Content Management Over The Horizon

By Greg McAvoy-Jensen10/30/2013 11:32 am

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background
 

Aleksander Farstad presented plans for eZ Systems' strategy for the coming months on eZ Sessions.

The co-founder and CEO of eZ Systems, Farstad discussed the priority of helping businesses draw economic results from their content. Recent cost-cutting measures have freed up funds which will be used to increase marketing and bring product development to its highest level yet. Some global corporate functions will be moved to New York, where one of the product managers is already based.

The presentation was part of eZ Sessions, a monthly YouTube broadcast provided by the eZ Community in North America.

 

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By Greg McAvoy-Jensen02/11/2013 02:43 pm

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background
 

Not every edit to a website is a good one. But for users of the eZ Publish content management system, it's easy to roll back to a prior version. This video shows you how. The video is recorded in HD so feel free to select that on the player for optimal full screen viewing.

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By Greg McAvoy-Jensen01/24/2013 10:00 am

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background
 

Learn how to add images to your eZ Publish content management system. Two techniques are demonstrated: using an image gallery already on the site, and uploading a new image. The video is recorded in HD so feel free to select that on the player for optimal full screen viewing.

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By Greg McAvoy-Jensen01/22/2013 04:47 pm

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background
 

Ready to dive into managing your eZ Publish website? Here's the first step: learning how to log in, find the content you want to change, and make some edits.

The video is recorded in HD so feel free to select that on the player for optimal full screen viewing.

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By Greg McAvoy-Jensen01/02/2013 09:44 am

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background
 

New to eZ Publish? Considering it for a project, or just evaluating the options out there? Here is the enterprise, open-source, PHP-based eZ Publish platform in brief.

What did I forget (and do you have any questions about eZ Publish)? Please post in the comments below. Thanks!

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By Greg McAvoy-Jensen11/29/2012 08:00 am

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background
 

Tuesday eZ Systems announced to its partners and customers that eZ Publish 5 Platform is now available for use.

Version 5, code named Kilimanjaro, truly was a highly-anticipated release. The last major version (4) was a port from PHP 4 to PHP 5. eZ Publish 3 really was the version which started eZ Publish as we know it--there was no upgrade path from eZ Publish 2, which was the original edition released to the public. So despite the fabulous incremental upgrades which minor releases have brought, since the first direct ancestor of today's eZ Publish was born this is the first major release that focused on architectural overhaul.

Much architectural preparation for this transition was done in earlier releases, especially with the PHP API (eZ Publish also ports a REST API). The maturing of both API's is a major hallmark of this release. Now app developers can make use of eZ Publish content and other features -- without knowing eZ Publish at all --  just by utilizing its API documentation. And those writing extensions for eZ Publish itself now can make great use of the PHP API, allowing eZ to further develop kernel-level functionality with no change to the features utilized by the extensions.

Another key change is the employment of Symfony. I believe eZ Publish is the first major CMS (content management system) to utilize the Symfony PHP framework as a "full stack." making use of not just some features of its libraries but fully utilizing it as the top-notch HMVC (hierarchical module view controller) framework it is. eZ's engineers are pleased to have a more flexible and community-maintained MVC framework instead of needing to develop and maintain their own. Developers already acquainted with Symfony will have a head start as they take on their first eZ Publish project.

Nested within eZ Publish 5 is an eZ Publish 4 installation, called eZ Publish Legacy. It serves two purposes. Any site running eZ Publish 4 now can upgrade into eZ Publish 5 by upgrading into the Legacy installation, so backward compatibility is complete. Many more features still will be added to eZ Publish 5 (5.1 is expected in the spring, and 5.2 in the fall of 2013). Some of these features will be necessary to develop native eZ Publish 5 websites using the eZ Publish 5 native database handlers (which will soon support big data type databases in addition to the existing relational databases like MySQL, Oracle, and Postgres). In fact, sites will be able to gradually evolve from being "Legacy" to more and more utilizing eZ Publish 5 native features, until at last they are 100% eZ Publish 5 native. There is no rush, as Legacy will be supported for years, and for the time being it remains necessary for full-featured CMS development.

