CCCT Court Web Site Guidelines – Recommendations 1 and 2: Use a WCMS

This posts continues to expose on Slaw the draft Court Web Site Guidelines produced by the CCCT IntellAction Working Group on court web sites. In this post, we present recommendations 1 and 2 contained in Part IV of the guidelines, together with related context information. The context information is taken from Part I of the guidelines.

In short, the CCCT IntellAction Working Group on Court Web Sites recommends to courts using the same Web Content Management System (WCMS) to power their public, internet web sites and to power their internal, intranet web site.

A Web Content Management System is software that is:

  • installed on a web server
  • accessible to administrators, developers and users via a web browser
  • used to create, update and manage web site information
  • used to offer a consistent look-and-feel across all pages

Web Content Management Systems vary greatly in features, robustness, quality, cost and usability. Some are sold commercially, others are free and open source. In all cases, WCMS typically pursue the following objectives:

  • allow web site developers to design a consistent layout (often called the “theme” of the site). Such layout can be modified in one place and affect all concerned pages
  • allow web site administrators to create different user groups, and provide each user group with different rights and permissions to tailor the services and content served to each user group
  • allow web site publishers and authors (those who create information) to add, update and delete information on the web site through an intuitive and easy to use graphical interface, without requiring any programming skills
  • generally make possible the deployment of web sites that are constantly updated

As you may remember, the complete guidelines are divided in 5 parts:

  • Context It’s a Brave New World: Features & Characteristics of Modern, Forward-Looking and Interactive Web Sites
  • Issues Some Complexities Underlying Court Web Sites
  • Principles Cutting Through Context and Issues: What Principles Should Guide the Design of Court Web Sites?
  • Guidelines Applying Principles to Design: What You Need to Know
  • Tools Resources to Assist You in Following the Guidelines

In Part I, the guidelines present a short review of the evolution of the World Wide Web, of the Internet and of web sites. The objective of this review is the facilitate a shared understanding of what constitutes today a modern, forward-looking and viable web site.

The first excerpt, below, is taken from Part I of the guidelines, whereas the second excerpt contains recommendations 1 and 2. Your comments and suggestions are welcome!

The Internet and World Wide Web distinguished

From the History of the World Wide Web entry on Wikipedia, we find the following distinction between the Internet and the World Wide Web:

The World Wide Web (“WWW” or simply the “Web”) is a global information medium which users can read and write via computers connected to the Internet. The term is often mistakenly used as a synonym for the Internet itself, but the Web is a service that operates over the Internet, as e-mail does. The history of the Internet dates back significantly further than that of the World Wide Web.

When the WWW was in its infancy and early period, there were other Internet services (or “protocols”) that were popular, including newsgroups (nntp), file transfer (ftp) and email. Over time however, the growing sophistication and appealing layouts of WWW pages, accessible through the http protocol, established the WWW as a de facto standard used by organizations to establish an online presence. A browser is a computer program that allows a user to “surf” the world wide web by accessing its pages, either by clicking on links or by typing a specific address, known as URLs.

In the period 1993-2009, the increasing sophistication of Internet browsers allowed web site developers to build sites that were increasingly complex. Sites became a multipage affair with a lot of content to manage and update on a regular basis. As a result, one can observe, in hindsight, three generations of web sites in that period – more information on this (and the diagrams that follow) can be found in Angela Byron et al., Using Drupal (O’Reilly, 2008) at pp. 5ff.

Evolution Axis 1: Three Generations of Web Sites

The first generation of web sites consisted of single or multiple pages coded in HTML. These pages were created, managed and updated individually:

structure of generation 1 web sites

Some web sites still reflect that architecture. Web site developers, webmasters and owners realized that it is very difficult to manage content and layout as the site grows in complexity. For example, to change one menu element across the site, each page had to be manually changed.

To move away from this labour intensive process, second generation web sites leveraged the use of “scripts”, mainly CGI scripts, to pull the content from underlying databases and present content on web pages:

generation 2 web sites

Several web sites are built on that architecture. Although better than a collection of HTML pages, this architecture still presented challenges to maintaining and updating the site. Changes might result in script modifications, in database modifications and/or in HTML code.

