One of the projects I’ve been so busy with this past few weeks, if not months is the redesign and re-development of the Lasallian Institute For the Environment’s (LIFE) website. My first encounter with LIFE was when I joined a tree-planting activity on Mts Palay-palay/Mataas na Gulod last year as part of their ambitious and noble One Million Trees Project.
From the name itself, and its flaghsip project, LIFE is a newly created institution of the La Salle Philippines Provincialate that aims to fulfill the De La Salle Philippines’ role of being God’s stewards of creation.
The One Million Trees project is an initiative that aims to plant 1 Million trees by the year 2011, which is the De La Salle Philippines’ centennial anniversary in the country.
A tall order
Sir Wowie, a good friend of my college mentor, Sir Yuri knew that I was quite handy with the internet and websites and thought I could be of help in the re-design of their former website, which back then was a relic from the realms of Web 1.0, it was all html, no CSS and had *shudders* tables. It was nicely designed though so kudos to Dan who built the site and later on my would be partner in this new project.
So I was introduced to Dan and Tito Ben, LIFE’s founder and Executive Director who immediately put me in the project. They told me that they wanted the site to be dynamic, with regularly updated news, stories, other rich content like videos and audio clips. They also wanted the site to feature and highlight the projects and initiatives by LIFE in an interactive manner. They wanted readers to comment on their stories, news, announcements, etc. They wanted a shoutbox so that visitors could leave a message on the fly, they wanted a photo gallery, a downloads section, summarizing what they need and envisioned for the site, they simply needed a CMS or a content-management system.
There are dozens of CMS platforms out there, like Drupal, PHP-Nuke, Joomla and yes WordPress. I came clean and honest with them that my programming skills are nothing to be so proud of as I am not formally trained in web programming, let alone creating and managing databases and creating a custom CMS from scratch.
They kindly considered that fact but still held on to me for advice and eventually, actual work on the site.
The first thing I did before taking on the project was assesing their current host’s specs and capabilities. I forgot who their webhost was, but it was something I was not comfortable working with. It was a Plesk-powered, Windows-run webhost account that 1) I wasn’t so familiar with, 2) I do not personally prefer to work on.
This bias comes from my limited experience of dabbling with WordPress, PHP-Nuke, Drupal, Fantastico, CPanel and FTP clients this past 4 years or so of being a netizen and blogger. Aside from blogging, I took on a small hobby of fiddling with the online apps and whatchamacallits becoming a newbie webmaster only tru experienec, trial-and-error and experiments.
My recommendation to them was to switch from a Windows-based webhosting account to Linux-based one. It’s a lot cheaper and allows for a certain degree of flexibility and robustness. Gladly, they agreed and decided to put me in complete control of the project.
I took on the project as a big opportunity to learn new things, work with new people much more knowledgable than me and to help out LIFE, because hey, I’m now a Lasallian, with a touch of blue of course. *ehem*
Drupal or WordPress?
I initially decided on using Drupal and customizing or extending it to suit LIFE’s needs which weren’t that complex. So the past 4 months or so, I spent whatever spare time I had dabbling and learning the inner workings of Drupal. It wasn’t such a simple and easy task, I even made little to no progress alone. Aside from Drupal’s steep learning curve for newbies like me, blogging on WordPress ate all of my time and my learning curve. Since I’ve been using it since, I’ve become so acustomed and comfortable with WP, I believe I have the basic know-how in making it work to meet LIFE’s online needs.
So that custom Drupal-based prototype for LIFE was shelved and I downloaded a fresh kit of WordPress and started tweaking PHP files once more. I figured that with what LIFE has stated for their needs, a blog would be best for them at this time. A more promising assurance is the emergence of a movement that is now pushing WordPress as a full-pledged CMS and not just a blogging plaform. More on this in a later post.
LIFE 2.0 (beta)
So the result is the new LIFE site that could be seen today, which was soft-launched last August 20, 2007. It uses a tweaked Mandigo theme plus a staple of WP plugins that add more functionality to WordPress.
The custom header will be changed to a more elegant design by the month’s end. The photo gallery and downloads section will follow suit. It’s basically a work in progress but it’s ready to serve LIFE’s needs of making its presence felt in the world wide web and pushing for its mission of being God’s stewards of creation.
It even has firstname.lastname@example.org mailbox system powered by Gmail for your domain, which is a component of Google Apps suite. I plan on installing ActiveCollab on its back end so that LIFE core members and staff could carry out their work, planning and other collaborative projects online.
Lastly, an online discussion board would be setup once the LIFE community gets active online. Lots more are instore for the future, things will come as LIFE itself grows into a solid and well-known Lasallian institution for the environment and human development.