21 06, 2018

CMS: Proprietary or Not?

By | 2018-06-21T14:30:12+00:00 June 21st, 2018|Categories: Cascade CMS, Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

What’s Best for Higher Ed CMS?

If you’re considering upgrading your school’s website, selecting the wrong CMS can have lasting ramifications. And, with so many options out there, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed.

Google “proprietary vs open source CMS,” and you’ll receive over 50 hits to your search query. Some even come with catchy headlines, like: “Battle Royale: Open-Source vs. Closed-Source CMS” and “The Battle of Open Source vs. Proprietary Systems.” Clearly, the debate regarding the best type of content management system is still ongoing… and, apparently, fight-level intense.

There are a lot of content management systems out there, that’s for sure. So, how do you choose the one that best fits your higher learning institution? Understanding the difference between the two main CMS types is a good start.

Let’s start with the definitions. Open source systems, like WordPress and Drupal, are built with source code that’s freely shared with everyone. This means that anyone can apply that source code in any manner they want. The advantages of open source applications is that they can be improved by literally anyone. If there’s a problem, a solution can be crowdsourced from the user community — often quicker than an in-house team with limited man hours.

Proprietary software, on the other hand, is kept secret by the developers. The applications are maintained and updated in-house by dedicated personnel. The advantage with proprietary CMS is that it is often designed for a specific market. There are CMSs are there tailored for the transportation, travel, hospitality, and yes, higher education. Also, whereas open source CMS leaves customization to the end user, proprietary CMS can be set up on the front end for the unique needs of an individual client.

Let’s explore each type further.

Proprietary vs Open-Source: Let the debate rage

If you value portability, ongoing improvement/optimization, and adaptation, odds are good that you’ll be satisfied with a popular open-source platform like WordPress or Drupal.

If your website is built in WordPress or a similar CMS, it’s fairly easy to move into another CMS when and if you so choose. You may also feel secure in knowing that a large developer base is constantly working on improving the features and functionality of the platform. Such improvements are implemented through code updates, requiring very little effort from you and your staff.

However, there are also drawbacks. The code updates can create some technical issues with third-party plug-ins or websites running on older versions of the software. Because the code is available to everyone, it can be an easier target for exploitation and cyber attacks. And, chances are good that your site will require at least some customization, which carries added cost and the potential need for personnel skilled in HTML.

Closed-source programs offer some advantages over their open-source counterparts, chief among them is ease of use.

With proprietary software, there’s never a need for you or your staff to make changes in the code, because the CMS is already fully customized to your site’s unique needs. Any additional development is handled by the vendor. The software also allows for a robust user permission setup, allowing you to easily delegate tasks to appropriate team members.

Additionally, closed-source code has a reputation for being more secure. This makes sense, since potential bad actors don’t have the luxury of parsing the source code for vulnerabilities.

The only drawback with proprietary CMS is portability. While some programs make it fairly easy to transfer website content to another platform, there’s typically no such flexibility for the graphic and structural elements of the site.

The Ruling

So, what type of CMS makes the most sense for higher education? Because it’s better suited for specialized and customized content, we, at Beacon, view proprietary CMS as the better option. Cascade and OmniUpdate, in particular, are two platforms that we work with routinely.

OmniUpdate is specifically dedicated to the higher ed sector. It’s OU Campus platform was designed with features and modules intended for use by universities and colleges.

Cascade is another trusted and reliable CMS application. One of the cooler attributes of this platform is the ability to create flexible templates, which we focused on in an earlier post.

No HTML experience is necessary to work with either one of these content management systems.

Beacon Knows Websites

Want to see how your higher ed website stacks up? Request a free audit by our knowledgeable team and see how you’re doing.

24 01, 2018

Cascade Velocity Locator Tool

By | 2018-01-24T09:14:18+00:00 January 24th, 2018|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , , , , |

The Cascade Velocity Locator Tool allows the Cascade page to render faster internally in the CMS system. It supports up to 500 query items on a page. For example, if you have a large list of data that needs to display on a listing page such as news articles, the Cascade Velocity Locator Tool is a great for rendering that data.

Please note, this is just within Cascade to help processing the page while loading information in the preview pane. This does not affect the actual page while in a live web browser.

The Velocity Locator Tool is very robust and this example is a simple setup for demonstration purposes to show the Locator tool and set values of different types. This assumes that you’ve already created the content type to pull from using the Locator Tool.

