There are about 9,000 species of birds in the world, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides information about most of them on its public Web site. The lab, a department of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, uses a content management system (CMS) to organize over 2,500 Web pages. The lab helps meet the challenge of this tall order with UpdateEngine6, a product from FatWire, a provider of content management and dynamic Web application assembly software. A 100 percent JAVA-based solution, UpdateEngine6 can organize Web site content so that it is accessible to customers and easy for IT teams to update.

How it works
Before he became the lab’s user experience architect last October, Todd Warfel said the site’s pages were created and modified through Microsoft’s Front Page and updated manually. But because each page was static, updating the header of one type of page (a press release, for example) meant separately updating each page affected by the change. One Webmaster published the pages separately when changes were finished. Sometimes the pages numbered into the hundreds. With UpdateEngine6, the lab can change several pages at once. “The main thing it does is…help us alleviate bottlenecks,” he said.

When Warfel started using UpdateEngine6, he and his team isolated the types of pages they wanted to change and created a template for each type. Then they separated the types into sections. For example, a template for a press release (see Figure A) divides into four sections: A header, a navigation bar, a footer, and a center, where the text resides.

Figure A
The template for a press release page is divided into four sections.

The lab’s bird identification pages (see Figure B) are more complicated.

Figure B
UpdateEngine6 helps the lab update thousands of bird identification pages.

These pages might include 10 to 15 sections including a graphic, information about a bird’s migration patterns, coloration, or a link to a sound file of its song. Warfel divides these pages into sections and creates a content class for each section. The classes are JAVA objects that can be placed anywhere in a page.

“One nice advantage about these content classes is they work like objects and you can recycle and reuse them a lot easier than in other content management systems,” Warfel said.

Warfel can also publish dynamic and static pages with UpdateEngine6. For example, because they rarely change, press releases are static pages. “You probably don’t want to publish that as a dynamic page because you don’t want the database to take a hit every time somebody pulls up a press release,” he said. Pages with changing features can be dynamically created, he said.

Warfel said the main advantage of using DataEngine6 in the enterprise is savings, but not necessarily in money. (Pricing for UE6 starts at $70,000, however the average deal is approx. $250,000. UE Studio, an add-on to UE6 with enhanced developer tools, is priced at $35,000.

“It’s less about money and more about [saving] energy and time,” Warfel said, “Realistically, we have some sites…that have waited nine months or more to get some of the development done. This is essentially due to the small IT staff (10-12 people) that is responsible for servicing 12+ sites and 40+ internal customers. Now that we’re implementing FatWire, we’ll enable most of those 40+ people to become content contributors, editors, publishers without the need to involve IT.”

By using the UE6 CMS software, those 40 users are now able to publish and alter content on multiple pages, significantly decreasing the time needed to make changes to the site. Warfel said “…the biggest thing was ease of use from a workforce standpoint, allowing certain people to input content and certain people to be able to publish (it) automatically.” The old method they were using meant updates were often delayed, waiting in a queue for attention from a member of the IT team.

Why it works for more than birds
This option of creating dynamic or static pages, coupled with UpdateEngine6’s JAVA architecture makes the solution a good fit for many organizations. Mark Fasciano, FatWire’s CEO, said that Andersen Windows uses FatWire’s products for its online catalog. Andersen manages content such as images and engineering diagrams in the same way that the lab organizes and updates bird information, he said.

UpdateEngine6 also gives the lab and Andersen the ability to search through large volumes of content quickly and intuitively as well as the ability to organize and re-organize content, on the fly, if necessary, said Fasciano. “They had an immediate need and we got together and started addressing (that) pretty quickly,” he said.

Fasciano said that the lab’s site is also like a catalog and that many online catalogs contain large amounts of information. “[That] was the basic problem that [the lab was] trying to solve with this system. So some of the key things for them were the flexibility of the system, the ability to change the data model as quickly as the requirements evolved, [and]…a user interface that was very easy for nontechnical users to interact with,” he said.

Usability was also on the lab’s list
An intuitive user interface was especially appealing to the lab. It started a citizen science program that encourages bird watchers in North America to record information on certain species and send that information to the lab.

Warfel said the lab needed a solution to accommodate the program’s seven million registered users, something that a non-tech-savvy person could use just as easily as a member of the lab’s IT team. With UpdateEngine6, citizen scientists send the lab field information in a standard form the lab can easily process. Users open an Internet browser, input their information, and when they save it, it’s stored onto the central databases at the lab, said Fasciano.

FatWire provided this degree of usability to Formula One Racing, as well. The official Web site for Formula One Racing has users that post weather conditions and race statistics in real time from racetracks in Europe and other locations around the world.

Fasciano stressed that UpdateEngine6 gives users of the racing site, the Andersen Windows site, and the lab a similar experience: The CMS serves content to the customer in a seamless manner, no matter the depth of the site’s information. “Our basic architecture is built on the idea that…you just want to interact with content,” said Fasciano.

“They don’t need to know any of the details, but they need a very simple-to-use interface in order to interact with all these assets…,” he said.

Ease of use
UpdateEngine6 also gives the people performing site updates and adding new information a seamless experience because they can update content without having to know what database a piece of information is sitting on or where the engineering diagrams have been sent in a file system, said Fasciano.

UpdateEngine6 also runs on the servers from three large server manufacturers: Microsoft, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems. “We run vanilla on top of those servers,” said Fasciano. “The IT or IS manager knows that if they start off on an NT machine or a Windows machine and they want to move it over to a Solaris machine for higher performance, they could do that without having to change our application on content,” he said.