Site redesign ideas

This is an answer to Susan's question about forums in the "Why can't we get along" site along with a lot more about the ideas behind it. First, the screenshot so I have something to talk about.

Missing is part of the header (nothing there other than the rest of the logo) and the footer which has a link for login, site map, ... . If your browser window is not really wide it will overlap the right sidebar. Sorry but I wanted the resolution. (For some reason only part of the attachment is showing up in the preview so maybe you won't see the whole thing I am talking about. Clearly, a feature of the software we want to replace.)

There is a lot to say/that I can say about this but I don't want to write a design specification in this post. Here are some important points (numbered in case you want to comment on a specific one):

  1. As you can see, I was last playing with this over a year ago. What sidetracked the move was the relative disaster of moving all the data.
  2. The basic design is such that the front page offers "news" (whatever that is) and some way to get to other parts of the site (such as blogs and forums).
  3. The left column has some important navigation links (and the random photo which doesn't really work yet). The Wiki+ box takes you to what are the "books" of the current site. That is, more authoritative tha a forum content.
  4. The Catalogues (spelled for Susan's benefit :-) OK, the software is from the UK.) are just ways to present information that fits in a database table rather than text-based storage (which is what the Wiki+ is).
  5. The right column has the Adsense ad (as we currently have), a tag cloud (that works well), and a search that really works. That is, the basic search (fill in the box and click) gives you snippets and links but clicking More options gives you a nice set of search options.

I wanted to explain the general feel of what I have been looking at here. There is a very long list of reasons why this software (ocPortal) is much better for doing what NL needs, many of them administrative. For example, it does a great job to detecting SPAM so we don't have to deal with it.

The site was done with this software. I haven't done much with the site but it has given me a great chance to see how ocPortal works at dealing with the administrative side. It's a big win over anything else I have ever worked with.

Note that most of the data out there is just filler. The exception is that I did quite a bit of work in the Wiki+ section with real data. To understand what the Wiki+ is/how it works, take a look at the Why?, Where? and How? sections of a42.

As always. comments welcome.

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My opinion, at first glance

It looks like only a relatively minor upgrade to what NL already is, but probably requires substantial work to implement.

I think someone, or the group, needs to decide what we want.

Moving the data is the issue

There is some work to finalize the presentation and some issues such as random photos that need to be fixed but, mostly, it is a huge data conversion project. For a long time I had been thinking of how to make it all happen at once. The reality is that this is quite different from moving all the files of the State of Washington Department of Licensing over to a new system while making sure law enforcement always has access. The current site is a problem and moving incrementally will work.

I have looked at a lot of content management systems (for NL and other uses). If NL was a business/had big business potential, I would start with Django and write the site that makes sense. But, it isn't. For a lot of invisible to the user reasons, ocPortal is as close as you get. There is a lot of work to do to export the data in a format that makes sense for import (mostly because of the old Drupal format). Once that is done, we can progress fairly quickly. We don't need to move everything at once and we can make changes once we are up and running on the new software.

This isn't the first time you have shown me this one

I remember mentioning that it's really blue and telling you I have never liked Wikis.

Where are the blogs, forums, and photo galleries?

There is no wiki

I love wikis but the Wiki+ has virtually nothing to do with Wikis. The name was changed (from CEDI) to suggest it is wiki-like. It is not.

Blogs, Forums and Photos are accessed with the tabs at the top of the page -- just like they currently are. The main difference is that the middle of the front page is not recent forum topics.

OK, they're not wikis

But what are they? Or rather, what's different about them that makes them not a wiki?

Place to start

I have serious reservations with the name Wiki+ when it was decided to change the name from CEDI. What makes them not a Wiki is that, to me, the only wiki-ish thing about them is the name. Let's start here for the purpose of discussion. This is the page about Nicaragua on the A42 Wiki+ in the Where? section.

Once you get there (there are pages above it in the hierarchy plus you could get there with a search) you are now in a hierarchy of pages related to Nicaragua. There is nothing that prevents you from linking to other content -- the Spanish link is an example -- but, in general you are working down a sub-hierarchy.

Each page has its basic content. What I have done there is that each country has a standard basic page with a map, exchange rates and such. It then has a list of child pages. (This is no different than the book pages on the current site other than the flexibility of what can be there, a WYSIWYG editor and a lot more control over who can do what.)

Click on the Book/Video Resources child page link. There you see the basic page in the green box (in this case, currently just how to use the page) followed by two "user posts". The system makes it very easy for a moderator to incorporate the user posts into the page. (They were always visible but always below the "real page".) In addition, child pages can be added (by the moderator) as needed. So, bottom line, it is very easy to organize and administer additions but is very different from a Forum where your are promoting discussion rather than just adding useful information.

So, to me, it has nothing to do with a Wiki and I think Chris' choice to change the name was a mistake.

They don't seem so different

So, a moderator is ultimately responsible for all changes to Wiki+/CEDI content. That's a configuration option in Wikipedia (see: locked pages). The user postings at the bottom seem like a less organized version of the "discussion page" in wiki-speak. The hierarchical organization is a slightly different implementation from Wikipedia's free floating, linked pages (I'm not sure of the wiki-speak term for this). However, as you point out, they'll let you link to other articles within the Wiki+/CEDI pages, which is exactly how Wikipedia is "organized" (if it could be called that). The WYSIWYG editor is a nice touch, and something the Wikimedia foundation community has been looking to adopt for years; their own implementation was buggy and lacking features, the last I'd heard.

Seriously, it sounds like there is very little functional difference (read: WYSIWYG editor), whether the backing technology is completely different or not.