• New Site - Explanation and Overview - Part I

    There's so much in the new site and software and some of this is a little confusting. So first a basic overview of what is what on the site and then some touching on more minor features that are completly new. I'm not going to get a lot into the Technology of the site but I will touch on it.

    Getting Around - the NavBar
    The static menu at the top of the site is gone. It is replaced by a set of bars collectively called the NavBar. From every page on the site you can get straight to the top items that account for 95%+ of the pages you look at. Below that is a more dynamic menu bar that varies with where you are at. In many areas there are "breadcrumbs" - a set of links showing how you got to where you are, making it easy to get back. The goal is that you can get to what you want in a click or two 99% of the time. Integral to the NavBar is the Search box an the link to Advanced Search. Play around with the search - it's quite a bit improved and more controllable than the old site.

    What's New
    A central button in the center of the nav bar. It will take you direct to new posts since your last visit and from there via the extra menu items recent content in each of the major areas.

    vBulletin has primarily been a forum package (good history at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vbulletin). With the 4.0 release vBulletin looked to add a CMS - or Content Management System (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_management_system for painful detail). In a nutshell a CMS is a system that lets you publish "content" (articles, documents, photos, videos) with some degree of control (schedule, permission, etc). Ideally it has a user interface that lets a non-computer person manage that content so that the focus can be on the content and not the container.

    In the new site the CMS is the part of the site you see when you come into www.beechaeroclub.org or click the Home button in the Navbar. The old site had a number of plugins that modified the underlying code, extended it, and so forth to provide all the features. The old site had approximately 20 plugins active in the old site. Also most of the pages you saw from the menu were either custom plugins and/or a hand edited custom HTML/PHP page. The new site was created with the vBulletin software and just 4 additional packages - the downloads, the photo gallery, the classifieds and the ChatBox.

    On the new site currently not a single page is custom programmed or even edited. This entire site was created using the abilities of the software and the user interface it provides for editing content. In a very few places we edited "templates" - building blocks of pages to get the look and feel and in a few more places we edited style parameters for things like text color and such.

    So the CMS is where you'll find the "editorial" and "static" content of the site - articles, reviews, club information, etc. Adding a new page is simply a matter of adding an article and editing the content. We can control permissions - some articles like club benefits - we want open to the public - other content like technical information are closed to just members.

    But the CMS is meant to be more interactive - articles each have their own comment thread - and we can tag articles with categories like "engine" and "sierra" to add more information about the article than just the tree of sections.

    The forums are the most familar - they are where we play for most of our site visits. By far the bulk of the content and activity in the club is postings in the forums. We are at over 35,000 posts and counting. I won't actually spend a lot of time here - the structure and idea is the closest to the old site. What is new is there are a lot more features for connecting with your fellow members. Things like who's online, avatar pictures, links directly to a profile page, and such make it easier to see who else is "in the house" even if they are sitting a few thousand miles and a half dozen timezones away.

    For when you are away from the site we have added support for RSS feeds - that is a standard way to subscribe to a sequence of items from something like a forum. You can subscribe to RSS feeds with iPhone apps, Outlook, Blackberry and other common tools.

    The most disconcerting thing is that the forum display is a bit more dynamic than the old site - but the information you really care about - mainly recent posts and new topics - are more immediately visible.

    Downloads and Classifieds
    These are areas that had a lot of content and mattered a lot to the users but were virtually hidden in the old site navigation. The new downloads area supports adding preview pictures for documents and has it's own dedicated search box. The new classifieds are also richer with support to track item counts if you want and better presentation of the images including mini-thumbnails in the listings. The auction feature is not a primary thing we feel - in fact right now it's on because the software doesn't have a knob to disable it.

    Photo Gallery
    The photo gallery was the hardest piece of software to find but we think we did well. The new software has all the abilities of the old gallery as well as a quite a few more. There is a new flash based uploader for easier upload of multiple files (just select multiple files in the upload dialog and off it will go). If you select a ZIP file it will upload the ZIP file and unpack it to grab the photos. There's basic editing - rotation and image flipping - as well as an easy replacement. Lastly the new software will maintain EXIF tags - so details like the time of the picture and even the GPS location taken are preserved. There's also a specifc search function restricted to the gallery - to allow finding that pic by searching just the photo comments and titles (as well as any EXIF data if available).

    Event Calendar and ChatBox
    Both of these are works in progress. The event calendar is pretty similar to the old calendar. It has less structure to it's data and more flexibility around scheduling. The chat box is very nice. It is a true Ajax chatbox for dynamic updating without a round trip to the server and a new page. The work in progres part is it is going to take some work to integrate it into the portions of the site we want it.

    This has already gotten a bit long so we'll leave the rest for a part II.
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