Similarly, developers can now start making use of the a new template language called Twig, also from the makers of Symfony. This template language is available for native eZ Publish 5 development

With so much technical improvement behind them, expect eZ to continue its now rapid progress in enhancing user experience and allowing for greater customer experience management. 5.1 and 5.2 are scheduled to bring three new interfaces for administrators, power editors, and regular editors. The eZ Market boasts extensions for marketing, analytics, document management, recommendation generation, and much more. Essentially, while it's true that many CMS's have in fact now "solved the content management problem," not all have done so with the level of stability, high availability, and extensibility as eZ Publish has, and that becomes even more true with this step forward. What customers really want in CMS's today is to have and and pay for now are advanced tools for CXM, and this is the sweet spot eZ is positioning eZ Publish for, particularly through add-ons available for purchase in their eZ Market.

One other subtle change accompanied the release: nomenclature. Instead of eZ Publish 5 Enterprise, it is called eZ Publish 5 Platform. Presumably this is to emphasize the enterprise software's status as a content management framework rather than just a CMS.

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By Greg McAvoy-Jensen09/21/2012 02:30 pm

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background
 

In November eZ Publish Enterprise will be released with its new major version: eZ Publish 5. This much-anticipated release includes the Symfony framework as eZ Publish's new foundation. It also brings a new template language and quite a bit more flexibility than even the amazing elastic eZ Publish 4 offered.

The community project edition of eZ Publish will be making use of eZ Publish 5 late next week. For more information, read this post I just put on the eZ community website.

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By Greg McAvoy-Jensen08/20/2012 11:28 am

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background
 

Mobile web technology is now mature and adoption is substantial. In some parts of the world, it's already dominant. It's time to determine your mobile strategy.

1. Is it a mobile site or an app?

Thankfully, this question isn't as critical as it sounds. Mobile sites can look and behave like apps, and some apps are just browsers pointing at mobile sites. Here are some quick guidelines that may help most:

  • If budget is very tight, a mobile site is probably going to be your choice (though don't expect a lot of fun features).
  • If you need to interact with the data stored on a smart phone (e.g. the contacts list), or need to use its complex features, it will have to be an app.

If neither of the above is the case, you could probably build your mobile experience as a mobile site, an app, or even both. List what you need folks to be able to accomplish on it, what devices it needs to work well with, and how tightly you need to control the experience, and then make the call. If you decide on a mobile site, read on!

2. Will you use responsive design?

This is a judgement call, as it is not better in all cases. A responsive design site will look different as you narrow your browser window down from full width to iPad width to smartphone width. Changes takes place in font sizes, image size, and layout. Suddenly you may notice the main navigation collapse down to a button which opens a drop-down when clicked, and some items get eliminated altogether. Choosing responsive design means one design can accommodate all needs, from full site to iPhone. It is often a great choice, but depending on how different each device's experience needs to be, not always the best. Weight it out.

3. What are the essential interactions?

A mobile site should be focused. Put a lot of care into the key features you want people to use. Make them fun and use interesting transitions. Get creative and forget your public site. What should the mobile site be? You've decided not to build a mobile app, but your site can still look and operate like one if you like. Use your imagination, and that of those around you, to create a fun experience for your users.

4. Will you reuse content across sites?

You did build your site with a flexible content management system, didn't you? If so you should be able to use it to power your mobile site as well, and be able to share content across the two. Sometimes this means adding a new field here or there so you can write abbreviated versions of things (e.g. "Mobile Body" for an article, to compliment "Body").

The full site probably has a ton of content. Think about how to handle the depth of it on mobile. Search can help a lot here. Some exclude a lot of content from mobile, and simply include a link to the full site should someone wish to go there.

