Website-building tool was $500, now offered free

    Portland State University’s open-source web content management system, Saga, will soon be available to all university departments for free.

    Previously, departments had to pay to use Saga – approximately $500 a year for tech and staffing fees – but increased funding has made it possible to offer the system at no cost. 

    Saga is a program used to create websites with pre-designed templates and was constructed to be user-friendly for those who are not computer savvy. In order to create a website, the user simply inserts content – information and photographs – into the larger Saga template.

    "Until this budget period there was no money for web communication," said Therese Graner, information architect for university communications.

    According to Graner, this could be a boon to departments working to comply with Portland State’s new identity management regulations. The university has recently mandated that top-level PSU sites must carry the new university logo and have a PSU header and footer.

    Departments could find it easier to use the Saga templates, which were created with identity compliance in mind, Graner said.

    Nate Angell, the PSU director for web communications, explained that the web-based system has three advantages over traditional HTML webpages: the separation of content from design, the ability to show content dynamically, and an interface that is comprehensible to people with little technical skill.    

    Separating content from design means that it’s possible to dramatically alter a website’s visual aspects without recoding every single webpage by hand, Angell said. In the past, each department and office had to pay designers to come up with websites.

    "The problem being that these people, who are often very skilled, are also often students who then graduate and leave," Angell said. "With Saga, departments won’t have that problem of trading off."

    While Saga is designed to be simple enough for those who have little technological understanding to use, weekly Saga training sessions are now available and will be for the near future, Angell said.

    Saga’s dynamic nature comes from the fact that Saga-built webpages are not static pages.

    "Each time you get a new page, you also get a new querying of the database," Angell said.

    The recent decision by the university to increase the program’s funding provides the money to create a second version of Saga in addition to providing the current system for free.

    Development of Saga 1.0 began in 2002. A team led by Angell constructed Saga out of open-source components. Angell speculates that Saga 2.0’s release date could be as soon as winter term.

    The first Saga client site was the Office of Admissions in spring 2003, but now, more than 40 PSU sites use the system. The name Saga was chosen to fit with PSU’s Viking theme.

    "It’s just another way to tell PSU’s story," Graner said.