Sunday, July 8, 2007

Interesting Challenge

This seemed like a simple task when I started: create a brochure ware website with no cost or minimal cost. This does not include hosting.

I can hear you all saying "whats the the big deal?". So my further condition was that I wanted not to call on the expertise of a Web developer and I did not wish to read any book to get this task done.

My approach was to find some "free" templates, do some simple editing and I would be there?

The first part of the plan was 50% successful. After some searching it is easy to find many free templates. The issue I struggled with was that these were "ok", not fantastic, and there are legal conditions which means that you need to mention the template company name on the site. IMHO the value of using the templates does not out weigh having to mention the template company? Not deterred, I looked at some of the commercial templates (theoretically purchase going on here). I found much better templates giving more functionality and no legal constraints.

My next task I thought would be easy - add content and make some small edits to the html/css. I should mention that I really wanted to avoid anything that looked like code. This is the 21st century - why should I need to go deep into the css or html. For example, creating a blog is simply a matter of making some wizard driven choices. After some searching I found 2 tools that look really interesting:
  • Arachnophilia This is "freeware" which is a powerful programming editor with some special HTML production and editing features. With it, you can:
    • Create HTML pages using a suite of powerful tools.
    • Upload your Web site to your Internet service provider using Arachnophilia's built-in FTP service.
    • Fully customize Arachnophilia's menus, toolbars and keyboard commands. Arachnophilia lets you create or remove any commands, toolbars, or menus you want to.
    • Beautify, and analyze the structure of, your Web pages, so they will be more likely to be error-free and work correctly with more browsers.
    • Create working environments for many kinds of programming tasks using Arachnophilia's fully customizable menus and toolbars.
  • Nvu A complete Web Authoring System for Linux desktop users as well as Microsoft Windows and Macintosh users to rival programs like FrontPage and Dreamweaver. Nvu (which stands for "new view") makes managing a web site a snap. Now anyone can create web pages and manage a website with no technical expertise or knowledge of HTML.
Both these tools are exciting and I will be using both these tools in the future.

My final comment to answer "Why not use a WCM product?". The answer is that the purpose is to create a short term mini website that will perhaps have WCM added later or even be thrown away. WCM would have increased the development time and not added value in this instance.

Thanks for reading - any comments or advice will be gratefully received.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Minisite Wizard

We have been having some very interesting discussions with some customers about what would really promote adoption of WCM in their organization. The business is not forced to use the IT department which means that the value statement presented by the IT department has to be very strong. Add this to the bad reputation Content Management had gained over the last 5 years means we really have to come up with a compelling solution.

We have an active role with 2 pilot projects with Alfresco. We are looking at this question to see if the product can be extended or adapted to provide
a wizard–like user interface to simplify the process of building a small and relatively simple website on top of Alfresco. Non-technical users would be led through a configuration process that would result in a new website in simply a matter of minutes.

Using the tool, the user would be able to choose from a limited set of options such as menu style, content contributor(s), css, headers/footers, presentation templates, etc. In addition, users would choose from a list of Widgets offering various display functionality such as sitemap, calendar RSS, etc.

Structurally, the Configuration Tool would be a plugin that sits on top of alfresco and does not replace any core functionality with the WCM product. It should also be configurable such that an enterprise could modify and add-to the components.

If succesful this would provide a solution to the enterprise that maintains some form of control and structure within the production web environment while at the same time offer the business customer and experience similar to the dozens of consumer products available online.

The initial investigation is gathering interest. Eye Street is hoping to enlist the support of Alfresco and the customer to investigate further. My believe is that we could really promote the use of WCM to create simple websites quickly - maybe even change some of the bad opinion Content Management products have gained of the years?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The ripple effects of Open Source

I cannot quite remember when it happened for me? I have been aware of Open Source software for quite some time but have not been a strong advocate. My opinions were that it was interesting but just a bunch of techies having some fun. Now when I consider what I am using for everyday activities I have to conclude that even this most obstinate luddite has been brought from the dark side. Admittedly some of these applications are not quite Open Source but they are FREE - e.g., utilities from Google, Skype.

Moving up a level it is interesting to observe the reaction to Open source in the commercial world. Having worked for software vendors for many years I understood and accepted the traditional sales model. My customers understand the traditional model and accept the pain that goes with it. The feedback I get is that customers do not mind paying for value but get very uncomfortable with: the sell and run approach, or constantly being dinged for incremental add-ons, lack of communication/roadmap top secret. Customers do raise concerns over Open Source - they need to see a real Company behind the product which offers support and will be around for the foreseeable future. Alfresco seems to be in a new wave of Open Source companies which have a business model and are altering the way companies look at Open Source.

Recently I have invested a lot of effort into WCM with Alfresco and like many reading this article we believe Alfresco will cause a significant impact in the CM world. My question for this article is what effect will Alfresco have on the traditional CM vendors, e.g., Interwoven, Documentum, ..? Can traditional vendors:
- compete on initial cost
- compete on openness of code, roadmap, feedback, bugs..
- offer the same ability for prove the technology or POC without the substantial upfront costs

Traditional vendors have to pay for the high cost of sales and are almost locked in this less than perfect traditional sales model. If Alfresco is successful, then my opinion is that the competition has to react and change. All of the above issues need to be addressed and in addition the vendors need to step up and prove they are the leaders. They should be concerned!!