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Overloaded?

Article originally published in Computer Tracker magazine.

When a website goes past a certain number of pages, it starts to make sense to store the pages in a database, rather than as hundreds or even thousands of plain text HTML files. Putting web pages into a database gives advantages to large websites including cost savings, task automation, pay per view and rapid site updating. Companies with a lot of information or that have frequent updates on their products or services, publications and online media websites can all benefit from this approach. The largest benefit is the potential to make anyone with the right level access a contributor. Using a database to store and serve web pages has acquired the official sounding name of Content Management Systems.
Web content can be updated in a web browser using a Content Management System.
Using a Content Management System allows editors or staff, who are not savvy web designers to add pages, through a web-based administration interface. They can paste their content (articles, product or service information, news and even graphics) into a web pages, push a submit button and have these pages display on the web. This feature alone can result in substantial savings because instead of using a trained web designer to post pages, lower paid staff can add their own content. All the linking can be handled by the database.

In one example cited by a Content Management System developer, their customer, instead of using a $50,000/year web designer to post pages, was able to assign the task to an administrative person who was paid $25,000/year. The web designer could then be used where their efforts were best applied, designing nice looking web pages, but the every day maintenance of the web site could be moved down the line to where it was appropriate.

Using a database-driven Content Management System can also mean that a website can be kept fresher. The web designer, who was being called to do all kinds of design tasks for the website, was less responsive to the rote and boring tasks of content update. This division of labor, separating the content from the web site style, also meant that the website was kept more up-to-date, as the task could be delegated to a less creative, but more detailed person, who responded to requests from management in a faster time frame.

Once the material or content of a website is within a database, many tasks can be automated quickly. If a web publisher wanted to have their website free when the material came out, but then moved into an archive when it went past a month of free access. Once the content was in the archive, to view it, people browsing their website would be prompted to pay a small fee to view the material. An online credit card processing system could be built that would charge a nominal fee from customers credit card to access the material.

Another scenario where a Content Management System could be used is a monthly publication that wanted to give the impression that they were posting stories on a daily basis. In such a system, editors would upload their entire issue at once, and then by using a Date to Display field, have material be featured on different dates. Browsers coming to the website would perceive that there was fresh material being added on a daily basis.

Corporations and publications seem to go through regular purges of styles. A new manager or designer comes in and dislikes the existing style. Changing styles in large HTML-only websites can be a laborious and tedious process, because a technically sophisticated web designer needs to hunt through hundreds or thousands of pages and cut out the old style and paste in the new style. If the content is maintained in a Content Management System, then a style update can be done very quickly. Because the content is maintained separately from the style files, the web designer would simply update the look of the website in one location and all the pages would then display the new look.

The logic of separating style from content and the benefits of database controlled content have not been lost on either web application developers or companies seeking to get a handle on controlling their information explosion. A few years ago, the Vignette Story Server (www.vignette.com) was the big name in Content Management Systems. They sold their software to a number of the high-end media companies. Vancouver-based Ncompass Labs sells a system called Resolution (www.ncompass.com). In the past year or so the number of Content Management Systems has blossomed into hundreds of different offerings. For a list of some of the available offerings, have a look at: idm.internet.com/tools/cm/. These systems range from top of the line software, selling for millions of dollars to free open source efforts.

The wide range of pricing models is based on complexity, sophistication and to a certain extent prestige. They are built on a variety of underlying software platforms. Using Microsoft Windows 2000 with MS SQL Server or Oracle will obviously cost a lot more than building something based on an open source operating system (Linux), middleware (PHP or PERL) and SQL database (MySQL). Some systems are plug and play, while others require considerable customization for each client. With considerably lower costs, and a wide range of products on the market, Content Management Systems are becoming practical to a much wider variety of businesses. )


Douglas Alder is President of HomeBase Internet Publishing Ltd in Vancouver. HomeBase Internet specializes in web application development. He was the publisher of The Computer Paper for ten years. He can be reached at HomeBase Internet www.hbase.net Tel 604-638-0668, or by email at doug@hbase.net

 
 
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