Adding a Background Page in Visio

This question came from a colleague looking to add "icons and stuff" to a Visio diagram.

I believe in applying CMS principles to your CMS designs, so use these quick four steps to create and use a background in your Visio diagrams.

1. Right-click a tab and go to Page Setup...

2. Set this tab as a Background. I typically call it something like Background or my company name.

3. Then for each page that should use this background, also go to Page Setup...

4. Set the Background for your tab.
Going forward, updates to your background will apply to each page. The only issue I've had with this is mismatched pages tend to move the background elements.

If perfect is the enemy of good, what does 100% mean?

The perfect is the enemy of good. Here are some stories of the pursuit of Web, writing, grades, and Tridion sharing "perfection" and its unintended consequences (in Pixar Prompt format).

Once Upon a Web Development Time

Once upon a time there was a Web development team. Every week, the business analyst checked the site for broken links. One day the team wanted perfect error logs. Because of that, the team redirected all 404 page-not-found errors to the homepage. Because of that, the BA stopped finding broken links. Until finally the team brought the 404 page back to properly monitor broken links.
In a past role I was in charge of basic Web Business Analysis tasks which included everything from requirements to reporting. I used tools like Webtrends and SortSite to report on my company's sites. The development team also used ELMAH to find and track errors.

Over time we were able to track, fix, and reduce errors across sites but pesky 404 (page not found) errors kept coming up on the corporate site. These could be from out-dated bookmarks, typos, or occasionally when I entered a url that ended with /alvin-says-hi.aspx.

But one day we achieved 404 perfection. My link checking tests reported no broken links. Suspiciously this included pages meant to return a 404.

To "fix" the 404s, apparently we redirected all 404 errors to the homepage.


Did that sink in yet? This meant for awhile that:

  • The site could have an unlimited number of broken links that would never show up tools meant to detect broken links
  • Web analytics might still report bad links that we actually visited, though (if someone looked for it)
  • Issues linking to certain pages could go undetected. Email campaigns that had a typo would still seemingly link okay to the site, even if the link should have gone to a specific page.

The team eventually brought the 404 page back so they could better monitor broken pages.

Some things can't possibly be 100% 100% of the time. You can't improve if you don't honestly measure.

Btw, I should plug the fact that SDL offers SDL Safeguard, a comprehensive site quality/brand/compliance checking solution.

Don't Measure the Small Stuff

Once upon a time there was a proposal writing team that answered RFPs. Every day the manager reviewed proposals for spelling errors. One day she found five errors. Because of that, she sent the proposal back. Because of that, the writer fixed it. Until finally the team (mostly) never worried about spelling errors again.
BSMSO has an approach for things that should be 100%. When reviewing a proposal, if it hits a certain number of errors, she kindly asks for another review. She doesn't need to maintain a list of "proposals with 100% correct spelling." When excellence is expected and typically delivered, you don't need to nitpick the fact something was less than perfect. You fix it and move on.

There's no need to measure the small stuff and if they did, the tedium for professional writers would either impact morale or slow the process down. You don't need to measure the things that don't need to be improved.

100% Might Be Too Small

Once upon a time there was a student. Every day, she got good grades. One day she got a less-than-perfect score. Because of that, she realized what she could improve on. Because of that, she worked on what she was good at while fixing the things she was bad at. Until finally "100%" held no sway over her.
Although school taught us to aim for 100%, you can't learn to be better if you always get perfect marks. "You're at 100% and doing everything expected of you" doesn't confirm what your impact is, what you could achieve, or what you could work on (or ignore to focus on the things you're really good at). Set your bar too low and people may miss their true potential.

The Cost of Winning

Once upon a time there was a Tridion consultant. Every day, he asked and answered Tridion questions privately among his peers. One day he decided to try for the sharing award. Because of that, he shared very much. Because of that, he won an award. Until finally...
I'm on the selection panel of an uber geek award for Tridion sharing. The impact of "100%" on this program is similar to that moment at the end of the school year after a big exam. In the last nights of cramming for the test maybe you promise you'll go back and really learn the material. Or maybe you'll send in the extra credit assignments to guarantee a certain grade.

What really happens is you finish the big exam, your mind starts to slowly forget very-important-facts-now-turned-trivia, and you go off to do something more interesting.

So by offering a known award with supposedly clear criteria, we've created an extrinsic award when we really want intrinsic motivation. Watch or read Paniel Pink to get the difference.

This suggests my attempts to encourage you to share should focus on the parts of sharing that appeal to you most. I know it's not time, because I see you on Facebook and Skype. :-)  You can't claim a lack of topics because there's always a topic in your email, in recent code you've written, as a section of the documentation, or from a growing list of questions.

Tip for those trying to win any award: know why you're starting in the first place. If your target (e.g. win a community sharing award) is your incentive, then you'll likely reach it. But there's a chance you won't have the drive in subsequent contests or years. Interests change over time for sure, but some longevity demonstrates you're in it for causes larger than yourself.

If "100%" has no away for you, if you're compelled to learn, excel, and to give back then you will win awards, the appreciation of others, and maybe eventually you'll start shaping the communities you chose to join.

So how do we end this story? "Because of that, he won an award. Until finally..."

  • He paid the price of 100% and stopped sharing as much because he reached his goal. Or...
  • He encouraged others to share. Or...
  • He changed the community itself.
Don't let 100% nor perfection distract you from improving or recognizing what you're already great at.

SDL Tridion 2013 SP1 is Out

And after seeing at least four internal presentations, chatting with colleagues, and attending full-day knowledge sharing session on SDL Tridion 2013 SP1, I'm not sure where to begin or what to share.

So first, be sure to congratulate the team (and this guy on his first release) and dive into the documentation when ready. Btw, that Tridion documentation you're reading uses another SDL product.

So instead, here's my personal To Do list based on the update. See if you can tell which task is related to what part of the update.

  • Update my use of Tridion-related icons (going forward)
  • Reconsider my advice for Custom Pages considering an even better way to integrate
  • Research "easy-to-setup CMIS-compliant CMS"
  • Revisit TridionStack exchange questions on configuring Experience Manager-enabled sites in the dashboard, workflow, and setting item publish status
  • Find my instance where I set up Target Groups (or set them up again)
  • Make the "Insight" part of SDL's Customer Experience Management story concrete
  • Find the right contacts to try other SDL products
  • Review Education exercises for workflow and workflow design
  • Revisit the component synchronizer
  • Explain the Ambient Data Framework and Context Engine in a business-friendly way
  • Suggest new new BluePrinting best practices for contextual templating
  • Double-check which of my SDL Tridion Ideas made it into the product!
Also, if you're wondering if it's too late to be considered for the SDL Tridion MVP 2014 evaluations, first read Bart Koopman's post and then consider sharing something we didn't know about Tridion (because it's new).

