posted on June 24, 2008 11:40
When I first launched CLUAS.com in 1999 I used Microsoft’s FrontPage to publish and maintain content on the site. While FrontPage was, er, cutting-edge back then it today is a massively out-dated technology (indeed Microsoft announced several years ago that they are retiring FrontPage and will no longer support it from next year on). So in 2005 I started looking around for alternatives to FrontPage out of necessity.
I was acutely conscious that whatever choice I'd make would be vital for the site's future and so it took me over a year of pure procrastination to come to a decision on what technology I would deploy on CLUAS. In the end I went for an open source Content Management System called DotNetNuke ("DNN") which, after months of testing, I finally installed on CLUAS in November 2006.
DNN is actually a peculiar beast - an "open source software" project built on top of proprietary Microsoft technologies, a company considered by many to be the antithesis of Open Source Software. DNN is in fact today the biggest open source project today based on Microsoft technologies, and its active community strives to continually advance and improve DNN and oversee a release of a new improved version of the core technology every 3 months or so.
Another reason I selected DotNetNuke was that it has an extensive number of 'pluggable' add-ons (called 'modules') available that introduce new features to the core DotNetNuke platform, so users are not limited to the ‘core’ functionality. Some of these 'modules' are free and some you have to pay for (such as 'Active Forums' which drives the CLUAS Discussion Boards). However one thing I never appreciated when I initially chose DotNetNuke was the dependency CLUAS would come to have on one of the freely available modules – the Blog Module. This module allows for basic blogging functionality and we now use it on CLUAS for publishing all album and gig reviews, in addition to maintaining all the CLUAS blogs. In a nutshell a huge proportion of new content is today added to CLUAS via this module. The problem is that the blog module lacks much of the functionality and, let's call it, "visual panache" that comes with leading blog platforms such as Wordpress, Blogspot and others. The DNN blog module more or less 'does the job', and often not efficeintly or prettily
When I came across these limitations in the blog module I would, instead of grinding my teeth, submit an enhancement request to the DNN Blog Module team via the ‘Enhancement submission’ procedure they have put in place. To my pleasant surprise some of my enhancement requests got integrated into subsequent releases. I also became a regular on the official Blog Module forums and struck up some off-forum contact with other heavy users of the Blog module, including members of the team that are developing new versions of the module. Cutting to the chase , all of this resulting in the blog module's Team Lead Antonio Chagoury offering me a slot on the official blog module team about 2 months ago (as a QA tester and not as a coder, thankfully, considering I am not capable of writing a line of code if my life depended on it).
The last month has seen a flurry of activity behind the scene as the team - which also includes the very excellent Don Wortherly, Rip Rowan, Jim Bonnie and Dario Rossa - prepares the next version of the blog module (v3.05). I have been very active in all of this (identifying bugs, scoping out new functionality that would improve the user experience, etc) and I must say that the next release is really shaping up to be an amazing improvement.
While it won't be released for another month or so I plan to 'dog food' it here on CLUAS in the next week and the differences will be visible immediately to CLUAS regulars. While the CLUAS gig, album and blog sections will all look snazzier, some of the most important improvements will be invisible to casual visitors. There are a number of enhancements that will make the publishing of gig & album reviews and - of course - blog entries, so much easier for CLUAS writers. For example, those who publish content to CLUAS today will in the future be able to do so without even opening their web browser as the new version of the blog module supports the possibility for writers to publish content direct from their desktop (using the free 'Windows Live Writer'). The writers have for too long had to put up with a inadequate and cumbersome method of publication, now they will have a smoother route to getting content to CLUAS readers.
There are a rake of other improvements with the next release but I've bored you long enough so I'll put on the brakes, for the moment that is. What I will say (as I allow myself to get carried away about it all) it will be one of the biggest improvements to CLUAS in quite a while. Excuse the cliché but, watch this space.More ...