Review of CMS promotional pens

In keeping with my 2008 review of browser umbrellas, it seems about time I reviewed something else. So how about enterprise web content management system (CMS) promotional pens?

Three pens

Are these as effective content creation tools as their promoters’ products? Let’s find out…

As these pens were freebies from three of the leading content management system providers (in alphabetical order): Jadu, Squiz and TERMINALFOUR I thought it would be appropriate to follow Paul Boag’s criteria from March 2009 for selecting a content management system. These are:

  1. Core functionality
  2. The editor
  3. Managing assets
  4. Search
  5. Customization
  6. User interaction
  7. Roles and permissions
  8. Versioning
  9. Multiple site support
  10. Multilingual support

Here’s goes.

1. Core functionality

The three pens on review today are all ballpoint pens.

Each uses a different system for protecting the nib: the Jadu pen has a removable lid, the Squiz pen requires a cheeky wee twist to reveal the point, while the TerminalFour pen uses a spring-driven mechanism making it a ‘clicky’ pen.

The core functionality of each product, therefore, is essentially the same:

  1. Reveal the nib
  2. Write
  3. Protect the nib again

I’m 100% sure that you could also find other uses for these pens but that would most definitely be the subject for a team-building exercise rather than a serious review.

Update: It occurred to me that I missed out a key aspect of these pens, certainly when comparing them with content management systems: the publishing workflow.

The workflow for each pen is identical, and not necessarily in keeping with the workflows of the CMSes they represent. Which is a good thing. As we keep saying in our writing for the web training: writing for the web is different from writing for the printed word.

Each pen allows you to write directly to the page. There is no need for a ‘staging pad’ to write to first before copying it all neatly to the final document. Although, demonstrating the flexibility of these products, that is an option that you may like to employ… or indeed a combination of both workflows.

2. The editor

Unlike a web content management system, a pen doesn’t have a standard GUI editor.

Instead the editorial duties fall to the human using the pens. Editing is something that I rather enjoy. I have copies of both Guardian Style and The Economist Style Guide on my desk which are very useful tools when editing content.

3. Managing assets

Each pen requires other tools to help manage assets, whether they be documents or images. I use a rather natty document wallet which I picked up at a Butler Group seminar in London on Agile. We also have a filing cabinet.

If you want to include other assets on your page then you will literally need to cut and paste them, using scissors or glue/sellotape/spit/blu-tak, etc.

4. Search

Unlike very many Bic biros, I have to date not lost any of these pens, so haven’t had need to test their searchability.

5. Customization

All three products are pre-customized in the sense that they have a ready-to-use design. All three are primarily black with silver or white text and/or logos on them. The Squiz pen is the only one not to include the company’s website address on the product.

There is no extensible or built-in way to further customize these pens. One immediate way to customize them would be to decide whether they should be stored with the nib protracted or retracted; I tend to use the latter option.

The Jadu pen, being the only one with a removable lid, obviously also has an additional customization option to store the lid on the ‘other end’ of the pen. It looks nice that way and the pen still feels balanced with the extra weight on the end; however, the nib remains exposed which may be an issue for some users.

You can, of course, also do away with the lid altogether. If you are crazy!

6. User interaction

I think this element is really at the heart of how successful these pens are or not: how easy are they to use? How comfortable are they to hold? How pleasant are they to use while writing?

The Jadu pen is a cuboid. It has square corners. It feels comfortable to hold and has a rubberised feel. It does feel very light and cheap, though, to be honest. The flow of black ink is reasonable, although if you do write quickly the ink does appear to thin in places. The ink stroke width is reasonable, slightly wider than a fine Bic biro, but narrower than a standard ‘Crystal’ one.

The Squiz pen is the heaviest of the three by quite some margin. It feels solid and substantial. It feels like an expensive pen. It too has a black, rubberised finish which helps with grip, and the twist to reveal the nib has a very smooth, satisfying feel to it. Writing with this pen is a pleasure. The black ink flows nicely and you can write very quickly with it. The stroke width is wider than the Jadu pen, comparable with a standard Bic biro. This pen offers by far the most comfortable writing and drawing experience—something that my four year old twin boys also said. Although not in those words.

The TerminalFour pen is the only one with blue ink—I’m not a fan of blue ink. It is also the only pen that has a more standard circular design to the barrel. The ‘click’ sound is hollow and plastic-y. This feels like a very cheap pen. Writing with it feels a little patchy, with the ink thinning in places, even at a reasonable writing pace. I didn’t really enjoy writing with this pen, regardless of the colour.

7. Roles and permissions

These pens can literally be used by anyone. No special permissions are used. There is no built-in way to prevent certain users from using these pens. Just ask my children who found them in my bag and started to draw with them, without my permission. They are not like Judge Dredd’s gun which will explode if someone else tries to fire it; these pens won’t blow your hand off if you use them incorrectly.

8. Versioning

Versioning is entirely manual with these products. You need either to copy out your work onto a new page, or simply make notes and then by hand write “version 1.0” at the top of it. (Other version numbers are available.)

The downside of this is that it can take a long time to create versioned copies of your work.

Update: You might consider using a photocopier and then write on the copy using one of the pens.

