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Author Topic: IMPORTANT: General Plans For The Cauldron 4.0 (Comments Wanted)  (Read 28497 times)
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« Topic Start: May 05, 2011, 05:51:35 pm »

====
==== WHERE WE ARE
====

The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum celebrated its 13th Anniversary on December 13, 2010. We are now in our 14th year of operation.

We had some big plans for 2010. Unfortunately, most of them did not work out:

1) A redesign of The Cauldron's web site: Despite two attempts, that just did not happen. Both attempts failed because there is just too much material on our current web site for one person (me) to ever convert to any new format. There are literally thousands of pages on our web site that each would have to be redesigned by hand.

2) Move to SMF 2.0. We also hoped to move this forum to the new SMF 2.0 by the end of 2010. This did not happen because a final version of SMF 2.0 still has not been released. We have given up on it. They've been working on it for over 4 years now and even when it is released it will still have many of the problems with "modification rot" that the current incarnation of SMF has. Most of the mod community that added much of the functionality to SMF that we use has given up on SMF as well.

3) Better Social Networking: We planned to continue to improve TCN, our social network. It was hosted on Ning and members liked it. Then Ning went from free to pay ($20+/month). We tried running our own social network using the open source Elgg software. It has no real anti-spam features and soon starting getting 50 to 100 spammers registering every day. I had to turn off registration and manually register people. They pretty much killed interest in TCN. Elgg doesn't like our recent server software update much and I can't figure out how to fix it. I'm sorry to report that "It's dead, Jim". I don't expect it to come back to life.

4) Do more with CauldronMUX. We didn't do much. Flashchat took over our chats. Now, of course, Flashchat died in the server upgrade and people are using CauldronMUX again. I've found a nice flash-based web client for it -- which is much better than the old Java client -- and figured out a way to display the names of people in chat on the forum. We succeeded with this one, but only in the last month.

5) Get Member-Produced Content on the Web: This was tied in with the site redesign. We intended to make at least some parts of our site work like a CMS so qualified members could add their articles, fiction, poetry, etc. directly to the website without having to filter it through one overworked webmaster. The site redesign failed. Wikis were set up for some SIGs but were for the most part not used. Wiki-speak is not strong here. The current incarnation of the Wiki software died in the server update. It is fixable, but I haven't bothered do to lack of use. We hoped to get member-written book reviews this way too.

6) The Newsletter: We talked about possibly having to shut it down because of lack of material to publish. We haven't officially done so, but we only produced 2 or 3 issues laast year. Sad

We did not do too well. Unfortunately, most of the issues that needed to be addressed in 2010 still need to be addressed. Hopefully, however, we have learned something from our failures in 2010.  Here are the....

====
==== PLANS FOR "THE CAULDRON 4.0"
====

The Cauldron 1.0 was when we were using DelphiForums to host the TC message board (December 1997 - April 2004). The Cauldron 2.0 was when we moved off of DelphiForums and used Beehive software for The Cauldron's message board (April 2004 - March 2007). The Cauldron 3.0 is where we are now, using SMF 1.1 for our message board (March 2007 - now, May 2011 as of this post). The Cauldron 4.0 is our next stage. Your opinions on these TC 4.0 ideas are welcome -- in fact, strongly encouraged and invited.

TC 4.0 Web Site: Current plans are to leave the vast majority of the material we have on the www.ecauldron.net web site exactly as it is. It will be "legacy material" that we will keep available because it is useful information and well indexed by Google and other search engines. We will not try to update the look and outdated HTML of the pages on this legacy site. We tried that and found it to be far too much work.  Instead we will create a new, modern site for new material on ecauldron.com. (Currently, www.ecauldron.com just sends people to www.ecauldron.net). This new site will be site up as a CMS (probably Drupal, but might be Joomla or Wordpress). This will allow me to give accounts to people who can create material directly on the new site using a WYSIWYG editor -- without needing to know HTML or even BBCode. SIGs will have their own areas of the web site where they can create web pages on their SIG. These areas may be set up with Wordpress even if the main part of the site is not as more people are comfortable with using Wordpress than with any other CMS.

