Millions of man hours
This latest revamp has been on my mind since before the last major revamp which would have August 2010. Back then and even before then, we wanted to move the site to a more social platform, but also didn’t want to change the entire purpose of the site in the first place which was to give students a voice and let them share their leaving cert experience. So we stuck with wordpress and created a subdomain to house student blogs. The main domain housed our more official news / exam papers / info stuff.
The problem with that though was that there was a lot of admin work involved. We manually approved users & set them up with accounts, then we manually reviewed posts before we published them. Only when we trusted users would we give them the freedom to post ‘live’. Getting in to finer detail, we also created a category for each user & restricted their backend access so that they could only view & post stuff to that category.
Pretty complex and definitely not what wordpress was built to do, but it worked for us. The only problem was we couldn’t automate the process of signing up / creating a category / restricting access to that category… so for the past year or so i’ve been waiting to make this revamp.
Of course last year i was busy with my final year in college so i just couldn’t manufacture the time needed to plan & implement radical change. Over the summer i’d intended to knuckle down but ended up working on something else which also starved me of ‘free’ time.
Only over the past 7 days or so have i been able to clear my head and focus on what needed to be done, or what would make life easier / better for both students and us (admins). So over the past 7 days i’ve managed to plan, implement, test & demo this revamp in amongst working on other stuff during the day. It’s probably taken about 3 days in total (days meaning 24 hours).
So the time involved isn’t huge but the effort & focus is. There’s no way i could have made these changes over the Easter holidays or even during the summer, i just wouldn’t have been prepared mentally and what has taken me just a few days to do now would probably have taken me several weeks at another time. It’d be the same work and thought process, just at a much slower pace. I’ve said before i like to work in ‘bursts’ and this has been a good example. I have no problem working round the clock if my mind is focused.
We’ve gone from using wordpress multisite to using wordpress buddypress. Multisite was a sort of hacked solution for us last year whereas Buddypress is a dedicated social platform within a platform, so it’s more inline with our needs & our users needs. I always have a debate with myself over whether we should switch away from wordpress to a dedicated social platform but blogging is what the site has been built upon and it’s something i know inside out so usually i’ll come to my senses and tell myself ‘stick with wordpress’. That’s what we’ve done, again, and i think we’ve done a good job.
Students can now sign up through Facebook in two clicks and start blogging instantly. Once they submit posts, we get alerted and manually approve them. No messing about with creating categories and manually assigning users to categories. It’s a better, quicker, smoother process for all involved.
We’ve also set up a user driven links directory, a mini-digg if you will. Here users can add links to relevant leaving cert websites and the community can like or dislike them, so they effectively help to create a directory of leaving cert websites and have the chance to rank & comment on them. Previously, we just had a regular page of links which was manually updated by us admins.
Members also get ‘points’ based on their activity on the site. In time, we hope to introduce rewards and perhaps prizes based on this points set up. It acts as a potential currency.
Other than that, we’re not really doing anything out of the ordinary with buddypress. Members can add each other as friends, comment on each other’s profiles etc… ‘default’ buddypress functionality. However, anyone who’s aware of buddypress will know what it can do and if they check out theleavingcert.com they might be surprised to see we’ve disabled most of what it can do. Why? Because personally i don’t think buddypress is well designed. It’s confusing for users and there’s too many options and menus. The features are ‘right’ but the UI and terminology kills their value. I’ve no doubt they’ll improve that though as time goes on. Version 1.5 will be out any day now…
Now that the changes have gone live, i start to keep an eye on bugs, potential bugs and stats. Merging two sites in to one and erasing /editing dozens of posts, tags & categories is a search engine optimisation gamble. 90% of our traffic comes from google so i’m obviously hoping it’s a gamble that pays off. We’ll probably get hammered short term but longer term, once Google robots suss us out again, i think they’ll be pleased. Everything we’ve done makes sense from a human perspective.
It’s always a nervy time any time you make big changes… but so far, so good… it all appears to have gone smoothly. Although i can’t quite rest yet (there’s always little bugs that need fixing), it feels good to have one big ‘to-do’ off my to-do list. Revamp theleavingcert.com – done.