There Is No Cat

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Thursday, June 6, 2002

Sandy Cofax

Dave Winer wrote a DaveNet taking Dan Gillmor to task for not writing about the fiasco of Knight Ridder's implementation of their content management system. I've written about this here a few times already, and been quoted in Steve Outing's column for Editor & Publisher in response to his column on the subject. Today, I found the web site of the content management system that Knight Ridder developed, Cofax. Interestingly, they've made it open source, and it's developed on open source technologies like Apache's Jakarta Tomcat and MySQL (the database behind this site). You can download Cofax from their web site, or grab the most recent source from SourceForge.

In reading the material about Cofax, I was struck at their insistance that one of the most important benefits of the system was its flexibility. The template system they use appears to cascade to some extent; you can implement different templates for different sections of your site, with a default template for sections that don't have their own. Thus, newspapers implementing it should be able to make their sites their own. But the sites in the Real Cities network seem to be some of the most inflexible cookie cutter web sites around. Why is that? Maybe there was a mandate from the top of Knight Ridder that all their sites would use a set of templates that they prescribed. The other possibility is that the newspapers either aren't aware that the system is configurable, or weren't given enough time to create their own templates and were therefore stuck with what Knight Ridder gave them. Given what Outing reported in his column, and the frustrations of the owners of newspapers affiliated with Knight Ridder's Real Cities who had this system imposed on them, it appears to be the former rather than the latter.

Regarding the specific issue that Dave takes Dan to task over for not reporting, the way the implementation of the new system destroyed thousands of old links to valuable content, I was interested to find the following sentence on the Cofax site:

Cofax was designed so that it can be implemented at any existing Web site without changing any existing URLs, thus preventing confusion and lost traffic.

The situation where Dan's URLs were destroyed was completely unnecessary, and apparently the result of a rushed implementation and poor process; the ability to preserve or redirect them is a major feature of the system. Given that, and the documented frustrations expressed in the article from Ft. Wayne linked above, I would not be at all surprised to find that the whole situation with the Knight Ridder CMS was the result of unrealistic mandates from the very top (Dave's "Mr. K"). And given the apparent push-back from the local papers, who are by all accounts not happy with the new system, I expect that upper management pushed this very forcefully.

That said, I'm very uneasy with Dave's ripping apart of Dan. I agree with Dan Bricklin that publishing this piece right now, when Dan is out of the country and can't defend himself, was, um, sub-optimal. And given what I surmise is the situation within Knight Ridder in regard to the new design, I'm not sure I disagree with Dan Gillmor's decision to keep his head down on this. At the very least, I understand it. Knight Ridder is taking criticism from plenty of other sources. Not to mention that if Dan is really unhappy with it, by writing about it from a negative standpoint, he risks his journalistic credibility just as much as Dave says he does by not writing about it. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

Posted at 4:32 PM

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This site is copyright © 2002-2017, Ralph Brandi.

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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