Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nielsen Norman Group Free 148 Page Accessibility PDF

Nielson Norman Group (NNG) have released a free report (usually retails for $124 USD) into accessibility called:

Beyond ALT Text:Making the Web Easy to Use for Users With Disabilities
75 Best Practices for Design of Websites and Intranets, Based on Usability Studies with People Who Use Assistive Technology

7mb PDF download available from the NNG group website at http://www.nngroup.com/reports/accessibility/

Pass on the good karma and make your sites more accessible over the holiday break!

Note: The report is from 2001

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Australian Open Source Industry & Community Census 2007

Waugh Partners is launching the first national research project to study companies and contributors involved in the Australian Open Source industry and community.

With growing demand for Open Source skills and technology, it's the perfect time to launch a major research effort to understand the strength of Open Source in Australia, the economic potential for the broader Australian ICT industry, our skills capacity, and the symbiotic relationship between the Open Source industry and community around it.


The resulting report will be released as a free PDF in February 2008

The census closes next Friday (30 Nov) so if you are working with or providing Open Source products, technologies or services in Australia visit the Census page and fill it out!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Managing eZ Publish Web Content Management Projects – A Review

Packt Publishing have just released a new eZ Publish related book titled, Managing eZ Publish Web Content Management Projects written by Martin Bauer.

Firstly I must state that in the past I worked with the author of this book for a number of years at designIT. I've been involved in many of the projects mentioned in the book as well as discussed and work-shopped many of the techniques both with and with out the assistance of a cold frothy beer or two.

This book isn't as much a step by step technical guide to creating an eZ Publish site but a series of observations and techniques that can help in specifying, delivering and managing medium to large web based content management projects. While the title and some of the content imply an eZ publish focus, most of the advice could be applied to web content management in general regardless of the platform.

The tone of the book is quite informal which makes it easy to read. The book takes the reader through the stages of the Software Development Life Cycle via 13 chapters (300 pages) that are a mix of real life examples, experiences and antidotes intermixed with easy to follow techniques.

The first two chapters (Understanding Web Content Management and Information Architecture and Design) set up the concepts web content management, discusses the differences between traditional development projects and content management projects and provide an excellent introduction for the latter chapters.

The third chapter is an overview of the eZ Publish content management system. This section strays too deep into the technical details and which makes it appear out of place in comparison to the rest of the book.

Chapters 4 to 6 (Defining an eZ publish Project, How to Write a Specification & Content Modeling) deal with processes and interactions that happen before a project starts production.

Chapter 4 provides practicable examples and techniques in to assist the the first meetings with clients and detail gathering the project brief, defining success and early estimates. Chapter 5 provides guidelines on producing a functional specification and creative briefs while Chapter 6 examines content modeling.

Chapters 7, 8 and 9 (Planning and Pricing, Risk Management & Open Project Management) focus of techniques dealing with clients once the details of “what” have been established and the project is under way. These chapter have the least eZ Publish focus but for me provide the most value.

Chapter 10, Implementation is about putting it all together and includes good sections on content gathering and population, and managing development, staging and production environments . The subsection on styling strays too far into the technical and is unlikely to be relevant for most implementations.

The last three chapters, 11 to 13 (Testing, Training, and Maintenance and Support) deal with project components that are often neglected or approached as an after thought - what happens after a project has been built. The testing chapter while focusing on infrastructure, performance and eZ Publish debugging techniques seems to be missing a section on functional testing. The training chapter gives some examples and techniques of handing off a project and dealing with a third party taking over responsibility for the project. Chapter 13 details how to deal with patches and planing for future upgrades and enhancements.

One of my biggest gripes with this book in not so much in the content but the formatting. There are a lot of titles used throughout this book and a greater difference in the sizes of fonts for the major and sub headings would greatly improve readability. This issue is especially evident where sub-heading “lose” their main heading after crossing pages.

Another formatting issue is that examples aren't adequately visually differentiated from the content. In some cases they seem to merge into the commentary and this effects the flow and understandably of the concepts being explained.

There are a number of real life example projects referenced through out the book with a example functional specification presented as an Appendix. Throughout the book some examples seem to be introduced out of the blue and without context while others seem to surface a number of times. I feel that the reader would have been better served if the number of example projects was limited to two or three and that these projects were used through out the book to help explain the various concepts.

Essentially this is a book about project management, specifically web content management projects. It distills the authors experience and captures techniques and lessons learnt that have been refined over many years and projects.

While Managing eZ Publish Web Content Management Projects is written with an eZ Publish focus I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to users of other Web Content Management Systems. Because of relaxed tone and style of writing it should appeal to anyone working with Web Content Management Systems, from Business Analysts, Project Mangers to Developers, Testers and Trainers.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Moving on...

This Friday is my last day with designIT. In July designIT was sold and I made the decision not to continue on with the new company. Currently I don't have any plans apart from having a few weeks off, knocking down a brick wall and finding work a little closer to home. I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane before I have my mind scrubbed ready for whatever comes next.

I started with designIT in October/November 2002 working on an online version of a survey that is sent to all university graduates in Australia. While this project was progressing another project was starting that used a CMS called eZ Publish produced by a little company on the other side of the world. Initially the project was to use version 2.0 but given that version 3.0 was to be released soon it was decided to postpone development until it was released (well the beta at least).

