Web site maintenance by non-technical users?

Subject: Web site maintenance by non-technical users?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, 'Cynthia Armistead' <listmail -at- technomom -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Sep 2003 09:05:19 -0400

Cynthia Armistead reports: <<I'm a technical writing student.>>

Nice to see real-world projects being chosen by your prof, particularly
given that the "client" on this one is a particularly cranky and
recalcitrant one. A nice preparation for the work world! <g>

<<Our team project involves redesigning the composition program web site for
the school. The site owner is not technical and doesn't wish to change
that.>>

While it would be nice to change that by showing the owner just how easy the
process is ("teach someone to fish..."), that isn't always possible. You can
lead a horse to water... (but you can't stop Geoff from using idioms <g>).

<<She wants to be able to update the site using MS Word, never encountering
HTML code. It does need to be useable by users on any platform, so simply
putting everything up as Word documents isn't going to work.>>

Sounds like a job for Acrobat, perhaps? Installing PDFWriter fits the "click
one button on the Word toolbar and publish it" approach quite well. But it's
not particularly useful as a Web site, because linking PDFs is more work
than the client seems willing to do. Speaking of which, part of the solution
might be to create a custom toolbar in Word in which each button links to a
macro that performs some useful function (e.g., inserts a script, saves the
file in HTML format, etc.). Word is marvelous for automation, and if you
have anyone in your group willing to learn macro programming, you can
probably create a fairly powerful and easy-to-use solution.

It's easy enough to create HTML files do if the pages are simple, linear
documents with no graphics and if styles are used consistently. If that's
the case, Word produces cumbersome but acceptable HTML. Assuming this is an
intranet, all you need to do is set up the network drive that holds the
intranet so that the owner can write to it. Then all that needs doing is
saving the document as HTML, which automatically updates the intranet.

Linking is more complex, of course. If the person isn't willing to do any
learning whatsoever, it's probably worthwhile investing in something like
FrontPage or Dreamweaver, both of which come with good site management tools
that make linking and updating easy. While we're on the topic of
Dreamweaver, MacroMedia Contribute
(http://www.macromedia.com/software/contribute/) might be a good option,
because it's designed for people who can't be bothered to set up a proper
write/edit/review/design/publish system. It's not cheap, but it looks like a
pretty good solution.

<<I detest the HTML that results when one saves an MS Word file as HTML.
It's always messy. I've seen it "break" pages that were working before, if
an HTML file created in another program is opened, edited and saved in
Word.>>

In defence of Word, this is often a problem with the author being
pig-ignorant of styles rather than a problem with Word itself. No, Word
doesn't produce clean and elegant HTML, but if you know what you're doing
when you create the file, you can produce usable HTML.

<<We are not permitted the use of anything beyond basic HTML and
pre-approved cgi scripts (I haven't been able to find out what scripts are
available, though I've asked).>>

Depending on what the site is intended to do, you may not need scripting. If
you do, then you need to find out what scripts are available--even if that
involves stalking the Webmaster until they finally give up and tell you what
you need to know. But you're not going to be able to easily produce HTML
with embedded scripting if the site owner doesn't want to learn anything
about HTML. That's where an authoring solution such as Dreamweaver comes in:
it automates much of this work, perhaps enough to make it palatable to your
client.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
(try ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca if you get no response)
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada

"Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the
earth's surface relative to other matter; second, telling other people to do
so. The first is unpleasant and ill-paid; the second is pleasant and highly
paid."--Bertrand Russell




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