The Web Forms space holds forms that define content templates. For example, we may want press release to be a content type for the web site. A press release may contain a title, an abstract, a location, and several paragraphs in the body. These content elements can be defined in an XML schema file. Alfresco WCM uses the information in the schema file to automatically create a form which can be used for creating XML content for press releases. Once this content is created it can be published to multiple channels –web site, plain text, and wireless devices such as cell phones, for example. The publishing conversion for each channel can be defined using transformations which are specified using XSL, among other options. Content templates can be shared across multiple web sites. The following figure illustrates how a content item for a content type is created and published for multiple channels.
Creating Content and Publishing on Multiple Channels for One Content Type
Once the space for web site and the web forms (content templates) have been set up, we need to set up users with appropriate content development roles. For example, different users may play roles such as Content Publisher, Content Reviewer, and Content Manager in the content creation process. Further, a Web Developer role may perform the necessary setup needed prior to content creation.
Alfresco supports the concepts of change set and sandbox described earlier. Each user gets a separate sandbox, which is an isolated view of the web site. Each user’s sandbox shows only that user’s changes on top of the existing approved content. Similarly, when a user needs to approve a set of changes only those changes need to be visible on top of the approved content. A change set is a set of changes that move together in a workflow. The following screenshot shows user sandboxes and the staging sandbox which contains the currently approved content. The Modified Items link shows the content items the user is currently working on.
Staging and User Sandboxes
Note how each of the sandboxes allows a separate preview of the website incorporating the changes present in that sandbox. The preview of staging sandbox consists of only the approved content. Alfresco WCM 2.0 includes a virtualization mechanism for supporting in-context web site previews. For example, the following screen shows a preview of the Staging Sandbox web site. Note that there is one approved press release.
A Published Press Release in Preview
Another, very useful feature of Alfresco WCM 2.0 is snapshots. A snapshot captures the complete state of the web site at a given point in time – it can also be thought of as a version of the web site. Alfresco allows reverting back to an older snapshot with just one click. The figure below shows how easy it is to revert to an older snapshot – version 8 was created by clicking on Revert in the row for version 4.
Reverting to a Prior Web Site Snapshot
In version 4, the news story shown earlier had not been approved. Previewing the web site for Staging Sandbox now shows no press release in the screenshot below.
Previewing the Staging Sandbox after Reverting to an Old Snapshot
Note that security and workflow capabilities are part of the core Alfresco platform and are utilized by WCM 2.0.
The features discussed above focus on the core development process where content is created via web forms and goes through the approval process, allowing site preview at every point. However, Alfresco WCM 2.0 architecture is versatile enough to allow content creation through standard interfaces such as WebDAV and CIFS (Common Internet File System). Further, it allows content delivery to multiple sites and supports multiple web application technologies. The following figure illustrates these capabilities of the Alfresco architecture.
Source: Alfresco WCM Webinar, March 2007
Note that the terms Dev, Preview and Live in the figure above represent the creation of code, content, and media and their movement through the approval process. The Alfresco server shown in the middle is one production environment. In reality, you would need one or two additional environments for performing configurations and customizations in a separate environment which will not accidentally bring your production system down. For example, you should rehearse the space structure setup, security setup, custom rules and configurations in a development environment. Ideally, you would replicate the setup in a QA environment where the configurations/customizations can be tested before applying to the production environment. The development environment remains the playground for trying out any new configuration or customization.
The environment concerns described above are not unique for Alfresco WCM 2.0 – there are fairly similar concerns in other WCM systems. What is really pleasant about Alfresco is that it is lightweight enough to run on a single physical machine for dev and QA purposes. On the other hand, production can be set up in truly sophisticated configurations to handle performance, availability, and disaster recovery requirements. Further, Alfresco’s ability to use various commercial components (database, application servers, etc.) as well as popular robust open-source alternatives liberates customers by giving them back the power and freedom to choose what is best for their technical environment.
Web Content Management is one of the most popular applications of Enterprise Content Management. There is a wide range of WCM products available in a spectrum ranging from open-source products to completely proprietary offerings. Alfresco WCM 2.0 is a recent release which makes secure content management in a team environment a breeze. It offers exciting features which enable content managers to review, approve, and roll back business or application-level features. This is a huge improvement over managing content, media, and code at an individual file level. The Alfresco WCM 2.0 architecture takes the pain out of adding content from various sources as well as delivering content to multiple channels. The underlying Alfresco architecture puts the power and freedom of choice back in the customer’s hands by liberating them from vendor lock-in. By building upon robust open-source technologies Alfresco leaves more cash in the customers’ pockets for completing their strategic content management initiatives successfully.
References and Resources
- Alfresco 2.0 Web Content Management Product Evaluation Guide
- Book – Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Implementation
- Alfresco WCM Webinar, March 2007
- Alfresco 2.0.1 and 2.1.0 Update