For a list of potential topics and material, just look at what you've recently presented on or read a post by Chris Morgan for an SDL Tridion 2013 SP1 overview (and I thought I was fast).

SDL Media Manager Bootcamp

I'm back from yet another bootcamp session in Amsterdam, this time for SDL Media Manager. Big thanks to the company and my European colleagues for bringing us across the "pond" to learn and share about SDL Media Manager.
My first exposure to a "Bootcamp" session was back in 2011 as a privileged customer having won an award for sharing stuff about Tridion. Since then (or maybe because the session convinced me), I've joined SDL and then had a few opportunities to participate in internal knowledge sharing sessions, a user day event, community award summits, and an Experience Manager (then "New UI") bootcamp (also in Amsterdam). These have all been great sessions where I learn as much from my fellow (often remote) colleagues as I do about software. 
Tip: if these time of sessions interest you, definitely reach out to your local representative, field marketer, or even product management (many are quite visible in our technical community).

Here are my three main "aha" moments from the four days of sessions.

  1. Lessons Learned from SDL Media Manager
  2. SDL Tridion influencing SDL Media Manager
  3. Next Steps in the Community

Lessons Learned from SDL Media Manager

SDL Media Manager is Refining my Perspective on SDL Tridion and CMS

Fellow Tridionaut (SDL Tridion community member) Frank Taylor describes SDL Media Manager (and nitpicks some of its UI). I actually love the Manage, Assemble, and Distribute sections. This reads as "1, 2, 3..." to CMS users, whereas SDL Tridion BluePrinting, at least in the Content Manager Explorer, has a standard "folder, folder, another folder..." approach.
"Would you also like to..." If you look at SDL Tridion Experience manager, making a page has a wizard-like "1, 2, 3..." process. I'm definitely for good defaults and a process that guides and nudges users, while still giving them flexibility.
I've already submitted an SDL Tridion Idea to add more of this good stuff (go vote for it!). Imagine if after creating a schema you got prompted to make or choose a template, then maybe start a test component and even a layout TBB for the template?
Out-of-the-box and standardized content model.

I'm fascinated by SDL Media Manager's set of known and supported default "content types." If you're an avid SDL Tridion blogosphere reader, you will notice mentioned on at least two other blogs (bonus points if you know which two). suggests an "industry standard" for content types (schemas) which can translate into easier SDL Tridion implementations (in addition to starting code toolkits, we could lead with known content types).

When I engage SDL Tridion customers from a functional design perspective, it seems everyone is fairly ready to code, but many are new to modeling content relationships. On the media asset side, though, everyone seems to understand mime types or the idea of a Media player.

Cloud. Yes, with its multi-tiered, Web-based architecture, SDL Tridion can fly, but SDL Media Manager is already in the cloud.

My SDL Tridion 2013 VM guide (and Nuno Linhares's original version for 2011 that it was based on) must be really popular because everyone seems to have their own Tridion virtual machine or instance. :-) Being surrounded by Tridion experts means it's trivial to spawn off "Fifth Environments" anytime for any project. This is great for the community since everyone can independently learn (while breaking their own systems) and we get so many contributions. For example, search for Tridion navigation to get a flavor of options. I love the flexibility, but I can only support so many Sixth (Custom) Environments.

As I get access to internal PS-supported implementations, I'm going to ask my WCM colleagues "can we just do it like Media Manager?" Give me one cloud environment and let me create a consolidated, yet flexible content model. Then code whatever you want on top of it. :-)

I might tease you for saying you work for Tridion (hint: no one does), but the point is these learning sessions, implementations, and the integration between the two systems means the products and people will continue to influence each other.

SDL Tridion Influencing SDL Media Manager 

Key-Value Custom Events. SDL Media Manager has a very familiar feature called Custom Events (not to be confused with Events in Tridion) that lets authors add key-value pairs to customize the behavior of things like media players. In Tridion we might make a "configuration" or labels component to implement something similar.

It's flexible (and out-of-the-box) in Media Manager but I'd imagine authors wanting pre-selected keys or configurable sets like "intro," "credits," or "chapters." We'll see how the Media Asset Management system evolves. One great feature is the ability to upload an Events File in lieu of such Custom Events--this would be my functional hook to give authors a way to choose functionality over entering text values.

BluePrinting-friendly! I need to investigate further but simply referencing a video from SDL Tridion will get you the deliver-side translated version (assuming the video has translated transcripts). You wouldn't need to go to each publication to localize or wire the video. The only catch is previewing the video in the CME may not detect the right language (in the context of Tridion you're using your langauge), however viewing in Staging will work fine based on the Staging site's language.

Templating. "SDL Tridion is sophisticated to meet customer's sophisticated needs" (yeah, some of my customers scoff at my view). Part of that sophistication is a very flexible approach to delivery which is basically, "anything you want."

I've gotten stuck in circular discussion on the output format from Tridion that sound like:
"What {JSON|XML|HTML|JSP\ASPX} output do you deliver?"
"Nearly anything you can define. What do you need?"
"We need the output to be {JSON|XML|HTML|JSP\ASPX}." :-|
SDL Tridion customers want or need everything from URLs, to fragments or snippets of markup (component presentations in Tridion terminology), to complete HTML 5 video players. The "page" format could be JSON, XML, or some proprietary format.

But since Tridion can do rendering in templating at publish or let you manipulate the content model in delivery (in an MVC-type approach), Tridion can easily consume whatever SDL Media Manager distributions output.

My main concerns for templating with Media Manager are:
  • We only get one Schema for all of Media Manager's outlets and channels. So we'll have to be a little creative when approaching region-driven functionality (mainly through folder structure, metadata, and of course page types).
  • Only some of Media Manager's (external-to-Tridion) metadata is exposed through the ECL Provider. The team discussed possibilities of opening this up in the future.

Next Steps in the (Joint) Community

I submitted another SDL Tridion Idea to standardize a way to map items, hoping we could get us to a place where anyone could "right-click > try this in my environment."

