Sitecore Advanced IA Without Frustrating Your Authors

Monday, March 02, 2015 @ 08:00

The Architecture

With all the cool features brought to us in Sitecore 7 and the new features yet promised to us in Sitecore 8, the information architectures we implement are evolving too, with further emphasis on Sitecore's most compelling features in Marketing Automation.

I won’t go into the benefits of this information architecture too much, as it's discussed at great lengths elsewhere , but the advantages in terms of flexibility and empowering Sitecore DMS is tremendous.

Architectures like the one on the left represented the majority of the pages object graphs in a single Sitecore object and certainly have their appeal. They were easy to implement and, by including presentation controls in the pages, they were easy for content authors to manage. But on the downside, this format makes DMS Personalization difficult, or outright impossible, and while business users don't need IT intervention for a new page, they do need it for any new page types, and possibly even for variations on existing page types.

Enter the new IA. Again, I won't drone one too much about it, but the flexibility of this sort of architecture is boundless. Breaking content from presentation opens a lot doors. While delineating an article from a page is a valid and valuable delineation, it does present a challenge: Content Authors.

The Audience

So, we've come up with this shiny new architecture that opens up a world of possibilities. Unfortunately, none of those possibilities will manifest if we can't make this useful to our primary customers, in this context, our content authors. So, how do we go about getting our audience to stop thinking in terms of BlogPage, ArticlePage and TabPage and start thinking in terms of an isolated piece of content?

In short, we don't, we probably can't, and we don't need to. Asking content authors to overhaul their way of thinking about content entry because IT has changed their way of thinking isn't likely to be received enthusiastically. Breaking down concepts into discrete components is not an easy skill to develop or acquire, even for software engineers. Many books have been dedicated to trying to teach how, such as David West's Object Thinking. That fact, compounded with 20 years of CMS's always approaching from the perspective of a “Page”, makes that training a huge uphill battle.

But on to the good news, we don't really need to. The quintessential task of software development is to take a complex abstraction and transform it into something accessible to others. So how do we use this sophisticated IA and keep it conceptually accessible to our content authors? The key to this lies in effective use of the Page Editor. Despite having the page broken down into discrete components from the perspective of the Page-Editor, it's only one. The catch is the Page Editor doesn't have all the necessary authoring functionality, and this is the gap that we need to bridge.

There are a number of tools in our arsenal to bridge this gap:

  1. Complex Page Structure Simplified With Branches