Choosing the digital printing press

One of the most exciting things about building NOWCast SA is that it's something totally new. We're starting from scratch and no one's done anything quite like this before!

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the web content management system, or CMS. The CMS publishes, organizes and displays content, making it sort of the online equivalent of a newspaper's printing press or a television station's transmitter. (Here's how Wikipedia defines it)

At many news websites, including MySanAntonio.com, which I ran for a while, the biggest job for the CMS is to take news stories that had been created for print or for television and manipulate and repurpose that content to display properly on the web.

On NOWCast, all of the content - video, text, photos, blogs, Twitters, audio, blogs, databases and games - will be created primarily for online disribution and consumption. So instead of starting by looking at the "stuff" that's going into the box, we get to think first about people and community and function.

We can choose a CMS by how well it can help users, consumers and content creators build our online community.

I've been working with web content management systems since 1999, and I taught CMS - WordPress and Drupal - at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, when I was a visiting lecturer in the school of journalism. Since then, my husband and I have built several web sites from itty bitty pieces.

So I've had some time to think about what my dream CMS would look like.

Here are the highlights:

Flexibility: From a consumers' point of view, we need a CMS capable of organizing, publishing and displaying all kinds of content well, both on computers and on mobile devices. Ideally, the CMS would detect the device that is doing the downloading, and then adapt the delivery for mobile phones or laptop, and it would give laptop or desktop users the option of HD or lower quality on video. We also need to be able to change the homepage appearance in a heartbeat from small, single-column-wide headlines and video boxes to a large, three-column-wide, breaking news headline or image.

Friendly: Much of the NOWCast content will be coming from people in the community, so the CMS must be friendly to normal folks (i.e., non-geeks) among us!

Social: To encourage a healthy and vibrant community, NOWCast must be an inclusive place that encourages conversations. So the CMS needs to easily incorporate social media functionalities from Twitter and Flickr and FriendFeed to Utterli, MySpace and Facebook.

Every article we publish must have comment fields so people can interact with the stories. Users should also have tools to both authenticate themselves and also to flag inappropriate comments. Here's a brand new authentication tool built by folks at Acquia Drupal that lets people log in using various platforms. It will be released soon by the folks at Gigya.

Comments=co-authors: The CMS - or a module or plugin - should allow people to ask questions and add information and comment on articles in a way that puts a premium on their contributions. Here's one really good example created by a team of Northwestern University students: Newsmixer. (Here is a link to the students' site where they describe the project.)

Wiki: We want to create a platform on which people can not only create their stories, but where the community can build on those stories or issues over time, by adding audio, video, photos, or documents, creating a rich, living repositary. So the CMS needs to have sandbox-like Wikis where communities can build and nurture stories and issues.

Email, RSS, SMS: The CMS must be immediately capable of one-touch broadcasting and syndicating. So it must offer RSS feeds on any topic or author area, and be capable of offering SMS alerts and email alerts simultaneous with publication of stories. And it has to be easy (like built in, through a check-off box) because we have no money for rocket scientists on the staff.

Blogs: We will need to use the CMS to create as many as 50 blog authors on the site (with different permissions or authorities). To be truly useful, the blog must be integrated in the main CMS and not off in a separate system or space (see Taxonomy for more explanation).

Widget/embed content management: The CMS will need to use and display several Twitter channels or Twitter searches at various times. It should be able to display collections of other media applications such as Utterli for digital audio feeds and Flickr for groups and tagging of photos from events. We may want to use a widget of RSS to display blogs, FrendFeed groups, videos, something that can turn on or off as needed. We need to have things like Kyte.tv and its chat interactivity embedded on some pages, again, with an on or off capability on the home page. Here is one example of how to use embeds.

Taxonomy: The CMS needs to have in place a flexible taxonomy/category/tagging system that includes a way to geo-tag every piece of content on it for use on Google Maps that can then be shared with users on the site and via their email or cellphones. That also would be facilitated by integration with Outside.in along with Twitter photo mapping apps such as TwitPic, BrightKite and UberTwitter. Besides the essential mapping function, a taxonomy that spans all types of content would allow us to easily create robust multimedia special sections by topic or neighborhood.

Who, What, When? The CMS must have an easy-to-use calendar functionality (the kind that allows trusted users to submit items and then to share those items, including through iCal). The Calendar needs to be available via RSS as well, so people can easily "subscribe" to events, and events need to be taggable for indexing purposes.

Touchey feeley: Because NOWCast is staffed mostly by volunteers, the CMS needs to also have a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) capability that allows us to set up online submission forms for people to easily enter everything from emails and telephone numbers to hours they can volunteer or the types of stories they want to contribute. The CMS should help us build a database with that information to use for emails or telephone calls or as a story-generating resource.

Bilingual: We expect that some people will be writing posts or articles Spanish and others in English. It shouldn't be a huge deal for the CMS to have a "field" in the posting form that is tied to a box on the homepage where a user could choose a language, when both are available. (I'm not talking about the Google translate, where rusults are still pretty ragged and pre-beta) See how the language preferences are applied on the Amnesty International site.

We're not asking for much, you know?

Oh, and all of this needs to be "baked in" in a way that we can make additions or changes on the fly, since there's no developer going forward in the budget ...

Disclosure: This article was originally published at this url : http://nowcastsa.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/choosing-digit…printing-press/

on our NOWCastSA Wordpress blog, which has since been deactivated.

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