a painful three years with it. If you find yourself considering a distributed CMS like this, ask me for a list of reasons why you should avoid that style of content management.

THIS
I second this.

This. A billion times this.

 

-- SUNY-ESF's Contribute admin here...

I got into higher edu web development back in 2010. We had Contribute when I arrived and it gave us more than a few headaches. We got away from it earlier this year.

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