After 6 years operating with the same design and same old HTML-based Web technology, wickenburg-az.com has undergone some major changes. Let me take a few moments to share the highlights of these changes with you.
New Web Technology
Since its inception in 1999, wickenburg-az.com has used standard HTML-based Web technology to display site contents on the Web. This has had many benefits — accessibility to site search engines, quick display of pages, easy page modification — and only one main drawback: limits on how dynamic content could be collected and displayed.
Early on, we added database support through FileMaker Pro’s excellent Web publishing capabilities. This enabled us to add a guest book, calendar of events that never displays old events, and interactive business directory. But even FileMaker’s technology moved on and the site’s code wasn’t supported by new versions of FileMaker.
To make matters worse, our Web server software was starting to act strange, like it had a life of its own. This was making the site less stable than I liked. And even worse than that, the software we were using was becoming costly to update. It didn’t support some of the new interactive features I wanted to add. It needed to be replaced.
Clearly, technology was telling us it was time for a change.
After some research, I decided that the best Web server software was likely to be the software used by most Web servers throughout the world: Apache. Apache is “open source” software, meaning that it’s free and can be modified by anyone who uses it. (Of course, you need to be a programmer to modify it, so Apache was safe from changes by me.) Apache was one of the components of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger Server. And since my Web server — indeed, my entire office — runs on a Mac, it seemed that Tiger Server was something to look at.
I have been working for some time with blogging software and had tried two solutions: iBlog (which powered my personal Weblog and another site I created to support the books I write) and Blogger (which powers the podcasts I manage for KBSZ, radio personality Miss Holley King, and myself). Both were limited in customization options. Tiger Server came with a modified version of Blojsom, an open source blogging platform.
Tiger Server also came with e-mail server, mailing list server, ftp server, and other features built right in. After a few weeks spent weighing the pros (many) and cons (few) of a switch, I bought the software and began rebuilding the Flying M Productions Web server.
I decided right from the start to rebuild wickenburg-az.com from scratch using blogging software. One of the features of wickenburg-az.com is the display of recent articles on the Home page and archives of all articles by category or topic. (Throughout the years, we’d built up a catalog of more than 300 Web pages of interest to wickenburg-az.com site visitors.) Blogging software automated the display and archiving of articles based on date. Best of all, it would allow the site’s content contributors — like Jim Cook and John Aabbott — to publish articles on their own. I would no longer have to step in and convert e-mail submitted articles to HTML pages. In fact, blogging software would automate much of the site’s maintenance while adding a host of new features, like commenting, pinging, and trackback.
Long story short: Blojsom, as it came with Tiger Server, was a big disappointment. Someone suggested I try WordPress and I did. It took some server tweaking to get it to work on my setup — I had to reinstall MySQL and learn a bit more PHP than I wanted to very quickly. But I succeeded and, in December 2005, I started transferring wickenburg-az.com content to the new site.
I have to take credit for the original wickenburg-az.com design. And anyone with an eye for design can tell you that it had some problems. But it was easy to navigate and it looked pretty much the same on most computers and with most Web browsers. I did the best I could and didn’t get any complaints.
But after 6 years with the same design, it was definitely time for a facelift.
Fortunately, I had some professional help. One of the features of WordPress is its use of themes to define the look and feel of a site. There are hundreds of themes out there and they’re all free and all modifyable. I started with an award-winning theme called Connections by Patricia Müller and dug into the code that makes it tick. When I was nearly finished, it looked like what you see here today.
I say “nearly” because one of the best things about WordPress is that you can tweak a site’s appearance and feature set to your heart’s content my modifying themes, hacking WordPress code, and using WordPress plug-ins. It may seem strange, but I like that. It’s like a mechanic fiddling under the hood of a car to make slight adjustments to the way it works or sounds.
So expect slight modifications in the site design in the coming weeks, months, or years. I don’t think I’ll ever finish tweaking it.
