How to build a seamless website editor?Feb 27, 2008
As we started to build our web editor a few months ago, we went through a pile of existing CMSs. Yes, we verified that the old saying about millions of them being out there is true. Every decent web agency on the planet has developed at least one tiny content management system. And I guess every fifth person in the Western world owns at least one such agency. So “Why the hell did we have to build yet another CMS?” you ask.Actually, we tried to skip this step and find a nice little piece of existing software to do the job for us. We could then have jump started the product by just expanding that system with some extra tools and building from scratch only the missing surrounding services (billing, domain registration, designs, mail etc). But there isn’t a single fine CMS out there. None. Zero.
So what would we do differently? The answer, consisting of hundreds of details, can be compiled into one sentence – we would make it seamless. And so we did.
We believe that managing a website shouldn’t need more experience than one has gained by browsing the net and typing in Word. That’s it, basically. Still almost any CMS approaches you with something new. A new experience to learn. All those cryptic dialogs and interfaces surrounding the site. To edit your web, you enter into a new world, inside which you can see your site loaded as though swallowed into the stomach of a predator.
It should be the other way round – CMS should be loaded onto the site. Then you can:
- browse your web, not a strucutre tree of the CMS
- change the content inside your page, not in a rich text editor in another window
- manage the menu items on site, not in structure tree
- edit objects’ properties contextual “bubbles” instead of new hard line dialogs
Of course, there are a lot of functions and views that don’t belong inside a web page. Your media library, account overview, billing, users, stats to mention a few. They can’t be seamless, but they can be unobtrusive. They can be supportive instead of being competitive in gaining users attention.
Our approach is to have only one piece of “hard CMS” visible – the admin toolbar. That is set to sit silently in the perifery – under the bottom of the page. Only in case you really need it, it rises either into the medium or full admin view:
- In normal view, the toolbar consists only of general tools as icons – Save, Preview, My account, Page properties, Versions etc.
- Medium view is used mainly for picking media for the page – photos to be dragged into texts or galleries.
- For more experienced users or for general overview, one can toggle into the full admin view
Visually the admin view is like a sheet of paper sliding up and down under the website itself and thus revealing only as much additional content as necessary for the user.
First peek on the real visuals are revealed very soon on this very blog.