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Author Topic: A more radical transition idea for DC CMS  (Read 5324 times)
mouser
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« on: July 29, 2012, 10:15:32 AM »

We've been making some progress off-and-on towards moving the DonationCoder website to a CMS.

The plan has been to leave the forum as is, and move the rest of the site, which is currently native hand-coded html, to a CMS system.  We decided on WordPress since our needs are limited and we want to prominently feature a multi-user blog.



However, recently I have been considering whether our best way forward for the long haul might be to bite the bullet and migrate the entire site INCLUDING THE FORUM, to a unified solution, namely Invision which is a commercial forum system that has serious content management features, including a nice Software Download repository.

The focus of the Invision suite matches our needs quite well -- including multi-user blogs and the aforementioned download repository, which is as close as any i've seen to what I think we want here at DC.

There would be some substantial work involved in migrating over, but we would be able to bring over all of the old forum posts and users, so nothing would be lost in terms of content.  But there would be some serious rewriting needed of some of the custom mods we've put in place (like donationcredits system), and we could expect some bumps in the road and a learning curve, and some inconveniences while we got our footing, etc.

It would be a pretty dramatic change though -- equal parts exciting and scary.

The SimpleMachines forum system has served us *really* well over the years.. It's been wonderful.  But one advantage to the move would be that we are currently using SMF v1 which is going to eventually become obsolete -- and we will eventually (how far away i dont know) have to do a somewhat painful migration no matter what.. to SMF v2 if nothing else.  Sometimes migrating to a new system has the advantage of cleaning out the years of built-up crud.
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cyberdiva
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« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2012, 10:42:41 AM »

I'm a bit nervous about any change to the forums.  The DC forums work better for me than any others I've used.  In particular, I find it very useful to be able to select just those new messages that I want to see, and to easily locate other new threads or postings.  The fact that other forums I have participated in are less easy to use and seem to lack features that I value make me worry that a change will be for the worse.  (That was definitely the case in another forum I follow which recently did a remake that kept the messages but made everything harder to find.)  I know nothing about Invision--perhaps it's wonderful, but if it makes it harder to find and select new messages, I for one will be very unhappy.  Just my $2 (adjusted for inflation).
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« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2012, 10:48:35 AM »

Since I assume people like mouser and Gothic will be involved who don't need 'external' help this won't matter but just in case:

Invision support has been poor in my experience.
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« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2012, 05:08:22 AM »

Even though I do agree that DC will eventually have to be migrated to smf 2.x, it seems to me that the effort to do that would be far smaller than migrating everything to invision, no?
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« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2012, 08:10:31 AM »

Even though I do agree that DC will eventually have to be migrated to smf 2.x, it seems to me that the effort to do that would be far smaller than migrating everything to invision, no?

Agreed.  And the expense of invision isn't insignificant, is it?  Though I've used other forums, SMF has by far seemed the most user friendly to me.  Does SMF still support tinyportal?  Or was that not robust enough?
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superboyac
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« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2012, 10:58:37 AM »

I'm a bit nervous about any change to the forums.  The DC forums work better for me than any others I've used.  In particular, I find it very useful to be able to select just those new messages that I want to see, and to easily locate other new threads or postings.  The fact that other forums I have participated in are less easy to use and seem to lack features that I value make me worry that a change will be for the worse.  (That was definitely the case in another forum I follow which recently did a remake that kept the messages but made everything harder to find.)  I know nothing about Invision--perhaps it's wonderful, but if it makes it harder to find and select new messages, I for one will be very unhappy.  Just my $2 (adjusted for inflation).
I agree with this.  The dc interface and features of the forum are the best I've seen anywhere.  It's probably a very big part of the reason why I keep participating.
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Stephen66515
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« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2012, 11:25:59 AM »

Concerned about losing features?

What features of DC are most important to get right if DC moves to Invision?
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mouser
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« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2012, 11:29:29 AM »

I can feel the trepidation in the air.. In fact I've got it just as much as the rest of you, so I'm still chewing on this..