5. How will people get around?

You've got less real estate than you're used to when it comes to mobile, so the navigation will need to be concise. A homepage full of buttons in the middle can be a fine (and app-like) start, but once someone dives in they'll need easy access down and up. An expandable navigation menu can be very helpful, but you can also use other techniques (sliding things off to the side and using a top-left button to go back to them, for example).

Think too about navigation speed. Downloading on a slow connection can reduce the impact of your site, but be sure your designers aim for small file sizes for the custom artwork, and developers use all the tricks of their trade (sending images which are no larger than necessary, packing up JavaScript and stylesheets, etc.). If increased speed justifies the cost, it may be wise to use AJAX-style programming so much of the page stays the same as the center content changes.

6. What does this mean for your full site?

You'll need to build in a rule to automatically send folks to the mobile site if they are coming in on a mobile device, but you may want them to be able to override that (with a "full site" link). Similarly, it's nice to be able to get from the full back to the mobile, so your footer there may need a link (perhaps only displayed for mobile devices).

If there are new techniques you've added to "gamify" the mobile site, consider whether any of them are applicable for the full site as well. Your work in creating your mobile experience may improve your desktop experience as well.

Lastly, on the editorial side, some suggest having a "mobile-first" strategy. If you have a good content management system, this decision is unnecessary, because anytime you publish it should immediately go to all channels automatically.

Have fun going mobile!

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By Tony White04/20/2012 12:56 pm

Tony White photo
 

Editor's Note: We've known and respected Ars Logica's Tony White for years. So when he asked for assistance with his blog we jumped at the chance to help. We thought we'd take the chance to ask him for a favor – a contribution to our blog. Below is Tony's response.

In June of last year, Ars Logica needed a duplicate instance (CTO blog) of our main blog implemented on our website, and we didn’t have the time to do it ourselves.

Naturally, we contacted the professional services organization that had implemented our design for the first blog. In the past, we have worked with a wide range of services firms, primarily selecting them and overseeing their work on the implementation of CMS products we recommend to our consulting clients. So you could safely say that we were not naïve about what an acceptable range of quotes would be. To our dismay, we received an estimate for 16 hours of development time and an ETA of three weeks –despite the fact that this was just a copy of Blog #1!

Having met [Granite Horizon's executive director] Greg McAvoy-Jensen at a user conference several years before, I decided to call Granite Horizon to see if such a small project was something they would be interested in. (To be fair, I don’t think it normally would be.) But even though they were doing us a favor, Granite Horizon came back almost immediately with a quote for four hours of work, total. Keep in mind that Granite Horizon would be cloning the first firm’s work and implementing from scratch. The next day, the work was done – and implemented – perfectly.

As a vendor-neutral analyst firm, we don’t get into the business of endorsing products or services of any kind. When Greg asked if I would like to author a guest blog, however, I thought of the experience above. A fair quote for the first vendor’s services should have been based three hours of labor, max; and we expected Granite Horizon’s to be based on six or seven.

The moral of the story is that, just as with the sometimes alarming price-quality mismatches among CMS products on the market, there are perhaps even more serious discrepancies among price quotes and delivery times from professional services firms. Would you rather pay $2,400 and wait three weeks, or $560 and have it done the next day?

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By Greg McAvoy-Jensen01/27/2012 08:24 am

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background
 

I'm on the board of a non-profit that was in need of some software. The organization functions both as an alumni and and independent booster group for a youth camp. Recently the non-profit decided to re-invigorate its membership structure. For that, we needed software. We wanted something that could manage membership, handle our simple accounting needs (or easily integrate with affordable, online accounting software), and manage communication with members and prospective members. If we were lucky, it would also come with an event management system.

One other criteria was that the solution needed to be a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solution. The reasons were several. With many (and changing) volunteers running the system, it needed to be accessible for all from their homes via technology they're likely to have: a decent Internet connection, a computer of any sort and a browser. We don't have much in the way of IT support, so we wanted someone else on the hook for maintaining servers, upgrading software, conducting backups and waking up in the middle of the night to fix any problems that arise. Our budget is low, but it would be worth paying for these “convenience” features.

