Getting to know BLOX: Assets

Note: This is the first in a series of posts that aims at getting you more familiar with BLOX, the software that runs our website. The idea is that — even if you don’t work in BLOX every day — the more you know about it, the better you can envision what digital components could go with your stories.

To the software that runs our website, everything is an asset. It doesn’t matter if it’s a photo, an article, a video or a table. All are assets.

So, if you work with BLOX very long, you’ll find yourself referring to article assets instead of stories and HTML assets rather than code snippets. It sounds silly, I know, but BLOX’s developer, TownNews, chose the nomenclature. I’m just the messenger.

In this first post on BLOX, I’ll take you through the 14 different kinds of assets (as of this writing) and tell you the basics about each of them. In 14 follow-up posts, I’ll go into the details of what you can do with each kind of asset.

So, without further ado, the list:

  • Article – This is our bread and butter. All of your text stories are turned in to article assets. Of all the various kinds of assets, this is the type we use most of all. Articles can include all the standard text formatting, such as bold and italic text, as well as links to other things on the Web.
  • Image – As the name implies, this type of asset holds images of all kinds. They can be set to display in different positions and at different sizes, depending on the image.
  • Collection – Collections act differently depending on what they collect. At their most basic, a collection is a group of assets bundled together for the reader. If all those assets are images, the collection becomes a photo gallery. If they are a mix of different filetypes, they become sort of a topic page.
  • Audio – This filetype accepts audio as .mp3s, the format popular on the Web these days. All of your little audio recorders create files that can work on BLOX with just a little bit of editing and tinkering. Example
  • Flash – Flash is another piece of software made by Adobe, the company behind Photoshop and InDesign. Flash projects allow us to create all sorts of animation effects and interactivity. Ben Pierce can tell you all about Flash, and there is a 1,200-page book on my desk about it that I swear I’ll get around to reading someday. (We have used this asset type only twice — so far, that is.)
  • HTML – HTML is the language that the Web is built on. An HTML asset is used to contain a little bit of HTML code, which can do pretty much anything. This kind of asset is like the wildcard of BLOX. When all other types of assets fail, there’s HTML to fall back on.
  • Link – I already mentioned that we can add links into the text of article assets, but there is also a separate asset type just for links. The benefit is that a link asset can be used again and again as a companion to articles or other assets. Say, a link to the city of Bozeman’s website that we’d use every week with Amanda’s commission advance or a link to the YNP website to run out with every park story.
  • PDF – If you don’t know what a PDF is, go learn. The PDF asset holds PDF files and allows our readers to download them for their own uses.
  • Poll – The poll asset asks the reader questions and creates a bar graph or pie chart totaling their responses. We typically use these as part of the Opinion page, but we can also (and probably should also) do spot polls to go along with daily stories as a way to get the readers more involved.
  • Table – Just as the name implies, a table asset holds tabular data. It could be payroll data from the county or simply a table of campgrounds in the Gallatin National Forest. Anything that would be clearly described in a grid format can go in a table asset.
  • VMIX – VMIX is our video service — like our own private version of YouTube. It’s where your videos go when I upload them. The asset simply connects to the VMIX service and embeds your videos into BLOX.
  • Video – Not everybody uses VMIX, so BLOX offers its own video assets. These work the same way as the VMIX assets, except that the videos are stored inside BLOX instead of inside VMIX.
  • YouTube – If you’ve used YouTube, you probably have noticed that you can easily embed the videos in other places, like blogs and websites. The YouTube asset is a way to easily embed YouTube videos in BLOX and attach them to stories and other kinds of assets.
  • ZIP – The ZIP asset makes .zip files available to our readers. If you don’t know, a .zip file is a way to take a bunch of other files and compress them so they don’t take up as much space. This is handy for shrinking large files down so people on slow Internet connections can easily download them. We have never used this asset type.

Well, that’s it, your basic introduction to the different asset types. Check back in the not too distant future for more details about each one.

BLOX training videos

You may recall meeting with Matt Davison from corporate last week to talk about the Digital Now initiative. Well, his report on the Chronicle interviews hit my inbox this morning, and one of the concrete recommendations from that report was that the newsroom staff watch a few training videos for the software that runs our website.

In case you didn’t know, that software is called BLOX, and it is made by a company called TownNews. It is what you call a “content management system” or CMS. It is the program that allows us to publish articles, photos, mp3s, documents and everything else to our website. It also controls the layout of the website and everything right on down to the line spacing on the fonts we use (15-point Helvetica Neue with a 1.325em line spacing for articles, in case you were wondering).

You may or may not know it, but you all have logins for BLOX already. We set them up for you when we launched the new website. If you have ever posted a comment to our website, then you already know your BLOX login information. If you don’t know it, I can find it out for you.

Here’s the point of all this: Reporters at the Chronicle have had blessed little contact with our CMS. Matt Davison from corporate thinks this is a bad thing because you really won’t understand what we are able to do on the website unless you know what the website is capable of.

I happen to think that’s a good idea. I agree with Matt’s desire for the newsroom staff to learn more about BLOX, but there’s just one snag: the training videos are long and often boring to watch.

I would encourage you to endure and watch as many of them as you can. The more you can learn about BLOX, the better you’ll become at generating ideas that could involve unique uses of the website — which ultimately means a more interesting and engaging presentation for our online readers and more in-depth and useful online extras for our print readers.

Here’s the link to the videos. Enjoy!