I'm trying to figure out if this is a case where making a big change would breathe new life into things and put us in a better position going forward, or is one of those painful processes that is not worth the effort and was trying to fix a problem that did not exist..

First things first -- if we made a change to the forum system, we would do so on a test site first, and migrate all the forum data and have everyone go explore the new system first, before we transitioned over to it officially.  So we would all see how it behaves before any change.

I'm really unsure whether such a move is a good one.. there are lots of pros and cons.  I am a real fan of the benefits of doing a "clean install" every once in a while -- moving to a new system would have some advantages in terms of cleaning out all of the cruft that has built up.. But whether it's worth the headache I still have to figure out.
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Stephen66515
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« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2012, 11:33:53 AM »

First things first -- if we made a change to the forum system, we would do so on a test site first, and migrate all the forum data and have everyone go explore the new system first, before we transitioned over to it officially.  So we would all see how it behaves before any change.

+1 to this idea of letting people play on the new system, that would help so much in getting ideas of what should stay and what should go.

I should point out, that this move to Invision (If it happens) will help DC be a crap ton more organised, in terms of searching, tagging, download management, blogging and so much more.  Rather than using multiple systems and running into issues with links, this is a unified solution that is a major product in the market, so lots of testing has been done by their teams.
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« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2012, 12:22:30 PM »

Is the cost of any commercial CMS justified, seeing the count of blog-posts currently made? Or would a switch attract more writers for the blog and other stuff? And cross-posting to twitter and other media, it'll probably be easier, but will it be used?
Seeing how difficult it is to write anything on my personal blog, and experiencing that others (mostly non-writers, that's true) have similar issues, I'm worried that, even with a super-duper CMS in place it may not be used to it's full potential.
Yes, I'm fully aware that it will bring a lot of good to organizing the site and other stuff, but like what others have written, the forum is what I'm coming back for, several times a day if I can, and much less the blog and other pages.
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Stephen66515
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« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2012, 12:27:34 PM »

Is the cost of any commercial CMS justified, seeing the count of blog-posts currently made? Or would a switch attract more writers for the blog and other stuff? And cross-posting to twitter and other media, it'll probably be easier, but will it be used?
Seeing how difficult it is to write anything on my personal blog, and experiencing that others (mostly non-writers, that's true) have similar issues, I'm worried that, even with a super-duper CMS in place it may not be used to it's full potential.
Yes, I'm fully aware that it will bring a lot of good to organizing the site and other stuff, but like what others have written, the forum is what I'm coming back for, several times a day if I can, and much less the blog and other pages.

To be fair, For me (at least) the forum here is so good, because of its content, and its community, everything else is just a bonus, and if that bonus is extra special, then even better cheesy
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mouser
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« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2012, 01:11:01 PM »

Personally I think the forum is fine as it is.  The motivation for considering switching over to invision goes something like this:

  • SMF v1 is nearing end of life, and migrating to SMF v2 is going to be a headache, so if it's going to be a headache to migrate no matter what, perhaps we should re-assess all forum systems and pick the one that will be best for us in the long run.  That's not to say that we *need* to leave SMF v1, or that SMFv2 isn't good -- it's just a matter of looking forward to the eventual day when we will have to do a major forum upgrade/migration.
  • Moving the site to a CMS would make it easier for us to organize, maintain, and let others create content.  Additionally, we would like to support member blogs and a member download area -- to make it easier for coders here to carve out a niche for themselves.  We have been working on using a Wordpress install as our new CMS, and leaving the forum intact.  But there would be some real advantages to having a unified solution rather than trying to stitch together the forum and the cms, in terms of maintenance and ease of use -- and in terms of a single set of logins, etc.
  • I think there is some inherent value in starting from a clean slate -- not in terms of forum content of course, but in terms of all of the incremental modifications that have been made to the forum software by me over 7 years.  The cruft that has crept in makes maintenance more difficult, and it would be nice to start from a clean slate with better programming practices, etc.
  • One of the most important motivations for using Invision is that they have a Download/SoftwareRepository system that matches very well with our needs.  This has been the component that I've had the hardest time locating a suitable solution for in terms of moving to a CMS for the site. In fact this was the feature that spurred me to consider moving everything to Invision.

