A year back, I created a nice and simple website for my triathlon club: http://d3triathlon.com. I’m used to WordPress, and I know it has an easy interface to create content. So it’s what I chose to create the site: simple stuff, simple theme with a couple of simple pages.
At the time, I requested feedback and inputs from club members about features they wanted to see. I implemented most of them (safely ignoring the “I want to see a little guy, swim bike and run across the screen” request…) to produce what I feel is a decent job for what it’s supposed to do. A year later, after only one member dared trying to create a new article (successfully though!), I got an email asking me what I thought about using another platform, on which editing “looks just like word”… Here’s some thoughts.
When the D3triathlon website I created went live, I certainly had nice feedback from everyone at the club. However, from experience, that goes with all club websites, where almost no one has an opinion and says “it’s all cool”. It’s unfortunately also not uncommon for club sites to have absolutely no content updates whatsoever. Usually, this is because people are scared, lazy, or because it’s “too hard to do it”. I learnt that the hard way on another site I’ll discuss in another post, by creating a system too complex to do anything with, both in administration and content creation.
However, for the D3triathlon site, I used WordPress. I really believe that it has all the attributes needed to make a site easily editable from the most technophobe club members you can find. And there should be no risk to mucking things up, as long as permissions are created properly for the accounts having the right to create content. The main problem is not the tool itself, the main problem is attitude towards it. In the year that the website has been live, only one member tried to create content. ONE! But it worked! The content is live! I had to do some minor edits, but he tried it, and that’s what’s important. If no one tries the system, there is no basis to have an opinion on it being easy to use or not.
Yesterday, I received an email asking me my views on scrapping (or not) what I’ve done to use THIS.
Passed my shock horror reaction when looking at what was labeled a “new site”, it was apparent what was the only reason for the idea to move: ease of content edition. The email read literally:
[...] The new site is very easily updated – it actually just looks like word when I do it. I need to play around with the edit tool and see if we can upload photos, spreadsheets etc and have links to other sites [...]
WTF? WordPress does all of that. All. Of. It.
While it would be a shame to scrap my work, I don’t have too much of a problem with it. Its the reason being put forward that just didn’t make sense. That “new” platform is clearly a late 90′s framework that really, really looks bad. There’s no design work done on it: all hosted club sites look exactly the same (no identity whatsoever). Navigation is impossible to grasp quickly and choice of colors and text sizes are appalling at best. It also has no mobile version, which nowadays is pretty bad given the rate of adoption of mobile browsing. I haven’t seen the administration side of it, but my guess is that it has a trillion more options than WordPress does, and that content editors feel like they own the whole process: text, photos, colors and placement of content. That was a bad idea at the time such platforms came out, and it still is.The web has moved on a lot since then and it’s about time whomever wants to manage websites understand why.
The web is not, has never been, and should never be “like MS word”. Ever.
When I create websites, I make a point in clarifying who will be responsible for adding and editing content. In this case, a subset of club members. This allows me to identify the needs and how to set things up for the long run. On this particular site, it was clear accounts with limited edition permissions would need to be created, so they can try whatever they want without destroying the whole site by publishing a piece of news formatted the wrong way (read copy paste from MS word here…). This restriction is probably the main reason why people were either reluctant to try – or thought there would be no point in – creating content.
But as a content editor limited in publishing options, (and only publishing, not creating!) consider the following:
- You can create content as you please. What you cannot do is publish it for everyone to see straight away.
- You can preview content you create at anytime. So even if you’re restricted in publishing it, you can see how it looks before submitting it for review and acceptance.
- Your content is reviewed by a website manager or another content editor who knows how to do it all better than a newbie, and can also take care of translations and other admin things you don’t even know need to be done (and shouldn’t).
- You don’t have all the gazillions of options MS Word gives you. THAT’S AN AWESOME THING because:
- You have much less options in the interface: it’s easier to use and much quicker.
- You concentrate solely on content. Colors, styling and positioning has already been figured out and taken care of by designers and developers in the style sheet file for the whole site.
- You can’t make the site look crap by putting red text over a fluoerscent green background. No matter how much the kids like it, it’s a bad idea.
- It gives you an opportunity to learn to do things right without putting the whole site down.
- The website manager approves your content and teaches you how to do things along the way, giving you more and more permissions to do things as you learn.
But as a content editor, with limited or full access, you also have duties:
- You must be willing to learn. If you haven’t done anything like it before, you must be open to the fact the tool is not necessarily going to look and work the same way than any other programs (… especially not like MS Word…)
- You must try it! You’ve been entrusted with some degree of privileges and given a login/password so you can give it a go. If you don’t, then you have NOTHING to complain about!
- You must give feedback. If you don’t understand or don’t like something, SAY IT! No one’s in your head, and developers aren’t telepaths. (I’m sure telepaths exist somewhere, though)
- If you can’t do it because you’re lost, or feel it’s too complex, accept it and communicate it too! It’s not a shame, some people are better at using new technologies than others. I’m sure you can find something better suited to what you like doing that these other people don’t want to / can’t do anyways.
- Do not ever, ever, EVER make the mistake of saying that “it doesn’t look like MS Word”. MS Word is very good at what it’s intended to do: digital documents for print. The web is not a document in the same way. If you don’t want to understand that, then don’t raise your hand to be a content editor. If you want to understand, then see points 1, 2 and 3.
As a website developer, designer and manager, there are also a few things to do:
- Make sure you know who will be entrusted to edit the site’s content. You want as many as possible for the site to be alive, and as little as possible so it’s not all a big mess.
- Make it easy for them to do just that. Make it restrictive, so they don’t get lost in editing options, and tell them why you do it and the benefits.
- Make sure they try it. You’re partly to blame if they don’t.
- Fight for your site to live and be updated by the right people. If the reason it doesn’t work is because “it’s not like MS Word”, then there’s either some education not done from, or no willingness to do anything from them, or both.
- Accept the fact that in the end, they are the owners of the site and have the ultimate say in what to do with it. If they have all the tools and nothing happens, then the site’s dead.
The “editable web” has evolved a lot from being a static set of nested tables – auto-generated by tools not designed for that in the first place – to be a very flexible media, with lots of different responsibilities. On any site, you’ll developers, designers and content editors. Sometimes it’s all the same person, more often though, it’s a joint effort from all parties involved to make it happen.