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The Late but Great Rearchitecture of DevX : Page 2

DevX has a new back end management system and a new user interface to go with it. Find out what we've done, why we've done it, and what we're doing next, as well as how to give us your feedback on the changes we've made.


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The Promise of Managed Content
Content management systems are not new, so it may surprise you to know that DevX has never had one—until now. Though the site comprises tens of thousands of documents, each one had been either lovingly hand-coded in HTML or generated by making specific database queries and formulating the results with page-specific code. And in that way DevX was several years behind larger publishers, which have been using commercial content management systems for some time.

The lack of a content publishing system was problematic because it limited our ability to make sweeping functionality or design improvements, to recommend related content to our readers, to minimize the negative effects of modifying and moving content, and many other issues. A content management system allows us to easily and immediately provide better contextual linking to our readers, whether that link is to an outside resource, a newsgroup thread, a tip, or a DevX article. And by doing thatwe help fulfill our mission of providing developers with the information they need, whether or not that information exists in the technology-specific zone that they're initially drawn into.

But the content publishing system goes far beyond simply giving us better ways to make content links. We're struggling with many of the same problems that you have. For example, how can we deliver information to client types such as handheld devices and phones as well as traditional browser clients? We have an incredible bank of developer resources, and we want to provide more "views" into that information, such as exposing Web services that list the most recently published articles, delivering content in multiple languages, and letting you choose the syntax in which you'd prefer to view examples. And we now have the framework upon which we can build and deploy long overdue features such printer-friendly views and a content rating system. While we haven't implemented these capabilities yet, at least they're now possible.



Overview of Changes, Today and Tomorrow
Now that we've deployed this foundation, our next job is to go about the business of rolling out as many of these anticipated features as we can as well as bringing more areas of the site under the umbrella of our management system. And that brings me to an important point of clarification about the status of the site: In order to deploy this as quickly as possible, we opted for a phased rollout. And that means certain areas of the site are not yet managed under the CMS. Areas such as the Tip Bank, discussion groups, and older content will take you back a step in our design evolution. We think the impact of this incongruency is negligible. Links throughout these legacy areas will bring you back the managed front end—and the most recent versions—of any page.

Over the next year, you'll see incremental changes as we bring these areas into the managed system, add their resources to a singular knowledge base, and update their user interface to match the new design. As we do this, we'll be adding to the functionality and deploying great new interactive features to the various content areas of the site.

One of the most aggressive of these new capabilities will be "Power Browse," which will allow you to crawl through all of the thousands of pieces of content on DevX by topic. Power Browse will capitalize on the new cascading menu navigation, which you will find in the upper left corner of every page on DevX, whether it is a page managed under the CMS (like this one) or a "legacy" page.

Navigating DevX is very simple and, conceptually, hasn't changed from the last design. You'll still find the latest content on the topic-specific Zones (the .NET Zone, Java Zone, Database Zone, Web Dev Zone, C++ Zone, etc.) To go to one of these pages, simply mouse over the "Popular Topics" text in the navigation box (where it says "Browse DevX"), and see the main topical menu fly out, then navigate down one level further to find the Zone and other important pages on the site related to that topic. To visit broad areas of the site without entering by topic, use the "Resource Centers" link on the navigation box, which will bring you to the front door of any area or library on the site. We think this navigation is easy to use and efficient: You'll no longer need to expand and contract areas of the nav bar multiple times to find the place you want to go.

Tell Us What You Think
A few things to note: The new DevX design does not work in 4.X versions of Netscape Navigator. As a development site we understand well the hypocrisy of teaching one thing and doing another. On the other hand, the numbers of Navigator 4.X users is declining rapidly as the latest version of Netscape—version 7, based on the Gecko engine—is gaining a rapid fan base. We're working to deconstruct the design issues that give Netscape 4.X the most problems and hope to deploy a modified version of the design that will run in that browser.

Also, like so many sites that pay their bills by accepting advertising, we have elected to introduce a few new advertising units on the site. The largest of these is a 336 by 280-pixel unit, which runs on the first page of many new articles. While we don't relish the trend of pushing advertising physically closer to the editorial content, we've also learned by watching those who went before us, and have thereby steered clear of any aggressive advertising that interferes with site readability and user experience.

Finally, we know that A) things are never perfect and B) what we think is an improvement is subject to the opinion of our readers. We want to hear your comments and solve any problems that we can as quickly as possible. I've set up two threads in the talk.editors.devx discussion group. One for broad comments, criticism, and suggestions about the changes we've made; another to report any bugs or specific problems that you find that we should solve immediately. A variety of people at DevX (including all the editors) will be checking these groups frequently. If you prefer to use email, please use feedback@devx.com, which is monitored by our Customer Service Manager, Christina Ignatius. And you are always free to email me directly at lpiquet@devx.com. Finally, we put together a very short surveyand we'd be grateful for your participation, once you've had a chance to try out the site for a few minutes. We're eager to receive your feedback.



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