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Monday, January 19, 2009

Organizing Site Content Effectively

In an earlier post I discussed the balance that must be struck between template driven design and full on user-creativity. Below is the strategy employed by the robotics playground, which provides an array of templates to get you started on organized project documentation, fast.

General Layout
This layout encompasses all general publishing needs. The layout is flexible and allows you to document your project as you see fit. Use it to create unique layouts and present novel ideas.

The project history layout incorporates elements specific to documenting your project’s progress over time. Use it like a journal in realtime and get updates published to your project’s home page!

Meet the Team
Create a members page where viewers can meet the members of your team. Who knows, it could be a great way to get a job offer or put a plug in for your website/blog.

Materials/Parts List
One of the least actively documented facets of a project is purchasing. A few months or years from now you probably won't remember what's in a particular project without tearing it apart. Avoid the hassle and allow others to reproduce the awesomeness you created!

Assembly Instructions
The cousin of the parts list, assembly instructions can prove vital to continuing projects. Popular projects will encourage future development from other members by providing some instructions for reproduction. It's a great way to involve the community.

Frequently Asked Questions
A great way to involve users interested in your project is to provide a question and answer area where they can quickly learn background and supporting information about the technologies you use in your project..

These are just a few of the templates that allow you to create site content. There's more where they came from, and based on your suggestions I'm sure we'll create more. Again with the balance, there won't be so many templates that it's hard to choose between 2, or too many to look at...!

What templates would you like to see/use?

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Update: Robotics Playground Templates

The last few weeks have been focused on getting the robotics playground up and running for the beta testers. A big part of configuring the system is deciding how to organize and deliver the user content.

On one hand, we can take the MySpace approach and give users nearly free reign to post whatever they want. This is good, because it allows creativity and novel presentation of design. The bad thing is, general 'net users don't create very compelling designs -- even if you know what looks good/bad, you aren't always motivated to create good design.

Enter the Facebook/LinkedIn approach -- novel content, "strict" layout. This is good because it allows people to post content without requiring much effort in design. It appeals to a different but broader set of users.

The DanShope.com Robotics Playground paradigm finds somewhat middle ground. The software will provide some basic templates that expose targeted functionality for different facets of project documentation. There is also a more general template that allows for some level of customization.

While this is in no way a new concept, our approach feels very hands off while guiding the design elements into an aesthetically pleasing form. This balance is something that must be considered at both the user interface and the back end/supporting software phases of development.

If the platform is too restrictive, it doesn't inspire users to post their creative content -- but if it's too loose, viewers en masse might find it displeasing to hunt out information and won't feel comfortable on the site.

I'll be posting more about these templates shortly.

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Who writes This Stuff?
Daniel Shope is the site owner and moderator of DanShope.com, a portal dedicated to robotics and engineering. Dan is currently a student at Carnegie Mellon University and is pursuing dual degrees in Mechanical and Biomedical engineering.

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