In Part 2 of our series on content management systems, David Peterson demonstrates
how FrontPage 2002 has the power to keep your Web site functioning smoothly
Maybe youve realised that the guy from IT with an HTML editor isnt
going to scale very well when your Web site doubles in size next year. Perhaps
your team spends more time fixing mistakes than producing Web site content.
Or maybe you just feel that your Web site is spinning out of control.
In any event, youve decided that you need a content management system
(CMS). Now what?
If youre very lucky, youll have several months and several hundred
thousand dollars to spend to implement a top-of-the-line content management
system, such as Vignette. Alternatively, you may have been given a couple of
months and a couple of hundred thousand dollars to implement a mid-line system
like Microsoft Content Management Server. In the current environment, though,
youre more likely to have been given two weeks and told to work
with existing resources meaning that all youve got to work
with is a junior developer whos between projects and whatever you can
scavenge from the furniture budget.
The bottom end of the CMS market is not a particularly attractive place to be.
There are certainly plenty of options available, but, with only a handful of
exceptions, they tend to smell an awful lot like something a hobbyist threw
together over the holidays. They can be fine if your requirements arent
too sophisticated. But lets face it, if you only had simple requirements
you probably wouldnt be looking for a content management system in the
Your first reaction may be to grab a copy of Microsoft Access and write your
own content management system but as someone who has been down that road,
I wouldnt recommend it. Creating something that will take content stored
in a database and serve it up to HTML templates is easy enough. But when you
start to work on the best way of getting the content into the database in the
first place and ensuring its ongoing integrity, youll find yourself running
into a brick wall. The most likely outcome will be yet another half-baked content
management system like those that already litter the market.
The key shortcoming of many of these systems (and even some of the pricier
ones) is that, despite the content management badging, their actual function
is only that of content delivery management dealing with content that
has already been prepared and is ready for presentation. A genuine content management
solution recognises the need to create content and provides an environment that
will help a team author, edit, review and collaborate to prepare new Web site
content. Any system that cant support this is unlikely to provide a satisfactory
solution to your problem.
So where does that leave you if you need to do content management on a budget?
The solution may be closer than you think Microsoft FrontPage 2002.
FrontPage: a content management system?
FrontPage 2002 has come a long
way from its humble origins. As well as being a fully-featured HTML development
environment and site management tool, it also now provides the workflow and
collaboration features essential for successful content creation and management.
If you do a quick comparison between the list of features that define a content
management system from the first part of this series on CMS and the back of
the FrontPage box, it would appear that FrontPage doesnt even come close
to being a genuine content management system. But appearances can be deceiving.
True, it has limited support for XML and wont handle content syndication
or multiple delivery channels. But if you have only a few thousand pages to
manage and dont require some of the more specialised content management
system features, you may find it to be a more than adequate tool for your needs.
Consider this: Lets look at BigCo. An imaginary Australian
company with, lets say, 24 offices nationwide and a head office in Sydney,
we can use it as an illustrative example of how FrontPage 2002 can successfully
be used as a CMS.
The company structure is based around product lines rather than geography, meaning
that employees from each product division are distributed between each of the
regional offices. Shared services, such as marketing and IT, are centralised
at head office. BigCos marketing department manages the corporate Web
site, with technical support from IT at head office, but the content producers
themselves are scattered between the many regional offices.
The BigCo Web site reflects the corporate structure, with a section for each
of the four product divisions. There is a common look and feel to the site,
with minor variations between each division in order to balance product branding
with the overall corporate identity.
These look-and-feel and branding elements are maintained by marketing, leaving
the content teams from each of the divisions to concern themselves exclusively
with Web site content, rather than the details of its presentation.
Its important to BigCo that its Web site be seen to move with the
times, so the look and feel of the site has to be able to change every
1218 months without the need to manually edit each page of content.
Each of the content teams has four to seven members, all of whom have a good
working knowledge of their divisions products, but little technical skill
in Web site design and development. When new content is created, it may require
the knowledge of more than one team member, but due to the geographic dispersal
of the teams, such collaboration can seldom occur in person and needs to be
supported electronically. Naturally, with multiple team members working on a
file at any given time, its imperative that there be some mechanism to
ensure that no-one saves over or accidentally deletes anyone elses work.
Its company policy that no content is to be published on the corporate
Web site without a team leader first approving it. A senior manager must also
approve certain types of content. Most content remains on the site indefinitely
and may be periodically updated as required; news items, however, must be removed
after seven days.