That's not to say I am decided on this course of action by a long shot.. In fact my general philosophy for these kinds of things is that if it's working, leave it alone -- and spend time on other things.  And the last thing I want to happen is for people to be unhappy with the change.  It may very well be that the best thing to do is to leave DC as it is..  Still cogitating..



To address some of the issues raised by others:
  • Yes, TinyPortal is still maintained and is a possible unified CMS approach for us, if we wanted to stick with SMF.  I have some concerns however about it's longevity and polish.  And perhaps most importantly -- a major motivation for moving to Invision is that they have a Download/SoftwareRepository module that suits DC needs quite well, and this is the one component I have been having a hard time finding a solution for.
  • Yes, Invision is commercial and not cheap.  It will be a few hundred up front and then a hundred dollars a year or so in maintenance upgrade costs.  We do get the source code though, so we can modify it, which to me is the most important part.  I think the costs are reasonable and I'd rather pay and known the software will be actively maintained.
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« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2012, 03:01:31 PM »

This might be unrelated, but your post ^^ above reminded me of this topic:

minus.com:
http://minus.com/

I love this site!  It has made sharing files so freaking cool!  Currently, it looks like it's turning out to be a image hosting site primarily, but it can do any files.  I love the way the images are (by default) displayed using the fluid row/columns that I first saw with some cool jquery effects:
http://masonry.desandro.com/

And it's so easy to upload files and organize them.  Just drag/drop on the page and you're done.  Then you can organize them in folders.  really a brilliant idea.  They've made it super fun and easy for the end user, copyright and advertising be damned!

Now I know we probably don't want to turn DC into a p2p sharing site, but keep in mind the layout look and the uploading features for our forum.  It would be cool to have a front page where multiple blog posts are laid out in that fluid row/column look.

Then there's another site for that weird japanese porn, hentai, that I thought did a really cool thing.  They have a couple of systems in place where users can share their bandwidth in exchange for credits which can be used to download high-res image galleries.  It's pretty sophisticated and a great alternative to the microdonation idea we have in place here.  If we were able to share our bandwidth with each other here, I'm pretty sure that's more attractive than giving out a few dollars here and there.  It really works too, people are really motivated to use that system.  I thought it was really well done, despite the nature of the content.
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« Reply #13 on: July 30, 2012, 04:54:32 PM »

SMF has it's own drawbacks and quirks. We've just become used to them and learned how to work around them for the most part. My advice to you, mouser, is to do what you think is best for DC. You're a smart man and I trust your judgement. I imagine that after a few weeks (or days, for those of us who use DC a lot) we'll all be used to the new system and our anxieties about learning how to use it will have been shown to be for naught.
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« Reply #14 on: July 30, 2012, 05:58:21 PM »

The best I could suggest is, when doing something new, try one one thing at a time rather than two. Especially when transitioning something like the forum. I'd probably start by getting the CMS/download repository/blog parts done and working first since those things could really use major improvements. Possibly even set up a small test forum (and maybe confine it to gathering feedback on the 'new' space?) to let people acclimate before switching over.

I'd also recommend going light on "features." Try to keep functions together as much as possible. The one thing I've always hated about the Ning platform is that they have personal pages, forums, groups, and a media section, all of which allow someone to post comments. It isn't bad if you only use some of it. But one site I frequent (cigarboxnation.com) is a good example of what happens when you try to use it all. If you want to start a discussion, do you do it over in the forum; in the discussion area for groups; as a comment thread under an individual video or photo post; on somebody's personal page; or...well...you get the picture - Avoid unnecessary overlaps and separations.

I'd also:

  • Generally avoid rating and like/dislike voting systems for posts. This is an established community so there's less need to excessively cater to the occasional or new visitor. Let them come in and have the pleasure of making friends and becoming part of the family without too much hand holding or steering.
  • Keep the forum discussions flat rather than nested. I've never seen a forum where a non-linear discussion worked better than a sequential one for the type of things we get into.
  • No "separate peace" mechanisms. Go easy on things that allow users to block individual posters or topics.They're sometimes necessary in places where the moderators aren't doing their jobs. Or where the community doesn't have a strong tradition of maintaining a high level of civility. But we have a good crowd here. And excellent management too. And IMHO it doesn't work well when you allow somebody to completely frost out something. If the offended party does not wish to participate in a discussion or read a specific poster, so be it. But all they have to do is skip over the person or the topic to do that. Setting up a mechanism sends a mixed message.

