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Designed Content 1.2 - Separating Content from Beautiful Templates

This is part 2 of my first series about beautiful content, in which I explain the organizational and technical challenges we have, and the right tools to solve these.

Goal and Creed

Our goal, as defined in part 1 (make sure you read that), is:

The web designer can empower the content editor, to easily and faultlessly manage content on a live web site, in as many languages as necessary, targeting current devices with minimal time and cost for both designer and editor. And both web designer and content-editors must easily re-use the content and apply changes when the future hits us with new devices, new requirements and new visualizations.

Which leads to our creed, as discussed in part 1

 We must fully separate Content from the Presentation (the Template+ settings)! 

To do that, we need strategies and tools. This will be discussed in this part 2.

How to do this

So that sounds like a simple manifesto - but to do this, we need clear separation of content-information (the text fragments, images, etc.) from its current presentation. So to start, everything that does not separate this will prevent us from achieving our goal, ergo is "Evil". 

Let's be clear: The standard Text/HTML-Module is a classic example of this evil-category. Read more about it here

Modules to separate Content from the Template

There are various options to separate content from the view. To list a few:

  1. Special generic content modules like the open source 2sxc (full disclosure: I'm the chief architect)
  2. Articles-modules like Mandeeps Live-Articles or DigArticle
  3. Data management tools like XMod, R2i Open Web Studio or the open source Forms&List
  4. Custom developed modules made by yourself (or others)

From what I know of the market all these modules will do a decent job. What is different about 2sxc is the unique single-content-item approach. Of course it also has an automatic UI with versioning, multi-language and loads of features. Other modules work more like databases, starting with lists of a specific content-type (an Article or a Reference) which is great when you need a database of housing-opportunities, but hard when each page is a composition of small, smart templates - and still has to look great automatically.

The standard List-Approach

If you don't understand the difference, here's a simple example of a List-Approach. This here list of news-items, with a standardized details page:

The Single-Content-Item Approach

The list-approach only works with structured information, but not for designing beautiful free content. This here is a complex page containing many different designed items on a page. Each element has a different structure, is responsive in itself, could be re-used by itself and is more like a real document - there is no pre-defined page-structure:

If you know of other modules that do this well, feel free to add them in the comments and of course contribute blogs about them :)

What is 2sxc?

Here's the very simple core purpose: 

  Combine prepared templates/views with user edited content.  

That sounds trivial right? For an inexplicable reason, 80% of modules re-invented the wheel to do just that, common examples being galleries. The entire "simple" content tried to live with the HTML-module and always sucked (if edited by a normal person) till we released 2sxc in 2012.

What Components does it need to do this?

2sxc is thoroughly architected solution so if you see parts that confuse you - ignore them, as they are for advanced purposes. Here are the core things you will need to know:

And here some of the most common helpers

To be clear: there are many more sub-components in there like a powerful EAV-System (that's the data storage), a configurable Data-Pipeline allowing filtering and injection of external data, an awesome JSON-interface allowing you to use the data in JavaScript, built in WebAPI and much more. It's omitted here for simplicity, you don't need to know that for now :)

So the core mission of 2sxc is separating content from its presentation! Exactly what we need to create beautiful content :). That's why the module used to be called 2SexyContent  and we still pronounce 2sxc as "too sexy".

In part 3 we'll look at simple, real-life examples.

With love from Switzerland,

Daniel Mettler grew up in the jungles of Indonesia and is founder and CEO of 2sic internet solutions in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, an 20-head web specialist with over 800 DNN projects since 1999. He is also chief architect of 2sxc (see github), an open source module for creating attractive content and DNN Apps.

Read more posts by Daniel Mettler