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Rebuilding Radio NZ – Part 11: Editing Episodes

I am jumping ahead to compare our new episode editing interface with the old one, leaving the implementation and migration of episodes for next time.

This is the top section of the programme episode editor in ELF, showing Nine To Noon for 16 June 2010:

It shows a link to the host, the current status of the page and edit/trash buttons. Audio for the episode is displayed on the page, and can be edited directly from there. In edit-mode text content is entered directly into a WYSIWYG, and the host can be changed.

We are using the CK Editor in ELF, and this is very good at removing HTML cruft from content pasted in from Word and Outlook.

In addition to the native clean-up, I have added an additional formatting function for the body. This takes the body content, sending it back to the server to be pre-formatted by ELF’s built in parser/formatter. The parser takes the input HTML and returns content formatted in a standard way (bold for lines that start with time). A future version will add links when RNZ programmes are mentioned in the heading.

This may seem a pretty minor feature, but it saves a huge amount of time on a core content task. That is a primary design concern in ELF – eliminating mundane tasks so that users of the system can work on value-added tasks.

Images can be added via a button in the WYSIWYG, and uploaded directly via an image browser. The image browser immediately shows only those images for the current programme.

I should note that everything I have shown is a work-in-progress. The body parsing function was updated last week to just parse the selected content to allow new content to be added to existing content and formatted in place.

ELF generates all progamme information such as the date, host and broadcast times on the fly for every page.

This process differs a lot from the interface in Matrix. Navigation to an episode is via the tree, and the episode is stored in a standard page (shown here without the tree):

The name of the programme, the host for the day and times of broadcast are text content. The audio content is inserted into the page only when it is publicly requested, and cannot be seen in this view (it can be previewed, but not edited from there). The status is on another screen, accessed via a drop-down menu or right clicking on the asset tree and so is the field for a summary of the programme.

Pasting into the WYSIWYG is hit and miss (in our version) often requiring manual editing even after the built in cleaner is applied. I suspect we are stricter than most in what we’ll except in our markup.

Image loading takes place in another place tree context (or via a simple image uploaded interface). Once images are loaded they can be added via a button in the WYSIWYG. This launches the image browser which has a tree for navigation.

General versus Custom

Looking at the two approaches, it is clear that in our case an interface that closely matches our workflow and excludes superfluous options results in a better user experience. This was one of the key drivers for change. The cost of the bespoke approach is that the system has to be designed, coded, maintained and supported.

The Matrix approach provides a large number of general tools, allowing sites to be built without any code being written at all. The functionality to build most things is built right in. The downside is that in the administration interface is it not possible to hide unused functionality, and it may not be easy to group related content together in a way that matches business processes. The new version of Matrix (the Mini) does a very good job of fixing both these issues, and the integrated context sensitive help is very impressive.

Iterations

The ELF interface I have shown is the product of dozens of iterations, many of these based on feedback from colleagues. The first round of feedback came from the web-team – they were the first to use the interface for day-to-day work. After the first round of improvements we’ve started training producers on the system. Training sessions have ranged from 5 to 30 minutes, and during these we’ve taken notes on what didn’t work so we can improve the system further. 

An example is ELF’s episode navigation. It is fine for daily programmes where the navigator has five out of seven days linked. It does not work so well for weekly programmes where one in seven links is active, or yearly programmes where one in 365 links are active. In these case there is too much scrolling, and in the case of yearly programmes it is hard to find the previous episodes. I don’t have a solution yet.

Some other rough edges

While the interface is fine for once-a-day use by producers, there are some problems that only became evident when using the system all the time and repeating the same actions again and again in a short time frame.

While setting up the documentaries section in ELF I noticed that the workflow was not right – for example the layout of settings on the programme setup page was not intuitive. Not all programme types require all options, and the page needs to have these shown and hidden dynamically in response to changes to the programme type setting.

After using the interface many times, there overhead of having to hunt for the right thing to click or set starts to add up. The benefit of a bespoke system is that these things can be changed

In the next installment I’ll cover the huge task of importing thousands of past programme episodes along with audio links, images and presenter information. Stay tuned!

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