In summary, BigCo needs a system to support the following areas:
- content creation and editing;
- multiple readily modifiable templates;
- collaboration and teamwork;
- content approval and workflow; and
- content archiving.
Most readers would already be familiar with FrontPages capabilities in
content creation and editing (which need not concern us here), but how can it
meet BigCos other requirements?
Templates and branding
Because FrontPages management of content
is based primarily around HTML documents, its not able to achieve true
separation of content and its presentation (see the sidebar CMS vs DMS). However,
a degree of flexibility is provided through the use of Themes, Stylesheets and
Shared Borders, which allow the look and feel of the entire site to be managed
from a single point without affecting the content itself.
BigCos requirement for a differing look and feel between divisions can
be supported with the use of subwebs, each of which may have its own Theme,
Stylesheets and Shared Borders. Any changes to these can be cascaded to thousands
of pages within minutes.
Collaboration and teamwork
The problem of different users saving over
each others work can be easily avoided with FrontPages Document
- Select Web Settings from the Tools menu.
- Check the Use document check-in and check-out box.
Now all documents in the Web site will have a little red-tick marker next
to them when a user has them checked out for editing.
A list of which documents have been checked out, when and to whom is achieved
by running a Checkout Status Workflow Report.
Additional collaboration features that FrontPage provides include Tasks for
assigning work between team members, and Web Document Discussions to allow users
to comment on each others work (if SharePoint Team Services is installed
on the web server).
Workflow in FrontPage is based around document properties.
To modify these properties, follow these steps:
- Select one or more documents, right-click and select Properties
from the pop-up menu.
- Select the Workgroup tab from the Document Properties dialog
From here a user can set the review status of a document, determine who is
assigned to work on it and whether or not its ready to be published. For
example, when a BigCo content producer has finished creating a new document,
they would set the status to Pending Review, assign it to their
team leader for approval and check the Exclude this file when publishing
the rest of the web box.
Any team member can review the documents that have been assigned to them by
running an Assigned To Workflow Report, which shows who has been
assigned what documents, when and by whom.
A team leader can keep track of the status of the documents in the Web site
using the Review Status Workflow Report and the Publish Status
To find content that is due to be archived,a BigCo
team leader would open up the Older Files Files Report and select
7 days as the time frame to show a list of all documents more than
a week old. They would then filter the report to only show relevant documents
(for example, those in the news folder or those that contain news
in the title). The resulting list of files could then be deleted or moved to
an archive folder as appropriate.
You want more?
Although FrontPage 2002 meets all of the requirements
outlined in this scenario, there will certainly be situations where companies
will require more. Even then FrontPage is able to rise to the occasion by plugging
in the functionality of other products. For example, FrontPages
metadata tagging through content categorisation is only really for internal
use for site reporting and automatic table of contents creation.
To create and maintain standard content and keyword metatags of the type that
Internet search engines employ, you can use a product such as TagGen from HiSoftware.
Some sites will require comprehensive versioning of documents, allowing a detailed
review of exactly what changes have been made between updates and allowing changes
to be rolled back to any previous version. Although FrontPage does not natively
support these features, they can be introduced by integrating Microsofts
Visual SourceSafe product.
Other features can be enhanced from within FrontPage itself. Workflow based
on document properties and reports has the advantage of being extremely flexible
and being available out of the box with no more customisation required than
the creation of a suitable list of team members and review status types.
However, it does lack a degree of control. For example, a content creator
who makes a mistake setting document attributes may inadvertently shortcut the
review and approval process and find their content published prematurely.
Fortunately, being part of the Office XP suite of products, FrontPage 2002 is
fully scriptable, allowing a sites workflow rules to be enforced through
Visual Basic for Applications code.
Alternatively, SharePoint Team Services can be installed on the FrontPage web
server, providing FrontPage content developers with an even more sophisticated
workflow and collaboration environment.
Microsoft FrontPage 2002 can be used to form the basis of a content management
solution appropriate for the needs of many companies particularly those
working under a constrained budget and implementation schedule. However, those
who require features such as true separation of form and content, multiple delivery
channels and XML support will require a true content management system such
as Microsoft Content Management Server. Well review Microsoft Content
Management Server in detail in Part 3 of our CMS series in a future issue.
David Peterson is a principal consultant at Peterson IT Consulting (www.PetersonIT
Consulting.com). He can be contacted by email at david@PetersonITConsulting.com.