Anti-CMS Evolved Beta


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  • Hi, I’m Mike Nolan and thank you for inviting me down to speak to you today.  Firstly a little background.
  • I’ve been at Edge Hill University for over five years.
  • I started out as Web Applications Developer then played at being a project manager for a little while and I’m now Head of Web Services which means managing our website, portal and of course attending lots of meetings.
  • This talk follows on from one I gave two years ago at PHP North West 2009. Just out of interest, did anyone in the audience see that talk?The first part of this talk I’ll recap how we’ve managed websites over the last few years and then I’ll say what’s changed in the last twelve months.
  • The first part of this presentation is based on one I gave at PHP North West Conference in Autumn 2009 titled “Building an Anti-CMS and how it changed our webteam”.  So what is an anti-CMS?An Anti-CMS is my term for the approach we’ve taken to managing website content. I sometimes refer to them as systems to manage content to distinguish them from traditional content management systems.
  • Firstly we need to identify what a CMS is and what’s wrong with them.
  • Allow non-technical users to update content
  • Provide a uniform template across the site
  • Keep sites up to date
  • Whole bunch of other stuff.
  • Because everyone else has one! In the higher education sector, most institutions went through this process in the last five or six years. Many are now on their second or third CMS.
  • The reality of many CMS deployments is:
  • The wrong people are given access to create content
  • Given training on how to use the system,
  • not how to write for the web
  • CMS inhibit creativity
  • Slow to adapt to new technologies
  • Little access to internals meaning often you need to go back to the vendor for extensions
  • But for me, CMS are failing to solve the wrong problem. We end up in a situation where lots of people are trained to use a system but because it's only a small part of their job they don't use it regularly so when they come to make some changes to their site they've forgotten what to do and add things into the wrong place or phone up tech support for help who end up basically doing it for them!
  • And why is it this way? Because CMS have the wrong model of website management. They think people care about their pages, but in most cases they don't. People want the bit of information they have to go online and they don't care where it goes.So someone working in the HR departmentment needs their job vacancy to go online and as ling as that happens, great!
  • So what did we do differently? We started by identifying what the main regularly changing content is that's on the website and modeled it.  The BBC use this technique and get domain experts to sketch their world. For us it’s often pretty easy
  • Courses - these were more tricky but around the time we were building these systems in early 2008 a standard called XCRI-CAP came out basically solving the problem for us!
  • Course information was a trickier proposition but fortunately around the time we were redeveloping this area of the website another project did all the hard work for us.
  • We use a web applications framework called Symfony to turn database schema into admin interfaces and are able to build frontends around the data.
  • Having structured data allows us to do all sorts of neat things much more easily than would otherwise be possible.
  • Structured data allows us to do all sorts of neat things much more easily than would otherwise be possible. Search results highlight the important information
  • Feeds of data for other people to reuse
  • This “anti-CMS” has been in place for a few years and for the large part has been very successful in giving people with structured information the ability to update it directly on the site.
  • But our solution isn't perfect though.  These systems to manage data might be great for structured data but we haven't addressed the other 15,000 pages?  Over the last 18 months we've clawed back control over many sites which has put more load on our team.Couple this with demand from academic departments to put more things online and we potentially have a big problem.
  • Our first response was to question whether people are asking for the right thing. Do they really need things to go on the corporate website or would a blog or space on our extranet wiki be more appropriate?
  • These alternative solutions have undoubtedly taken up some of the demand but centralisation has possibly gone too far... time for some backpeddling perhaps?
  • Enter OMAC which officially stands for Online Marketing and Communications but in reality is named that way to fulfill my boss’ livelong ambition to name a project after a comic book.
  • This project launched just before Christmas looking at a number of areas of online activity including engagement with enquirers and applicants, our website design and structure and giving more control to academic departments.
  • So given the choice, do we go out to tender for a brand new Enterprise Content Management System? Every week I get calls from vendors telling me how great theirs is so it would be the “easy solution”.
  • That’s not really the Edge Hill way either - as in it would cost money!So once again we find ourselves asking what it is that departments are asking to be able to change:
  • News - new book launch
  • Events - conferences, visiting lecturers
  • Profiles turns out to be quite easy.  We now have a research repository and are in the process of rolling out a teaching and learning repository.  All staff have access to these and both have a way of presenting profiles.  With a bit of hacking we can integrate these into our website.  Sorted.
  • What about everything else?  For about four years we’ve run a blogging service using WordPress and I’ve been impressed with how far it’s come recently as a tool for hosting full websites.  A quick chat with a friendly local web agency confirmed that what I had planned could work so we set about integrating the multi site version of WordPress into our new website designs.  
  • Each department will get their own site at their own top level URL.
  • WordPress’ blogging roots make it ideal for departmental news and providing a selection of templates allows other types of content.  The way we manage structured content within our site makes it very easy to develop plugins for WordPress to pull it into these new sites.We’ve done some interesting things to make WordPress work for and with us.
  • We make extensive use of mod_rewrite - our site has a 700 line .htaccess file and this is key to how we’ve integrated WordPress into the directory structure.WordPress is installed in /wordpress and we point specific URLs at it which get picked up by Multi Site.Sounds great but most of these sites already existed causing a clash between old symfony pages and new WP ones. We solved this with some voodoo mod_rewrite.
  • We make extensive use of mod_rewrite - our site has a 700 line .htaccess file and this is key to how we’ve integrated WordPress into the directory structure.WordPress is installed in /wordpress and we point specific URLs at it which get picked up by Multi Site.Sounds great but most of these sites already existed causing a clash between old symfony pages and new WP ones. We solved this with some voodoo mod_rewrite.
  • There’s a few WordPress plugins that we’ve found very useful.