Research Results

The research took quite a bit of work, so I thought I'd share the results here in case they are helpful to others. Four solutions emerged as possible fits for our organization (though others are available – and more expensive). Here's what I learned.

  • Membership software won't handle accounting. But most will export to QuickBooks, and one even does a sync with QuickBooks (including the online version).
  • They'll all handle payments, but you do have to arrange for a third-party payment processor.
  • Most are really feature-rich; some even include the ability to handle a capital campaign.

Slide left and right to scroll.

  Club Runner Membee Neon Wild Apricot
Website web.clubrunner.ca www.membee.com www.z2systems.com www.wildapricot.com
Phone (877) 469-2582 (800) 729-2962 (888) 860-6366 (877) 493-6090
Headquarters Ontario Calgary Chicago Toronto
Setup Fee (USD) $199.00 $995.00 none none
Monthly Fee for 200 Members, 1 User(USD) $59.95 $99.00 $49.00 $25.00
Free Trial Available yes yes

yes

www.z2systems.com

yes

register.wildapricot.com

Bulk Email yes yes yes yes
HTML Email Composer yes no yes yes
MailChimp Integration no yes expected 2012 no
Use Email for Blasting Large Prospect List at No Additional Charge yes n/a (no limit on contacts) yes no
QuickBooks Export no yes yes yes
QuickBooks Sync no no yes no
Member Directory yes yes yes yes
Member Dues Payment yes yes yes yes
Member Self-Registration System no ask yes yes
Member Dues Tier System no yes yes yes
Member Dues Automatic Renewal no no yes yes
Donation Payment Processing no no (use events system) yes yes
Full Fundraising System no no yes no
Events System yes yes yes yes
Year Product Launched 2003 2009 2004 2006
Year Company Founded 2003 1989 2003 2001

Integrating Membership Management Software with a CMS

Sometimes Granite Horizon gets asked about handling a membership management system in the eZ Publish content management system (CMS). Depending on the organization's needs sometimes we customize eZ Publish to accomplish that task, but other times we wish we had an easy integration to software which specializes in membership management.

Of the four systems above, three have some way of connecting to a CMS. Neon generates RSS feeds, so some data from the membership management system can be output into the website through the CMS. This might be helpful for showing upcoming events, for example. Wild Apricot goes further, offering all kinds of its functionality as widgets which can be planted in the CMS. This affords quite a bit of flexibility. Both Neon and Wild Apricot are planning to build API's, which would allow a programmer to connect behind the scenes to the membership management system, perhaps to add new members or check out a member's status so the CMS could display content based on who the member is. We very much look forward to the implementation of this feature.

At present only Membee allows for single sign on (SSO) through its software, however. This means a user could log in on either Membee or the CMS-powered website, be authenticated through Membee, and then be shown CMS content based on their membership status. For example, there could be a set of member-only pages on the website which are hidden entirely from public view, until the user logs in as a member. Nice going, Membee!

Conclusion

For the purposes of the small non-profit I work with, either Neon or Wild Apricot would serve us well. Allowing members the option of automatically renewing their membership each year is key to that decision. Neon has additional capabilities which could prove useful (though there's a charge for additional modules). For integration with eZ Publish, Membee seem the best fit (as SSO would be essential in most cases).

Service is also an important feature. Neon and Membee have delivered excellent customer service so far. At various times with both I found myself talking with the company president without having asked. Wild Apricot and Club Runner both provided good service by phone.

In conclusion, some advice: When you select your own membership software, first determine your own core needs. It may be that a more expensive system is warranted, or that you want to try an open source solution you could install yourself. The factors we considered were important for my organization, but may not be for yours. You'll certainly want to sit in on a demo (live or recorded) of the systems on your short list. If you end up trying one or the other I've mentioned, please share the story of your experience here.

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Helping web content managers extend their reach and be ready for tomorrow. The Granite Horizon blog by executive director Greg McAvoy-Jensen and guests.


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