Example of setting the Locator Tool and initializing variables:

## Use the Locator Tool to find requested pages

#set ( $query = $_.query() )

#set ( $query = $query.byContentType(“site://***SITE NAME HERE***/Desired Page”) )

## Set the query tool to search by content type.

#set ( $query = $query.includePages(true) )

#set ( $query = $query.maxResults(500) )

#set ( $query = $query.siteName(“***SITE NAME HERE***”) )

#set ( $query = $query.sortBy(“created”) )

#set ( $query = $query.sortDirection(“desc”) )

#set ( $newsArticles = $query.execute() )

## Initialize variables

#set ( $newsDate = “” ) #set ( $title = “” ) #set ( $summary = “” ) #set ( $newsLink = “” ) #set ( $imageSrc = “” ) #set ( $imageAltText = “” )

## Set variables

#set ( $newsDate = $_EscapeTool.xml($newsArticle.getStructuredDataNode(“page-content/news-info/release-date”).textValue) )

#set ( $title = $_EscapeTool.xml($newsArticle.metadata.Title) )

#set ( $summary = $_EscapeTool.xml($newsArticle.getStructuredDataNode(“page-content/news-info/summary”).textValue) )

#set ( $newsLink = $newsArticle.link )

#set ( $imageSrc = $newsArticle.getStructuredDataNode(“page-content/news-info/image”).asset.link )

#set ( $imageAltText = $_EscapeTool.xml($newsArticle.getStructuredDataNode(“page-content/news-info/image-alt-text”).textValue) )

Source: Hannon Hill

16 01, 2018

Hannon Hill Introduces an Accessibility Plugin

By | 2018-01-18T12:24:14+00:00 January 16th, 2018|Categories: Beacon News, Cascade CMS|Tags: , , |

As if security and dependability were not reason enough to use Hannon Hill’s Cascade CMS, its newest, innovative plugin makes it a must for Higher Ed, business and content creators of all kinds.

Teaming with Siteimprove, Hannon Hill has introduced a great new plugin that checks for content and accessibility issues as part of the editing process. Unique to Cascade 8.7, it is a significant step forward as the user can identify and correct accessibility issues as soon as the page is published (and before your legal team hears from unhappy site users).

This new plugin makes it easier for content creators and editors to add and check new content with greater efficiency. In addition to accessibility issues, the new plugin also cross-checks spelling, broken links, SEO and more. It’s a comprehensive plugin that one should never have to do without.

In conjunction with Hannon Hill’s Accessibility Webinar, this new plugin gives you everything you need to stay on top of your content issues – especially for those who have had to grapple with vague and hard to find accessibility issues. The aforementioned webinar, scheduled for Feb 8, emphasizes the front end of the process including key maintenance strategies, planning for new site elements and considering accessibility in everything you do. Sign up HERE.

For Cascade users, it’s Christmas in January thanks to Hannon Hill and Siteimprove.

29 08, 2017

CMS Super Powers: Top 5 Underused Features in Cascade

By | 2017-08-28T09:30:55+00:00 August 29th, 2017|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , |

Superheroes possess super powers that enable them to do the unimaginable with speed and precision. Similarly, the Cascade Server CMS enables it’s users to do things that other content management systems cannot. In both cases, these unique, underused or underappreciated features warrant further examination.

Accordingly, I’ve created a list of Cascade Server “super powers”. These features that are often overlooked but can give unworldly abilities to the Cascade users who possess them.

Personalized Dashboards

Judge performance at a glance thanks to a dashboard with widgets that can be re-arranged and/or removed to suit your informational needs. Your dashboard can include Google Analytics performance metrics, too. Within this dashboard, you can view Pageviews and Unique Visitors without having to enter a GA account. There are widgets for History and a Link Checker, New and Stale Content, just to name a few. Many of the features below can be reviewed through Cascade’s personalized dashboard.

Superhero equivalent: Arm Fall Off Boy (DC Comics). A superhero from the 30th century, Arm Fall Off Boy can rearrange and/or remove his arms. He can even use them as weapons. Never has there been a more malleable superhero. Kinda like our dashboard.

Stale Content

Within hundreds of website pages, it is so easy to lose track of old content that requires updating. Located under the dashboard, the stale content feature enables one to find stale content and change it so as to ensure a better user experience. The administrator can set defaults that specify folder, time lapse, etc.

Superhero equivalent: Diaper Man (Terrytoons). An animated superhero conceived by legendary animator Ralph Bakshi, this superhero uses his bottle to bludgeon bad guys into submission. He’ll never grow old, much like your website content if you’re in Cascade.

Content Review

With the Content Review feature, one can send new content to a colleague for review in advance of the scheduled publish date. An email goes out to the specified party while the article is still in draft. The recipient just clicks the link, reads, reviews and responds. Catastrophe avoided.

