AMPIA Website Concept Paper

Note: this article was written to articulate the architecture of the AMPIA website. It was an internal document, distributed only to short-listed design companies. I post it here as an example of the sort of work which might be performed by an Information Architect, partially as a follow-up to my article, What is an Information Architect, and partially as a guide to any future information architects.

Stephen Downes - 28 September 1999
Posted October 25, 1999

Introduction

This is a concept paper. What that means is that it is an outline of what could be the final product. But in its current form, it is intended as a guide only, to inform you of the current state of our thinking.

The design, features and architecture described within are starting points, not parameters. They are not fixed in stone, nor are they requirements. They describe the sort of thing we are looking for, not the thing we are looking for.

Overview

The purpose of the AMPIA website is to showcase AMPIA members' work, to provide an information and marketing tool for the association, and to provide information and resources for AMPIA members.

As AMPIA members are involved in the arts, the site should reflect that, being very attractive visually, with rich and detailed graphics and text. There should be motion and animation on the site, reflecting the industry.

Client

The client is AMPIA - The Alberta Motion Picture Industries Association. AMPIA is made up of companies in Alberta involved in the motion picture and multimedia industries.

Audiences

The AMPIA website is expected to cater to a varied audience, united primarily by their interest in the Alberta arts and film community. The following represent some of the potential target audiences:

- Potential clients of the Alberta film industry. This audience may consist of producers or directors working in the entertainment or corporate film and video industry. They will want to know what services and facilities Alberta has to offer.

- The public, and especially Albertans, interested in the local film and video industry. They will want to know what productions are in progress and what has recently been released. They will want to see and hear the product of Alberta's film industry.

- AMPIA members. In addition to learning about each other, AMPIA members will want to be alerted to any new opportunities in the industry, potential contracts or openings, and potential funding or exhibition opportunities.

Because the audiences are disparate, with distinct preferences and needs, the information contained in the site will have to be displayed differently for each.

Design

The overall look and feel of the site should reflect the motion picture industry. Thus a rich look and feel is required, preferably with animations or mouseovers.

A variety of approaches and techniques is possible. A small Flash splash screen might be appropriate, as for example used by the Vancouver's Annual Queer Film & Video Festival. Alternatively, animated images may highlight components of the site, as is Illustrated by the Toronto Film Festival site.

Animation is not strictly necessary - if the art is sufficiently textured, it will contain its own movement. Festival du cinéma international en Abitibi-Témiscamingue is a good example of this.

Navigational elements should contain both text and imagery - the Toronto Film Festival site is again a good example of this. Users should sometimes feel led by the site on a tour reflecting their interests and needs.

What we don't want is a long scrolling front page, or a text-heavy front page, or 'best viewed with Â…' buttons,

Artwork

We know that detailed artwork eats time (and therefore money). While some stock art may be available from AMPIA members, it will be necessary to create much of the custom art for the site. Thus the artwork will probably be a significant component of any proposal.

It would be useful to include a description of how the artwork will be handled. We will be looking for things like a common theme, re-used components, and the like. If you intend to use royalty-free clip-art, tell us (include samples, so we'll know whether it's an appropriate choice or a vastly over-used globe-with-rings).

If you intend to create components in-house, give us a rough idea of what you intend to create (sketches would be useful).

Web Server Environment

This section describes the web server and environment already available to the AMPIA project. Consequently, the cost of acquiring or licensing any of these resources need not be included as part of any proposal.

This list is not meant to limit the choice of technologies. If it makes sense in the context of this project, different or additional software could be used. However, the cost of purchasing or licensing such additional software would have to be included in the proposal.

Server Hardware: Compaq ProLiant 3000R (2x333MHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, 3 x 9.1 GB RAID5, 2 x 10/100mb/s network interfaces)

Server Software: MS Windows NT 4.0 Server, MS IIS 3.0, PERL 5 for Windows NT

Database Software: Cold Fusion 4.0, MS SQL Server 7.0

This server is leased by the Institute for professional Development from Telus and resides in the server farm in Calgary. Access via File Transfer Protocol or by other arrangement.

Site Architecture

Because of the need for a dynamic, database driven website, the following architecture is proposed:

Illustration of Database Driven Web Site

Database

We are assuming that since this is a dynamically generated site with many updates that a database will be required. Designers should be familiar with database driven sites, for example, ASP (supported by MS-IIS) or CFM (supported by Cold Fusion) generated pages.

