Making the Publisher Control Panel

Web Solutions are pleased to announce the launch of the Publisher Control Panel (PCP). Once enabled, it appears on every page of your departments website on www-test to provide a convenient way to access commonly used internal systems and sites (news blog, events factory, configuration tool, Googleanalytics and the Knowledgebase). These links are unique to each department/site therefore the PCP provides a personalised central link repository for web publishers in a secure and convenient way.

We use a wide range of systems and services here at Kent to administer the web and, at times, it can be daunting. This is particularly true for new web publishers who need to get to grips with multiple URLS, interfaces and logins.

With this in mind, what we wanted to do is to lighten the burden for existing and new web publishers by providing them with a central repository for these contrasting/different services in the form of a light and agile control panel for everything that they may need in order to be an effective publisher. We decided this central repository should be called the Publisher Control Panel (PCP). This idea was very much inspired by the modern smartphone market where apps offer different services but can all be found and organised on a central home screen.

That being said, requirements for each publisher can be very specific where one publisher may manage multiple websites, whereas another may manage just the one. How do you make the central repository clean and easy to use whilst still being flexible?

Where is our home screen?

The first thing we were consciously aware of was to not to go straight to the obvious solutions;

  1. Create a new website, with a new URL that had a similar look and feel to a smartphone homescreen. This would be easy to use but it’s adding a new system to fix a problem without actually removing an old system. It felt like we would be further contributing to the problem.
  2. Dreamweaver is very familiar because we use it every day, and yet not familiar at the same time as it’s amazingly powerful but we only make use of 5% of what it can do. It’s also not customisable meaning that anything we do will be limited.
  3. The Knowledgebase is an incredibly useful resource, which provides answers to lots of questions, how-to’s and general tips and tricks. But again, it is quite text heavy, very focused and not a joy to use. It’s necessary. It’s useful. Some may say essential. But not a joy.

This led us to your homepage. It’s your central hub for what you do every day for your department or team. You created this site and probably visit it every day, and when web publishing you’ll likely visit it hundreds of times day in order to check your work before you push to live.

There was already an empty grey bar at the top, so we thought that maybe we could use that to our advantage by introducing some sort of dropdown?

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 16.55.36

Functionality

Firstly, we needed to outline which external tools are most used within the publishing environment:

  • News blog: Up to several times a week
  • Events factory: Up to several times a week
  • Configuration tool: Approx once a year
  • Analytics: Approx once a year although we feel this could have more prominence in the future
  • Knowledge base: Approx once a month

Not only that but we needed to take into consideration other links and services that may be developed in the future, which could make the use of PCP more useful:

  • Tighter integration with specific Sharepoint lists and pages.
  • Link checker tool or Google Webmaster tools for Quality Assurance testing
  • Notifications for updates to snippet packs or new workshops
  • Warnings on pages where headers were missed, alt tags missed etc.

(These were just ideas that we could think of! I am sure there are many more that we will discover from web publishers over the coming months.)

Implementation

It was important to us that we delivered something quickly and that we used our time effectively, therefore we decided to focus on the services that already exist and gather user feedback for future functionality.

The logistics

Development of anything suitable for the masses is always challenging. Departments can be large. They have several websites with several different blogs/event factories with varying permissions. The PCP needed the flexibility to be used in a way that benefited the department and not just in the way we intended it to be used.

  1. There was no way to automate the process of linking a specific news blog/event factory/config item with a departmental site without significant effort. Departments already have flexibility which is needed. We didn’t want to take this away.
  2. Generic links in the PCP would not be useful for all, but specific links can be problematic for large departments with multiple centres, sub teams etc.

We decided to give you the choice by using the Site Configuration tool and to include any link you like. Whether it be direct (blogs.kent.ac.uk/websolutions/wp-admin) or general (blogs.kent.ac.uk/wp-admin).

This also extends to sub sites, e.g. going to sspssr/philanthropy on test will give you a set of different links as to /sspssr as the sites are managed by different teams internally, use different systems and therefore have different requirements. The minor divider in the design signifies the different between user editable links and default links.

Customising your panel

The Site Configuration Tool manages the global settings of your website and was the perfect place for the core set up of your personal panel. We developed a very simple section in the tool which allows you to input links for the specific services that are available. Again, this can be edited on a site by site basis. If you have a sub-site with different requirements, feel free to edit those entries too. If not, just activate the control panel using the tick box and it will automatically pull in the items from its parent site. It’s that simple.

Over time, we hope to extend this and provide you with more flexibility in the future.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 16.59.26

Conclusion

We feel this is the first step to something truly useful and simple. It’s currently available to all Chronos customers on an opt-in basis. Instructions on how to set it up can be found in the links below. In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to suggest some features that you would find helpful, please contact us on websupport@kent.ac.uk and we shall add it to a feature request list for us to consider in the future.

 

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