TC 4.0 Message Board: As I mentioned before, we have given up on SMF. Even if it should finally come out, SMF 2.0 will simply not meet our needs -- especially as the SMF modding community has really shrunk. We have looked at other free and open source message boards and have not found any that both meet our needs and look likely to continue doing so. Unfortunately, after 13 years, your hosts think we have outgrown free message board software. We are now looking at commercial message board software, probably either Vbulletin or Invision Power Board (with Vbulletin having a slight edge at the moment as it has more third party support and isn't moving away from a traditional message board). Moving to commercial software will require a fund drive, unfortunately. We'll need to raise at least $200 to do so and perhaps more if we want additional features (such as an app for accessing the board from a smartphone). We'll also need to decide if we want to try to import all the messages from this board to the new board or leave them in place here but just close the board to posting as we have done in the past. Both Vbulletin and IPB are able to import messages from SMF -- unlike our previous moves from non-standard boards where importing the message base wasn't even an option.

CauldronMUX: will remain our main chat area. We will update the MUX software and try to make the starting areas on the MUX much more like a regular chat room. This may involve restarting the MUX completely from scratch. This will be decided by Darkhawk and those who use the MUX regularly. The Hosts aren't chat people so we'll pretty much go with whatever they want. php-based chat rooms (like the old flashchat) are not an option. They simply use too much in the way of server resources -- resources we will now need to run the CMS web site and a commercial message board.

Newsletter: We'd like to revive the newsletter in some form as TC was much more active when it was published regularly.  However, it is a pain to produce when we have to constantly beg people to write articles for it. Reviving it may simply not be possible.

Social Network: A number of our members really like our attempts at a TC members only social network. Unfortunately, probably not to the tune of $240+ a year to run one on Ning (which is the only place that really worked for us). I am continuing to look for usable open source (or even commercial) social network software that is fairly spammer-proof, doesn't tax the server too much, and isn't aimed at running a dating site. I'm not having much luck so far.

====
==== COMMENTS WANTED
====

As you can see, these plans are not yet fixed in stone, but we are to the point where final decisions need to be made and work started. Your input is strongly requested.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2011, 08:15:29 am by RandallS, Reason: Subject Changed » Logged

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« Reply #1: May 05, 2011, 06:58:45 pm »


I'm not sure I understood what you want to do with the 4.0 version of the website. You want to make it like a giant blog?
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« Reply #2: May 05, 2011, 07:01:32 pm »


I support you guys 100%, and whatever you guys need to do to keep this place running as well as it has for so long, do it.

I wish I had some useful insights to offer besides that, but that would take time...the one commodity I don't have at all this time of year.
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« Reply #3: May 05, 2011, 07:17:30 pm »


TC 4.0 Message Board: As I mentioned before, we have given up on SMF. Even if it should finally come out, SMF 2.0 will simply not meet our needs -- especially as the SMF modding community has really shrunk. We have looked at other free and open source message boards and have not found any that both meet our needs and look likely to continue doing so. Unfortunately, after 13 years, your hosts think we have outgrown free message board software. We are now looking at commercial message board software, probably either Vbulletin or Invision Power Board (with Vbulletin having a slight edge at the moment as it has more third party support and isn't moving away from a traditional message board). Moving to commercial software will require a fund drive, unfortunately. We'll need to raise at least $200 to do so and perhaps more if we want additional features (such as an app for accessing the board from a smartphone). We'll also need to decide if we want to try to import all the messages from this board to the new board or leave them in place here but just close the board to posting as we have done in the past. Both Vbulletin and IPB are able to import messages from SMF -- unlike our previous moves from non-standard boards where importing the message base wasn't even an option.


Is this a one time charge or yearly?  Is there a chart for the bells and whistles?

Quote
Newsletter: We'd like to revive the newsletter in some form as TC was much more active when it was published regularly.  However, it is a pain to produce when we have to constantly beg people to write articles for it. Reviving it may simply not be possible.

How large does it need to be? What is the basic format?  Is it posted on the site?

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« Reply #4: May 05, 2011, 07:18:00 pm »

I'm not sure I understood what you want to do with the 4.0 version of the website. You want to make it like a giant blog?

No, Wordpress (if we go with it as the backend) can be used for more than blogs any more. I am thinking about it because more people are familiar with the software, so it might increase the chances of actually getting members to write and post articles and such.

