Keeping a Web site fresh and its content up-to-date can be a Sisyphean task. While creating and editing Web pages isn’t rocket science, it’s just difficult enough that many people have to turn to experts — a company Webmaster, for example — to make even simple changes to a Web page. Consequently, users who want to update their sites often can’t, and those who can may find their schedules overbooked with routine content updates. Enter Contribute 2.0 for the Mac. This OS X–only product successfully combines ease of use with sophisticated administrative controls, to simplify the process of updating a Web site.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
Contribute’s greatest virtue is its simplicity. If you have a passing familiarity with a word processor and a Web browser, Contribute will have you editing your site in a matter of minutes. Its streamlined interface is divided into four panes: a Web-browser and page-editing area, a basic application toolbar, a list of current drafts (pages being edited), and a helpful Task panel full of specific and straightforward how-to information.
With its built-in FTP client (and support for the more secure encrypted SFTP), Contribute lets you update a live site on the Internet. Initial setup requires just a few technical details about the Web server — details you can skip over if an administrator provides an easy-to-use key via e-mail.
Contribute can edit any page on a site, regardless of what program was originally used to create the site. The process is simple: browse to a page on your site (using the built-in Web browser), click on the Edit button to switch to edit mode, make your changes, and click on the Publish button to update the page on your Web site.
Step-by-step instructions are available from the Task panel, while helpful and friendly messages — “Congratulations! Your changes have been published to the Web site” — escort you through each step of the editing process. Thanks to its built-in support for .Mac, Contribute automatically connects to your .Mac account, so you can edit your .Mac site without any complicated setup.
Contribute is not a tool for designing or building Web sites from scratch. It provides basic text-formatting options, alignment options, and bulleted and numbered lists. The built-in spelling checker is a great bonus. And while Contribute doesn’t have tools for creating styles, as most word processors do, you can apply Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that the site designer created and applied to a page.
When you import information from Microsoft Word or Excel into your Web pages, Contribute retains some of the original document’s formatting. Excel spreadsheets become HTML tables when pasted into Contribute, for example. There are some hitches: Contribute uses only the basic fonts available in the program when formatting pasted text. This might cause some confusion when you paste a paragraph of text formatted in ITC Kabel, say, and it turns into Times New Roman. In addition, Word graphics and complex Excel spreadsheets don’t paste into Contribute correctly, and bulleted and numbered lists aren’t formatted with their HTML equivalents — problems you can overcome by inserting the images and formatting the lists within Contribute.
Contribute isn’t just a text editor, however. It lets you add graphics, HTML, and Flash movies (but not QuickTime movies) to your pages. Contribute even includes e-commerce tools for adding basic shopping-cart features, such as Buy Now buttons.
The program also lets you add new pages to your site, as long as they’re based on a predesigned template that ships with the program, a page that’s already on the site, or any Dreamweaver template used on the site.
An Administrator’s Dream
Overworked Web designers and harried Webmasters may become Contribute’s most fervid evangelists. The program’s ease of use will allow them to pass on many routine site updates to less-technical users. A Webmaster at a school, for example, can have teachers use Contribute to update class Web sites.
Because even a simple tool can be misused, Contribute also supports a variety of administrative tools for controlling how other Contribute users edit a Web site. Each site has one administrator who can prevent users from inadvertently deleting a graphic or changing the design, for example.
The administrator can also create user groups with different sets of permissions. This is the kind of feature that helps busy Webmasters spread out responsibility without sacrificing peace of mind. And to simplify setup, an administrator can create a connection key — a password-protected, encrypted file containing the information users need in order to connect Contribute to a Web site and start editing — and then send it to users via e-mail. To prevent mistakes, Contribute lets you create e-mail review pages so others can look over and approve a page after you commit to changes. And if a mistake does get made, Contribute can roll back to 99 previous versions of a Web page; this is a great feature when you realize that you’ve accidentally deleted most of the home page before publishing it back to the Web server.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Contribute couldn’t be easier to use. If you already have a Web site and are intimidated or overwhelmed by the process of updating it, this program just might be the answer.