Product Review: Eprise brings order to Web authoring

Most agencies and departments still are treating their World Wide Web sites as high-tech bulletin boards, where data is simply posted by a Webmaster for general consumption. That's like using the telephone to send Morse code. If you want to explore the cutting edge of workgroup Web site authoring, check out Eprise Participant Server.

Participant Server delivers sophisticated controls over content authoring by the workgroup and use of Web site content by visitors. On the creation side, the Webmaster doles out responsibility for Web content to users throughout the organisation. And on the consumption side, the administrator decides what content different site visitors will see when they call up a page.

Participant Server's administrative tools are accessed through a Web browser. The interface is cleanly designed with a toolbar that offers quick access to the program's four main modules: Work Center, Content Center, Participants and Admin Center. It is in the Participants module that the administrator defines participant roles and grants permission to users to read, edit and manage the pages and data that comprise the Web site.

Bear in mind, however, that although Participant Server lets you control users' ability to add and edit content, the program is a workflow application. You cannot, for example, set up a work schedule that prompts specified users to deliver content by a specified date.

Still, Participant Server does deliver flexible control over how content is delivered to end users. Site content in Participant Server is stored in a SQL database and is managed through the program's Content Center. Web pages are stored in multiple "page blocks", and the site designer can assign different access rights to each block. As a result, a contractor visiting your agency's site may see a different page than would a staff user. The staff user, for example, might see budget reports that are invisible to the outside contractor.

The block structure employed by Participant Server also serves other purposes. Specifically, Webmasters can assign editing rights on a per-block basis, and blocks can be reused. That is, you might have, for example, a block containing corporate contacts. Instead of duplicating the data on multiple pages, you can designate the same block for inclusion on multiple pages.

Participant Server also delivers the administrative tools enterprise sites need. For starters, the program supports several methods of user authentication, including Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, Microsoft's Windows NT Domain and Eprise's own built-in authentication. Participant Server also keeps a log file of user log-ins and activities. Administrators can set the program to monitor activity down to a very fine level, including such actions as users modifying or deleting page blocks or changing permissions.

The downside of Participant Server's block structure is the fact that constructing a Participant Server page -- much less a multipage site -- is a more complex undertaking than designing a simple page in a Hypertext Markup Language editor. Once you have designed a couple of pages successfully, you start to get the hang of Participant Server.

But we did feel that the program's dialog boxes could be better designed to explain options and next steps to site designers.

Eprise Corp also has a series of optional products that work with Participant Server. WebCatalyst is a program that automatically will migrate Web content from existing sites into Participant Server, alleviating the need to import data manually. Eprise also offers Integration Agents that allow other applications, such as Microsoft's Active Server Pages and Allaire Corp's Cold Fusion, to take advantage of Participant Server functions.

Finally, Eprise offers a Full Text Search module that indexes Participant Server content for subsequent searches using Microsoft's Index Server or Verity Inc's Search'97.

Despite room for improvement in ease of use for administrators, Participant Server offers a powerful solution for generating low-maintenance Web sites that deliver a custom-tailored Web experience to users.

The program is not inexpensive, with a price of $US50,000 per server. But agencies or departments that want to control contributions by users as well as customise visitors' online experience, Participant Server is worthy of serious consideration.

Eprise Participant Server 2.01 -- B+

Eprise Corp; +1-508-872-0200; http://www.eprise.comPrice and AvailabilityAvailable on the open market, with a basic installation starting at $US50,000.

Remarks

Eprise Participant Server is a program that enables Webmasters to customise delivery of content to the World Wide Web by workgroups as well as to control access to Web content by visitors. The program's Web-based interface needs work, but the program saves site designers from having to write extensive code to produce custom-tailored pages for users.

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