Contribute 3 puts users in the driver's seat

Quick look: Easy Web content management software


Price: $149


Phone: 415-252-2000


Online: www.macromedia.com

Though not as industrial-strength as some Web content management systems, Contribute from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco has become a popular tool for fast, easy Web content management.

Early adopters include 50 law clerks at a U.S. District Court in Texas.

Contribute's simple ambitions could be the reason for its popularity: Macromedia says that by focusing on users' need to get content onto a Web site, rather than a complex enterprise repository, the software provides the right combination of ease of use and administrative control.

I tried a late beta copy of Contribute 3, a major upgrade that was to ship by late July. One important new feature, which Macromedia says was requested by government customers, is a review-and-approval step that lets administrators limit who can publish directly to a site, as opposed to merely creating or editing content. (The steps are called edit, send and publish in Contribute lingo.)

Also new are built-in image editing based on Macromedia's Fireworks software, the ability to move between external HTML editors, and full support for Cascading Style Sheets based on Macromedia's Dreamweaver MX 2004 engine.

The enterprise scalability of Contribute has been greatly enhanced with Web services-based remote deployment and notifications, and an optional J2EE server module for centralized management of user access rights.

FlashPaper 2, an upgrade of a very neat little utility shipped with the previous Contribute, lets you turn printable documents into Adobe Portable Document Format files or Macromedia's popular Flash format in a few simple, point-and-click steps.

The new version adds Mac OS compatibility as well as in-text searching, hyperlinking, and text selection and copying. You can also now create Flash or PDF files from within Microsoft Office.

I have limited experience with Web content creation, so some of Contribute's screens felt unfamiliar and I often found myself not knowing what to do next. But I expect the learning curve to be short as I become more familiar with Contribute's few basic functions.

FlashPaper worked as advertised, as I quickly generated PDFs within Word and inserted Flash files into Web pages. But I found the controls on the created PDFs to be disconcertingly minimal, spoiled as I am by Adobe's real thing.

Contribute is nonetheless both easy and powerful enough to encourage more nontechnical users to, well, contribute more. It can help free up bottlenecks in the Web master's office and save labor costs by pushing tedious editing tasks out of IT. And, at nonprofits and small government offices, it can avoid what Macromedia calls the Web Samaritan problem: worthy content that gets posted late, if at all, because there's a single webmaster who performs the task as a favor.

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