It's a great time for SDL Media Manager and SDL Tridion. I'm looking forward to sharing the SDL Media Manager insights and examples with my peers at the next internal SDL Tridion knowledge sharing. Follow #SDLMedia as well as #SDLTridion for updates if you haven't noticed #media-manager questions on Tridion Stack Exchange already.

Bart Koopman has already released a few Media Manager and ECL-related extensions on SDL Tridion World. Our community has joked about what googling Tridion problems was like in 2008 (hint: hindsight makes it humorous... now), but this is 2013. Have you seen the number of GitHub Tridion repositories lately? There are (as I type this) 1,222 Tridion Stack Exchange Questions. SDL Media Manger (at least as they relate to SDL Tridion) examples will fit right in our growing community.

So now what?
  • Stay tuned for community contributions, examples, and new SDL Tridion + SDL Media Manager/ECL practices.
  • For SDL Tridion partners and customers that can't wait, find your nearest representative, ping me online, or reach out to product management to learn more about such bootcamp events or SDL Media Manager. Try joining SDL Tridion Pulse (and ping @Davina).
  • Ask Education about formal courses.
  • Share more. Or share for the first time.
The upcoming SDL Tridion + SDL Media Manager examples will be a mix of markup, CSS, multimedia, and JQuery skills with a tiny bit of SDL Tridion and whole lot of SDL Media Manager goodness. It's a great opportunity to flex your front-end design skills.

The 4 D's of BluePrinting "Promotion"

"Wouldn't it be great to easily move content up an SDL Tridion BluePrint?"
Assuming you made something in the wrong publication on accident and the set up was perfect, then you could script or automate such a move. This might be "easy" since the dependency rules are known and fairly simple on their own, but are you aware of the four main considerations?
  1. Decisions
  2. Distance (and Direction)
  3. Dependencies
  4. Directories

1. Decisions

First of all, who gets to make such moves? If this is a CMS admin task for you, then a script or even Content Porter is all you need.

If you want certain authors to be able to promote content, you'll want to confirm who will get this power and how much you will rely on the user's actual authorization (just like Content Porter) or if you'll impersonate an admin, which can lead to major changes without typical authorization checks.

2. Distance (and Direction)

The typical use cases for "moving something up" are either an accident or to share something popular across an organization. I've heard it called the, "ooh, we like that" requirement. Before considering a "BluePrint Promotion" extension, you have some simple ways to prevent both of these scenarios.
  1. Remove read as needed from certain child publications and/or for certain authors. You can't make a mistake if the system prevents it.
  2. Follow the practice of minimizing localization with a content-forward strategy and place content in a global publication. Use permissions to manage who gets to see what. This is how nearly every-system-that-is-not Tridion works.
  3. Naming conventions can help with either of the above. You might even localize certain folders as a hint to authors (giving them some context in the CME, but be careful with code that relies on paths).
If these aren't enough for you, then be sure to handle this series of questions.
  • Will you only handle parent (local) items or will you do something for localized or shared (children) items?
  • If so, how far up or down will you move? To the first localized item in the BluePrint tree or all the way to the top or bottom? Is "apply this localized item to this Publication" part of your tool?
  • If so, what happens to localized items up or down the tree? Do you unlocalize everything or might you save a copy of the localized items to re-apply the changes?

3. Dependencies

If you fully build out a BluePrint Promoting tool (first join PowerTools then) you must handle dependencies. In essence you're creating a version of Content Porter but in the CME. Content Porter is challenging to some because of these dependencies (see my post on top-down Tridion development).

To move content up you need to have the right folder, schema, linked items. In terms of decisions, you also need to choose if these dependencies will automatically be created or if you'll recursively handle each of these scenarios.

Also, if a dependency is missing in a higher Publication, should a single item fail or the entire attempt?

4. Directories

After figuring out who decides, where items will move to, and how you want to handle dependencies, you'll want to confirm the impact to directories throughout the BluePrint.

Mainly, will your new item conflict with items above or below it? Luckily Tridion handles this out-of-the-box for new items by preventing such issues*, but if you want to give the hypthetical BluePrint promotion user options, you'll have to decide what your tool should do.
Note: out-of-the-box, Tridion doesn't check for potential naming conflicts based on history or localized items. The one-off, rather confusing scenario you may want to handle or ignore is same-named items with matching paths could be different items if you localize a child item then re-use its old name (thanks to Nick for pointing this out).
So a multi-purpose content promotion tool has several considerations but isn't impossible. Content Porter for example does all this logic already and it's both configurable and transactional (allowing rollbacks). So my advice would be to only consider such a tool if you have a specific use case or you're ready to build a friendlier version of Content Porter. Maybe submit the idea to R&D, though I'm sure they've heard the request before.

What CMS teams probably need are a set of tools to maintain a BluePrint. For example:
  • "Copy Up"
  • "Swap in Place"
  • "Replace Component Presentation in Page"
  • "Clone Page" (including making copies of the CPs on it, just like Page Types)
  • "Show/Hide sets of publications" -- this is already available through Publication Type filters in the Content Manager Explorer
But take a practical look at this. If you really want cross-publication functionality, where it doesn't matter what or where you link items to, then maybe you don't need that many publications or levels of publications.

If it's okay to share items and you know that some future content, template, widget, or whatever might be popular, then start by making it easy to share but hidden for everyone else. Then sharing is a matter of copying and pasting between folders, rather than handling the 4D's of BluePrinting Promotions.

Read more about SDL Tridion BluePrinting:
Any other gotchas or recommendations? Are you doing BluePrinting Promotions? 

Content Modeling Best Practices

Content modeling for Content Management Systems (CMS) is the act of designing the relationship between content, their fields, and their containers (i.e. pages).

I don't use "best practice" lightly, but the best practice in CMS content modeling is opting for a semantic (update: meaningful) content model (see exceptions below), where content types and their managed fields mean something to people and machines.
Though standards like offer much needed content types or definitions, they do not create your content model. Your business and available systems determine your content model.
As an example, consider "Person." You'll notice it has a "structured value" for Postal Address. So we know with a CMS we'll likely have authorable fields that we template or render to a "semantic" output.
  • But what are the direct and indirect relationships?
  • Do you keep a list of separate addresses with a many-to-many relationship?
  • To what extend is it worth normalizing the data?
  • Could you simply do a reverse geo-code lookup?
  • Most importantly, in CMS-terms, are you going to re-use the same content in a different context or page?
So consider markup read-able by people and machines along with standards like, but define and evolve your own content model.

