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Macromedia Introduces Content Management Tool

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Bill Barrett

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User since: 22 Aug 2001

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Macromedia has released a “technology preview” of Contribute, a client-side-only content management tool that allows web developers to maintain the control they need while providing content editors the freedom to make changes to web content without assistance. Contribute is an extremely simple-to-use, relatively robust, and inexpensive alternative to other costly or unwieldy content management systems.

How It Works

Contribute requires no server component; it uses FTP and saves utility files on the server (which adds a bit of clutter, but the tradeoffs may well be worth that inconvenience). All you have to do is install Contribute on an internet-enabled PC (or a Mac with OS X in early 2003), add sites (just as you would in an FTP application), and set up users for each site. An administrator can dole out privileges as lenient or as restrictive as necessary. Users then also install Contribute (which is being introduced at $99 per user) and gain their privileges by receiving a special file from the administrator with an encrypted password. (Users don’t ever see the FTP settings, so if you decommission a user, that user can’t reconnect to your site.) Once the users click on that special file and enter their password successfully, they can edit pages in a nicely refined browser-like user interface. Macromedia did a nice job here: on first use, I encountered no major usability obstacles.

Main Features

In fact, the smooth usability of its editing interface seems to be Contribute’s strongest feature, whether an edit involves only text or everything from links, images, and table content. Even in its most restrictive editing environment (viewable text only), Contribute will save web developers — especially those who work with one or many content editors — tons of time, since probably 85 percent or more of post-publish edits are textual. For an administrator, Contribute might be a better alternative for making quick edits than either connecting through FTP via an HTML editor or working offline and uploading a new file. Unpublished drafts can be saved and reviewed, too. With a single command, Contribute will conveniently generate a “please review” email with a direct link to the draft page. Contribute’s rollback capability (which saves up to three previous versions of a page) is a solid and welcome feature. What about database-generated content? Only static portions of the page show up in Contribute’s editing screen, and the underlying code is untouched.

Contribute can also allow editors to delete pages, change text styling, add or delete images, or add new pages based on templates (which are either existing pages or previously-defined templates). Though I haven’t yet had a chance to test these more advanced capabilities with actual content editors, it seems to me that they could work well with seasoned editors who have some sense of design and information architecture. However, I can see how too much editorial control over site architecture and design elements could cause disarray and inconsistency if pages are added or styles changed willy-nilly. Still, at least the options are there if administrators decide they want to use them.

A Big Score For Macromedia — and Web Developers

This kind of tool has been in the minds of developers for a long time, and Macromedia seems to have scored a major goal against its competitors. There is practically no barrier to the adoption of Contribute, except perhaps the cost if many licenses are needed. It’s a snap to administer and use. But the biggest win is that web developers will be unshackled from the requests of zealous, well-intentioned content editors who can drive us crazy. Conversely, content editors will be ever so happy to have a tool that is easy to use and empowers them to really “own” their content.

Bill Barrett is a web developer based in New York City.

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