  • WPMU LDAP Plugin -
  • WPMU LDAP Plugin -
  • WPMU LDAP Plugin -
  • WPMU LDAP Plugin -
  • We’ve built a child theme based on TwentyTen with fairly extensive customisation through functions. For example we change what widget areas are available, add design elements from other parts of our site - tabbed pages and collapsible boxes.
  • We also have a few places where we use oEmbed.
  • The technical side is only half of the problem.Once we decided WordPress was capable of doing what we wanted we had the task of rolling it out.As I said before Content Management Systems fail because the wrong people are given access and trained in the system, not in how to write for the web. I’m keen we avoid that problem.  We’re trying to do this in several ways:
  • Content inventory - unless you know what is on your website and understand why it’s there and the value it gives the business your website is bound to fail.  
  • We’ve put in place a simple content inventory process following the model suggested by Relly Annett-Baker. This is a spreadsheet completed by content owners logging things like calls to action and content “ROT”. These become living documents that can be regularly checked and used by anyone involved in a site to make sure they know the current status of a site.
  • Website ownership - before migrating content to WordPress we’re making sure that departments are taking responsibility for their content by identifying who is in charge - who is it that decides promoting the English degree is more important than the Creative Writing conference?
  • Clearly identified and agreed roles - each department and faculty will have slightly different requirements in terms of who is involved in their website. The work we’ve done on the content inventory and website ownership should help ensure that parts of their site don’t go off the rails through lack of updates or expanding into the trivial.At this stage we’re also delivering training. We’ve found Interconnect’sWordPress User Guide invaluable from the technical side but we’ve struggled to a degree with writing for the web training and found some people are much better than others.
  • Success?It’s not all been plain sailing. Initially things went pretty well.  Our new web designs with the existing content went live before the summer with the plan to migrate sites to WordPress over the last few months. Some departments have been very keen while others have had a little more assistance. Part of this is the time of the year but then there’s no perfect time.
  • Anti-CMS Evolved Beta

    1. 1. Anti-CMS<br />Evolved<br />BETA<br />Michael Nolan<br /><br /><br />
    2. 2.
    3. 3. 5 years<br />22 days<br />
    4. 4. © 1984 Charles Platt and David Langford; Micromania: The Whole Truth About Home Computers<br />
    5. 5.
    6. 6. Anti-CMS?<br />
    7. 7. CMS?<br />
    8. 8.
    9. 9.
    10. 10. Loremipsumdolor sit amet, consecteturadipiscingelit. Nullabibendum, urna non luctus tempus, purusurnaposuere nisi, velfeugiatorcifelis in turpis. Curabiturvenenatiseros et enimlaoreet a sollicitudinipsumhendrerit. Quisqueurnaarcu, egestasnecvarius non, consectetur vitae libero. Nullarutrummalesuadasuscipit. Donecbibendumiaculisdolor sit ametmollis.<br />Last updated: 10 seconds ago<br />
    11. 11. workflow, version control, roles, support, audit trail, kitchen sink...<br />
    12. 12. EVERYONE<br />HAS<br />ONE<br />
    13. 13. Reality<br />
    14. 14. Wrong People<br />
    15. 15. Training on…<br />System<br />
    16. 16. Training on…<br />Writingfor theWeb<br />
    17. 17. CMS inhibit creativity<br />
    18. 18. CMS are slow to adapt to new technologies<br />
    19. 19. CMS often tie you to the vendor for extensions<br />
    20. 20.
    21. 21.
    22. 22.
    23. 23. domain expert<br />
    24. 24. News<br />
    25. 25. Press Releases<br />
    26. 26. Events<br />
    27. 27. Calendar Entries<br />
    28. 28. Courses<br />
    29. 29. XCRI-CAP<br />
    30. 30. Courses?<br />
    31. 31.
    32. 32.
    33. 33.
    34. 34.
    35. 35. Atom, JSON, PHP, XCRI, iCal<br />
    36. 36. job done?<br />
    37. 37.
    38. 38. ( www || blogs || wiki )<br />
    39. 39.
    40. 40. O<br />M<br />A<br />C<br />
    41. 41. Online<br />Marketing<br />And<br />Communications<br />
    42. 42.
    43. 43.
    44. 44. CMS?<br />
    45. 45. £$€¢¥<br />
    46. 46. News<br />
    47. 47. Events<br />
    48. 48. Courses<br />
    49. 49. Profiles<br />
    50. 50.
    51. 51. /english<br />/education<br />/magic<br />/health<br />
    52. 52.
    53. 53. mod_rewrite<br />
    54. 54. RewriteRule ^omac/(on|off)/(.*)$ /$2 [co=omac:$,R,L]RewriteRule ^omac/on$ /wordpress/wp-admin/my-sites.php [,R,L]RewriteRule ^omac/off$ / [,R,L]RewriteCond %{HTTP_COOKIE} omac=on [NC]RewriteRule ^(sport|performingarts|dsaps)/(.*) /wordpress/$1/$2 [QSA,L]RewriteCond %{HTTP_COOKIE} omac=on [NC]RewriteRule ^(sport|performingarts|dsaps)$ /wordpress/$1 [QSA,L]<br />
    55. 55.
    56. 56. WPMU LDAP<br />
    57. 57. More Fields<br />
    58. 58. Per Page SidebarWidget Logic<br />
    59. 59. FeedWordPress<br />
    60. 60. Theme<br />
    61. 61. oEmbed<br /><br />
    62. 62.
    63. 63. ContentInventory<br />
    64. 64.
    65. 65. Website Ownership<br />
    66. 66. Clearly Identified Roles<br />
    67. 67.
    68. 68. Anti-CMS<br />Evolved<br />BETA<br />Michael Nolan<br /><br /><br />
    69. 69. Creative Commons<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />