Announcing evolt.org 3.0!
Hello! Let me be the first to welcome you to evolt.org 3.0! We present an all-new site, whose development combined the best of evolution, revolution and not a few sparks of voltage — as you'd expect from people who are passionately commmitted to what they do.
For the last 6 years, this site has lived on a custom built CMS, migrating from MS Access and Windows NT, to Oracle and Linux to MSSQL and Windows 2000 along the way. The previous evolution was launched in December 2000 (yes, really), and has served evolt.org extremely well.
However, over the last couple of years, we've increasingly wanted a few things that our previous system couldn't do without much more developer time than we had available, particularly:
- Support for Internationalisation (i18n) and Localisation (l10n)
- A new front end, based on CSS layout
and it occurred to us that we'd be better off standing on the shoulders of non-evolters in producing new functionality, so we didn't always have to code everything ourselves from scratch. We also felt a desire to use free tools that were within the reach of every evolter, rather than the (no less capable) proprietory and pricey software we'd previously used.
The solution was obvious: move from our home-grown CMS to a packaged Open Source one, and that's exactly what we've done — this site now runs on Drupal. Ah, but that's not all, oh no.
Our first appearance on the Web - a static three page holding site. Its home page featured a JWZ quote:
..great things are accomplished by small groups of people who are driven, who have unity of purpose
- All New, Theme-based Design
We've been wanting to update the design for a couple of years now, but with a developer community of one very busy member for the old site, it wasn't going to happen. With our new site, the design is much better separated from the code code, so templates are much more easily edited by evolters without PHP skills. And while the new design isn't as cutting edge now as it was in 2003, a theme-based CMS makes producing and implementing new designs a much faster process, and enables a larger number of our members to take part.
- All CSS Layout
When we produced evolt.org 2.0, we debated long and hard whether there was enough browser support for CSS layouts, eventually deciding against it. This time, it was a no-brainer, even if it meant working with Internet Explorer's distinctive interpretation of W3 standards (roll on IE7, I say). So we've banished tables and have finally moved into line with the way our members have been building sites for some years.
- Third Party, Open Source CMS
When we first launched evolt.org, CMSs cost US$100k and more, so we took the revolutionary step of building our own (and later Open Sourcing it). Now of course, there are lots, many with large developer communities whose knowledge, expertise and code we can make use of without having to do all the work ourselves. Now we're running on Drupal, we benefit from security updates, fixes and new functionality, leaving us to concentrate on evolt-specific bits. Finding time to work on the evolt site is often hard for our all-volunteer workforce, so this is obviously tremendously helpful, and as evolt.org is all about exchanging skills and experiences with our fellow web developers, this very much feels right, as well as useful.
- Our Own Hosting
For as long as evolt.org has existed, we've relied on the extreme kindness of evolt members and often their employers to host the site. This has inevitably led to the risk of single points of failure - if that evolter went under a bus, or had Real Life(tm) intervene, we might lose our hosting and potentially our entire site. Now, evolt.org is paying for a (Debian-based) server at the excellent ServerMatrix, with all the commercial SLAs you'd look for in a hosting deal, and access is in the hands of our sysadmin group, rather than a single individual. While this does mean we're reliant on donations, we do have enough in the bank that we're not worried. That said, go and buy a T-shirt already!
Along the way, we've put a few things in place that'll make our future development much more robust:
- Test Server
Once upon a time, we used to have a separate instance of the site we could use to test changes before they went live. Then when we changed hosting, we lost that. And now, we have it again, living at test.evolt.org.
- Issue Tracker
We now have a repository for bug reports and feature requests, rather than relying on email to the developers being noticed and remembered.
- Version Control of Code and Content
All the code that we write for the site is now under version control, letting us track edits, and back them out if necessary. Additionally, all our articles now have version control, to give us the magic
Unsubmitfunctionality for those
This site was made possible through the hard work of:
- Isaac Forman, whose original design we pushed, pulled and twisted into Drupal-shape;
- John Handelaar and William Anderson, whose Proof of Concept convinced us that Drupal would work for us, and who did large amounts of under-appreciated data-manipulation;
- Stephanie Troeth, who cut Isaac's mockups into correct HTML and CSS templates;
- Garrett Coakley, who did more than anyone to work around IE's CSS idiosyncracies;
- Tara Cleveland and Elfur Logadóttir, who edited Drupal templates and CSS to bring us closer to Isaac's original vision, even on pages where we didn't have specific mockups to follow. They also fixed bugs and provided much needed butt-prodding when we needed it;
- Mike King, who edited templates, installed Drupal modules and set essential Drupal settings;
- Adrian Simmons, our resident Drupal expert, who provided much needed advice on all things Drupalesque and set up the issues tracker;
- Károly Négyesi from Drupal.org, who provided invaluable assistance in his capacity as one of the developers of Drupal itself;
- Matt Warden, who suggested the fix to ensure that our multiple historic URL schemas would still work and not break incoming links and Dean Mah who made it work;
- Jeff Howden, Ron Luther, Morgan Kelsey and all the members of theforum for testing, feature requests, supporting what we were doing and constantly pushing it to be better;
- The partners, families and friends of the above, who've had to put up with us.
Full credit also goes to the heroes who worked on our old site for all the hours they put in over the years, including:
- Walker Fenton, whose original content application was the basis for everything else that followed
- Dan Cody
- Rudy Limeback
- Matt Warden
- Adrian Roselli
- David McCreath
- Michele Foster
and in particular, Jeff Howden who has largely borne the development effort alone recently and hosted the site for the last 2 years.
What Happens Now?
We've worked hard to make sure there are no absolute killer bugs left. However, as in any project this size, there are some niggly problems that we've decided to postpone fixing until post-launch in the interests of actually taking the great leap forward. We also expect there'll be things that we've not yet found as we haven't been using the site as our day-to-day evolting experience.
If you find anything that's not as it should (or could) be, we'd be very grateful if you could add bug reports and feature requests to our shiny issues tracker. Particularly, we'd like to know about problems with any articles or comments you've written and your user page.
What Happens Next?
With our larger developer community, we'll be fixing the outstanding bugs and any new ones. With Drupal's well documented API and an extensive 3rd party developer community, we'll be able to improve the site's usability and add new features. We very much hope to be able to feed our own improvements and suggestions back into Drupal, to benefit the wider community.
Our theme-based, CSS-built front end also opens the door for new designs based on any one of several Theme and Template Engines known, loved and used by many web developers.
How You Can Help
As well as reporting any outstanding bugs, we'd very much welcome anyone with Drupal, PHP, HTML or CSS skills to join our development team, especially if there's something you think the site could or should be doing and isn't. By far the fastest way to make it happen is to volunteer to do it yourself.