These challenges led to third generation web sites. These sites effectively separate content from layout by using a Web Content Management System (or WCMS):

generation 3 web sites

(note: in the first part of this post, above, the term “WCMS” is defined)

Parallel to this generational progression, another kind of evolution took place: the transition from purely static web sites to interactive web sites.

Evolution Axis 2: Transition from Static to Interactive Web Sites (“web 2.0”)

Static web sites are increasingly being replaced by interactive sites. A static site is a web site in which the information cannot be created, updated or commented upon by web site visitors. Interactive sites offer users a more dynamic experience.

Interactivity is one feature of web sites that are categorized as web 2.0. Web 1.0 corresponds to static web sites. Web 2.0 sites are best characterized by the following principles and practices (for more information see O’Reilly’s article What is Web 2.0):

  • Strategic Positioning – The Web as Platform
  • User Positioning – You control your own data
  • Core Competencies –
    • services, not packaged software (“Software as a Service” – SaaS)
    • architecture of Participation
    • cost-effective scalability
    • remixable data source and data transformation
    • harnessing collective intelligence

Web sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Wikipedia are classic examples of Web 2.0 sites. Many individuals and organizations have shifted towards web 2.0 sites to attract visitors and build loyalty among visitors because such sites are more engaging and interesting.

(note: this concludes the context information contained in Part I of the guidelines that relates to the following recommendations)

Recommendation #1: Use a WCMS for Internet Court Web Sites

As explained in Part I (“Three Generations of Web Sites”), modern web sites containing frequently updated content are deployed on Web Content Management Systems (WCMS). Courts should redeploy their web sites on a WCMS capable of implementing the 11 principles outlined in Part III above.

(note: these 11 principles have been presented here on slaw in past posts – see Right Information for Specific Audiences – Empowerment – Timeliness (1-3), Notification – Content – Security (4-6), Bilingualism – Accessibility – Interactivity (7-9), Viability – Simplicity (10-11))

The following steps are recommended to create an efficient operational court web site:

  1. secure management approval of (1) a court web site project; and (2) permanent organizational changes. Deploying a new or revamped court web site adhering to the 11 principles laid out in Part III requires an accountable project manager, with a distinct project team. In addition, some court organizational changes (see Part V) are necessary in order to support the efficient publication of information to the court web site. These changes should be identified up front, and approved at the same time as the court web site project;
  2. select a Solution Provider. In this step, the court issues a Request for Proposal, if applicable, and selects a solution provider that will design, develop and deploy the new court web site. The main headings of such an RFP are suggested in Part V;
  3. deploy New Court Web Site. In this step, the alpha, beta and final versions of the new web sites are deployed, user acceptance testing is completed, and the site is published for ongoing use; and
  4. handover of Court Web Site Responsibilities. In this final step, the project office is closed and all responsibilities for the operation and maintenance of the web site are assigned permanently to internal employees and/or contractors.

Recommendation #2: Use a WCMS for Court Intranets

When there is a need for internal collaboration and publication of information (within a court), courts should consider using the same WCMS that was selected for the public facing court web site for the internal facing web site. In this case, a different installation of the same WCMS will be needed on a different server – an intranet server as opposed to an Internet server.

The advantages for selecting the same WCMS are numerous:

  • reducing the number of different platforms – the same technology is used for two different environments. This means that only one set of skills and expertise is needed to maintain both the internal and external platforms, thereby reducing costs and management overhead, technical maintenance overhead, training requirements, etc.
  • a completely different look and feel (called a “theme”) can be used for the internet and intranet web sites, to ensure that users with access to both platforms do not mistake one for the other and commit mistakes, for example, publishing sensitive internal information on the external site.

If a court intranet site is needed, then all the steps laid out under guideline #1 should be followed. In other words, there should be two separate projects, one aimed at the external web site and the other at the internal intranet site. Both projects are very different and should not be confused with each other.

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