So, I disappeared for most of a year with the arrival of my son. And after I got a whole host of movie reviews up on the old site, DRUPAL started giving me glitches. It never looked quite right, so I opted to just ditch worrying about it.
But in the last few weeks, I’ve thought long and hard about what I really want the site to do and how I want to approach it, and finally came to some basic realizations.
My hoster is fine if I don’t muck around with databases.
If I avoid heavy databases like MYSQL or MSSQL, that takes a whole whack of content management systems out of the equation. Including MediaWiki which I actually managed to get working closer to what I wanted, even though it was using a database. But in the end, it was still too complicated for what I wanted to do, and not worth the overhead.
If I look at “light” CMS packages, there are only a couple that really stand out as worth testing. So I did test them, and right now I really like GPEASY. Admittedly, the documentation is not huge, but my needs are simple. And the guy who created the package and who runs the website forums is REALLY helpful with answering questions.
I managed to start with a FaceBook-like theme, and tweak it almost beyond recognition in colours, etc., and still have 98% of the original code untouched. And best of all, it has a really good online editor that allows me to paste text from a simple editor or just type from scratch, along with lots of little formatting options. Still glitching with the 1.5 line spacing after each paragraph, but I’ll work on that over time.
I also need to ditch a second logo that is showing up, add in separate colours for the background of top and bottom, edit the sidebar, rename the blog, and edit the footer. Then on to Movie Reviews!
If anyone hears of a CMS developer or hoster being shot in the not-too-distant future, tell the cops to check my alibi. I’ve been working for just over two months now on my website, and only now feel like I’m even getting close to what I want. DRUPAL proved unable to handle my needs with regard to the photo gallery, so I went with Gallery 2. It’s fantastic, and works like a charm. I wouldn’t say setup was “simple”, but it was relatively straightforward for an open-source solution, and the wife likes the result, so what more could I ask for?
Well, for starters, a blog. And some static content options for my knowledge portal — something that would allow me to post text in an almost wiki-like layout. I had some success with WordPress and after a couple weeks of good solid design testing, I had a blog up and running. Posted a few things to give it a try, but the menu was driving me batty — never did solve that problem. And then the unstoppable force of website creation ran into an immovable object that is my hoster’s policies.
I have no idea which combination of their default settings was screwing up my server setup, but it locked me out of my own configuration — oh sure, it would ask me for my login and password and if I got it wrong, it told me (so I knew the authentication module was working). But if I entered everything correctly, it just went into a loop that took me back to the login page. Apparently this is a problem with persistent sessions and that my hoster’s variables cause previous sessions not to disappear. Of course, Netfirms Support had no idea what I was talking about, and while I can diagnose the problem by searching lots of tech sites, it is beyond my ken how to explain to them how to fix it. So I went looking for an alternate solution for my other web page needs (and now needing a second blog option too!).
So I tried MediaWiki…my host provider supports an older version of it, and it seems okay. I found it really hard though to wrap my head around the approach — things were still not page-like enough, and figuring out even how to change a logo across similar looking sub-sites was a challenge. Admittedly, the program configuration tells you very clearly that this is NOT the tool to use for a typical website, and it will just frustrate you to no end if you do. Guess what? They were right — I still gave the upfront work a try to see if I wanted it for the knowledge portal at least, but I was just increasing my frustration levels.
So I started experimenting with a site called The CMS Matrix…they’re part of a group called the “Compare Stuff Network — Great data, ugly sites!”. Fantastic site, albeit with a few too many self-serving advertisers rating their own products in a few places. But I went with their top performers and tried e107, Joomla, EZ publishing, Mambo, and a couple of others. Joomla and Mambo were pretty solid options (not surprisingly I like them both as they both started as the same program (Mambo) and then forked into two CMS programs, one still called Mambo and one new one called Joomla). Pretty straightforward user interface. Good testing, still needed to wrap my head around another CMS approach. And then Netfirms intruded again with their persistent sessions. Sigh. I can accept that occasionally my server host might have some challenges with their server config that might cause me some grief, but Netfirms really sucks. They sent me spurious info that was completely useless and unrelated to why I was having persistent sessions (even though caches were clearly disabled! and I even tried enabling them for 3 minute durations hoping that would wipe something, but no!).
