The example site is basically a container for content targeted to beer, food, and pub enthusiasts. Content can be in the form of news, articles, reports of special events, reviews, photo galleries, etc. This chapter describes the typical content-related problems that should be considered for a site of this type. You'll then design and develop an online article manager that allows the complete management of our site's content, in terms of acquiring articles; adding, activating, and removing articles; sharing articles with other parties, and so on.
Different sites use different methods of gathering news and information: Some site administrators hunt for news events and write their own articles, while others get news and articles directly from their users (a great example of this is the Add Your News link at www.aspwire.com) or they rely upon a company whose business is to gather and organize news to be sold to third-party sites. In the old days, some sites did screen-scraping, retrieving data from an external site's page and showing it on their pages with a custom appearance (of course, you must have the authorization from the external company and you must know the format they use to show the news on their pages). During the last few years we've seen an explosion in the use of RSS (Really Simple Syndication), a simple XML format for syndicating content, making it available to other clients. Atom is another XML-based syndication standard that was created to solve some problems of RSS — it is relatively new but already very popular. The basic idea with RSS and ATOM is for sites to provide an index of news items in the form of an XML document. A client program can fetch that XML document and provide users with a list of news items and hyperlinks that can direct them to the individual stories they are interested in. One site's XML index document is called a newsfeed. The client program is called a news aggregator (or feed reader) because it can extract newsfeeds from many sites and present them in one list, possibly arranged by categories. Users can subscribe to the XML feed and their aggregator program can periodically poll for new stories by fetching new XML documents automatically in the background. Because RSS and Atom are open standards, there are many web-based and fat-client desktop applications that can subscribe to any site that provides such feeds. Some popular open-source feed readers written in C# are RSS Bandit (www.rssbandit.org) and SharpReader (www.sharpreader.com). RSS and Atom are very convenient for users who want to keep up on the latest news and articles. You can advertise your new content via RSS and ATOM feeds, or you can even display a list of content from other sites by showing RSS links on one of your web pages. Your page can have an aggregator user control that makes it simple to display the content of specified RSS and ATOM feeds. This adds to any unique content you provide, and users will find value in returning to your site frequently to see your own updated content as well as a list of interesting links to updated news items on other sites.
Once you have a source of articles, a second problem arises: how to add them to your site. You can immediately rule out manual updating of pages or adding new static HTML pages — if you have to add news several times a day, or even just every week, creating and uploading pages and editing all the links becomes an administrative nightmare. Additionally, the people who administer the site on a daily basis may not have the skills required to edit or create new HTML pages. You need a much more flexible system, one that allows the site administrators to easily publish fresh content without requiring special HTML code generator tools or knowledge of HTML. You want it to have many features, such as the capability to organize articles in categories and show abstracts, and even to allow some site users to post their own news items. You'll see the complete list of features you're going to implement in the "Design" section of this chapter. For now, suffice it to say that you must be able to manage the content of your site remotely over the web, without requiring any other tools. Think about what this implies: You can add or edit news as soon as it is available, in a few minutes, even if you're not in your office and even if you don't have access to your own computer; all you need is a connection to the Internet and a browser. And this can work the same way for your news contributors and partners. They won't have to e-mail the news to you and then wait for you to publish it. They can submit and publish content without your intervention (although in our case we will give administrators and editors the option to approve or edit the content before publication).
The last problem is the implementation of security. We want to give full control to one or more administrators and editors, allow a specific group of users (contributors) to submit news, and allow normal users to just read the news. You could even prevent them from reading the content if they have not registered with the site.
To summarize the problem, you need the following:
An online tool for managing news content that allows specific users to add, update, and delete articles without knowing HTML or other publishing software
A method of allowing other sites to use your content so that they publish an extract and link to your site for the entire articles, thus bringing more traffic
A system that allows various users different levels of access to the site's content