June 09, 2006

Advice needed on managing a large website I've been asked to set up a website management plan where the updaters are not web-savvy. Do you have some tips on locking things down and eliminating frustration for the users?

I am a new member of a large and clunky state department. I have been asked to head up a project that will move us out of our tables-based layout to a CSS-positioned page. I also need to get everybody using Dreamweaver for updating instead of Frontpage. Most of the people doing the updates are clerks who don't know any HTML or CSS. I have a CSS template that doesn't use any classes besides special exceptions so everything is styled pretty automatically. I have a header, footer, and sidebar as includes. Do you guys have any advice on how to keep people from messing with the stylesheet and includes? Is there a way to block users from messing with certain things in Dreamweaver? What can I do to make updating as easy a possible for someone with no web skills?

  • Get them to a DreamWeaver workshop, or make one up yourself. Put the stylesheet in some really obscure place, change permissions. Is it possible to set up a form for updates? Then they don't have to worry about more than basic formatting HTML and you don't have to worry about them fiddling with the bits they shouldn't.
  • Is a blog tool that you can edit like Scoop or Drupal a reasonable solution? Can you threaten their jobs if they touch the stylesheet?
  • Sounds like the proper way to do this is to have an administration tool/web forms for updates, rather than letting people who have no idea what they're doing mucking about with your code.
  • if you use dreamweaver templates and editable regions you can delineate what they can and cannot tamper with, then also set up the css and other external docs outside of their access, that way they cant cause any real disasters. good luck
  • or...what monkeybashi said.
  • Three words: Content Management System. Google it, there are a zillion out there. Or, hire me!
  • Get Contribute if the information doesn't change very often. This will allow you to set up your templates and the users can edit the content within allowed blocks without screwing everything else up. If you present a lot of information that changes on a regular basis, then a CMS may be the way to go. Most of them are pretty ugly on the back end and so there's a lot of ramp-up time to get your users trained. You may even be able to use a combination of both - Contribute for mostly static pages with occasional changes, and some custom CMS stuff for things that change a lot, like event schedules, etc. I don't recommend a full-blown CMS unless theres some real justification.
  • what Ralph & Drivingmenuts said-- CMS' are your best friend, and Contribute is a good solution for some as well...
  • I am pretty sure that the powers that be are not going to be too keen on spending money on new software. I think they have already spent the money on Dreamweaver. They have put most people through a Dreamweaver class. I was able to sit in on the last day of that training and I don't know, I don't think people are going to retain it at all. Contribute sounds pretty damn neat, plus it's cheap. I am looking into the whole locked and editable regions thing in Dreamweaver. I am not a Dreamweaver user so this is all new to me as well. The biggest problem is there is no centralization of the website. Contribute would be awsome but there is no one to oversee it. GAH!
  • what other people have said, but with one qualifier: a decent cms is your best friend. bad cms's (and there are lots of bad ones out there, both expensive and inexpensive) add to your headaches and overhead.
  • This might be of some service http://www.opensourcecms.com/ but as roryk said, there's lots of bad ones out there.
  • Oh my goodness this site already sounds like a disaster. In 6 months you'll be needing to redo the whole thing. First of all - a huge mistake was made by purchasing Dreamweaver and sending people to training. Both financially and production wise. As drivingmenuts said Contribute from the start would have been a much, much better approach. Much easier for people to update with, hardly any know-how needed. It's easy to set up as well, you can lock users out but more importantly can set it to have a checkin/out system so people can't check out the same file and overwrite new versions with old ones. Similarly some cms have roll back features which allow you to roll back to a previous version if something comes wrong. Also they give people access to specific areas, and usually only the content. I feel for you Hotcakes. This is a mess of a situation. Regardless of your style sheets you will find a mess of weird font tags, styling and goodness only knows what in the code in about 2 weeks. Many people with little web experience find they want to bold everything to emphasize it, and when too much is in bold they'll use colours and the site will look like a geocities fan site for unicorns. Having no central coordinator means no standard of text, errors will appear - and if the department has spent money on branding it will have been to no point. Updates will be spotty and inconsistent. Sorry to sound like a harbinger of doom. Sounds like things have progressed too far down the wrong track for you to change them - although I suspect in the end this project will end up costing 3 times as much and still not work out because a solid informed strategy was not outlined from the beginning.
  • Beat them over the head with a hammer, and go get some real web workers.
  • MonkeyFilter: like a geocities fan site for unicorns.
  • What Skrik said.
  • You nearly got me there, Skrik. A couple of other ideas: I don't know what other CMSs do, but Metaphilter allows admin to set which HTML tags can be used by default users, so if you find one that does that, it'll help with the overediting. Make up a very simple laminated letter-sized HTML cheat sheet for everyone to put up by their computer.