Web Publishing for the Individual, Not the Enterprise

There’s an interesting site out there called innovate: journal of online education. It’s oriented to shools and universities, but has some stuff that applies to all educational settings.  Here’s execerpts from an article about an increasing number of situations where web sites need to meet a wide range of user needs rather than a single purpose like 5 years ago. It’s about a university system, but, if you read between the lines, I think you’ll see some ACS issues too. Might apply to The Link too.

Public Web sites are necessary to support missions such as community relations, dissemination of scholarly output, and recruitment of faculty members, students, and staff. but… Private Web sites are needed to support research collaborations, the selective sharing of copyrighted materials, and the delivery of personalized data and services.
Novice users need a system that is simple enough for them make Web sites with hardly any training. but… More advanced users need a system that is flexible enough for them to make Web sites with few limits.
Central administrators need to be able to limit resource utilization and enforce policies. but… Local support staff need enough authority to be able to help their users expeditiously.

Most academic Web publishing systems have been designed to create Web sites that serve a single, specialized purpose. Focusing on one overall function allows developers to make a number of assumptions about the nature of the site content, the types of users who will visit and manage the sites, and the functions and behaviors that will likely be needed.

At first glance, content management systems appear to be the obvious way to support the publication of all sorts of university Web sites, since their fundamental purpose is to provide a mechanism for template-driven site authoring.

…one assumption built into most content management systems is that defining the hierarchy of pages within a site, and establishing the links for navigation among those pages, should be the responsibility of a technically skilled person with the role of "designer" (or some equivalent name). A second assumption is that control of permissions for viewing or editing site content should rest with a system administrator—again, a role that demands significant technical knowledge.

These assumptions are appropriate for enterprise Web publishing, but they do not fit well with the usual scenario for individual Web publishing—in which a single, technically unskilled person is responsible not only for content creation, but also for determining page hierarchy and navigation, access permissions, and publication status.

In UM.SiteMaker, the Data Tables feature allows site owners to define their own customized data structures, and the Data Access feature provides a prebuilt front end for data tables. Unlike enterprise content management systems, which require the user to have programming and database administration skills to create customized data structures, UM.SiteMaker allows nonprogrammers to perform this task. This is UM.SiteMaker’s most distinguishing capability.

…my personal conclusion is that it is because the paradigm that dominates the design of most content management systems carries an implicit assumption of service to the enterprise (in the form of a publication where most people can contribute bits of content, but cannot create an independent publication), rather than service to the individual (by permitting each person to define their own unique publication). Weblogs represent a form of content management that does permit individuals to have (in effect) their own publications, and the popularity of this type of Web site reinforces the idea that autonomous Web publishing is an enormously under-served need. (emphasis added) UM.SiteMaker takes this autonomy several steps further and, we hope, represents an example to show what individual academic users are capable of doing when given an appropriate set of choices and features.