In addition to features that make the Webmaster job easier — like automatic home page display of recent articles and automatic archiving by topic — wickenburg-az.com now has more features for people who want to actively participate in shaping the site’s content.
First and most obvious is the Comments links that appear beneath each article entry. Anyone can click this link to enter a comment or a question about the article. For example, suppose you read Jim Cook’s article about giving thanks on Thanksgiving day and you have a personal story you want to share about Thanksgiving. You can click the Comments link and use the little form that appears at the bottom of the page to compose and submit your story. Or suppose you read an article I wrote about driving up to Box Canyon and you want to know whether your 4WD Subaru station wagon can make the trip. (It probably can’t.) You could use the Comments link to ask the question.
You can also use the Comments link for an article to read the comments entered by other site visitors. Or to answer questions that appear there. In other words, the Comments link makes it easy to actively participate in the site’s content and development — to learn more than what’s in the articles and share your knowledge and experiences with others.
The Comments feature also completely eliminates the need for me to manually append reader comments to articles in HTML format. That was time consuming and frankly, I tossed out more comments and questions than I published because it took so much time.
Comments from new commenters will need to be reviewed and approved before they appear online, but once you’ve had two or more comments approved, the approval process becomes automatic and your comments will appear immediately after you complete them.
If you want to get more involved in the growth and development of wickenburg-az.com, you can become an content contributor or author. This means you can write your own articles for publication on the site. It’s easy to do — just fill in an online form using your Web browser.
When you first start out, all your articles will be reviewed and approved before publication. But once you prove yourself, you’ll be able to compose and publish your work right after you finish it.
You can learn more about these two participation features by clicking the Participate link at the top of this page. That’s also where you’ll find a form you can submit if you’re interested in becoming a content contributor. In the future, I’ll probably allow anyone to register themselves and immediately add content; I need to tweak the administration page before I do that.
The WordPress software also includes a built-in searching feature that searches only within this site. The search results are displayed on a page that indicates what you searched for. You’ll find a search box near the top of each page. Give it a try! You’ll never know what might come up.
I’ve also added a new and improved Upcoming Event Calendar. Instead of a static display of only one upcoming event on the Home page, the new calendar displays the next five events, with links to event details. A pair of interactive calendars, right on the home page, make it easy to scroll through the months to find events. And, of course, you can always use the Search feature to look for a specific event.
Other features inherent in blogging software like WordPress include RSS feeds, pinging, and trackback. These features are of a more technical nature and are likely to be used by the folks who are familiar with them.
Say Goodbye to Old Features
I did have to “turn off” a few of the old features that were part of wickenburg-az.com.
The Guestbook, for example, which was powered by FileMaker Pro, has been partially replaced by the Comments feature. I may add a new guestbook in the future. I’ll probably take the comments from the old Guestbook and archive them as an article here.
I’ve also removed the Directory, which listed many area businesses and organizations. Although this was one of the most popular features on the old wickenburg-az.com, it was sadly underutilized by the businesses and organizations that could have taken advantage of the free listings. Instead, I’m encouraging local businesses and organizations to write articles about their products, services, and goals for inclusion in our Businesses and Organizations topics.
The Wickenburg Almanac is temporily offline. I need to recode its content so it fits the display format here. Expect to see it online again within the next month or so.
Classified Ads are also gone. I may add a Classified Ads topic that contributors can add content to, but it depends on requests I get from site visitors.
What Do You Think?
Don’t be shy. Now is the time to try out that Comments link. Click the link below and use the form that appears to enter your comments about the new site design and features. And if you have suggestions or requests for making the site even better, use the Comments link to let us know.
I want to make a quick personal thanks for the thousands of visitors who come to this site each month, especially those who have taken the time to enter a comment in our old Guestbook, send me a nice e-mail, submit content for publication, or donate funds to this site.
I do the work I do on wickenburg-az.com for you and you make it worthwhile.