Tuesday, March 19, 2013

INTRODUCING: The new RikEmmett.com

It's been a while since I've posted - here's why.  This project was an intense labor of love.

I got a call one evening from Rik Emmett (formerly of Triumph, now flying solo) inquiring if I would be willing to assume command of his website and other online resources.

Can I get a "hell, yeah"!

Rik's site is a combination of ecommerce and social networking.  Much of his discography is available for sale via download, in addition to books and videos.  There is also a subscriber-based fan network, performance date listings and other information.

One of the rarely-discussed aspects of webmastering and website development is the fact that taking over someone else's website and upgrading it can be a greater challenge than just creating a new one from scratch.  This site is a case in point.

The original rikemmett.com went live in 1996 and had experienced three different webmasters (all major fans on a slight budget or fan-enthusiasm basis) and the presence I was to upgrade was a patchwork of different kinds of technology that evolved over eight years.  They included static HTML files, an outdated phpBB bulletin board program with many custom modifications in the source code, an obsolete mailing list code, and a very outdated WordPress installation.  The databases had not been reviewed or cleaned of old or spam data since at least 2004.  The subscription aspect of the site did not integrate with the main website, the database had become corrupted, and the program was failing - users were seeing obvious errors and security holes were allowing spammers to infiltrate.  The hosting company site wasn't what I call "user friendly", either.

Ever see one of those "Hoarders" shows?  The first step in this process is the same:  assess what's here, try to figure out what previous programmers had done, then decide (quickly, before everything caves in) what should stay, what needs a good cleaning, what should be tossed on the spot, and what should be built fresh.

The final product needed to look as similar as possible to the one I inherited, but with an updated, widget-enabled WordPress theme.  All of the old graphics were going to be retained.  Brand new highly interactive theme, essentially created from scratch, using recycled images from the previous version.  All of the page content was imported into the new install and new plugins were added to drive such features as an interactive photo gallery (as opposed to a manually-created page with pictures).  Next was an upgraded ecommerce plugin.  The ecommerce solution is unique in that "add to cart" buttons and a shopping cart can be placed anywhere within the site, not just within a designated "store".  Then the mailing list was moved to MailChimp for better maintenance and guarantee of delivery of online newsletters.

The biggest innovations I brought to the table were new membership management and integration of the bulletin board with the website.  Previously, renewal notifications and subscription expiration was highly unreliable.  The current solution displays member status and expiration dates clearly in a user panel and settings for delivering notices are managed via the main dashboard.  Subscription payments are managed through the same shopping cart that manages the digital downloads and other merchandise.

After trying Wordpress-based plugin bbPress numerous times without success, I decided to keep the bulletin board in phpBB.  I discovered a plugin that I highly recommend entitled WP United.  This plugin keeps the bulletin board and main website databases separate, but allows the bulletin board to be integrated into a WordPress page and allows for logins and other bulletin board content to appear where needed.  (see below).  The result is a useful and comfortable home page for logged in subscribers with key content included from the bulletin board alongside other members-only information.

The final result is a comprehensive system where all elements and features can be managed from one dashboard and do not require manual editing of a page's source code or separate control panels for various functions.  That means when I get a phone call or email from Toronto asking for an update, it's fast and easy to do:  the fans get what they're waiting for quickly, my boss is happy, and it costs less money to keep it maintained and updated with frequent, fresh content.

Thanks for reading!  There are more web updates on the way!

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

Nice job on the site! Maybe someday I can afford to pay you to redo mine :)