Macromedia Makes Contribute-ing to Web Sites Easy
by Jim Bray
Webmasters have enough to do without having to constantly convert other
peoples content to html and upload it to the remote site.
But unless you spend oodles of bucks on a content management system, there
hasnt been a lot of choice for Webmasters. Macromedia, with its Contribute application,
hopes to change that.
I put Contribute, version 1, through its paces and found that it works
pretty well as advertised. In the end I decided that our Web site is better
off without it, but not so much because Contribute doesnt work but
that its designed for sites where there are many people contributing
to it, and the TechnoFILE site doesnt have enough independent contributors
who need direct access to the site to need Contributes features.
Besides, our editor is a control freak...
Oh, wait. Thats me. On second thought, our editor is a very fine
Anyway, Macromedia says about Contribute that Now anyone can easily
update, add, and publish content to existing Web sites - without knowing
HTML. And theyre right. Once the Webmaster has installed Contribute
and/or enabled Dreamweaver to work
with it (and they do work mostly seamlessly, though Contribute can also
function as a standalone product), contributors can add documents (complete
with graphics) to a site using a Web Browser interface.
Contribute doesnt only allow a user to add pages, however; it also
allows for the updating of existing pages, which could be a nice way of
spreading around the work of keeping innumerable Web pages current. With
Contribute, a company can assign different people to monitor different
parts of the site (for example, someone could be in charge of a news section,
or just have a job description to go into a particular section once a week
- or whenever - and make sure the information is still valid)
For the Webmaster, Contribute is a real boon for the most part. It doesnt
require substantial modification of the existing site (it adds some functionality
and features, but doesnt really change the basic site), and Macromedia
says itll connect with any site via ftp or LAN protocols. Besides
Dreamweaver, its also supposed to function with sites that use FrontPage,
GoLive, or even simple, hand-coded text.
Setting it up is a piece of cake. All you have to do is set up the administration
functions (which the Webmaster should already know), and then - just as
if it were a LAN - add users to it along with any restrictions you might
want for any particular user (for instance, someone may be allowed access
to the press releases section of the site but nowhere else,
or they may only be able to edit text itself and not anything else that
might be on the page). You can also specify the look of new pages for any
user or group of users, the size of any images they may upload, styles,
This is very good flexibility, and it not only restricts amateurs to
doing only the type of task of which theyre capable, but it lets
more advanced contributors take more control over their work - if thats
what you want.
Contributors can use the softwares Browser-like interface to surf
to a particular page, live over the Internet, load that page to their local
machine, make whatever changes are deemed necessary, and then publish it
themselves. Publishing the page is as easy as clicking on a button.
And if trust isnt easily found in your company (or if your Web editor
is also a control freak), you can ensure that any changes are monitored
by the Webmaster before they actually become live on the site. Its
Those contributors dont even need to have basic typing skills: a
Word document, for example, can be dragged and dropped into a page, and
itll retain the Word formatting. If the user screws up, the page
can be rolled back, and if its time for that union-contract-mandated
coffee break, the page can be saved for finishing or publishing later.
You can also enable check in/check out capability if more than one person
is working on the site, to prevent someone overwriting some elses
changes and causing World War III in the office.
You also get such tools as a spelling checker, table editing, multiple
undo/redo, and image editing via whatever image application you use.
Its all very easy to use, for contributor and Webmaster, and its
about time there was a product like this that works for mainstream Web
Of course, it isnt perfect. For one thing, we had some quibbles
with the interface. You cant set a default directory for images,
for example, and this meant that every time we wanted to add pictures to
a page we had to re-direct the program to that directory rather than it
remembering from the last session - or being able to set that default in
the configuration. This isnt a big deal; its just a minor irritant.
This is the kind of thing one might expect from version 1 of
a software package and we wouldnt be surprised to find it addressed
in subsequent updates.
One thing we found more serious was that once we decided not to use Contribute
on an ongoing basis, it was virtually impossible to get its tendrils out
of Dreamweaver MX so the latter would function as it had before enabling
Contribute. We ended up having to uninstall Dreamweaver, delete the folders
from the local hard drive, and then reinstall Dreamweaver from scratch.
This probably wont bother most people, however, because theres
no reason for them to take Contribute off the systems once its up
And since Contribute lets users work on the live site, Webmasters who
mirror the site on their local computers wont always have the most
up to date version, either. This isnt a big deal, of course, but
Webmasters need to realize this fact so they can synchronize the local
and remote versions if they need to be current in both locations.
So it isnt perfect, but its sure a great start.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think