Specific vs Generic Coded Solutions

Years ago I threw up a phpBB to keep a few hundred people I met at a Scout camp talking. We quickly formed a community and the demands on the site grew so it keep up with the growth I hacked it to bits to add in extra functionality and static pages but it was hard work and I knew a CMS would make the process easier already having the basics a community site would want built in. I did some rigorous testing on 6 different open source website managers back in 2005 and I couldn’t find one that could be easily integrated so I used the most promising and hacked them together and several years down the road it still works. Just.

Last month I had another look, this time with the objective of transferring all data to the new system, having glanced at 22 platforms I often find it has the applications I want but lacks somewhere else. For instance the CMS required manual edits which are a lot slower and hassling than instead of click and go plugins or the templating system was {SMARTY} based when I’m a designer that’s not afraid of coded layouts. There were a couple other little things but those were at the top of my list.

So once again I still can’t find what I want meaning I’ll be forever working with a medium I’m not entirely satisfied with or I can make one myself. Its a pretty big task to undertake, hundreds of man hours of coding and research not to mention risky. The most important issue is security, with one person making the software you have one set of eyes bug swatting and security hole filling, its hard work and many hands (and eyes) make light work. I don’t know if I’d want to put at risk 4 years worth of community bonding using home-made software that has only been given okay by the person that made it.

There would need to be quite a lot of dedication on my part, it’ll be a year long project (at least) to get everything done I want with the next busy period coming in 4 months and 12 months. Saying that if I had started in 2005 imagine how much I could’ve done by now (although I probably wouldn’t be as good at other things). Its certainly not the quickest way to solve the problem, when each CMS out there has its own community of hundreds/thousands of developers working on modifications similar to what I want that could be downloaded an installed that same day.

I could speed things along by opening up the project to others but if they’re worse programmers than me it weakens the project and the better ones would open up my box of code, laugh, and carry on their merry way meanwhile I continue working alone slowly solving a problem in an inferior way.

There is another fun side to look at, with a public CMS there would be logos and website design galore which I could concentrate on which would be quite nice. However once the name, logo and branding are sorted it’ll just be more and more web design which is quite constricting comparing to the blank canvas of print work.

With the third rung of my graphic design career ladder looming overhead I probably shouldn’t be focusing on coding it can’t fill up my portfolio. I suppose it’ll be a hobby for a while, which for some means it’ll never be made to my full potential but at least the trying will be fun, and hopefully keep my plugin skills improving, heck if I write enough plugins and bind them together with string maybe it’ll be enough?

I suppose going with the Witwicky family motto: “No sacrifice, no victory”. I have to risk sacrificing a lot of my time to achieve a success and popularity.

If you happen to be interested making a CMS for code savy graphic designers feel free to get in contact and start up a dialogue.

New Blog II

As promised, it took me a while longer to get to grips with WordPress but once I did the whole thing unfurled before me. It’s so easy that I’ve even created my own little plugin for Tag display (not finalised yet but it works well enough for me. 😉 )

So what has been lost and what has been gained? I’ve currently lost the photo album facility and sidebar random image which is slightly annoying. I’ve gained the Post Tagging Facility, I’m sure Serendipity has its own version I just never used it, with WordPress its been as easy as 1,2,3 getting up and clouding away. I’ve also gained the ability to create multiple menu bars so the useful stuff is at the sides and the interesting but not entirely critical stuff can go at the bottom.

Overall I’m very satisfied with WordPress as a program, particularly as a programmer as I’m actually using PHP in templates and for functions as opposed to some program specific markup such as ‘smarty’ or the gobbledegook that phpBB uses.

New Blog!

If you hadn’t noticed I’ve given up trying to use msn-space, it was fun and exciting in January when I gave in to peer pressure to get one going but not only could I not update the pages in FF but when I did in IE there would inevitably be a crash and I would lose 30mins/hour worth of typing. Not to mention if in the future I decided to move I couldn’t export everything so I have had a browse around the web and seen what is available.

Here’s a wicked site that truly gives credit to the phrase don’t judge a book by its cover, it mostly unstyled but the info is amazing, Blog Software Breakdown . If you’re looking to move away from msn space I would certainly look here first.

My key requirements were a database storage method, PHP, plugins no code edits ( I have to do enough of them as it is for phpBB ) and all the usual trappings you would expect from a blog; comments, photobloging etc etc.

In the end my criteria whittled it down to 3 contenders, b2evolution, Serendipity and WordPress.

Looking at it Serendipity seems like a new kid on the block compared to the rest, it didn’t quite get into the Google Summer of Code [proof] which took me back a notch or too but despite this it did have a few plugins I couldn’t find the equivilent of in other other contenders. The auto install was nice too, no need to download a plugin then ftp it into place just look click it installs, fantastic. A good starters for beginners.

Whilst WordPress seems to be the most popular for web gurus it lacked some plugin features the I really like the look of in Serendipity. It also seemed a bit much so my learning curve would be a little longer than with others.

b2evolution just didn’t really impress me visually or in the back end so despite its simplicity of install, and its gorgeously easy to read coding I decided against this one too.

My final choice was Serendipity, but after a week worth of adjusting it I found that some things weren’t quite what I expected, although their coders are very helpful and prompt through its forum in telling me what I wanted/needed to do I felt if this was the way I was going to continue I should get out now and have switched yet gain to WordPress. Which apparently can’t import from serendipity but Serendipity can import from WordPress. Having gone to WordPress and finding that a) not all the mods are compatible with the latest version and b) there isn’t a central official repository I quickly shifted back to Serendipity until there is as they say it’ll be very very soon*

So there you have it, why I chose my new blog, shiney, clever and robust so hopefully there should be more frequent updates! Not to mention a slew of other stuff!