01 May 2009

MySource mini

Yesterday (Thursday 30 April 2009), I saw the future of Web content management systems: MySource mini. Squiz.net, the company that created MySource Matrix, have essentially released a working subset of what will become the successor to Matrix (or MySource 4). For now, it is designed for "brochure-ware" sites (basically standard pages + forms). The first thing that makes this unique (as far as I'm aware) is that it is a hardware + software bundle. You buy the server, with the CMS (and 11 page designs) pre-installed and then, for a modest annual fee, the server will automatically receive upgrades and patches as they become available. Squiz say the ideal website for this setup is one with up to 1 GB of content receiving up to 100 000 page-views per day.

The second thing that makes this CMS so revolutionary is that it looks so simple. It actually feels like you're editing the site (ie: the 'front-end') directly. This is very different to the usual conceptual split between 'front-end' and 'back-end'. But the simplicity is an illusion – in a good sense. The technology is incredibly sophisticated.

Noteworthy features include:

  • An inline WYSIWYG editor that, unlike others, doesn't rely on the browser's own code libraries. This means that it is truly cross-platform and cross-browser compatible.
  • Auto-save (and manual save, of course), with 'revert'
  • Image library with generous thumbnails
  • A feature that tells the website manager who's logged in and what they're doing (and have been doing)
  • All designs have thumbnail screenshots
  • System tells you what designs are being used and by what pages
  • System tells you what files attached to a design aren't actually being used by that design (also what files are missing)
  • Complete server cache control, with a day-by-day report on cache performance (and traffic)
  • Alias URLs (useful for marketing campaigns) that are not handled as redirects and are never indexed by Google
  • Workflow that can work serially (approver 1, then approver 2, then approver 3, etc.) or in parallel (approvers can approve in any order, or simultaneously)
  • The ability to choose a workflow (assuming you have sufficient permissions)
  • Versioning, with a timeline (you can't roll back, like in Matrix, but you can view, and export, any previous version of a page as a PDF – much less resource-hungry than full rollback)
  • Context-sensitive help

There are a number of interface features that are so appropriate and so beautifully realised that they raise the bar for interface design. Such as:

  • Timelines with draggable 'viewports' and changeable scales (day, month, year)
  • Task panes (eg: for finding an image) that are part of their parent windows, but appear to be floating in front
  • Asset browsers with a (Mac-like) column interface
  • A liberal, and appropriate, use of thumbnail snapshots
  • A yes/no slider control
  • The 'help-pointer': a small, bouncing graphic that shows you exactly where a particular interface widget is, so you can follow steps in the contextual help system

Some of these are so innovative and useful that I expect other software companies will try to copy them.

Criticisms? Very few, and most (if not all) of these are features that Squiz.net just haven't built into mini yet, but are planning to. Such as:

  • No safe-editing, meaning that you can't use the approval process workflow on live pages – instead, changes happen immediately
  • Only 3 kinds of form inputs: text, pop-up selectors and radio buttons
  • No centralised list of current alias URLs
  • No calendar, e-commerce or bulk email

Matrix is an undeniably powerful system; however its back-end interface feels complex and crowded, because almost every feature is available at all times. As a result, the controls (especially in the sitemap area) are small and finnicky. In contrast, mini feels clean and spacious, because the interface is focused on what you need to do at that time, but it also makes the context clear (so you always know where you are)

This is indeed the future of CMS.

More information about MySource mini

30 min. video demo (29 Oct 2008)