Here is what i am trying to get away from. If someone submits an article or a book review now, here is what I have to do to get in on the web site:

1) Manually convert the article to handcoded HTML.  

2) Copy the page template on my hard drive to a new file. Insert the HTMLized article.

3) Manually create the breadcumbs and such on the page to match the location it will be placed at on the web site.

4) Manually instead a link to the new page in all the menues and index pages needed.

5) Upload all these pages to the web site.

6) Manually test everything (menu links, index links, the new page, etc).

With a CMS, authors or editors could type the article in (or just paste it in some cases) to an online editor. Tell the editor where to place the page in the site. Save it and view it. Wordpress/Drupal/other CMS software handles the conversion to HTML, changing menus and index pages, etc. It's much less work -- and work that can be done by people other than me.
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« Reply #5: May 05, 2011, 07:39:59 pm »


It all sounds good to me.
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« Reply #6: May 05, 2011, 08:15:57 pm »

I support you guys 100%, and whatever you guys need to do to keep this place running as well as it has for so long, do it.

This.  Whatever it takes to keep the site going without making the hosts crazy.
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« Reply #7: May 05, 2011, 08:28:09 pm »

TC 4.0 Web Site:

I think everything here sounds awesome. If you're taking votes, I adore WordPress, but I've also never heard of the other options, so.

TC 4.0 Message Board:

Personally, my vote would be to archive the existing board, if for no other reason than importing is just another thing to mess with. While I don't know vB quite as well as I know IPB, I've used them both and they're both great options. As for the money- I know I speak for many of us when I say that I'm always willing to help keep my home running. Smiley

CauldronMUX:

As someone who had never used MUX before the flashchat crashed, I can say I really like it! And it's not nearly as intimidating as it seems.

Newsletter:

Would it be possible to re-imagine the Newsletter as a Blog? Collect articles as usual, and then post one a week or something? WordPress blogs automatically set up an RSS feed, which makes it just as easy to subscribe to.

Social Network:

I for one have really enjoyed the social networking, and I hope to make better use of it if we're able to get another version working.
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« Reply #8: May 05, 2011, 08:35:01 pm »

This.  Whatever it takes to keep the site going without making the hosts crazy.

Ditto.

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« Reply #9: May 05, 2011, 08:42:53 pm »

Is this a one time charge or yearly?  Is there a chart for the bells and whistles?

For Vbulletin (board only): $195 for the 4.x edition. You'd pay again for 5.x whenever it comes out. Lots of mods and themes, many free. Some nice ones cost, generally a one time fee.

For IPB (board only): $150 to start, $25 every six months (which you in theory don't have to pay, but you lose access to support and the ability to download mods if you don't pay).  There are fewer mods and many of them are pay (some even with renewal fees to keep getting updates).

Vbulletin is a bit harder on the server than IPB, but probably not enough to cause us to have to upgrade servers unless our usage went up quite a bit. Vbulletin has more options and is more of a traditional board -- its also the most common board in use by major message boards.  IPB puts less load on the server, it updated more often (too often according to some), but is becoming less of a traditional board (and more "Facebooky") -- some like this a lot, others do not.

Quote
How large does it need to be? What is the basic format?  Is it posted on the site?

It is sent via email AND posted to the site. You can see all the issues here: http://www.ecauldron.net/cnc/archiveindex.php  -- except for the one or two we did last year.
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« Reply #10: May 05, 2011, 08:46:49 pm »

Personally, my vote would be to archive the existing board, if for no other reason than importing is just another thing to mess with.

Would it be possible to re-imagine the Newsletter as a Blog? Collect articles as usual, and then post one a week or something? WordPress blogs automatically set up an RSS feed, which makes it just as easy to subscribe to.

I'll second these two.  As for the others, I was merely a lowly mod at the old forum.  We lowly mods didn't handle the tech stuff.  If techy, you were offered an admin slot early on.

Probably because most of the admins weren't techy.
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« Reply #11: May 05, 2011, 08:51:58 pm »

I think everything here sounds awesome. If you're taking votes, I adore WordPress, but I've also never heard of the other options, so.