Having said this, here's when to break the rules:
  • Functional or Feature-based scenarios (maybe)
  • Promotional Content

Feature-Based Content Model

You may opt for a functional or feature-based content model in a "multi-tenant" scenario. This is when you use a CMS like SDL Tridion to create a mini-site management platform for distributed and separate groups. This works to the extend that mini-sites and blogs literally have one or two content types (blog index and blog post).

Example content types will include generic names like "generic content" or "article" (that's use for anything on a web page).

Ultimate flexibility has a trade-off though. Wide spread changes to the model and design and new channels can become difficult.

Promotional Content Types

I've mentioned it before and I've seen setups that break all CMS conventions. But because of their short times online, how they compete with the "main" content, and variations, promotional content types or promos disregard many CMS best practices.

Promotional content would traditionally be calls-to-actions, promos, and advertisements. More recently we're seeing interactive multimedia like games as well as targeted content from sites and advertising platforms. 

You can still manage these items in terms of metadata, placement, and profiling though the "content" might be markup or a baked image.

This is more okay when:
  • It would take more time, cost, and effort to model the variations into content forms. At this point, especially for graphical design-intense promos, it's not worth making the details configurable to the pixel. At that point, you're "coding in a form."
  • Design owns and is willing to create these variations in their favorite IDE and syntax. If regular authors shouldn't be able to pick any RGB or Hex color code and designers don't want to enter these into a CMS form, then there is no need to "separate design from layout."
  • You can demonstrate the business impact and/or these are from somewhere else, ideally being measured and adjusted by your analytics.
Personally, I suspect if we looked at the majority of promos and call-to-action banners, we'll find some of the scenarios aren't worth it. It really comes down to the context--do you visitors finding what they need on certain sites and are these promos helpful?

So there are your best practices. Use a CMS content model with terms that mean something beyond their presentation. Break the rules to scale or sell. Mix and match approaches as needed.

How Many Users Can SDL Tridion Support?

I've personally supported dozens of fairly smart SDL Tridion content authors in a "small" setup of three or four sites with thousands of pieces of content. I've worked with organizations with around 200-300 users and more recent ones looking to grow to some 700 users. From other colleagues I've heard of setups with tens of thousands of users. And these aren't even software limits, but more likely caused by the practicalities of supporting that many users (and all that content!).

When someone asks this question, I'm seeing potentially two parts:
  • A prospective company (actually the content management organization and individuals vetting solutions) is doing its due diligence. It's making sure it doesn't get burned and is considering the big picture.
  • Those looking to disqualify you. 
But since SDL Tridion is decoupled between content management, delivery, and even distribution, it's almost guaranteed server technology will be able to support more users than your organization can.
Here's the good and bad news, depending on how you look at it.

The content management industry--the CMS professionals and content management users themselves, not the vendors, are pointing out that "Big Content" has its costs. Just read a few posts by Content Strategists to see the importance of creating a content matrix or inventory, of having a strategy, and focusing on your end-users' (visitors') needs (learn about top tasks by Gerry McGovern). The paradox of content is more isn't necessarily better.

The other part is users should not be the only number you're looking for. The ability to scale is a question an organization needs to confirm with both its vendor and itself.

In terms of content authors (users), are you ready to:
  • Train them now and into the future (please don't expect to successfully cram 25 users into a session and though "train the trainer" works to an extent, do you really have trainers in your organization?) 
  • Support them (any system or technology has support costs--I'm de facto "iOS support" for my daughter's iPad for example)
  • Convince them to change from their existing systems
Technology has the ability to transform and change roles but also to disrupt existing processes and even people. If you're asking if SDL Tridion or any system can support X users, be sure to account for the change. If done right, you'll be able to do more with the same.
  • Some will get to do less manual work
  • Some may do more technical work
  • Some may do more analysis, design, and content modeling (my favorite)
So have a plan on the benefits and trade-offs (especially in personnel) for a new system. Change leadership matters.

The real question you should consider:
  • How much content do you have
  • How often will you update it
  • What systems does it live in today
  • Where do you want that content to live tomorrow (it doesn't all have to be in the CMS)
Is having X users actually a benefit? Are you looking forward to it? Is your organization ready for X users?

SDL Tridion, as a piece of technology (it's an application backed by database(s) like many many others not quite like it) can support as many users as you need. The real question is how many do you really need? How many can your organization support?

A Must Read: Content Strategy for the Web

As promised in my last post, here'a quick post on why I highly recommend Content Strategy For the Web (Second Edition) by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach (of @BrainTraffic) to fellow CMS consultants and customers alike.

CMS Analyst/Author/Strategist Robert Rose admits being a @BrainTraffic Fanboy as well.

As a CMS consultant, I see customers face and take on the same challenges and situations described in Content Strategy. I often see deep functional or technical designs focusing on non-critical parts of a CMS implementation (rather than the parts that have a business impact). So we have lots of tactical pieces in content management systems, SEO, analytics, information architecture, and more, but we forget to step back and look at the entire context.

I cringed knowing I've been guilty of the "It's go time!" email that starts of with:
"Hey, you! [Project manager] here. We're finally ready to have you start cracking on your share of the content. You should find all the information you need in the attachments..."
The book makes excellent points that "content is not a commodity" and that content is political.

Top Five Reasons I love and recommend this book.
  1. It reaffirms I wasn't crazy when I first got involved with content management systems.
  2. It describes both content and people parts of content strategy.
  3. It acknowledges the context that surrounds content.
  4. Examples. Specifics (content sampling size based on quantity). Practical examples.
  5. Permission to jump in and enjoy this type of work.
I gladly join The Order of People Who Have Read Content Strategy for the Web. In my more recent projects, I've invoked a little content strategy; against my previous and typical "yes-my-product-will-do-it-all-for-you" stance, I asked customers to consider the business impact more websites, more links, or more content might have.

The great news is that more-and-more of my customers are reading about and following content strategy. My latest project includes topics on creating an editorial governance board of sorts. +1 to centers of excellence, regardless if it's for projects, content projects, or a specific CMS.

A content strategy helps you decide what you'll do before you're faced with the tactical reality of content opportunities and challenges. Make this practical by starting with a good Content Strategy book.

