Scott S. Lawton...Automated Web Publishing...

WebDepot

The Web itself is a completely distributed network of documents, with no top and no single organizational theme. However, many individual sites are arranged hierarchically (often with additional links across the hierarchy), much as a book can be broken down into chapters and sections. Whatever the organization of a site, many Web pages are arranged hierarchically, at the very least by using the different heading levels provided by HTML.

Instead of imposing this hierarchy from the outside, it seemed natural to use a document editor that directory captured the structure. Especially with the goal of automated publishing in mind, the obvious choice was InfoDepot (formerly known as Fair Witness) by Chena Software. InfoDepot is somewhat hard to describe. It is an organization tool for text, numbers, dates, pictures, sound and QuickTime moves. It presents different views of the same underlying information: a hierarchical table ("information spreadsheet" or "outliner with fields", calendar, timeline or form. At its core, it combines the hierarchy of an outline with the "fields" of a database. InfoDepot is also quite scriptable (though with quirks, as is often the case), and supports Frontier's menu-sharing.

One of the documents I wanted to create early on was a list of products, organized by category (outline hierarchy), with "field" information for each (product name, vendor, etc.). InfoDepot was a perfect fit. It let me focus on content instead of layout. I created the WebDepot suite of scripts to publish the information as a Web document. The scripts "pivot" the tabular "field" information into a labelled list. Compared to building by hand -- even in a nice HTML editor -- I didn't have to re-type the field names each time, or search/replace when I renamed a field. To see some results, check out Scripting Utilities, Scripting Books and others in the series.

Separating the source information (in InfoDepot) from the published result (a Web page, i.e. HTML markup) has a second major advantage: other scripts could publish the information in a different format; e.g. flowing to QuarkXPress for a printed booklet, or even formatting with a scriptable word processor for posting on commercial online services where Web browsers are not common or not available. Still another use would be to flatten the hierarchy into a traditional database format, for a search engine (accessible from the Web or an internal network or elsewhere). This document "re-purposing" is a luxury in some cases, but a necessity in others.

WebDepot acts as a front-end to StageThree, generating marked-up Stage 2 documents, ready for the Stage3 scripts to add consistent headers & footers and organize into a cohesive site.

Note that a similar approach could be taken with FileMaker Pro (using category fields in place of the true hierarchy).




Caveat

First the good news: Chena (the developer of InfoDepot) has a new "evangelist" who seems to appreciate InfoDepot's flaws. Chena was recently purchased by a larger company, so they have the resources to fix the product's problems. Watch for version 3.0, I hope it will be much improved!

But, as of version 2.4: I have been using outliners on the Mac for nearly 10 years; including almost daily use of Frontier's outline-based script editor. Against that background, InfoDepot's outliner is sorely lacking. InfoDepot is a suberb idea, rich with features and offers outstanding scripting support, but the product is still a bit slow and has some rough edges. I would guess that InfoDepot has a loyal following among those who have stuck with it. However, before committing to an InfoDepot solution, the product should be carefully evaluated.

Scripts

At present, the WebDepot scripts are not available. I may not package them for sale due to the implied support that release would involve; they may only be available as part of my consulting services.

Acknowledgments

David Bruns for productive discussions on web publishing, including editors that captured site hierarchy.

WebDepot is a trademark owned by Scott S. Lawton.

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Updated on 2/10/97 by Scott S. Lawton (scott@prefabsoftware.com)

Copyright 1995-97, Scott S. Lawton. All Rights Reserved.

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