Noted. Smiley

Quote
Personally, my vote would be to archive the existing board, if for no other reason than importing is just another thing to mess with. While I don't know vB quite as well as I know IPB, I've used them both and they're both great options. As for the money- I know I speak for many of us when I say that I'm always willing to help keep my home running. Smiley

The advantage to importing is only one set of board software to run on the server and all the messages stay available so people can revive year old threads. Disadvantages are it is something of a pain to do (but it usually works from what I've read) and any links out on the web go dead.

Quote
Would it be possible to re-imagine the Newsletter as a Blog? Collect articles as usual, and then post one a week or something? WordPress blogs automatically set up an RSS feed, which makes it just as easy to subscribe to.

I hadn't thought of that, but yes that could easily be done. Getting articles out of people would still be the hard part.

Quote
I for one have really enjoyed the social networking, and I hope to make better use of it if we're able to get another version working.

No promises, but we will try.
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« Reply #12: May 05, 2011, 08:59:28 pm »

In general, I vote for options that make it easier to keep things going!

We are now looking at commercial message board software, probably either Vbulletin or Invision Power Board (with Vbulletin having a slight edge at the moment as it has more third party support and isn't moving away from a traditional message board).

I'm a bit more comfortable with VBulletin (and I think that, in general, a message-board format is a better fit for the conversations we've had here, so IPB's shifts make me a tad nervous.)

I was a little nervous about the archive-and-start-fresh thing with previous moves, but I've discovered I really sort of like it: it lets new conversations grow in a different way that I think makes coming back to the topics that come up all the time continue to feel a bit more fresh and new. (While still making it possible to go look at the older material if there's really a strong desire.)

I'm definitely willing to contribute something for software costs.

And I continue to be tentatively open to doing something around helping organize content, but I need the job-finding situation to sort itself out first to know how much time I have (and how much time and energy probably moving and settling into a new job would take. (I'm extremely comfortable with WordPress and a bunch of their addons as well as customising themes, and I've played around a little with Joomla and Drupal)

One additional reason to consider WordPress is that it's starting to show up in a number of social-network-type job descriptions, so giving people a chance to explore and contribute here, but gain skills that might transfer into other parts of their life is a nice little bonus (and it's pretty easy to get someone up to speed with it quickly: if you can use various features like styles and formatting on a word processing program, you can probably learn the editing tools for WordPress in a matter of minutes, though learning the admin tools takes a bit longer.)

On a newsletter: one thing to think about is how much demand for one there is - these days, with RSS readers, I agree with the suggestion that a blog might be a better solution. One thing I've been doing on my professional blog is a link roundup every Friday, and I could see something like that working well for The Cauldron (a sentence or two about particularly interesting/active threads, etc.)
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« Reply #13: May 05, 2011, 09:01:29 pm »

Newsletter: We'd like to revive the newsletter in some form as TC was much more active when it was published regularly.  However, it is a pain to produce when we have to constantly beg people to write articles for it. Reviving it may simply not be possible.

I have some experience publishing newsletters and wouldn't mind getting involved in this in a editorial capacity, if you're looking for someone to help out and/or delegate work to. I think another potential way to go with this might be to recruit a staff of contributing writers with regular columns/features, folks who can commit to submitting something for every issue, as well as opening it up to submissions from the TC community. I didn't even know there was a TC newsletter, so I'm not sure what kinds of features it had before, but utilizing the amount of activity that already goes on here on the forum might be another way to bulk it up - highlighting particularly good threads and/or comments, for instance, or asking SIG groups to contribute to a "news from the TC community" feature with blurbs about their recent activities and discussions...? Just a few ideas that popped into my head. Don't know how doable it would be.

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« Reply #14: May 05, 2011, 09:56:00 pm »

Newsletter: We'd like to revive the newsletter in some form as TC was much more active when it was published regularly.  However, it is a pain to produce when we have to constantly beg people to write articles for it. Reviving it may simply not be possible.

Have you considered making some aspects of the newsletter more a report of what is currently going on at TC instead of a formal article on some topic?  For example, SIG leaders might create a short summary of important activities/discussions currently going on in the SIGs.  I think this would work especially for the newsletter as blog idea.  Let me know if this doesn't make sense and I will try to clarify.
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