11 March 2011

Overcoming the fear of net

In the last few years I've had the privilege of helping a number of individuals and small organizations to move beyond static HTML and embrace the power of content management.

[LIMG1]Part of the package when I build a site is training on how to use it and the explanation about what they are now capable and responsible for. A website should empower people to open up to the world. Wordpress does this particularly well but for first time users it can still seem alien and unknown. If people are afraid to even log in and make changes it defeats the purpose of the exercise so I think it's worth acknowledging and spending some time addressing fear of technology.

Brave new world

[RIMG2]The new era of web technology is to take the power away from nerds in dark places and let creative people be creative without needing to write code. For the generation that grew up Friending this statement reads as a 'duh!' moment but those of us that have technical aptitude can quickly forget how terrifying it can all seem.

Back to the wonderful world of content management it's worth noting that Wordpress comes out of the box with lots of features that many people don't know about and which, if used properly, can really help diminish the fear of web.

Firstly is the built-in document history feature. Maybe you made a wrong click and a bunch of text got deleted before you caught it and hit 'publish' by accident. No problem! Just roll back to the last change. A quick tutorial is all it takes to show people how to track changes and compare documents.

Secondly draft areas are something Wordpress seems to do particularly well, if not somewhat simply. I have found that people who are new to the CMS way of life get very excited about being able to preview their content before the rest of the world can see it.

[LIMG3]The trash is another highly underrated feature that is taken for granted. I tell my clients to never empty the trash. That way if they accidentally delete a page it can be fixed. It's great that this is the same general use as the trash or recycle bins in Windows or OSX which people are geneally familiar with.

So how far should we go to get people engaged?

Sometimes clients will show a greater interest in learning how to write CSS and modify the theme. Depending on their level of expertise I may create a sub-theme they can play with as a sandbox. Of course these are riskier things when dealing with a production site.

For my own peace of mind I do regular database dumps and theme synching into a code repository so that if someone accidentally makes the whole site go kerflooey I can get it all back in a few minutes.

I know some designers would make sounds that draw in breath rapidly to hear me encouraging this kind of experimentation on live sites.

My experience has been that the benefits of engaging a client with their new technology are so rewarding as to completely negate the risks of a giant kerflooey. Clients who start tinkering in Wordpress will start answering their own questions and taking ownership of their sites. This will lead inevitably to better interactions with the development team and you might notice:

  • Better and more reasonable requests to the dev team.
  • More self-motivated discovery and answering of simple questions
  • Owning their websites and taking pride in how they look

Am I crazy for encouraging this? I'd love to hear how other people do this.


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