Web developers and designers can be pulled in many directions, often spending too much time on site maintenance and too little time on design and development. The proprietary nature of site maintenance makes it risky to assign site maintenance to less technical staff members.
Macromedia has taken aim at this problem area with the launch of Macromedia Contribute, a tool that lets Web development teams safely distribute routine and mundane Web site update tasks to stakeholders and users who don't have extensive Web skills.
For starters, Macromedia Contribute uses a browser-like interface with Windows standard toolbars that should be familiar territory to most PC users (See Figure A).
Using Macromedia Contribute
Users familiar with Web browsers and Office software have the skills to use Macromedia Contribute to update Web sites. Here's how the Macromedia Contribute process works:
- Connect to the Web site via FTP access.
- Browse to the Web page you need to update.
- Edit the page.
- Publish the updated page.
This ease of use helps Macromedia Contribute surpass Microsoft FrontPage as the GUI-based Web authoring tool of choice for nontechnical users. Additionally, since Macromedia Contribute is built upon the core engine of Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, you can avoid the issues of extraneous HTML code being introduced into the Web pages updated by Macromedia Contribute users.
A draft of the page with any accompanying style sheets is created locally during the updating process, so the live page is not immediately affected. But since nontechnical users can launch page changes, you should establish management, style, and approval/acceptance processes to maintain control over the changes.
Editing a site without being a bull in a china shop
To allow inexperienced users direct access to Web pages brimming with HTML, CSS, and other code is unthinkable in most organizations. Even home-rolled content management systems built on platforms like Vignette are designed to accommodate users who don’t know HTML.
Macromedia Contribute's strength is in the software's ability to create and edit intranet Web sites and project Web sites. Macromedia Contribute includes a number of sample pages, which can be used as templates for typical intranet pages, including calendars and collaboration pages for projects and meetings. Contribute also lets developers build custom Web page templates.
Administering Macromedia Contribute in your organization
Giving users access to Macromedia Contribute is not without administrative responsibilities. While not a full-time task, there are some administration tasks that need to be handled by a Web developer or other Web-fluent staff member. Those tasks include:
- Edit permission groups to allow administrators to setup user groups based upon permissions.
- Setup other users by sending them a Macromedia Contribute connection key, enabling them to connect to the Web site they have privileges to update. (I would have liked to see some facility for the customization of the setup e-mail.)
- Setup page rollback.
- Enable users to delete files.
Administrative tasks are managed on the site level (See Figure B), meaning that user access is not global across the Web site enabled for Macromedia Contribute user access.
Documentation and tutorials
User documentation and tutorials are keys to empowering users. The documentation delivered with my review copy of Contribute included a brief “getting started guide” as a hard copy with the other documentation delivered on PDF. It seems hardcopy documentation is a thing of the past for many vendors. Considering the user level targeted by Macromedia Contribute, I would have liked to see more print documentation because less experienced users seem more comfortable with print vs. online documentation.
The online tutorial was well written and paced. However, this tutorial is no substitute for internal training because any rollout of Macromedia Contribute needs to be more closely managed.
In the future, it would be good to see Macromedia offer more print documentation and training, including training guides, and more coverage on rolling out the product to users who have varying levels of Web and computer skills.
A few shortcomings
In general, I liked what I saw in Macromedia Contribute, but I still wanted more from the product. Some important things missing are:
- A Macintosh version of Macromedia Contribute.
- Coverage of integrating Macromedia Contribute into a content management system like Vignette or another high-end content management product.
- Documented consideration of Macromedia Contribute in a version control environment where Web pages are stored in version control software. While this is a task probably best answered on the implementation level, there is still a need to tie in Macromedia Contribute to popular version control packages like Visual Source Safe or CVS. Because Macromedia Contribute can edit pages on a live site, the potential to break from version control is high.
What does it cost?
Macromedia Contribute is priced at $99, though you are going to need to implement a strategic rollout of Contribute in your organization, or risk some costly ramp-up time.
All in all, I like Macromedia Contribute as a solution and could envision multiple uses for it including:
- Reviving a corporate intranet gone to cobwebs because maintenance tasks were limited to a few staff members; it can now be distributed to a wider, if nontechnical, group.
- A solution for nonprofits or volunteer organizations that have a Web presence but lack the skilled Web resources to manage and update their sites.
- Small businesses that outsource their initial Web site development but need a vehicle to update their corporate sites.
Out of the gate as a version 1.0 product, Macromedia Contribute is off to a good start, though future versions of the product would benefit from more customization and administrative options to enable Macromedia Contribute to better integrate into site and organizational-specific Web publishing workflows.
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