A database structure will have to be defined containing groups of records in each relevant category. The exact category structure is to be determined, but would reflect the data requirements inherent in the content description.

Web Site

The bulk of the website will consist of pages loaded dynamically from the database, as illustrated:

Illustration of Data Flow

We pages will consist of two major components, the template for a given category of data (for example, a template for AMPIA member listings, or a template for current projects), and a data source indicating from which records the template will be filled.

For example, a typical web page might have a URL such as:

www.ampia.ab.ca/memberlisting.cgi?member=acmeproductions

The template file, 'memberlisting' would contain blank fields for member information; these fields would include variables such as 'Company Name' or 'Address'. The data source, indicated by 'member=', would identify which data records to be used to complete the page.

Various displays should be enabled. For example, members may list areas of expertise, such as 'catering', 'editing' or 'post-production'. It should be possible for a user to view an abbreviated list of members that list 'post-production' as an area of expertise.

Given this basic structure, a wide variety of website designs are possible. What we want to see is a proposal for one such design. The design submitted should outline how users will be able to browse through the site and obtain data.

For example we would like to see something like this:

Prospective producers would select the type of project they are considering - making a movie? Recording a rock video? Cutting a multimedia CD-ROM? Depending on the project they select, they are then presented with a sort of 'credit' page, which lists (with little check-boxes) the Alberta company which performs each of the various component tasks: sound editing, catering, electrical work, animation (etc). Each company listed is linked to a popup window containing what amounts to a corporate resume, including a multimedia portfolio, etc. The user selects the companies via the checklist, the results of which are sent to AMPIA and the respective companies.

As mentioned above, there are several prospective audiences. Thus, the website design proposed would need to accommodate a variety of perspectives. See the Starcast site http://www.starcast.co.uk/ for an example of how this may be done. Users may need to be directed into areas appropriate to their interests; alternatively, users may also want quick menu-driven access into the site.

A couple of notes here:

First, fuzziness in the design submitted is acceptable. It's just a proposal, after all. What we are after at this stage is the vision, not the nuts and bolts.

And second, we will not take your concept and assign it to some other company (and conversely, we will not take someone else's concept and ask you to implement it). We would like you to feel free to express a design plan in confidence and security.

Update Site

New information will be added to the AMPIA website on an ongoing basis. Examples of information to be updated include:

- New member listings

- Upcoming festivals, conferences and other events

- Job or contract opportunities

For the most part, the people adding the updates will be AMPIA staff or members. We cannot assume that they will have knowledge of HTML or web pages. Therefore, a mechanism that allows them to easily input data in a non-technical fashion is required.

The input mechanism will be a set of form-based input templates used to add data records. Templates will be created for each category of data to be updated - thus, for example, there will be a 'members' template, a 'festivals' template, and so on.

Templates will be basic in design. They will contain a field for each data field for that type of data record. AMPIA staff and members will access these templates via a secure website (the server we are using has a secure directory). Password validation will of course be required.

AMPIA staff and members will require the following basic functionalities:

- Create a new record in a given data type

- Edit an existing record

- Delete an existing record

It is desirable to provide direct links from the site content pages to the update pages. Bother directory pages (eg., the list of all members) and content pages (eg., the description of one particular member) should check for an editors' cookie and provide a link to the edit page if appropriate (please note that since cookies can be hacked, password validation will still be required even if the user has the correct cookie).

Some pages will also require file uploads. For example, a movie stills, video samples, Or audio files will all have to be uploaded from the client's computer to the website. Where appropriate, therefore, update pages will have to contain a mechanism for file upload. The appropriate file will have to be stored on the server, and a record created for that file, so that the resulting HTML page can properly display it or link to it.

Content

Based on its projected audience, the site will need to contain a wide variety of content types. Below is an indication of the sort of content that will be needed. The mechanics of content creation will be discussed in the 'Architecture' section, even further below.

AMPIA Member Resources: Members will require ongoing information about news, events and opportunities in the field. Some examples of member content include:

- Membership information

- Film festival submission information, as for example displayed by Caryn.Com Festival Finder.