Content Strategists

You can tell I follow most of SDL Tridion's thought leadership online because you've likely seen me comment on a few of the many Tridion blogs.

But I also follow practitioners, consultants, and industry gurus with broader or more in-depth Content Management System expertise. Here's an overview of a few great strategists that can help you craft "content" implementations that addresses your business, technical, and most importantly, visitor needs.

Robert Rose

Most recently, I've caught Robert Rose's SDL presentation at the Customer Experience Summit in London. His challenge-the-status-quo presentation style and sense of humor are backed up with very very familiar CMS stories. He makes a strong point that content is an asset that deserves to be managed strategically.

Highlights from his video include:

  • 12:00 on Silos in Marketing where we've "basically thrown teams at stuff" including Social, Social CRM, Web, Web content, E-commerce team, E-business strategy, etc.
  • At 22:00 he suggests a team for facilitating your content in the form of an editorial board or center of excellence.
  • The story about "42 clicks to publish something out to the web" at 32:00 was awesome because he points out that you can call the vendor. Customers wonder, "We can do that?
  • You might chuckle or wince at the point that RFPs come back with all 5's.

He suggests individuals should have the ability to change their details, one of the points I've made separately in my "don't be creepy" post.

Gerry McGovern

If you're struggling with massive amounts of content and don't know where to start, consider determining your top tasks, seeing if your CMS can poop (Tridion can!), and following industry thought leader Gerry McGovern.

Practical, evidence-based approaches to content management create business, organizational, and customer wins. The long tail may work great for selling products, but pay attention to the Stranger's Long Neck (it's on my reading list) in terms of your content strategy.

Kristina Halvorson & Melissa Rach

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson & Melissa Rach was one of the first books I've read on the bigger content strategy picture. I'll share a quick "why you need to read it" post soon.

And More...

And I'm finding more content strategists:

Tying this back to my favorite CMS, Deane Barker has an interview on North Patrol describing the history and challenges of Content Management Systems. Be sure to read to the end, then contemplate the Future of Content from an SDL Tridion Product Management perspective.
In your CMS projects, in additional to the functional whats and technical hows, consider or even start with the strategic whys.

The Best Parts of SDL Tridon Experience Manager are the Easiest

[x] Use this Page as a Page Type. 

Many of my customers will attempt to implement Experience Manager (XPM) bottom-up rather than top-down.

I'd prefer Tridion-using organizations took the opposite approach, especially considering:

  • Authors find new content and page creation harder than updating fields
  • Inline editing or the ability to edit text on a page requires template updates for editable fields along with valid and clean markup
  • Experience Manager won't fix a challenging content model, even if you show every single field in context, but it will make getting started with the most complex pages easier

Make the challenging Tridion parts easier, then work down into the details. Ideally you'd wait to release the entire experience to your newer authors after you've tested the content model and create some Good Defaults.

Hard parts from tasks that lack context to fairly easy:
  • Hard:
    • Creation. Creating new content without instructions or context (especially wide-open text boxes)
    • Assembly. Assembling a page without knowing any hidden "rules" when making a page (regions, limits, or component presentation placement)
  • Medium:
    • Locating Items. Finding items without instructions or the context of the site (Where used, naming conventions, structure and taxonomy help)
    • Predicting Layout. Knowing what a template change will do to a component on a page (fields displayed? layout and placement?)
  • Easy:
    • Update Pages. Editing an existing page by moving component presentations up or down is fairly easy
    • Update Content. Editing content in its form view is also easy--we do this all the time outside of Tridion
Form fields are everywhere.

Making a Blog with SDL Tridion

Q: "Alvin, do you use Tridion for your blog?"
A: "I'm not an enterprise customer and I have a single content type (blog post)."

Q: "Can we implement a blog with SDL Tridion?"
A: "Yes."

I've joked:
"What do you call a (insert your favorite Web Content Management system) implementation with only one schema and one template?"
"A blog."
You have a few options to make a blog with Tridion. From a non-Tridion to a Tridion-centric approach, we have a separate blog, integrated approaches, and the Community Builder module.

Before you start, be sure you know why you're making a blog. "A blog" isn't a business requirement, it's a solution. The technical approaches are simple, the challenges you'll encounter are likely two-fold:

  • Content topics -- what will you write about? Who will write it?
  • Time -- will you post regularly? Who will curate the comment and community? Are you ready for spam and negative feedback? How about success, will your system (including people) scale?
If you're looking to create an online (social media) presence, there are plenty of ways to do so without ever starting a blog. However, I'm biased as a blogger myself. My personal choice is to make a separate blog (but again, I'm not an enterprise organization).

Separate Blog

This is a quick and easy approach using Blogger, Wordpress, or similar open source blogging platform.

  • Security, ownership, and "platform" outside of your organization's control (the same could be said of any purchased solution).
  • Domain could be mapped to something like "" but may impact SEO results.
  • Templating approach would be CSS, HTML, and a proprietary data format (e.g. Blogger has a specific XML format).
Some might feel these are "real" blogs and anything else might be cheating. As a long-time Web user and one of many many bloggers, I can often tell, but don't really care, what fellow bloggers use. A Corporate blog, however, is about offering an (hopefully) authentic voice and way for followers to interact with your brand.

The technology doesn't count as much as the features, which typically include semi-informal content written by individuals (not marketing teams) and the ability to comment or otherwise interact with this content. It doesn't even matter if those features come from different systems in an integrated approach.


Tridion content with "social media" features is a hybrid approach where pages and component presentations (content components with component templates) are managed in Tridion, but the social media solution would be created by the content management organization or added through a third party. Examples include services such as Disqus. The pros and cons are similar to above, however the templating approach would match what you do today (or would do if you're not using a CMS).

As an "social media integration" implementation tip, "Add facebook" isn't enough of a requirement. You need to confirm if this is:
  • Just link to a single Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platform site
  • Like, Tweet, or share for certain page types
  • Comments, ratings, or more integrated features in the context of your site
Most of these features aren't really a Tridion challenge. Options like AddThis offer easy-to-integrate script that you place on your pages (ideally with a template, please).

A more advanced integration is publishing from Tridion to a Blog as in the WordPress extension or vice versa as in the Tridion Kickstart project. Just beware that any synchronization approach creates a dependency on the APIs. SDL Tridion takes a forward-facing approach to API upgrades (especially with 2013 an later) and major players will try be transparent their API changes (see Facebook's roadmap and WordPress's Core blog, for example). A standards-based format like RSS, which the Kickstart project uses, can avoid some of this technical debt.

