Zach Beauvais

Typeroom: A Remote CMS?

Written by Zach Beauvais

Jan 25, 2008

Typeroom is a content management system which takes a different approach to traditional Content Management. Instead of using databases and managing content directly, Typeroom works more like Adobe Contribute by allowing traditional html pages to be edited in real time. With the service due for public testing shortly, I have had a Beta test of the setup and have a few observations.

The editor is web-based, and a user simply enters a url into Typeroom’s site and navigates to content they wish to edit and selects ‘edit this page’. Typeroom then displays a copy of the page and opens a WYSIWYG editing environment. This is a multi-paned approach, with the editing at the bottom and a preview panel above that updates in real time. Text and images can be manipulated from the editing pane, and there are various formatting options. The look is not dissimilar to TinyMCE or other familiar WYSIWYG platforms. Impressively, they have a drag-and-drop interface for adding images, and an auto-align by simply dragging images around the editing area. This feature, if it works consistently, could be of major advantage to non-technical users, because it eliminates the need to assign either a style or an attribute to an image to make it flow consistently.

Publishing makes use of either FTP or a Typeroom account, which presumably stores FTP information. An interesting feature, though, is the ability to ‘publish’ by sending a revised version by email to a webmaster. (Having been in that position, I could see this being a mixed blessing to the Webmaster!) This option emails a link to the webmaster, so no files are actually exchanged. The page can then be published by the webmaster. Alternatively, the page can be ‘published’ in a downloaded Zip file, which I could see being handy for revisions and records.

The overall feel of Typeroom seems not dissimilar to a stripped-down (or maybe: ‘streamlined’), web-based version of Adobe Contribute. They will have to price themselves carefully because Contribute is made by a market leader and can be picked up for around £120, making it a very inexpensive option for content management.  Adobe’s option, however, can be slightly daunting for users not familiar with DreamWeaver or other Adobe environments. There are lots of options, and perhaps a slimmer model could be just the ticket. We’ll have to wait to see what toys the premium version offers, as it seems Typeroom  have opted for a ‘Freemium’ pricing model. I would be wary of having no access to HTML, however, and this is something Contribute used to drive me mad over. As good as a WYSIWYG can be, there will still be things the user will be frustrated over. Whether an intrusive div tag keeps everything aligned incorrectly or a spacing gif is left over from a sloppy code, changing pages can be infuriating if you can’t see (or understand) why the code won’t let you ‘just move that thing over here’!

There is no mention of stylesheets or other site-wide formatting tools, so I don’t know how it matches a page consistently to the site. You can choose formats, but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere for styles. The code it produced for me doesn’t validate, but I don’t know if this might be the CMS’s template it’s finding fault with. Also, it should be noted that I don’t think  this works with sites which are already  CMS-based.

So, no blogs, no Drupal sites, no bespoked-CMS sites. And this brings up a few concerns I have with the idea behind Typeroom. First off, I wonder if the trend for sites to be content-managed is actually at odds with this ‘Remote CMS’ idea. This works, basically, for one-off changes to static pages within a site, and doesn’t mention anything I can see for site-wide changes. I wonder how well it will handle a change to navigation, or to a theme image? In all, I don’t think of this at all the same as a CMS, which actually manages content. Rather, it is a sleek, web-based page editor with a very easy-to-use interface and an impressive ability to work with code it didn’t create.

Also, insofar as Typeroom is similar to Contribute, it doesn’t seem to have some of the safety features of Adobe’s product. Contribute allows automatic roll-back, and a robust user system so people who have access can make changes, whereas those who don’t can’t. In the same way Typeroom isn’t a CMS, neither is Contribute, but Adobe’s option is far more complex and works well for a semi-geek position.

Overall, I am very impressed with the ease of Typeroom’s system, and the speed at which it works online. It’s editor is sharp and the environment is pleasant. It offers multiple publishing options, and I can see if filling a very useful niche for people who have absolutely no training making changes to small, static sites. What I doubt with the system, though, is it’s future-proofing. I can’t see it fulfilling the same role as database-driven CMS’s, and it isn’t the same as publishing a blog. It is very simple to use, and that is brilliant, but many features of Adobe’s Contribute are lacking: for good or ill. I don’t know where Typeroom is going, but I can imagine with such a brilliant interface, and a very slick application, it could fill many holes with the system as it stands now. What it really needs to do, though, is work out where it stands with sites already using a CMS, especially bloggers.

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