Tridion Dynamic Component Linking – Authors can’t be expected to understand this, can they?

Just recently a client had asked me an interesting question about Tridion’s Dynamic Component Linking.  They understood the concepts, but didn’t know how to manage this “feature” across multiple novice authors/editors within their organization.  So here is what I think the answer is.

So here is the actual question that the client asked:

Our authors/publishers are in the heat of adding all the new content for our Careers site and so many questions are surfacing about Tridion functionality. While they (we) have had training, there is nothing that compares to actually doing the work. One of those we’re a bit stuck on. It involves internal linking.

Ideally, they would like to be able to use internal links to link one page to another. If we understand correctly this cannot be done. To accomplish this they’d have to link to a component on the page. On the surface that makes sense to us. Where we get concerned is, since components can be used on more than one page, how do we ensure the website user will end up at the page we intend? We’ve found the description of the hierarchy/logic used to decide where to take the user. I won’t attempt to recount it here.

Our concern is we can’t imagine an author understanding the hierarchy and being able to choose the right component to link to. We can’t be the only Tridion clients to use internal links and we can’t be the only ones to question this. We’ve looked around the blogs, etc, but haven’t found any light bulbs. Do you have any guidance/best practices?

This is a great question.  I look back at several past projects, and this question had always been asked.  What typically happens is, you explain the concept to a few Authors and Editors, but then they leave the company or an army of them are hired to do a content migration.  These new folks aren’t explained the component linking concept, so they hardcode URLs to pages.  Then the site is Content Ported to QA or Production where the URLs all change, and the entire site ends up being broken.  So a big frenzy happens with everyone in Marketing running around like chickens with their heads cut off; and I am left thinking to myself: they should have paid better attention to when I stressed about this during the training and delivery of all my modules.

So here are my two cents on Dynamic Component Linking and how to manage it:

The paradigm of the future (as we see the future through the Tridion lens) is that even in today’s world we have content published to various channels. Only some channels have the concept of pages. But what if, you were publishing content to an email or a digital billboard, or a screen on a vending machine, or a level in a video game. “Page” has no meaning in these contexts.

The idea is to author content and link to other content and use it across all the channels: web (desktop and mobile), apps (e.g. android, iphone), email, and etc. Let the system that manages the channel figure out what a content link is within its context.

Here is another example: if you were authoring a print magazine in Tridion, a component link would probably be rendered as an annotation on the page footer with a bibliographical reference. With a Component Link, we can code Tridion to do all this in the context of Print, while in the context of Web we would get Tridion to render a hyperlink.

The point is, the author links content to other content. The developer figures out what link priorities templates would take on. For e.g. an “Article Summary” component template would have a lower linking priority than “Article Detail”. So the system would always try to take you to the most detailed piece of information that’s available.

So, translating this into practices and how to manages/explain this concept; have 2 roles of users in Tridion: Authors and Editors/Publishers:

  1. Authors only edit components. They don’t add them to pages, nor do they publish anything. They simply write and link to other content components.
  2. Editors/Publishers assemble the pages by putting component presentations on them. They must know what the Page and Component Templates do on their channel (in your case: website). They are required to understand the concept of Dynamic Linking if they are to do their job well ;).

3 thoughts on “Tridion Dynamic Component Linking – Authors can’t be expected to understand this, can they?

  1. We must be overlapping clients or situations, Nick, because I’m running across the same questions. :-)

    I’ve been exploring the concept of the “page proxy” and linking to something-that-counts-as-a-page in a context without pages. Feel free to add your thoughts to these related TRex questions:

    I suspect an out-of-the-box approach to help is to create these “page components” automatically, as part of event system or XPM page type so that pages have a “hook” of sorts to link to.

    We may not get rid of pages (or at least containers) completely, especially for places where authors need to manually curate relationships (lists) of sorts.

  2. I’ve had to explain the Component link resolving logic a lot of times in my career, and never have I found anybody that couldn’t understand it. There are a lot who won’t remember its fine details (including me) but that is what the documentation is for. Most important, right after explaining the proximity logic, I mention that you should ALWAYS prevent your implementation from getting into that exception if possible. You (as a developer) do this by correctly setting the Component Template priorities and by educating the editors that content should not be duplicated on pages for no apparent reason.

    So mostly I found that if the proximity logic was becoming an issue for editors, it meant that either there were too many Component Templates for a certain Schema and its priorities were not set correctly, or editors were needlessly placing the same Component (Presentation) on multiple Pages (while they could have probably linked to the content).

  3. That’s an interesting distinction, Bart. The question wasn’t “I don’t get dynamic linking” it was “I can’t imagine others getting it.”

    Thinking back, I’ve mainly heard the request for something familiar early on in projects or from developers. So authors either get it or are linking wrong as Nick’s seen. :-)

    As an example of some savvy users, I recently had new Tridion users who were educating the rest of their team on how BluePrinting worked. They figured out quickly they wanted a shared publication for Structure Groups and Pages and didn’t want Web page Metadata in (Tridion) page Metadata.

    They even got how to link to pages by placing a Component on two pages: one with a Summary CT and another with Page Reference CT. They actually complained that it was different when they had to do a more (seemingly) direct Component link.

    Oh and I do have a post on dynamic linking. It almost follows how to find a misplaced phone (at least for the first few checks): check my pockets, my room, then the kid’s room (my page, my SG, then children SGs). :-)

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