SAN MATEO (07/17/2000) - Whether your company is managing an intranet, extranet, e-commerce site, or all of the above, you know that material must be continuously refreshed for the Web to be an effective information dispersal or sales tool. Alas, Web content maintenance is the stress point for both overworked Webmasters and content providers -- often resulting in delays of days or weeks before revisions are completed.
Of course, the shortage of IT professionals and high fees of Web consultants only compound the problem. But whatever the reasons, many companies are simply not performing Web site updates frequently enough to keep employees productive or customers engaged.
UpdateThis Enterprise, a Web content management solution from UpdateThis.com Inc. (formerly PanaSite Software), reduces Web site maintenance to a few simple steps that can be performed by any authorized user with basic Web browser and word processing skills. Moreover, administrators can quickly create workflows that move content through the approval and deployment process, without requiring the assistance of IT staff.
The company has unveiled a subscription service based on UpdateThis Enterprise, called UpdateThis.com. The new service provides the same functionality as UpdateThis Enterprise without the costly overhead of installing and supporting a content management system in-house. It's an economical solution for corporations desiring to automate updates to their intranets, extranets, or Web sites.
Although other content management systems abound, including Documentum's 4i eBusiness Edition and NCompass Labs' NCompass Resolution, they're typically complex and costly. Because UpdateThis.com reduces the need for large software and infrastructure investments and provides straightforward workflow management that is easy for both administrators and content providers to use, it is a first-rate choice for improving the efficiency of your site's upkeep.
I tested various content and site maintenance features of UpdateThis.com using an intranet site hosted by the service. Although establishing a staging version of your site on UpdateThis.com requires professional assistance from the company, the process of uploading files can often be completed in an afternoon.
The company is working on a generic end-user installation system that should be available in August.
UpdateThis.com conveniently customizes what's presented in the browser according to your log-in. For example, when I signed on as a writer in the marketing department, I was presented with simple descriptions of tasks that could be accomplished for that role, such as lists of story headlines and links to other marketing sites within the company. By selecting, say, headlines, I was presented with a form that let me edit an existing story or post a new article.
I especially liked the editing features. The system provides a word processorlike interface for entering and formatting text. This DHTML (Dynamic HTML) window also permits you to select and drag formatted text and graphics from other Web sites, which saves a lot of time when consolidating data from disparate sources.
Additionally, I could select photos from a central library on UpdateThis.com and set an expiration date for the page. Immediately after submitting my material, I could preview the completed page's appearance and functionality.
Next, I tried UpdateThis.com's workflow tracking. Entering the system as an editor, I immediately saw a list of pending stories submitted by multiple contributors. (Approvers can also receive an e-mail notification of work they need to review.) Once I checked and approved articles for publication, the new content was immediately moved from the service's staging server to my production Web server (typically via FTP file transfer).
UpdateThis.com more than meets the goals of making content updating extremely simple for end-users and enforcing workflow discipline -- without introducing unnecessary delays in publishing.
Next, I evaluated UpdateThis.com's development and administration capabilities.
For instance, using a straightforward form, I added content contributors and assigned them different tasks. There are a few steps involved in making new tasks, such as uploading a shell HTML page template and placing tags that tell the service where to insert a contributor's live content. Still, once you're familiar with the process, it takes just a few minutes.
Administrators and developers also have access to the Templatizer, a tool that lets you change a site's overall look. For example, I could quickly update my intranet site's navigation panel and footer by altering the underlying code, either by using an online form or by pasting text from any HTML editor.
Naturally, UpdateThis.com also works with other standard Internet file types, including Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP), CFML (Cold Fusion Markup Language), and XML, and it links to ODBC-compliant databases for generating dynamic pages on the fly.
Taken as a whole, UpdateThis.com brings efficiencies to site maintenance while providing control over revisions. The subscription cost seems reasonable, especially considering that up-to-date content is what drives traffic to e-business sites, which can translate into increased revenue. And for intranets or extranets, you'll reduce the workload on content providers; consequently, they'll be more productive in their primary jobs.
Contributing editor Mike Heck (firstname.lastname@example.org) spends his days building Web and intranet sites for Unisys in Blue Bell, Pa.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
Business Case: This Web content management service allows administrators and managers to automate site updates generated by nontechnical content authors. As a result, you minimize the time and costs associated with Web maintenance.
Technology Case: UpdateThis.com allows Web administrators to import assets from existing sites and create a formal workflow for content contributors that tracks new content from creation through approval and deployment.
+ Templates ease site design
+ Site Editor assigns tasks to contributors+ All functions accessible through browser+ Works with HTML, ASP, XML, and CFML files+ Captures and writes to any ODBC-compliant databaseCons:
- Setup currently requires UpdateThis.com consultantsCost: Variable initial setup fee plus approximately $2,000 per month hosting costQuality of Support: Around-the-clock phone supportPlatform(s): Client: Internet Explorer 3 or Netscape Navigator 3 and laterUpdateThis.com Inc., New York; (888) 972-2748; www.updatethis.com.