Superhero equivalent: Doorman. (Marvel Comics). Doorman is a living portal. However, he can only travel to adjacent rooms. If you need to reach your colleague in the office next door, then he’s your man.

Remove Formatting

This feature is part of the Cascade WYSIWYG. MS Word doesn’t translate well into HTML, yet many people prefer to do their drafts in this format. Remove Formatting to the rescue! With a click of a button, it translates any out of date or inaccurate code into the correct HTML code.

Superhero equivalent: Type Face (Marvel Comics). With his sidekick SpellCheck, Type Face defeats the bad guys by hurling letters a them. He’s a living, breathing WYSIWYG.

Saved History

Your entire session history is saved so you can easily navigate from one page to another, edit and migrate content. History is saved between logins so you can easily pick up where you left off before you were so rudely interrupted by whatever super-villains lurk within your office space.

Superhero equivalent: Martian Manhunter (DC Comics). An original member of the Justice League of America, Martian Manhunter had an eidetic memory.

As a long standing partner of Hannon Hill, we’ve got more experience with the Cascade CMS than just about anyone. If you’re searching for a content management solution and want to talk about what Beacon and Cascade Server can do for you and your organization, feel free to contact me with your questions or comments. If it’s urgent, pick up the phone and call one of our Cascade experts at 855.447.8276.

And remember. With great power comes even greater responsibility.

28 09, 2016

Wow! Lees McRae College Launches New Website

By | 2016-11-18T14:26:47+00:00 September 28th, 2016|Categories: Cascade CMS|

We are proud to announce the launch of the new Lees McRae College website.  The college is truly brought to life through the new highly visual design and unique features that are inviting and engaging to students, parents, faculty and alumni, especially when you compare it to the old site (see below).  While emphasizing Lees McRae’s brand and messaging consistently throughout, the new website also has a firm foundation on best practices for higher education, accessibility and high performance across multiple devices and browsers.

Old LMC Site

OLD WEBSITE

new lmc website

NEW WEBSITE

 

The home page is full of fantastic imagery that engages and informs visitors, especially the “Find Your Place” feature that shows an aerial view of the campus, allowing you to click on various areas to learn more. Once again, teamwork was the key as Beacon and Lees McRae worked together closely through the analysis, design, development, content migration, testing and launch of this incredible new website in only 9 months!

 

Built with Cascade CMS, the underlying templates are extremely flexible to support a variety of content requirements.  They allow Lees McRae content owners to easily manage the content while keeping the site SEO friendly. Here are a few of these creative features:

  • The home page impact image loads randomly along with an information box that stays with the image, allowing each image to link to different pages.
  • The home page impact image can be used for a video rather than static images, if/when the content owner desires.
  • The ‘Your Future Elevated’ section on the home page transforms nicely from 10 boxes on the desktop to 5 on mobile – allowing content owners to specify which boxes they want displayed on mobile devices.
  • Interior/landing pages have full width background color options. The color bands can optionally include a faded image behind the color. Both examples seen here in gray and here in green.
  • Content boxes can be framed with different colors within a page. Lees McRae uses a lot of gray and dark green – you can see an example here.
  • Impact images on interior pages can be content width or full width and can optionally include an inset line which is a part of LMC’s brand. Example here.

 

Lastly, and probably most importantly, all of the pages and features were packed into a small number of templates that facilitate modularity. This allows each page to be somewhat unique by turning various features on, or off, based on need.  For example, users can choose to use (or not use) right navigation, full-width banners (mentioned above), and custom right-column widgets that can be changed and published to apply to all pages where they are included.

 

From our client: “Thank you ALL so much for your hard work and patience with us on this project! We’re very happy with the finished product!”

23 09, 2016

HTML5 and Javascript Charts

By | 2017-06-16T12:46:39+00:00 September 23rd, 2016|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , , , , |

If you need a nice chart for your website for things such as charity drives or school donations, these are some great resources. Some are easy to install and some require knowledge of javascript.

  1. CanvasJS Chart Types – Includes many chart types and covers all most any time of chart you could need.
  2. Chart.js – This is for the advanced user, but you can modify and create charts with animations effects and build for responsive sites.
  3. AnyChart – This one has a trial version, before purchase. This is great for out to box functionality and can be customized. Used by many large corporations and businesses.

html5 charts

Image Source: data-ink.com

17 09, 2015

Style Guides for Web Design and Development

By | 2017-06-16T12:24:15+00:00 September 17th, 2015|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

style-guide

Developers, designers and web administrators are always looking for ways to improve how they manage the look, feel and complexity when building a web site. This can be difficult when we have multiple team members or new members involved in ongoing projects. So how can we help maintain global branding and development patterns for sites that all users can utilize? Style guides.