9. Multiple site support

Absolutely! These pens excel at being used in different contexts. For example, I’ve used each of these pens for

  • Writing notes in meetings
  • Writing lists
  • Doodling
  • Taking messages down from phone calls
  • Signing my name on forms or official documents (not the T4 pen as it has blue ink)

10. Multilingual support

Support for other languages is restricted only by the person writing, or indeed the language itself. For example, the Indian language of Sentinelese it is said has no written form.

All web languages, e.g. HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP can easily be handled (but not automatically interpreted) by these pens.

Conclusion

Bronze award

A disappointing performance from the T4 pen puts it in last place. It might have scored more highly had it used black ink, but even then its build and ink quality let it down.

Silver award

Second prize goes to the Jadu pen. It was very comfortable to hold and didn’t slip but it felt cheap and the ink quality again let itself down in places. This has more of the feel of a disposable pen than a ‘keeper’.

Gold award

First prize, therefore, goes to the superb Squiz pen. It has a solid build, has a very fluid feel when writing, and aside from some of the rubber coming away next to the point looks very substantial.

This pen definitely gets my gold award. (If only their content management system was as intuitive to use.)

Browser Wars – the next generation

On Monday Steve and I attended an Opera Software University Seminar hosted here at the University of St Andrews, one of many stops on their world tour of educational institutions.

I found it an interesting and encouraging hour long presentation which looked at the Opera range of browsers (did you know that there are four main products: Desktop, Embedded, Mini and Mobile, which all use the same rendering engine?), Web Standards and a brief dive into HTML 5 and CSS 3.  I’ve blogged about it elsewhere if you want to read more.

On our way out of the PC classroom (it was hosted in the School of Computer Science) in exchange for a completed feedback slip we were given a FREE umbrella. I know! FREE!  We didn’t even have to download it from one of over 80 download locations.

Comparisons

However, the question I know you’re all asking: how does it compare with the St Andrews Web Team’s Mozilla Firefox umbrella, which was purchased from the Mozilla store a few months ago?

Mozilla Firefox umbrella next to the Opera umbrella

Mozilla Firefox umbrella next to the Opera umbrella

Size

As you can see from the image above the Opera brolly is considerably smaller than the more cumbersome Mozilla brolly.

That observation correlates with my experience of the two browsers, currently Firefox is hogging 236 MB of RAM, while Opera is displaying the same three pages using only 34 MB. This is clearly the Opera Mini of umbrellas.

Opened each fares as you would expect: the Mozilla browser is considerably larger offering protection for more than one user.  The Opera Mini umbrella is clearly designed for single tab user use.

Mozilla Firefox umbrella open

Mozilla Firefox umbrella open

Opera Mini umbrella open

Opera Mini umbrella open

Rendering

Opera has clearly taken HTML 5 and CSS 3 to heart with this umbrella as in particularly windy situations the brolly dynamically re-renders itself … mostly inside out.  Ironically, for such a stable browser their umbrella does have a tendency to ‘crash’ alot in bad weather.  I suspect, however, that the weather we threw at it just had the wrong !DOCTYPE.

The Firefox umbrella on the other hand does appear to bend and sway a little but resolutely and reliably continues to do its job.

User interface

Both umbrellas feel robust enough, although I have to say that I would feel more confident taking the Firefox brolly out in the winds whistle down the streets of St Andrews.

In fact, in tests the Firefox umbrella proved to be easier and quicker to use simply due to the sturdiness of the fastenings and other hardware.

It is said that the first umbrella was likely to be nothing more than some largely-waterproof fabric stretched over a wooden or wire frame, and both models follow this tradition in terms of construction.  However, again, the Firefox brolly feels more robust with the stretched fabric stitches into the end of the spokes; the Opera brolly relies on small metal ‘cups’ slotting over the end of the spokes, which are too easy to knock off.

Security

Clasps on Firefox and Opera umbrellas

Clasps on Firefox and Opera umbrellas

Security is no less important on an umbrella as it is on a browser, and both models’ security features are built to impress.

The Mozilla model uses the traditional ring on a piece of elastic which wraps snuggly around the shaft of the umbrella and afixes on a button, while the Opera model relies on a vecro fastening.

One particularly impressive security feature though was the clear plastic sheath that the Opera umbrella came in.  It keeps your umbrella safe and secure when not being used.

Open Source

As an open-source product you are welcome to take the code of Mozilla Firefox and redevelop it.  While the brolly is available to anyone within the Web Team we discourage any modifications to the overall structure, and as far as I’m aware there are currently no official add-ons for the brolly.

Opera is not an open-source product, which is reflected in our need to go directly to Opera to obtain it on request.  Although, as I understand it, 3rd parties such as Oxfam may be able to sign up to distribute copies.

Conclusion

Other than the fact that I clearly have too much time on my hands during the lunch hour, I’d say that the Firefox umbrella is probably the one you want if you need to stay dry (in all sorts of weather), although it is more cumbersome. Perhaps, a bit like Firefox Portable.

The Opera umbrella on the other hand is wonderfully compact, so you can take it anywhere you want … a bit like their Opera Mini and Mobile browsers.