Community Builder

For a more Tridion-focused approach, consider SDL Tridion with the User Generated Content ("Community Builder") module, which allows visitors the ability to rate and comment on pieces of Tridion content. This fits .NET or Java customers looking for a way to add social media features to Tridion-managed content. A blog would be a good fit here.

Installation and implementation includes:
  • database update/install for the comments
  • dll or jar for the control or tag (code that renders the comment and ranking features) on pages
  • some templating work to place this code
  • installation for the Content Manager GUI extension to see the comments.
Note that by default (and as expected) user-generated are specific to a given publication and aren't BluePrinted like Tridion content. From a visitor perspective, you probably want to comment on the localized version of content, not the original in another language.

See the technical UGC Webinar by Dominic Cronin for a feel of the implementation requirements.

For enterprise customers with an existing social media service, the Community Builder module makes a great example for how to integrate Tridion with other systems in the Content Manager, templating, and delivery.

It's worth noting that new content without the social features of ratings and comments should be trivial with Tridion or any CMS. New page types and content types can simply be made from new or existing content, definitions, and templates. Always start from business and design requirements including wire frames, page types, and content types to be explicit on what's required, regardless of what's actually in the CMS.

The Community Builder module (also known as User Generated Content or UGC) is available to SDL Tridion 2011 SP1 customers and later (update: included as part of the Tridion purchase). With some additional code for your websites, template updates, and an included GUI extension, you can use it to add social media features to your site or as an example of ways to integrate other systems. For detailed implementation questions, reach out to Professional Services, your favorite partner or independent consultant, or ask on Tridion Stack Exchange.

On Tridion RTF Links and Empty Parents and a 99% Answer Rate on Tridion Stack Exchange

Two chats with separate colleagues inspired this nearly two-posts-in-one.

One of my colleagues pointed out we only had 3.9 questions a day on Tridion Stack Exchange (TRex).

With a clear case, compelling argument, and screenshots, I was sold by his email. We need to get the message out. But he wasn't quite convinced that he could also convince others. Here's the gist of the argument. We should:

  • Put more questions online to...
  • Make a healthier TRex site to attract a larger community, so we might...
  • Have even more SDL Tridion MVP winners (there is no current limit) and...
  • We shouldn't hesitate to post things that we others might be interesting 

At 99% answered, the site isn't even struggling. We also discussed finding time, so here's a quick and condensed version with my spin on the message:

TRex eats 3.9 #SDLTridion questions/day from 713 users. At 99% answered, it's still hungry! 

So this post is taking me a moment to summarize and link to something, but the Tweet took a minute at most.

His last point on what others find interesting is well interesting and makes a nice segue into the following surprises for my own "online following." Recently, another fellow consultant, Susan Carr, gave me some social media tips. For more pro insights, follow and engage with her on DistilledMessage.

Tip 1: Get Insights

One tip was to analyze keywords for my blog, which I admit to forgetting to review regularly. Most surprising: what I think my blog is about isn't what readers are finding me by.

Google Analytics showed someone (don't worry, you're anonymous) last month searched for:

  • "how to add tridion component link to rich text field?" as well as
  • "in tridion what is the purpose of creating empty parent publication?"
These are relatively easy:

Make a link in a Tridion component's RTF by placing a cursor in the rich text field. Select the hyperlink icon that looks like a chain under the insert tab. You can then choose the type, choose a url (if not a component link), add a title (which appears as a tooltip in some browsers), and the target which controls how the window pops-up.In Tridion you can only add children publications. 

The empty parent publication is simply a "hook" for scalability. If at some point you want a completely separate branch of publications, you'll add a new schema publication under the empty parent. The empty parent can help with removing publications (which always need at least one parent) as well. The name is rather confusing, but feel free to call it something like "scalability parent," "primary publication," or something that makes sense. You can also hide it from most users through scope (authorization) settings.

Oh and Alexa's traffic stats for my blog point out "sdl tridion parent" could be a search phrase I might be interested in. When I figure out if that means BluePrinting or "parent" company, I'll let you know.

Users and content management organizations are looking for interesting and seemingly simple topics.

Tip 2: Meaning of Measurements

A high bounce rate isn't bad for a blog. Users will take a quick look, skim and read what matters, and then move on. So now I can continue to share, guilt- and worry-free, that my posts don't keep the same attention as say, an online store. Maybe I'll even stop competing for page views with yet another Tridion blog, and go back to focusing on the right reasons.

Tip 3: The Right Reasons

Social media might be challenging for "traditional" marketeers, where the social point is about sharing, connecting, and being authentic over selling products. It's an odd paradox where you do better by caring less.

My original reasons for sharing were the range of emotions that came with purchasing an enterprise CMS in a previous role. I had many questions and the Tridion technical community helped me plenty of times. At some point I was able to give back and haven't stopped since.

Now, maybe I can take my own content strategy advice and look at the practical things my "readers" are looking for. I'll still make cheeky contributions in the name of community (and/or Halloween) and dive deep into techno-functional topics, but it helps knowing sometimes someone just needs to know where to click.

For the technicals and would-be Tridion bloggers out there, you should be looking to click Publish or Ask a Question.
Know when to go for the tough subjects, but be practical with what people really need (how to insert an image in Tridion). I am still learning Tridion through your posts and answers, but also from your questions. If you're already sharing, convince the next person. And if you've done that, convince someone else that they have a compelling story.
I'm getting expert blogging advice and clever insight that 99% answered isn't necessarily a good thing. But this shouldn't be limited to me, others need to hear this stuff too.

Deal with the Shadowy Figure

Happy Halloween.

Question: How do you get KnewKnow to answer your question?

Answer: Post online, "This is so broken. How would you fix it?"

As a Tridion question, he is compelled to answer as part of some unholy contract he's made with some shadowy figure.

First, pick a "shadowy figure" of your choice.

"Please, make me a Tridion expert," pleaded KnewKnow to the shadowy figure. 
An ominous voice replied, "I shall grant your wish but when no one's looking, you will become a pair of chucks and will be compelled to answer all Tridion questions."
And that's the story of KnewKnow. [cue lightning and thunder... aww come on, I know it's nice weather here...]