- Casting calls, requests for proposals, and other opportunities for members of the industry

- Conferences, workshops, and other professional development opportunities

- News releases

- Calendar of upcoming events

- Funding deadlines

- Registration for workshops, forums, other professional development

- Job postings

- Links to Alberta Film Commission Web site and other industry related sites

- Chat room for members only

- Site monitor/Web counter for both numbers and user profile

Resources for the General Public: The site should provide viewers from the general public an overview of the Alberta film industry and samples of work produced in the province. Some examples of public content include:

- List of Alberta-based productions in the last year, including stills and video from those productions

- Introduction to AMPIA/backgrounder/overview

- List of and information about AMPIA members

- Description of the industry in Alberta - history, highlights, future

- News releases

- Calendar of upcoming events

- Reports from "on-location"

- Sales area for e-commerce

Resources for Producers: The site should enable producers to quickly survey the companies and facilities available in Alberta should they decide to stage production in this province. Some examples of producer content include:

- List of and information about AMPIA members, sorted by production category (eg., editing, catering, etc)

- Lots, locations and other Alberta attractions

- Alberta productions list

- Description of the industry in Alberta - history, highlights, future

- Information on investors, finance, distributors

All content will be provided by AMPIA; the successful bidder will not be required to provide any original content. A style sheet or guide to online content would be useful, to help AMPIA staff and members raft their content effectively.

In order to 'seed' the site (that is, to provide it with an initial body of content), the successful bidder may have to do some data entry. This may involve some keyboarding of original text-based content, or cut-and-paste from electronic content. Some provision should be allowed for seeding.

Content Formats

The site will be designed to display in HTML (proposals including a parallel XML compliant version of the site would be welcome, but are not required). Text content will be input in plain ASCII via the online forms discussed above.

Images (other than site design artwork; see above) will be provided by AMPIA staff or members. Images will be in a standard format (.gif or .jpg) and uploaded directly from their computers via the form. The successful bidder will not be expected to scan any images not associated with the site design artwork or seeded content.

Audio and Video images will be uploaded directly from AMPIA computers via an online form. At this point, we are not thinking of using streaming technologies (such as Real Media); if streaming media is included as part of the proposal the cost of encoding and server software will have to be included as part of the proposal.

Most AMPIA members already store their audio and video content in digital format. It is unlikely that the successful bidder will be required to convert any of this content. However, the successful bidder will be expected to define standards for uploads (eg..qt.mp3, etc) and to design template pages which either embed or link to audio and visual material.

Multimedia such as Flash or Shockwave may well be used by some members. The successful bidder will not be expected to prepare multimedia content except insofar as it is part of the site design and artwork. Members should be able to upload and embed multimedia in selected pages.

Interactivity

In addition to the content components described above, AMPIA expects a certain level of interactivity to be designed into the website. In particular, they envision two major forms of interactivity:

- Member Discussions - a chat, conference, or similar set of tools which will allow AMPIA members and staff to participate in conversations and discussions. This area would be internal, that is, open to AMPIA members only. This implies some means of user identification and login.

- Submissions - AMPIA would like to be able to collect submissions from the website. For example, AMPIA would like to solicit reader feedback, accept applications for festivals or workshops, and the like.

Because the nature of these submissions will not be known ahead of time, it will be necessary to devise a mechanism whereby AMPIA staff or members can design their own submission forms. Such forms need not be template based (if they are, it's a bonus), but rather, may be simple and structured HTML forms which will be handled in a standard way. The provision of template forms that can be adapted will be sufficient.

Maintenance

Once the site is designed and implemented, AMPIA members and staff should be able to maintain it on their own. However, there is an expectation that the successful bidder will remain on contract for a period following the launch for the following purposes:

- To fix bugs and glitches in the HTML, database design or interface mechanism

- To make minor changes in site design and navigation as informed by user feedback

Proposals should indicate how much time and cost will be allocated to the maintenance phase of the project (keeping in mind that a well designed site should require minimal maintenance).

References

Site Design

Vancouver's Annual Queer Film & Video Festival http://www.geocities.com/~outonscreen/

Toronto International Film Festival http://www.bell.ca/filmfest/99/

Festival du cinéma international en Abitibi-Témiscamingue http://www.fciat.qc.ca/

Site Organization

Vancouver's Annual Queer Film & Video Festival http://www.geocities.com/~outonscreen/

StarCast http://www.starcast.co.uk/

Database

Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com

Content

Caryn.com Film Festival Finder http://www.caryn.com/indie/caryn-indie-festivals.html


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