Silverfen Web Design

Editable web content

Silverfen has developed a system to allow clients to edit parts of their web pages, which is now implemented on a number of web sites. It enables people to edit those parts of their web sites which are likely to change often without the need for a costly content-management system.

In the background is a problem. The assumption underpinning web design — at least in its early days — is that web pages would be written in HTML with a decent text editor, with the actual content controlled by appropriate use of cascading style sheets. The snag with this model is that it means that all changes, no matter how small, need to be made by the web designer. One solution is for clients to learn a little about HTML and make minor changes themselves: clicking “view source” on this page in your browser will give a sense of what that entails. At best this is powerful, but it can be less than straightforward and involve quite a steep learning curve.

Another solution is to use a content management system, but this can be both too expensive and too inflexible for some sites (see Content management systems, or not? for more thoughts on this).

The solution now available from Silverfen allows clients to log in and then alter parts of a web page using a relatively new feature of web standards which mean that it is possible to make parts of a web page editable. Behind the scenes there is some careful security which prevents unauthorised access.


Try altering these words. To change style, perhaps to bold or italic, select some text and click one of the buttons below. Saving them is disabled for security reasons, but changes can be made here — and to the paragraph above. Both paragraphs are editable as an example: sometimes it is helpful to have boxes to show what is editable, but they can disturb the flow of a page, so it’s sometimes be better without them.

As yet this is a relatively new facility in web browsers, so you may find your browser can’t alter the words above. For the moment clients are being encouraged to use an up-to-date version of Firefox to edit pages — but once they have been edited, they are stored in a way that can be viewed across all browsers.

The trickier parts of the computing lie in saving the edited page back to the web server — using the XMLHttpRequest protocol — and in the security features which mean that relevant pages only become editable when their owner seeks to change them, so that thord parties can’t make changes.

Simple uses of this include things like enabling clients to write their own blogs (as on Frances Taylor’s web site, but more sophisticated uses of this technology allow, for example, the staff at the Ucheldre Centre to add and remove events from their events page without needing to go to the expense of adding a content-management system.

This facility makes specific parts of web pages editable. That may sound limited, but under normal circumstances there will be some parts of certain web pages that a client is likely to want to change — such as content in a blog — but other things, such as making images and text flow round each other, which are likely to need a designer’s eye. That assumes a good relationship between designer and client, but it as well as saving the cost of a content management system, it gives a high level of design flexibility, allowing a client to change words they expect to change often but still to have good design on those aspects of a page which need to look visually impressive.