More deals-with-the-shadowy figure. See if you can guess who's who.

  1. An ominous voice replied, "I shall grant your wish but whenever someone says Java, you cannot resist."
  2. An ominous voice replied, "I shall grant your wish but no one will intentionally listen to you in person. You will have to blog to share ideas."
  3. An ominous voice replied, "I shall grant your wish but you will not be able to forget code you've written, especially if it's in .NET. Good or bad, it will forever be etched into your mind. You will also look quite young as those around you age like normal consultants."
  4. An ominous voice replied, "I shall grant your wish but you will attract the attention of beautiful women possibly younger than you, but you won't realize they like you. After asking any technical question the answer will instantly come to you but only after you worry for exactly 3 seconds."
  5. An ominous voice replied, "Wait, show me how you extended that extendable area in schemas, I've always wanted to do that!"
  6. An ominous voice cracks, "No deal, man. I'm not a fool! You're already an expert! Please don't correct my TRex answers!"

Your turn. As the lucky and unfortunate hero in a similar tale of woe, what would the conditions of the deal be?

Answers in case you missed them: Mihai, me, The Huizard, a semi-anonymous "random" colleague and friend, the most interesting Tridionaut (Jaime), and the infamous Mr. P.  I'm excluding some well-worn inside jokes out of respect for my colleagues, audience patience, and my blogging quota.

How Can I Pass the Tridion Certification Exams?

I'll occasionally get questions about the SDL Tridion certification exams. As an SDL employee, I'm a qualified resource backed up by a team of other qualified resources, but taking the exam isn't a critical task on my to do list (it's covered by the company). However, occasionally I'll be tasked with updating the exam to keep it current and challenging even for myself or our Global Education lead.

You probably should Tweet this guy about the exam experience, he's passed the exams longer than I've been doing Tridion!
The SDL Tridion certification exams test your understanding of the training materials plus practical experience with the content management system. SDL recommends a year with the solution before considering the certification.
Experienced (non-Tridion) developers have failed the Developer certification, not because they weren't technical enough, but because the Tridion APIs reflect Tridion's object and publishing models. They're easy enough, but take time to really "get" Tridion (or "enterprise" CMS, for that matter).

Tips for passing:
  1. Take the education tracks which cover the majority of the certification questions.
  2. Spend ideally a year developing or using SDL Tridion. One month of experience 12 times is not the same as 12 months of experience. :-)
  3. Be very careful with Tridion-specific terms, especially in the BA exam. For example, "metadata schemas" sounds basic enough, but do you understand the difference between these and component metadata, which are defined in schemas? Are target types the same as publication targets? How about Custom Urls versus Custom Pages?
  4. Versions matter. Terms get updated (Experience Manager replaces SiteEdit) and new features change old "gotchas" into myths (e.g. Taxonomy changes what you can do with Content Delivery APIs).
  5. If you understand the CME, you have a better chance at passing the certifications, in my opinion.
  6. General test-taking tips:
    1. Read questions carefully.
    2. Take your time, but don't get stuck on one question.
    3. Improve your odds by eliminating wrong statements (don't start an argument with the wrong statements).
    4. Be careful with adjectives such as all, nothing, never, and only (the presence of these words don't mean certain answers are necessarily wrong).
    5. Don't over-think the exam.
Get trained. Get experience. Get certified. Easy enough?

I've provided feedback on the last two versions of at least the BA exam and the majority of the dozen or so test takers I've administered the exam passed. They also were trained and had at least a year of Tridion experience.

One last tip: join the community. Sign up for Tridion Stack Exchange, Google Tridion questions, and consider contributing what you do know. It's a free and easy way to see what's easy versus hard and find out what you don't know. Being able to explain Tridion is a good sign you're ready for any question or exam about it.

SDL Tridion Trainees Predict the Content Manager Explorer

Inspired by Wired Magazine's article on Radical New Teaching Methods, several books on presenting visually (Art of Explanation, Back of the Napkin, and Slideology), and recent internal white boarding training, I started giving the following exercise in my SDL Tridion Functional training.

Nothing beats playing Socrates and watching a group figure something out, though I admit it's very tempting to interrupt.

The steps are simple, but take some disciple:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Optionally draw a starting point
  3. Let the audience arrive to a reasonable conclusion, preferably drawing in the details themselves 
  4. Minimally guide the group, but allow for exploration and dead ends
  5. Confirm their expectations or explain why or how the answer differs

The presentation format above is inspired by Julian Wraith's Tridion Drawn Badly series, but you could do this with chalk on a sunny day, if for example you're training in nice weather.
Video details:
The AWW app lets you collaborate on a drawing and even draw on one device while recording from another. I used free Camstudio for the recording, but probably need to touch base with Robert Curlette of TridionTalk fame on improving the audio.
See if the approach works for you, let me know, and have a great training session!

Technical Questions in SDL Tridion Foundation and Workshops

After hearing that maybe functional training or workshops aren't for technicals, let me be clear that technical resources should absolutely want to be part of the workshops (that define what you'll have to build). You should also know how to use the software and what CMS designs mean to authors. Most importantly, you'll likely benefit from seeing how we transform wireframes into actual CMS functionality.

After two separate weeks of two BA trainings, I've addressed probably too many technical questions (again, but it's my fault). So, apologies to those that were hoping for some nice, easy software training. You probably learned how to make content, edit pages, and publish the changes plus a whole lot more!

SDL Tridion's business analyst functional training track covers at least:
  1. Foundation: How to use the software.
  2. Content Modeling: What you need the software for and how to document it.
  3. BluePrinting and Authorization: Who can update which parts of the content model and where.
  4. Functional Design: How to document everything above in a way you can implement.

To help future functional trainees and my peers, here are general answers to frequently asked technical Tridion questions. Pick one that fits.
For technicals in a functional class or workshops, please understand that you may be:

Cancelling Booking Requests, A Story of Slightly Scary Usability

Sometimes certain user actions are scary, though harmless. For example, cancelling an online booking request might seem twice as painful as the SDL Tridion BA certification exam (so a TBACE factor of 2).

