Category: ROI

Build Engaging Web Pages with Crafter Rivet and Alfresco

Posted by on January 31, 2013

Today’s internet is a noisy.  Our customers are bombarded with content and messaging from all angles.  As a result they learn to filter our anything that is not directly and immediately useful to them.  Thus there is ever growing importance for our websites and services to be up to date with fresh content and on top of that for that content to speak as directly as is possible to any given user.

In this article we’ll explore a number of ways to leverage the Crafter Rivet WEM platform to create a dynamic website that can quickly and effortlessly to keep your content fresh and timely.  We’ll go beyond the basics to show how you can support complex requirements and content production processes and finally we’ll demonstrate how to target your content directly to the visitors on your site.

Author Selected Content

In many cases our authors want to make a specific editorial choice about what content to display on their site. For example, they may want to decide which promotions to show on the home page.

 

To begin let’s keep things simple and start with a use case that has a very basic set of requirements:

  • Authors manage a collection of promotional objects which can be assigned to the home page for display in a carrousel.
  • Authors make a daily decision about which objects to show on the home page from the collection or gallery of objects from within the CMS.
  • All site visitors see the same promotional objects.

To allow authors to hand pick content to be associated with a page, region, or component in Crafter Rivet we must create a content association between the target content and the object that will point to them.  In the case of our example above there is a parent child association between the home page and the promotions.

parent child 1 to many content association

To create this association we use the Content Type Editor in Crafter Studio, which is the authoring environment for Crafter Rivet.

First we create the promotion type.  You can see an example of the fields in the image below.

Next we update our home page type and add a item selector type field and child content data source.

Once we’ve updated our models you can create and link promotion objects to your home page by editing the home page.

Finally we edit our home page template to include code that will walk the list of the associated child content (the promotion objects) and render them.

<#assign promos = model.promos.item />
<#list promos as promo>
 <#assign promoItem = siteItemService.getSiteItem(promo.key) />
 <div>
 <img src="${promoItem.image!''}" />
 <div>
 <h1>${promoItem.headline!""}</h1>
 <p>${promoItem.subhead!""}</p>
 </div>
 </div>
 </#list>

Looking at the code above we see that what we’re doing is getting the key values for the promotional content associated with the home page and the looping over them.  For each item we load the actual content from the SiteItemService and then use the item to build out our markup.

Query Driven Content

Our example of promotional objects on the home page is very simple.  It assumes that every user will get the same content and also that authors will not want to stage more than a single scenario at a time.  This of course may work well for some organizations but it’s far too simplistic for others. Now that we’ve covered the basic mechanics of author managed content associations let’s imagine a use case with much more complex requirements:

  • Our authors need to create different variations of the home page that correspond to marketing campaigns which will take place throughout the year.
  • Editors choose the content that goes with each campaign.
  • A campaign may include a new offering and potentially other associated content that must go out at the same time.
  • Campaign content production doesn’t necessarily happen in sequence.  Each campaign is developed by a different team and may be more or less complex which in turn means campaigns may complete production at vastly different times.  Occasionally a content production will complete right before the campaign starts.
  • Once a campaign is ready it needs to be approved and scheduled for a deployment.  The team assigned to that campaign will move on to the next one.
  • When a campaign is over it needs to stop showing up on the home page

For a set of requirements like the ones we see above we’re going to rely on a number of features on both in both authoring and delivery.

First we need a content model that is going to support our use case.  We need a campaign that can be created independently. The campaign will point to promotional content, products and other relevant content.  Our content model might look something like the following:

We can imagine a campaign might have the following properties

  • A campaign code that matches a code tracked in our CRM system
  • A effective date that indicates when it allowed to begin operating on the site
  • A expiration date that indicates when it must end its operation
  • A disabled flag that would allow it to be shut down even if it is active
  • Associations to all of the content that are related to the campaign.  These content items will be selected by the author exactly as described in our earlier use case.

Next we need to update the home page template to use a campaign. Because a new campaign may come along at any time we will use a query to determine which campaign to show.  At a minimum our query will look at

  • All objects of type campaign
  • That are equal to or beyond the effective date
  • That are not beyond the expiration date
  • That are not disabled.

The template code would look something like the following:

<#assign queryStatement = "content-type:/component/campaign " />
<#assign queryStatement = queryStatement + "AND effective_dt:[TODAY TO *] " />
<#assign queryStatement = queryStatement + "AND expiration_dt:[* TO TODAY] " />
<#assign queryStatement = queryStatement + "AND disabled_b:false " />
<#assign query = searchService.createQuery() />
<#assign query = query.setQuery(queryStatement) />
<#assign query = query.setRows(1) />

<#assign campaign = searchService.search(query).response.documents[1] />

<#list campaign.promos as promo>
 <#assign promoItem = siteItemService.getSiteItem(promo.localId) />
 <div>
 <img src="${promoItem.image!''}" />
 <div>
 <h1>${promoItem.headline!""}</h1>
 <p>${promoItem.subhead!""}</p>
 </div>
 </div>
 </#list>

In the code above we can see above that we are creating a query statement, limiting our results to a single record and then executing the query.  You may recognize that the code after the query which processes the results and shows the promotional content associated to the campaign remains nearly identical to the code in our last example.