Much of the development was based on beta versions of eZ publish and the site went live before the initial 3.0 version was actually released. No documentation existed at this point so many hours where spent reading the source and patching bugs. Even at that point it was clear that eZ Publish was a well engineered product.

This site was to include the ability to search an external database but be integrated with eZ Publish content. This functionality was initially built as an external application and "patched" into the eZ core. At this point there were no contributions and no examples of how to do this.

Martin wrote an article describing the process that can be read here - http://www.designit.com.au/articles/rebuilding_gradlink

Almost 4 years down the track and I've just finished the an extension that exposes data stored in non-ez tables for browsing and searching. This is likely be my last eZ publish project, at least for the short term.

In between these I've worked on a number of eZ publish projects (over 100). Some of the more involved and/or fun include:
Some highlights that occurred over that period include:
  • Attending the first Asia Pacific eZ publish mini expo in December 2006, meeting other eZ people and putting faces to the names
  • Selling the first copy of Form Builder via the eZ site
  • Co-authoring Chapter 8 - "Center for Design at RMIT Case Study" of the "Learning eZ publish 3" book
  • Recreating the designIT site without using tables for layout (using CSS) and getting this method adopted for all new sites.
  • Shaping and refining the production process at designIT
  • Working with the fine people at CWA and FPC
  • All the wonderful clients I've had the pleasure of working with
I've also had the pleasure of working with the best bunch of people you could wish for. There have been a number of people through the doors at designIT over the years but some require a special mention:

Tony Svasek - Tony doesn't stop until it gets done and has an amazing ability to manage umpteen things at once. I'm pretty sure the man doesn't sleep and possibly is only half human. I'm amazed that he pulled last years Asia-Pacific eZ expo together in about 6 weeks.

Karl Latiss - Karl provided rock solid platforms to host the sites we built as well as looking after the internal systems. Everything just worked. Unfortunately as recent events have revealed System Admins only get noticed when things don't work. Hopefully we'll get to see the Tigers in a GF before we are both in wheelchairs!

Wayne Psalia - Mr Design - even the best functionality needs a fantastic design and Wayne constantly churns out beautiful ones with ease. Wayne thanks for making everything look great!

Martin Bauer - Martin is the heart and soul of designIT. Without his drive and dedication the business would not have been able to achieve what it has. We went through some pretty rough times but managed to pull through all the while producing high quality work. I've worked pretty closely with Marty over the years, stayed with him while in Melbourne and sunk many a beer all of which has been a pleasure.

Thanks also to Bec, Dougo, Suze, Jen, Pete, Jo, Pasha, Crystal...and anyone I've forgotten.

I'm really proud of the work that we produced together. It's been a fun trip!

Last but not least to the eZ Community - Thanks for all the help, contributions and support!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

[Solved] - Help required to complete Indonesian locale for eZ Publish

Update: Thanks to some pointers from Derick Rethans the locale is now complete and up on the eZ site.

I'm in the process of doing a spring clean and came across an Indonesian locale that I created for a multilingual project we completed some time ago: http://www.universitasaustrali.com.au/

The locale in incomplete in that I have not been able to establish the short names for days and months. It's good enough to use for most cases (not sure where and if the short names actually get used) and have released it as a contribution:

http://ez.no/community/contribs/internationalization/indonesian_locale

If anyone can help to complete it please drop me a line.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Easy web services with eZ Publish

One of the things I love about eZ publish is that it's so configurable and often settings can be used in ways that were not thought of when introduced.

In version 3.8 the ability to add and override HTTP headers was introduced (from what I can tell to allow for fine tuning of cache related headers).

In the most basic terms a web service is the ability to provide machine readable data (typically XML) over a network.

eZ publish has the ability to provide RSS feeds which is contained within it's own module. However this is quite limited. eZ also come with a SOAP library that would allow the coding of services.

The introduction of the httpd header overwrite feature allows for eZ Publish to use the templating system and the content within the site to produce any data you require, i.e. no php coding required. It also allows for the data feeds to be dynamic and relative to the existing web content.

The process in a nutshell is:
  • create a layout for the webservice (layout.ini)
  • overwrite the "Content-Type" header for this layout so that the ouput is presented as XML (site.ini)
  • create templates to produce the desired output
I'm working on a site that uses this method to produce podcasts and will post some code examples once the site is complete.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

11 usability principles for CMS products

James Robertson of Step Two Designs has published an article titled "11 usability principles for CMS products"

The article discusses indepth the following principles:
  1. minimise the number of options
  2. be robust and error-proof
  3. provide task-based interfaces
  4. hide implementation details
  5. meet core usability guidelines
  6. match authors' mental models
  7. support both frequent and infrequent users
  8. provide efficient user interfaces
  9. provide help and instructions
  10. minimise training required
  11. support self-sufficiency
I think thats it's a pretty impressive list and one that any CMS on the market will have trouble meeting today.

eZ Publish while not perfect meets many of the principles at least in some aspect. When I have a bit more time (yeah right) I may evaluate eZ based against these principles in more depth.

Making something as complex as a CMS especially one as feature packed and complex as eZ Publish usable is a huge task but in the end it is a tool that has to be used and usibility is important.

While I'm not sure about where eZ Publish 4.0 is at right now it might be a good time to note whats good about the current admin interface and what areas could be improved.