Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

enews.org scheduled downtime

I am in the midst of transferring my host and changing a lot of things, so if any or all of enews.org is down in the next few days or weeks (not sure how long this is all going to take), you'll know why. If you're a geek, you may be interested to read on...

What's going on?
For a year or more I've been weighing the possibility of moving my entire site to a blog format, but using a much more robust system for the backend and thereby giving the front end -- the face the user sees -- a more pleasant and interesting experience.

Why?
Part of this comes from my desire to continue web publishing, but to enable me to do it more effectively and more easily. Years ago, going from straight BBEdit coding to Claris HomePage increased my productivity tenfold. Then, when Dreamweaver was finally improved enough in v.3x that it was worth swithing to, that once again increased my productivity by leaps and bounds. When I decided to make use of Blogger's ability to work on my domain, this enabled me to publish information, opinions, photos, and yes, just plain ol' rants, at another level of increased proficiency and speed.

By moving my entire site and all its content areas (from my blog to my links pages to photo galleries to my portfolio) to a single content management system (CMS), I expect to once again greatly improve my ability to publish updates with ease and speed. I intend to add lots more content, and more importantly, categories, a feature sorely lacking in Blogger's otherwise fairly great CMS.

What I'm doing and how I'm doing it
I've signed up with a new web host (interestingly, this'll be the first time enews.org will be moved since its inception in 1994), one which offers a number of features that are quite hard to find at most ISPs. Among those important to me are:

1. Movable Type comes pre-installed (although as an add-on feature for a small extra fee).

2. I can have, on my current plan, 5 alternate domains and 100 subdomains. Which means I can host a bunch of sites on my site, and they can all have their own unique domains, without need for masking or forwarding. So, for example, you'll see Olya.net and Velma.org and BayAreaAction.org pop up eventually on their own domains, without the need to forward them to (example:) http://www.enews.org/velma/ as I do now. I can also choose to implement these sites as http://bayareaaction.enews.org if I want (this is called a subdomain). This is a particularly important feature to me, since it's hard to find at other hosts (except as a costly add-on) and I have lots of domains registered to me that I'd like to manage all in one place.

3. An excellent front-end control panel for managing the files, databases, email accounts, access and passwords, certificates, add-ons, features, and everything else. You'd be surprised how many ISPs either lack this funtionality entirely or have very poor implementations. In my experience, about 99% of them have sucky ones.

There are a few other features I like, which are mostly competetive with higher-end hosts who are keeping with or ahead of the curve in offering new features to customers (thereby making them standard features for the industry). These include:

1. More storage and bandwidth.

2. Many more email accounts than 1 or 5 or 10 or whatever pathetic number is offered by most ISPs (they tend to make money as people discover they need more email addresses and then have to add them for a fee). With my new plan, I have 100 accounts and 1,000 addresses.

3. Static IP address.

4. Webmail and spam filters.

5. PHP, plus Perl of course, and capability for server side includes.

There are a few other features that are cool, but I'm not sure if I'll be using them anytime soon:

1. Shared SSL certificate (so I could host https:// secure pages without the need to purchase a costly certificate of my own).

2. Shopping cart.

3. QuickTime streaming server.

Treacherous lands ahead
There are numerous problems involved in switching hosts, especially when all your email runs off the domain in question, not to mention your blog, your portfolio, the websites of several of your friends, and your girlfriend's blog.

I have to make sure I don't screw up everything while taking down the site on one web host's server, and then putting it back up elsewhere. I have to do this for all the sub-sites I'm hosting for other people. I have to change the DNS registry worldwide to make sure everybody in the world is going to the new server instead of the old one. And I have to cross my fingers and hope that no email gets lost in the interim.

To make matters more difficult, I have to quickly figure out how to reformat and reorganize everything on my old site into a different hierarchy and navigation scheme, since I'll be integrating several disparate content areas on the old host under the umbrella of one CMS on the new host.

For example, for the past two years my blog has been using a standard Blogger template that I tweaked a little but never enough to integrate it into the enews.org site, or even to add navigation back and forth. So, if you're on the blog, there's no easy way to get to my design porfolio or to my photo galleries. Conversely, there's no way to get to my blog from my porfolio or photo galleries or wherever. Also, the Blogger template's nice, but it's not really indicative of the rest of my site's look and feel.

So, a few months ago I started redesigning enews.org for how it would look when I eventually could integrate all the areas and make it all one blog with numerous categories (you'll see them listed on the left in the screenshot on this page).

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Well, I'm going to have to complete this entry later. I've been tryint to post this entry for two days, and Blogger is having a ton of trouble with their servers.

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