When booking online travel through an online booking company that shall remain nameless, as a consultant I will:
  1. Pick the right dates at a reasonable fair, balancing pain of the trip with what fit corporate travel guidelines.
  2. Enter project-related details
  3. Request approval from one of the office superstars.
I'm not sure about anyone else, but if it wasn't for GPS and online booking services, I'm not sure I'd be a consultant.
For example, my trip to Amsterdam last year was pretty much, "Alvin, book a flight to HQ for these dates." I confirmed the details of course, but Google and GPS confirmed I had the right office, that the shady cab driver got me to the right hotel, and pointed out I took the wrong train to the office as my blip got farther away from the office.
But despite the convenience, after balancing and picking from 105 flights with travel times from no stops for a direct 2-hour flight for $2,315 to 3 stops with 13 hours of travel for $215, I'll sometimes miss step 2, which prompts one of the office superstars to deny my request. :-(

And because my respect for the approving superstar outweighs the pain of re-booking, I was apparently the first to click a fairly scary option called: cancel approval request.

Wait, what happens if I click that? Apparently not much. Go ahead, try it!

Knowing a little about Web technology and content management systems makes me fairly picky Web user. Both of my complaints are data- and content-related:

Feature-Driven CMS Development Part 3

In the first post of this series we looked at a content modeling scenario that assumed authors needed ultimate per-content-instance flexibility. I described ways to instead focus on features with a more practical perspective.

In the last post, I described ways to measure the practical impact your content model has, especially when taking on technical CMS debt. I used duplicate schemas as an example, which can be a valid approach sometimes, but only if done as an informed choice based on business needs or a semantic content model.

Let's finish this series by reviewing other ways to consolidate your content modeling design choices.

There's Always an Exception

There are times when you don't want to completely separate design from content. Sometimes you may need tcontrol down to the pixel. Consider the Million Dollar Homepage, where a pixel per dollar for a one-time setup suggests no content/design separation and even no CMS required. However, don't assume you want pixel-perfect management, especially if you don't have the analytic business insights to back it up (is per-item padding helping you sell and/or is it costing your business?).

Feature-Driven CMS Development Part 2

In my last post I described ways to manage CMS-influenced features. Before offering a field to authors, confirm it's at the right context in the content model. Authors shouldn't need to manage fields that are always the same for a certain type of content. Also, you can manage current and future features with keywords rather than as new schema fields.
Everyone manages content. Not everyone manages the definitions.
The difference is subtle and you won't realize any technical debt until a few years with a given CMS. But a Category of boolean features beats "Yes/No" options over time for large sets of content (Categories make features searchable and extendable without schema changes).

Feature-Driven CMS Development Part 1

In a recent training session, I came across a content definition (schema in Tridion) that had an author-able field to set a page as "share-able." The field's description included a specific social media feature (e.g. "AddThis" in this case, but it could have been "Share to Facebook" or other currently popular option). The Boolean choice was presented as a drop-down for either "yes" or "no."

I like the per-page ability to enable such a feature, but I'd be careful with this type of flexibility for two main reasons, since this approach might be:

Can SDL Tridion Poop?

CMS Guru Gerry McGovern points out the Web has a digestive problem.
"If the Web were a digestive system it would have no capacity to poop. It just grows and grows and grows..."
In another post he continues:
"If most websites were organisms, they would constitute very dysfunctional ones. They would have a strange digestive system. It would have a capacity to eat lots and lots of content. But that content would either remain in the stomach or colon. Because most websites cannot poop."

Can SDL Tridion Poop?

Emphatically, yes it can!

The basic process is called unpublishing. This will remove an item from your site and everywhere it appears. If removing an item everywhere, unpublishing can even have a laxative affect.

Though you might call it a defect, the Tridion publishing and unpublish rights are combined. If you can publish you can unpublish. "I put you online, I can take you offline!" yelled the content author to the content component.

SDL Tridion has strategic digestive awareness and capabilities:

  • Content Digestion. Both ways. It can let you remove content or a page from the site, then use it again later. No digestive metaphor needed, thank you.
  • Delayed Digestion through Freshness. It lets you easily find all the places something is used at and lets you transform them specific to each the site. So the content stays as fresh as you can make it.
  • Transparent Content Digestive System. SDL Tridion lets you search, find, and tag items and optionally group them into bundles for digestion, mastication, or whatever digestive-to-content metaphor is appropriate.
  • Pinpoint Accuracy. For "dynamic" and modular content, it lets you, with single-item, pinpoint accuracy, add or remove items from one or more sites. That's pooping specific items at will, if you will.

SDL Tridion has the potential of a mechanical bovine with multiple stomachs ready to process content and send it out to pasture at will.
In addition, the latest version has a Bundle (multi-item) Workflow feature to let you put workflow items "on hold" to be revisited later, without taking up computer cycles. Customers are using this to appropriately implement expiration workflow. This is scheduled digestion at its best.
Will we see more customers making a leaner, meaner, more efficient customer-friendly Web? That depends. The capability is there in SDL Tridion and plenty of other content management systems, it's up to organizations to be brave enough to unpublish.

Read some more New Thinking, then go ahead, poop some content. It's only natural.

Let's Play What Published That (aka SDL Tridion Link Propagation)?

"Link propagation" or the SDL Tridion feature that causes items that use your item to be republished comes up frequently.
I didn't really understand what published what even after a few years of Tridion experience. See my embarrasing comment to KnewKnow's post where I get it backwards. Most recently I explored the differences between (dynamic) components on a page and template's publishing component presentations with Bart Koopman on TRex.

The main take-away is when an author publishes a page, most of the content will update, even if it's dynamic. Publishing a component is tricky, because SDL Tridion will assume you want to update it everywhere it's used.

Here are the basic rules. Understand this and you might pass the SDL Tridion Business Analyst exam.

  • By default publishing an item will republish the items that use it.
  • Pages publish the dynamic presentations embedded on them.
  • Dynamic components publish all presentations when published directly as well as items that use them.

SDL Tridion Humour Part 5

I'm taking a step back from the contextually-aware future and want to share some more Tridionaut fun.

The Random Tridion Blogger made a version of the
Success Kid meme congratulating The Huizard.
I updated it. 

Here's another take on D-Rex, the artistic creation of @wntr.

Another of @wntr's creations. We're still trying to figure it out.
I'm guessing it's something to do with either Jules' worst nightmares or dietary preferences.
I'm not sure where I was going with this. But I probably deserve posting it.

Mr. P's pizza!

Force Finish. Get it? No?

Maybe CMS_Borat could give me a good caption for this one.

"I, too, plan learn Tridion 2013 in 2016."