November 18, 2005

Web publishing with SPIP

Author: Dmitri Popov

SPIP stands for Système de Publication Pour l'Internet, which can be loosely translated as Publishing System for the Internet. Although the first version of SPIP appeared in 2001 and the software continues to evolve rapidly, it remains relatively unknown outside France, despite the fact that SPIP is available in multiple languages and is well documented.

SPIP can be described as a content management system, but it has some unique features that set it apart from other CMSes, as well as wikis and blogs. Designed for management of online magazines and similar types of publications, SPIP features tools that help users with tasks such as:

  • Writing and publishing articles and short news
  • Structuring and indexing published material
  • Keeping tabs on editors, including their permissions and assignments
  • Managing collaboration between editors, including internal forums, personal messaging, and editorial schedules

Installing and configuring SPIP

As with any other MySQL/PHP-based software, you need a server with MySQL and PHP3 and FTP access to it in order to install and run SPIP. To make the installation as easy as possible, SPIP offers a so-called SPIP loader -- a PHP script that automates the entire installation procedure. To install SPIP using the SPIP Loader, download the spip_loader.php3 file from SPIP's Web site, create the spip folder on your server, and copy the loader file into it. Next, point your browser to http://youserver/spip/spip_loader.php3, press the Commencer l'installation button, and choose the desired language. The rest is done in three easy steps: enter your MySQL login info, create a new SPIP database, and enter your personal info including a user name and a password. That's it -- SPIP is installed and ready to go.

Note: If you prefer, you can also install SPIP manually using the latest version of the SPIP distribution.

To configure SPIP, point your browser to http://youserver/spip/, click on the Private area link, log in using your user name and password, and click on the Configuration icon. In the site's content section, you can change your site's name, turn news publishing on/off, and activate the document attachments feature. The Interactivity section allows you to change forum messaging options as well as turn editorial and news announcements on/off. Finally, you can use the Advanced functions section to configure thumbnails generation, turn a search engine on/off, and activate visitors statistics and a spelling checker. SPIP features comprehensive online context help, which you can call up by clicking on the Help icon next to the current section.

Before you start filling SPIP with content, you should decide whether you want to use SPIP's keyword feature. SPIP has a rather rigid structure, in which each article can belong to only one section. Keywords allow you to cross-reference articles, so that you can link them together across different sections. To enable the keywords feature you must switch to the complete interface. To do this, click on the Interface button, and click on the complete interface link. Next, click on the Site Edit > Keywords button and click on the Create a new keyword group icon. Give the new group a name and an optional description, choose what type of content the keywords in the group can be associated with (articles, news, sections, etc.), and who can assign the keywords. Once the keyword group is created, you can add keywords to it using the Create a new keyword button.

To add an article, you must create a section first. Click on the Launch pad icon and click on the Create a section button. Give the section a name and description and press Save. You can also add an unlimited number of sub-sections, thus creating a more elaborate content hierarchy.

Now you can write your first article. Similar to a wiki, SPIP uses special formatting codes called SPIP shortcuts that look like this: {{bold text}}, [text->URL],
<img1|left>. A list of common SPIP shortcuts is available at SPIP's Web site and in the online help. The editing toolbar is somewhat barebones, but you can integrate a third-party HTML editor into SPIP.

Like any respectable CMS, SPIP allows you to insert pictures and attach files to articles, but it does this in its own way. To add, for example, a picture to the article, you must upload it first. Open the article for editing, click on the Add an Image button, select the picture you want, and upload it. Add a title and description to it, and press Save. If you take a closer look at the image section, you will see the following codes:

Include vignette:
<doc1|left>
    <doc1|center>
      
 <doc1|right>
Direct inclusion:
<emb1|left>
    <emb1|center>
      
 <emb1|right>

These are the codes you can use to insert the picture into the article. For example, if you want to add the image including its title and description, insert <emb1|center> in the article where you want the picture to appear (left, center, and right define the picture's alignment in the text). Instead of the image, you can insert its icon that links to the picture itself using the code. In a similar manner you can attach virtually any type of document to the article, and you can add as many images and files to a particular article as you like. The smart part is that if you don't insert some of them into the article using the described codes, SPIP saves the unused images and files in the portfolio and documents sections at the end of the article.

Once you're done with the article and have saved it, you can add some useful ‘metadata' to it. First of all, you can add another co-author, and you can even send an instant message to him or her without leaving the article. If you've chosen to use the keywords feature, you can assign keywords to your article. Finally, you can change the current status of the article. Assuming you are both the article's author and SPIP's administrator, select published online from the drop-down list and press Submit to publish the article on your SPIP website. Click on the Visit the site icon to preview the published article (you may need to press the Refresh this page button in order to update the Web page).

Collaboration

SPIP is not just a solid publishing system; it also offers tools that turn it into a powerful collaboration environment. Editors can communicate with each other using the built-in personal messaging system. Editors can submit their articles for evaluation, and other users can comment on them. Administrators can accept, reject, and publish articles. Users can publish global announcements as well as personal memos and messages to other users. A powerful calendar offers a wealth of tools for keeping all users abreast of the site's activities. An internal forum allows editors and administrators to participate in discussions.

Conclusion

SPIP is designed to be a user-friendly online publishing system, and as such it is surprisingly easy to come to grips with. It is also a feature-rich system that offers a wide range of tools for writing and managing articles and online collaboration. SPIP won't suit every publishing project, but if you are looking for a solution for publishing an online magazine, SPIP is just the ticket.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, and Danish computer magazines.

Click Here!