Of course, most of these problems are related to trying to use an full-bodied open-source Content Management System (CMS) on what is essentially just a personal site. A personal site on steroids or with delusions of grandeur, but still a personal site. So, since it is just a personal site, I tried a simpler solution using some of the “personal site software” that is out there. You know the ones I mean, cuz they all advertise the same way: “No programming knowledge required! Thousands of templates! Millions of colours”. I checked out a few, but they were all pretty limited. Microsoft Frontpage is pretty powerful, so I considered that for a bit since I already have it, and was what I used to try earlier versions of the site. But I upgraded temporarily to try out the new all-powerful Microsoft Expression. Pretty powerful, and way too complicated. I couldn’t even figure out how it related to Frontpage’s approach. Kind of like going from a Paint Program to Adobe Photoshop Professional Edition. So that option was out. Which left me way too close to my original option of coding the design by hand.
Instead, I seem to have come back to Drupal. Can it still count as a new version of my website if I’m back to near to the approach I took for 2.0, just further along? While Drupal is incredibly powerful, and really WAY more power than I need, it does allow me a bit more control over my interface with the host. Not quite to the “2×4 upside their head” level, but almost to the “hah! here’s a small slingshot to shoot paper wads at you” level. Which doesn’t change anything on my gallery, that will stay separate. But I no longer need MediaWiki or my separate blog site. I can basically do everything I want within Drupal except the gallery.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not a paradise. I’ve spent a good portion of the last week trying out some advanced VIEWS and PANELS and TABS options only to decide most of them are way too complicated for the little sub-projects I want to do. I’ll defer those to version 3.0 perhaps, and instead focus on getting the basic structures and initial texts up on the site. One thing that I haven’t quite figured out yet is how to add images to these posts, but that will come. In the meantime, on to Movie Reviews!
It’s been an interesting six weeks since I started putting some serious time into the website. I’ve played with a bunch of content management systems, and some desktop software packages that design sites out of the box, etc. I even had DRUPAL working pretty well. But there were a few problems with each, and for DRUPAL, it was getting my photo gallery to work.
I mentioned last time it was the bane of my existence to get it up and running, and I reconfigured that sucker ten ways from Sunday. Nada. Don’t get me wrong, I doubt it’s DRUPAL’s fault. It is more that it is a step above my needs and yet a few of the simpler CMS software bundles didn’t handle a few key features.
So, in the end, I’ve gone with a mish-mash of software that my host provides automatically pre-configured out of the box. For those of you familiar with Photo Gallery 2, I’ve got my pictures site going under that. For the most part, I’m pretty happy with it. I’ve found a general theme that I can tweak enough to live with, upgraded some of the modules and plug-ins, and uploaded a batch of photos.
For my general “blog” area, I’m going to go with WordPress for now. It seems to be fairly robust and not TOO complicated (I hope). For the rest of my “static pages”, I think I’m going to go with MediaWiki.
I am finally ready to start seriously working on version 2.0 of my website. Most of you never saw version 1.0 or version 1.1, which were a long time and three webhosts ago, and were mostly just collections of HTML links.
Version 1.1 was more elaborate, complete with a great logo and menu system designed by my friend Liam. I programmed most of the details in .ASP and it worked well enough for me to set up my basic structure, but I never really rolled it out fully, as modifications were hard to replicate across the site manually.
I upgraded it (or downgraded, depending on your point of view) to a more accessible .SHTML format, uploaded some reviews, created a sub-area for photos, and most recently, handled all of our wedding-related needs such as online RSVPs and links to maps and hotels.
But my plans have always been more, umm, elaborate, if not particularly complex. I was about to say obsessive, but elaborate is good. Recently I thought I would upload DRUPAL and see if I could get it to work, as there are two areas that I want to work on in the next year, and they require a bit more sophistication than my basic skills allow.
First, I envision writing a small how-to manual and putting it online — PolyWogg’s Human Resources Guide to Government Competitions. Of course, once I get it up and running, there will be updates from time to time, and my old approach just wouldn’t handle it. I also would like to get to the stage where people could contribute questions or comments, and that’s far easier to do using an out-of-the-box solution than trying to program my own version.
Secondly, photos are the bane of my existence — not the actual photos themselves, but finding a way to put them up on my website rather than just on FaceBook or Flickr. Not that there’s anything wrong with Facebook or Flickr, but presumably there should be a benefit to having my own website…like actually using it for my own content! I did have some photos up previously, and it worked okay. But it was pretty manual, and time-consuming. Plus, I want to delegate management responsibilities over to my lovely bride, and let her have the headache. The old system, being manual, didn’t allow me to do that, so again, I need a better out-of-the-box option. So, DRUPAL it is. Of course, not all of the bugs are worked out. For instance, my logo and title are in the system, fully uploaded, etc., and yet, for some strange inexplicable reason, they’re not showing up! Grrr…
Stay tuned, I’ll let people know when there’s actually something to see! Tap at you later…