The need for Web publishing systems

In the beginning, the Web was not a particularly graphical environment. It was intended primarily as a means to make information accessible, and easily cross referenced via the power of hypertext. In the early days web browsers didn't even support pictures, and text layout was very simple.

As the public use of the Web has grown, along with commercialisation, and advances in Web browser technology, there has been a growing drive to produce sites that look good as well as, or in some cases instead of containing useful information. While writing basic HTML, the language behind the web, isn't particularly hard, creating pages in keeping with the expectations of modern web users has become increasingly complex. A wide range of different graphical web browsers offer some exciting visual possibilities, but each has it's own idiosyncracies, and what works in one doesn't always work in another.

For many people, the prospect of maintaining their own web site is simply too daunting. It is often far more efficient to hire a web master/designer/developer who already has the necessary skills to create and maintain a professional looking site, than to spend time and money on software and learning to use it. This approach works well enough for small web sites that rarely change content. This sort of site is generally nothing more than an online brochure to promote the site owners products or services and provide a means of contact. Unfortunately in the fast moving world of the Web, this kind of site faces an uphill battle to remain visible.

For some time now, various vendors and developers have supported what is known as dynamic content. Instead of storing a collection of static web pages, each with all their layout information, instead a single template is created for a site, and the content for individual pages is stored in a database. Changing the appearance of an entire site is as simple as changing a single template, and the entire site will reflect this change. Combine this with a means for users to interact with the database, and administrative tools to control who can do what, and you have the basis of a web publishing system.

The text you are reading now was created using the Webpression publishing system which runs the CreateIT site. Webpression is a web application itself, so that I can publish articles anywhere I can access a web browser. As an IT professional, you might think it's easy for me because I already have plenty of computing skills. The reality is that it is just like using a word processor or email program to write articles like this. Because the entire program runs in a web browser and resides on my web site, I can take a holiday, and still update content, without having to carry a laptop around with me, and I can give other people the ability to publish as well if I need to.

Webpression is just one example of a web publishing system. There are quite a few others out there, ranging from free solutions without support up to enterprise level software that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sooner or later, if your web site keeps growing you should consider some form of Web publishing system. A good system that allows you or your staff to update content will quickly pay for itself by reducing the amount of dependency on your web master/designer/developer.

You may find your web master/designer/developer is not terribly happy with the idea of you switching to a web publishing system, as it has the potential to reduce their work quite substantially. Be diplomatic, but if you can't get their cooperation, find another one. If you've paid for content, unless there is a specific clause stating otherwise, you own the copyright to work you've commissioned. The reality is, even with the best publishing system, there will still be some work for experienced web developers. Chances are you want your site to have its own look and feel rather than a generic out of the box feel that other people might already be using. Publishing software like Webpression allows quite a bit of customisation, but unless you're confident of your artistic and technical skills, you are probably better paying someone else to set the site up.


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