Now that we have our mechanics set up teams can begin creating content.  Once campaigns are complete they can be queued up for approval and deployment.  Because a campaign may require product updates that cannot be shown on the site before the start date content managers may leverage scheduled publishing.  Scheduled publishing allows the editorial team to approve content for publish but to delay the deployment of the content until a specific date and time.  Finally, editors can be sure all related updates from associated images to associated products will be deployed because Crafter Studio will seamlessly calculate and deploy the campaign’s dependencies.

Targeted Content

Targeting content is all about getting the right content to the right audience at the right time.  From our last example we’ve seen how facilitate a complex production process and more importantly for this topic how to add metadata to content objects and then how to use that metadata to dynamically determine which content to show on our site.  In essence we’ve covered the “right content at the right time” part of targeting. Now we want to extend our discretion to a specific audiences.  Let’s extend our use case from above with a few additional requirements.

  • All requirements from the previous section hold.
  • Authors may create one or more campaigns that are eligible to be active on the site at any given time
  • Campaigns may be specific to different audiences.  In other words content may be targeted at that audience.  For example: All users,  users of a specific gender.
  • Campaigns that match more specific criteria for a site user (are more targeted) should be preferred for use over less relevant content.

At this point all of our production mechanics will remain the same.  Addressing the new requirements will require the following additional steps:

  • We’ll  add criteria to our campaign definition and then update the content with the appropriate values.
  • We’ll add additional user specific criteria to our query.
  • We’ll provide the capability for our authors to review how well the targeting rules work through Crafter Studio.

Let’s begin by updating our content model for campaign.

  • We’ll add a new targeting section to our form definition for campaign called “Targeting”
  • To our new section we’ll add a grouped check box for Gender and a data source linked to the values: Female, Male, and All

Next we’ll update our existing campaigns with the appropriate targeting data.  Perhaps we mark all existing items with the All value for the gender field.

Now we can turn our attention to the template and our query.  We know we’re going to target some content specifically to women, some to men and some to everyone regardless of gender.  Let’s take a look at the code:

<#assign gender = profile["gender"]!"ALL" />

<#assign queryStatement = "content-type:/component/campaign " />
<#assign queryStatement = queryStatement + "AND effective_dt:[TODAY TO *] " />
<#assign queryStatement = queryStatement + "AND expiration_dt:[* TO TODAY] " />
<#assign queryStatement = queryStatement + "AND disabled_b:false " />
<#assign queryStatement = queryStatement + "AND (gender:\"" + gender + "\"^10 OR gender:\"ALL\") />
<#assign query = searchService.createQuery() />
<#assign query = query.setQuery(queryStatement) />
<#assign query = query.setRows(1) />

<#assign campaign = searchService.search(query).response.documents[1] />

<#list campaign.promos as promo>
 <#assign promoItem = siteItemService.getSiteItem(promo.localId) />
 <div>
 <img src="${promoItem.image!''}" />
 <div>
 <h1>${promoItem.headline!""}</h1>
 <p>${promoItem.subhead!""}</p>
 </div>
 </div>
 </#list>

In the code above we see two new lines of interest.  The first is <#assign gender = profile["gender"]!”ALL” />  This code gets the value for the property gender from the current profile and puts it in to a variable.

The second is line of interest is <#assign queryStatement = queryStatement + “AND (gender:\”" + gender + “\”^10 OR gender:\”ALL\”) />  In this line we see we’re constraining our query by the gender coming from the profile OR  records that have ALL selected.  The key here is that we have ^10 on match for the profile’s gender.  This ensures that any records which match that aspect of the query will be given a higher relevance and thus chosen for display.

As you can see it is quite simple to create solutions for driving dynamic content targeted at specific attributes in a visitor’s profile.

However, as we discussed previously, the other half of the issue is enabling the author to test.  The reality today is that content authors are creating content for different devices, market segments and all sorts of other facets.  With such a dynamic environment they need tools that will help them review and test their work.

Crafter Studio provides targeting tools for authors to address this issue.  The authoring environment can be configured with any number of predefined persona(s). A persona is like a profile, in fact it behaves exactly the same way but instead of setting up and signing in as specific users to test different scenarios authors can simply switch back and forth between the available configured persona(s).   Each persona has a name, image and a description to help authors identify the scenarios they represent.  Authors can also change the property values of a given persona once they have assumed it.

