10 November 2009

More on CMS

The content management system (CMS) continues to preoccupy me as I prepare for a re-launch of my web site. It's been built up over so many years (I now realise) that it has 1,500 pages - many more than most small business sites. And as I've recorded earlier, only a CMS can help me with managing this amount of material.

Entering information about pages, products, and services into a database is a strange experience - because there is such an enormous gap between the page where one enters this information and its final appearance on screen. In fact the main observation about this process (which I might have made before) is that there is a complete separation of content and appearance.

Almost every detail of the information is separated into a different part of the database - the title of a page, the sub-title, any graphics, the tags, the category to which an item belongs, the author, the date of composition, and anything to which it might be related.

And the good thing about a CMS is that these separate items of information are stored in their own little boxes (I'm being a bit metaphorical here) which can be reassembled in any way required later. The data base is the MySQL part, and the software which decides what to do with this information is PHP. It can be programmed to drag whatever you wish out of the boxes and assembled on the page which appears on screen.

Because all the items are kept separate, it's easy to say - give me a list of page titles in alphabetical order' or give me three lists of items in category x, y, and z. You can even say - put all these items into one web page, arranging the information in two columns.

How it actually appears on screen is decided by style sheets (CSS) - which I must say is something of an arcane wizardry. I know only the first rudiments of this business, but what I appreciate is that it's another element which is more powerful for being kept separate from all the other information.

So if you want any mention of class A widgets to appear in Arial bold, this is arranged just once in the style sheet, as are all other decisions regarding the appearance of headers, footers, body text, sub-titles, captions, and even the placing of graphical elements on the pages.

Sounds very sensible and logical doesn't it? Well, I can tell you that getting all these separate elements to work with each other to produce an aesthetically pleasing result is something of a nightmare. It's what some people call a 'challenge'.

No comments: