Thanks to the power of Twitter I was recently pointed to this article by Rachel Andrew , who amongst other things is one of the founders of the lightweight CMS Perch, titled Your WYSIWYG Editor sucks. It riffs on a couple of topics that I have seen come up a few times recently and have had a few conversations about myself as I work out my thoughts for my next CMS project.
One of the topics is the idea of structuring content – basically creating web forms for defined content types that authors just fill in and the CMS can then cleanly markup and add relevant microformats/microdata/rdfa (or whatever else!).
The original presentation that brought me over to this way of thinking was the Anti-CMS stuff Mike Nolan talked about and then more recently GDS talked a little about how they had built the INSIDE GOVERNMENT publishing tool and it sounded like a pretty similar idea of moving away from a generic, one size fits all editing interface to something more custom.
I have also been looking at a quite interesting start-up called Gather Content that has complimentary goals I think and maybe has the ability longer term to extend the capabilities of some CMSs in this direction without custom development.
Going down this route does remove some of the flexibility from your web publishing I think but in my experience this isn’t always a bad thing and when it is you can usually find a way around it. The challenge would be successfully defining the key content types. I can think of a dozen or so for the sites I am most familiar with and each of those ‘templates’ would have a dozen or so people who would think they know best :)
The second topic is one I am less sure about. The pretty universal hatred of rich text editors (RTEs) from developers/designers in this space has become a common theme and also the idea that it will all be OK as “we can just teach them Markdown” is something I have heard more than once.
While I can understand the frustrations designers in particular have with people using RTEs on sites where they painstakingly thought about every pixel the reality (in my little corner of the web world at least) is that content comes in from all corners of the organisation and is rarely ‘web first’ and outside of the digital team very few people have dedicated time associated with publishing to the web. Now clearly there is all sorts things wrong with this in this day and age but that is the reality I face.
I know alot of (public sector) organisations are looking are looking hard at ‘distributed publishing’ again as they seek admin savings and the idea that these myriad content providers are going to buy into learning something like Markdown or Textile in addition to the normal tools they use seems far-fetched and a situation where content is sent to a central team (or in reality these days a single person) to be marked up before publishing seems like a step back to the old ‘webmaster’ days with the real risk of a single point of failure.
I do like the look of something like MarkitUp that seems like some kind of middle ground and has a particularly nice preview feature but I still think the fact it is a code view would intimidate a large percentage of the people I’d need to ask to use it.
As usual I don’t have any real answer but I do have lots to think about anyway!