 

Resources for Crafter Rivet – Web CMS for Alfresco 4

Posted by on April 16, 2012

Last week was a busy week for those of us working on Crafter Rivet, the WEM/WCM extension for Alfresco 4.0.  We’re extremely excited about this release and are busy scheduling events and demos as word is starting to get out!

You can download Crafter Rivet here:

If you missed our Webinar last week that was co-hosted with Alfresco you can check it out here:
http://www2.alfresco.com/Crafter0412

For existing Alfresco WCM customers on Alfresco version 2 and 3 using the AVM based solution, we’ve put together a couple of blogs to help you think about your migration to Alfresco 4 and the core repository:

For everyone who wants to learn more about this exciting and powerful open source solution for web content and experience management that sits on top of Alfresco, the world’s most open and powerful content management platform, we’re hosting a Crafter Rivet Roadshow in a city near you in May!  Come on out for content packed presentations, demonstrations, Q & A and free lunch!

Sign-up for the Crafter Rivet Roadshow here!

Crafter Roadshow Dates:

San Francisco
Tues. May 8

Los Angeles
Wed. May 9

Chicago
Tues. May 15

New York
Wed. May 16

Boston
Thur. May 17

Washington DC
Tues. May 22

Web CMS on The Alfresco Core Repository (Part 2 of 2)

Posted by on April 10, 2012

In yesterday’s post we covered the fact that Alfresco stopped selling the AVM based WCM solution to new customers.  Existing customers using the AVM based approach will continue to receive support until the AVM reaches end of life status.  New customers looking to Alfresco for WCM/WEM capabilities who read this will naturally wonder what is the approach to WCM on Alfresco.  Existing customers will want to know how to migrate off the AVM and in to Alfresco’s core repository.

As we have seen in yesterday’s post, the core repository has had the benefit of continuous innovation through which it has grown as a platform now capable of supporting use cases critical to WCM/WEM with key features like remote file deployments and form based content capture.  Along with features clearly directed at the WCM use cases, the core repository is host to an amazing array of features and capabilities that make it ideal for all manner of enterprise management, WCM/WEM included.

At Rivet Logic we have made a significant investment in a web content and experience management extension to Alfresco that we call Crafter Rivet. Crafter Rivet is a 100% open source,  full featured application that powers 100s of websites and has over 40 man years of development effort invested in it. Initially Crafter Rivet’s authoring and management capability was based on the AVM. When Alfresco made the decision to direct the full force of its innovation on the core repository we knew it was time to covert. Just released, Crafter Rivet 2.0 is 100% based on the core repository, Solr search and Actviti workflow for Alfresco 4 CE and EE.  Making the switch from the AVM to the core repository required a deep examination of our use cases and the features we would have on hand within the core repository.

Now that we have a background understanding of both the AVM and core repository features we discussed yesterday it is time to look at the use cases that the AVM was designed to address.  We will discuss the use case and how these gaps were addressed by Crafter Rivet.  Let’s get started!

Use Case: Sandboxing
As described in yesterday’s blog, sandboxing is a feature but there are use cases that drive this feature. In a Web CMS context we have times when we need to modify templates, CSS and other assets that have far reaching effects on our sites. There are three common use cases that point to sandboxing:

  • Development:  As a developer I want to work with a template, a CSS file, a JavaScript library, etc. without worrying that the bugs I will inevitably create will interfere with the rest of the teams ability to produce, manage, preview and publish content.
  • Timing: On websites of significant size and complexity, there are often times when projects are created to update the look and feel of the site.  These projects with future delivery dates need to be able to take place without interfering with daily publishing.  Further, it’s important that the project be able keep up with on-going updates to reduce the headache of last minute merges.
  • Playground:  Sometimes we just want to play.  Sandboxes allow us to enable team members to innovate and play around without fear of impacting the live website.

It’s clear that the ability to sandbox (or branch/merge) your website code base can be pretty handy. In my mind there are several key questions:

  • Is the support for this use case a “must have” for my specific environment?  How often do I run in to the use cases above?
  • What granularity of sandboxing do I need?

Many popular Web content management systems do not natively support sandboxing. In a lot of cases the need for the branch merge capability is handled through the development and deployment process. In general I think it safe to say this feature is a rather strong “nice to have” unless you have an site with look and feel components which are literally being constantly updated and where the traditional development process would add too much time to the effort.

When you do need sandboxes the next question is granularity and how sandboxes are used. The AVM UI dictates sandboxes for each user. In my experience accumulated over many Alfresco WCM engagements; is that this was too fined grained for the needs of most engagements.  Most users want to work directly in context with other users.  They need basic locking on individual assets to keep work safe during their edits but they don’t require an entirely separate and parallel universe.  The ability to create a sandbox ad-hoc for a specific purpose maps more directly to the needs we see on the ground. In other words, a sandbox is too granular but a sandbox for a project to update the look and feel of the entire site where users could work together would more aptly address the kind of needs we see.