    I've always been of the opinion you're either a part of the community - or you're not. And that includes being exposed to all parts of the community and the discussion. It's one of the reasons I've stopped doing the 'Basement' or 'Sandbox' thing. If something is not considered appropriate everywhere on a site, then it's not appropriate for it to be there at all AFAIC.

And that's about it from me. Just tuppence based on my own hang-ups and personal weirds. Please feel free to ignore. smiley Thmbsup
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« Reply #15 on: July 31, 2012, 12:53:30 AM »

Yeah, instead of blocking users, I think we discovered the Basement as the way to macro handle that. Most stuff that would be the kind of thing to trigger a user block tends to now show up there after we've had these few weeks practice.

For me, I'm so distracted, no system would currently make me "create new blog content" because I made TWO of my own blog systems for that and right now I simply don't focus enough to complete anything.  And earlier on I drilled through most of the software I'd really want from here. So I hang out in the forums.  So a lot of all those points there for me would be whatever benefits/costs/problems Mouser gets "behind the scenes".

From that point, I don't see the direct pressure of "move now or croak". So it's a fluid decision, not one that has to be made by August 31 or DC croaks.

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« Reply #16 on: July 31, 2012, 02:28:11 AM »

The best I could suggest is, when doing something new, try one one thing at a time rather than two. Especially when transitioning something like the forum. I'd probably start by getting the CMS/download repository/blog parts done and working first since those things could really use major improvements. Possibly even set up a small test forum (and maybe confine it to gathering feedback on the 'new' space?) to let people acclimate before switching over.

agreed, but (minor point) maybe the other way round:
what's most important (to most of us) is that the forums continue user friendly.
So I'd think that testing that first would be the best bet.

--------

I think it's very important to get the software organised and accessible so that seems like an good incentive to move.

--------
Invision [...]
We do get the source code though, so we can modify it, which to me is the most important part.

I'm wondering, if you modify the source code, will you run into the same problems as with SMF, i.e. that a major upgrade requires a huge time investment to keep features (not necessarily a reason to avoid it, just wondering...)
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« Reply #17 on: July 31, 2012, 02:41:58 AM »

agreed, but (minor point) maybe the other way round:
what's most important (to most of us) is that the forums continue user friendly.
So I'd think that testing that first would be the best bet.

What might help is a "throw away" installation for testing, e.g. ivtest.donationcoder.com, that could be tinkered with purely to experiment on for the purposes of feedback.

I'm quite certain that mouser and Gothic would be tinkering in the background, but a quick hack of a site PURELY for the purpose of getting some feedback could be useful, e.g. Do you prefer the same plain text forum input with BBcode, or does this RTE (rich text editor) make things nicer/easier? (RTEs are fickle at times, but there are some good ones that really are spectacular.) If anyone knows the old Joel on Software forums, there were as bare bones as you could possibly get, and the crowd there generally loved them. Same goes for some other developer forums, e.g. The Code Project, where the boards are pretty bare. Lots of different examples out there.

But to be honest, none of this really is any of my business at all. I'm perfectly happy with whatever mouser and the crew decide on. They're the ones that need to maintain it, so whatever works for them is great. I do have opinions, but they're really not worth much to anyone other than myself. (I'm partial to RTEs, and in particular ones that can degrade gracefully into a pure text input -- but it's all just the same as asking what flavor of ice cream you like -- no right answers to be had.)

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app103
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« Reply #18 on: July 31, 2012, 06:51:17 AM »

We don't need IPB to have a software repository that kicks butt.

Aren't Stephen and someone else already working on a Wordpress solution for the main site?

Wouldn't it be easier to use Wordpress for the software repository, also?