What is a style guide?

A style guide is a document of code standards that details the various elements and patterns of a site or application. It is a one-stop place to see all visual styles of the site such as headers, links, buttons, color pallets and any visual language that is used on the site.

2015-09-15_1518

Check out a few of the other style guides below published by some great brands.

Why should you use a style guide?

Style guides take extra time to develop up front but we have found that they have numerous beneficial factors for developing.

  • Faster build time for new sections and pages.
  • Design consistency is easier to maintain
  • Designers, developers and content owners have a one-stop guide to reference.
  • New team members joining the project can refer to the guide for the exact style use.
  • Keeps both code and design consistent throughout the site.
  • The guide allows us to standardize our code (CSS, JS, HTML), keeping it small and quick to load.

Steps to building a style guide?

Template

Start your guide with the sites foundations. These will include elements like color palette, fonts, headers, body text and grid layouts. These basic elements are the foundation global elements of your site that set the tone for your style guide.

Patterns

Next start adding in your site patterns. These would include buttons, logos, images, icon library, form styles, etc. Any element that belongs on your site should be included.

2015-09-15_1511_001

Documentation

Documentation is essential to make a style guide successful. Your documentation is the key to keeping a consistent style and development pattern throughout the site. Documentation can be done in the code itself with comments or using interactive modals or tool tips in the style guide.

Cascade Implementation

After completing the base code you can start integrating it into your CMS system. Not only can we use a style guide for visual and front end documentation but also for how the content functions within your CMS.

The following elements can be added to help guide developers in with the site setup:

  • Formats
  • Blocks
  • Template regions such as header, footer, navigation, widgets and dynamic feeds for news/events.
  • Build out full examples of your data definition regions. See example below of Cascade Server data definition containing all site content input areas.

2015-09-15_1526

Using the guide

So you have completed building your style guide. Now what? The first step is talking to your team about how to use the guide and what updates should continue to be made during projects to it. As new member join your team reference the guide as a way to introduce them to your site styles and code languages. Utilize the style guide when testing new code or modules on your site or just as a way to present new design elements to the team. The possibilities are endless.

Your style guide will never be complete and should continue to evolve as your site does.

References

 

10 02, 2015

Cascade Server Help and Training Resources

By | 2017-08-07T16:00:13+00:00 February 10th, 2015|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , |

Those that have worked with Beacon Technologies on Cascade Server projects know that our experienced staff is available for “as needed” content management help through our Preferred Client Services department as well as for customized training sessions and user manuals specific to the site designed for your organization. However, did you know that Hannon Hill, the developers of Cascade server, also offer a wide variety of training and help resources? Here are a few that you might find helpful:

Hope you find these resources helpful and please add your own in the comments below!

2 06, 2014

Adding Velocity Foreach Conditionals

By | 2017-06-16T13:14:07+00:00 June 2nd, 2014|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , , , , , |

There are different approaches to adding conditionals in a foreach loop. These are just a few code examples that are simple and easy to integrate in Velocity.

Note the examples would are what go in the foreach loop. Your set would be applied above with your specific variables.

Example 1: Gets the last value in the foreach loop and applying HTML or code element.

#if ( $foreach.count == $group.size() )

HTML can be placed here.

#end

Example 2: Gets any value except that last one in the foreach loop and applying HTML or code element.

#if ( $foreach.count != $foreachGroup.size() )

HTML can be placed here.

#end

Example 3: Gets any value with a specific count and then uses #break. (Note: #break in a foreach loop is available in version 1.6 or higher)

#if ( $foreach.count > 3 )

#break

#end

29 04, 2014

Quick Flexslider Scrolling Fix for iOS Devices

By | 2017-06-16T12:31:36+00:00 April 29th, 2014|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , |

After browser testing Flexslider on iOS devices, we’ve found a small issue that prevents the browser from responding or making the screen scroll up or down while sliding up and down on the slider.

There is a small fix that works for our preference and can get around that, until an upcoming update of Flexslider resolves the issue. So swiping once it stays on position to view the slider, swipe again and it will reactivate the scrolling.

To get the slider to work properly again for swiping up and down to get past the slider on a smaller screen add the following to the parameters of the JQuery function.

Original Source: GitHub Flexslider Forum

Parameter to add to your JQuery Flexslider call:

useCSS: false

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