Crafter Rivet starts with the first finding, that sandboxing is not a “must have” feature and that in-fact when it is applied it should be done so to facilitate specific projects and specific ad-hoc needs. If you look at the way we have structured our content in the core repository you will see we have left room to support one or more draft copies of the site.  In v2.0 we do not support layering in the default configuration; however, Crafter Engine, our content delivery and preview tier, is able to sit over top of multiple hierarchical stores and present them as one store much in the same way the AVM did.

Use Case: History and Reversion in a Web CMS Context
As a user, when I want to preview a version of a specific asset, let’s say a page,  I want to see the page as it was on that day. That means I want to see exactly the same components and assets (images, CSS, js etc) as they were on that given day.  This is a real challenge in the core repository because there is no native support linking assets together under a common version; each asset is individually versioned and the links between objects (associations) do not capture version.

Now to be honest, I have simplified the problem a bit to make a point.  I said that pages, for example, are compound assets and that you are always interested in seeing their dependencies at a given point in time.  This is often the case when we’re talking about images and components that are specific to the page but it’s not really the case when we’re talking about shared assets like templates, CSS, JavaScript, and shared components and shared collateral.  Think for a moment about why users want to look at and ultimately revert to previous versions of content.  They are doing so either:

  • In the short term because they have made a mistake, or
  • in the long term because they need to revert messaging to a previous point in time.

In the first instance there is likely to be no issue.  Common assets are likely going to be the same as they where at the point in time of the version.  However, in the second case, we really want to see the old content in the context of the current templates, etc.  If we revert, it’s to get the older content, but we’re going to deploy it in the context of the latest look and feel of our site.

Handling versioning in Web CMS is a must have, must do capability.

In Crafter Rivet we considered these use cases fully and drew a distinction between two types of relationships.  Those relationships which are page only  and those which are shared commonly amongst other objects in the system.  When you revert a page or any other object, those relationships which are “page only” will revert to a point in time, while other relationships that are common will continue to align to the latest version of the asset.

To accomplish this we leverage both the native versioning capability of the core repository as well as file organization and patterns.  In short, we organize page-only assets in folder structures that represent the page. Page objects are given names that are based on a hash of the object to guarantee a unique name which means in effect that the versioning of the page only object is “horizontal” in the repository. By horizontal I mean that a new file path is used rather than relying on the version store.  Shared objects like pages or other common assets are stored regularly and rely on the native versioning support.  If you revert a page you will revert to an a state where the page points to a different set of file / file paths — achieving a solution for both use cases we mentioned above.

Snapshots
There are several Web CMS use cases that could require snaphsots and version diffs.  For example, some websites have compliance related issues and thus must maintain versions of their sites so that in the event of a dispute over information communicated via the site they can easily prove what the site looked like at a particular moment in time.  The question for snapshots is:

  • Is this something your organization must have?
  • And if so, is it something that the repository has to do for you?

Our experience shows that this feature, for the general market, is a nice to have.  Most customers don’t take advantage of this capability.  When we looked at this capability in Crafter Rivet, we decided it was not important to support natively within the repository itself.  If a customer needs a snapshot every day we simply include a deployment target that would produce a snapshot.

For those wondering about snapshot rollback; our experience has shown that this particular feature is really not relevant to most customers in day to day operation.  The feature has come in handy as a mechanism for bailing out people who have made sweeping changes to a site (100s of files) and deployed them with little or no QA only to find a broken website after the fact.  In such a case, snapshotting a rollback is a life saver.  With a click of a button you can revert 100s of files.

Crafter Rivet, by design is 100% file based. In such a crisis scenario, a simple file based backup could be used to restore a Crafter Rivet based site to a former state.  In the repository, you are unlikely to desire an actual rollback.  It’s more likely that you will want to keep the broken state and simply fix what is wrong and then redeploy the working site.

Moving Forward

Alfresco v4 is an incredible platform and the move to the core repository unlocks all of that capability and innovation. Crafter Rivet is a platform that made use of all of the functionality in the AVM.  And with our new release, we made the move.  You can as well.  More importantly, if you are using the AVM with Alfresco v3 (or even V2), then Crafter Rivet is the perfect solution for your upgrade.  We can provide parity for most needs with a much better user experience that goes way beyond basic Web CMS needs with the coverage of WEM use cases like integrated analytics and reporting, native mobile application authoring, preview, and presentation, content targeting and personalization, multi-channel publishing and much more.  If you’re new customer to Alfresco looking for Web CMS solutions, Crafter Rivet is a comprehensive WCM/WEM solution, with features that rival some of the major players in the industry.

Click here to learn more about Crafter Rivet

Click here to sign up for a our webinar “Crafter Rivet – The WEM Solution for Alfresco 4″ on April 12th at 1pm