Please revisit this discussion on adding a software repository to the site, back from when I volunteered to do the work for a PAD file enabled one in Wordpress, which was shot down and rejected with talk of moving to Drupal and letting someone else do the work instead.

The Wordpress plugins mentioned by Veign and PAD extensions mentioned by Renegade could be just what we need to create a repository that is both easy for authors to maintain their listings and includes info specific to the DC site (like link to author's forum profile, link for donating credits to an author, event name for submissions to NANY and other DC coding events, youtube links to embed a screencast if available, additional software categories not mentioned in the original PAD spec., the addition of a license type being DONATIONWARE instead of forcing people to specify freeware only, indicate whether source is included as is the case with anything GPL and many AHK utilities, etc.) Then it would be a matter of getting every author to create a pad file for all their projects and adding them, with us volunteering to make PAD files for any older app in which the author was no longer available to do so.

And you can start with a clean copy of the latest version of SMF for the forum, adding in all the extra features that members have grown to love as proper plugins, rather than hand coded directly into the original SMF code. It would make future updates and upgrades much less painful and allow you to be able to share some of our special features with the rest of the world (no reason why we have to be the only SMF forum on the internet that kicks so much butt and is such a pleasure to use).




BTW, I just received an email today from the new owner of the site where my old IPB powered forum is located, informing me that a proper upgrade option is unavailable to migrate all the existing forums to the latest version of IPB, and they will be migrating all of them to another platform, instead. This will only be affecting the IPB users on the site and the migration of all existing forums off of IPB will be completed by the end of this year. I kind of get the impression that now would be a good time for me to delete that old forum and forget about it.
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« Reply #19 on: August 10, 2012, 12:53:35 PM »

And you can start with a clean copy of the latest version of SMF for the forum, adding in all the extra features that members have grown to love as proper plugins, rather than hand coded directly into the original SMF code. It would make future updates and upgrades much less painful and allow you to be able to share some of our special features with the rest of the world (no reason why we have to be the only SMF forum on the internet that kicks so much butt and is such a pleasure to use).

This!

That said, Evernote recently migrated to IPB for their forums . . . I haven't lived there, as we have here, but it seems to feel and work great. Plus the mobile optimization is stellar. Given the time investment (or lack thereof) they've put into their forums in the past, I'm assuming it's all out of the box or easily plugged in stuff.

At the end of the day, anything is possible given the tools. Forums all do pretty much the same stuff--maybe the most important thing to consider is the API that comes with it.
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« Reply #20 on: August 10, 2012, 01:12:31 PM »

I'd stay with SMF. And why even move to v2? The current version works well enough, as long as there's no unfixed security problems :-)
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« Reply #21 on: August 10, 2012, 03:54:45 PM »

I'd stay with SMF. And why even move to v2? The current version works well enough, as long as there's no unfixed security problems :-)


I think mousers reasoning is "Move now before they drop ALL support of v1 and make it even more difficult to move"

Imagine if they announce tomorrow that they are not going to be releasing any more security fixes for v1, in order to 'force' people to 2.0+ (They will do this eventually, it's only a matter of time)

Better to move whilst no new issues are visible to the public, than stay behind the timers, on a potential security risk of a platform.

These is this, coupled with the huge benefit of moving to a platform such as Invision, is the amount of additional features the forum would be able to contain, one of which (IMHO a huge plus) is a great software repository.  This coupled with the ability to have blogs, run by members (Private blogs), and some other cool features.  It certainly helps to look towards the future.

Also, mouser has mentioned in the past, that because of how DC is coded, it's HELL to upgrade to any new release of SMF due to all the custom stuff the guys behind the scenes have coded.

Just my 2cents on the situation anyway, feel free to ignore my comments tongue
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« Reply #22 on: August 10, 2012, 05:33:06 PM »

I think one of the suggestions was to go ahead and focus on the customizations rather than the platform; to re-architect those to be true plugins rather than hacks to the code.  In this manner you better prepare yourself for whatever the future holds whether this be an upgrade to v2 or a change to any platform, and break it down into more manageable objectives.  This makes a whole lot of sense IMO.
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