Well, after about a month of completely revolutionising the entire collection of Alpha’s websites, it has been completed!
Much of what I had to do was mainly about bringing current content from a static website into WordPress.
WordPress is wonderful. It has been what I’ve used for making websites for the last 4 or 5 I’ve made now. Alpha’s one was the last one standing. The previous site I spent a LONG time on as well, adapting code from Apple’s website to try to make it modern and dynamic. But my coding skills, given I no longer do it as a full time job (web design was my job before I started Alpha in 2002), are lacking and it takes me too long to make things from scratch! So I had to copy stuff but that means that things don’t work quite as well as the original code (in that case from apple.com).
But migrating over to wordpress means that you can dynamically use wonderful design and code straight from lots of coders who have given their time to make the project better every day.
Once I found a WordPress theme, called DynamiX, and saw how it could do many cool things, some of which were similar in design to the old site, and some new things that were just going to prove to be a much more elegant and simple way to present the vast amounts of info we have now, I was convinced and excited to get going.
I had LOTS of problems. In the middle of development, our host crashed and I lost a week’s worth of work! I had a backup of the sql database but missing a lot of the content outside of that.
The other thing that took a long time was trying to migrate over our vast forums. They were and always have been in phpbb, another free piece of software that was wonderful in its day but has gotten a bit clunky compared to the way Facebook or other sites work, that people have become accustomed to. Forum software is a bit outdated and people get bored and impatient with it.
When I found out that WordPress had a social networking layer to it called Buddypress, I was keen to get that working. But I knew I didn’t want to lose all the old phpbb forum either.
This was INCREDIBLY difficult.
Firstly, I had to get the phpbb tables from mysql into the same database as my wordpress one. Then I used a script called phpbbtobbpress or whatever it was. I had to install a standalone bbpress (the plain forum software WordPress has – quite confusing as Buddypress also has a version of bbpress in it, and you can also use a bbpress plugin in wordpress, as well as a standalone install!).
Took out all the apostrophes from the forum descriptions in phpbb. Then the conversion worked. That was the easy part. Getting bbpress standalone into WordPress wasn’t easy. I spent a week trying to get it into the plugin version with a piece of code from a guy called Orson, called forumconverter. That NEVER worked. It gave lots of errors. I eventually gave up, he got it working for some other people.
In the middle of trying this is when I found out about Buddypress, so I felt focussing on getting the forums into that would be better, under ‘groups’ and then the forums attached to those groups (the way Buddypress works, kinda more like Facebook groups).
Because our audiences are mainly under 13’s, we got very excited that Alpha could have a social network for our main audience who cannot use Facebook as they don’t allow under 13’s. Alpha will be a safe place for kids to come and hang out, talk to the actors, but also just chat and make friends with each other. Buddypress has activity streams, like buttons, friend connections, groups, all the things people are used to on Facebook. So we can kinda ditch our integration with Facebook. I’ll also take down the message at the end of the shows and encourage our young audiences to get on to our own social network instead.
There’s even chat! I know how much our audiences love to use chat.
Anyway, about at this stage was when the host died, so that delayed me a week as I had to redo a bunch of work.
Then once it was kinda back up to where I was up to, I continued. I could get the buddypress groups set up, and change the group metadata to match up to the forum ID of the bbpress forum. I decided to tell Buddypress to use an already existing install eventually (I tried both about 5 times each!).
The problem I finally figured out today was the lack of bbpress having imported over (probably a limitation of the phpbbtobbpress script i used, but there isn’t another one I don’t think) the “topic slugs”.
Without topic slugs, the link for each topic just had /topic//
The name of the topic was supposed to do in between those 2 slashes. Without a name, it wouldn’t link anywhere. So the topics were visible but you couldn’t read them.
I almost gave up, thinking I’d just tell everyone to start over – the actors in the shows use the forums a lot to organise stuff for the tours, it’s a great way to stay in touch and keep on the same page. The new system will be even easier to do this.
Anyway, I found a script to supposedly create the topic slugs, a plugin that would supposedly do it when you activated it. It did nothing. Called ‘create-slugs.php’ or something. Another useless script.
I eventually exported the tables and thought, I can do this myself. I took it into bbedit on my mac, which is what I’ve used for years to edit html. Then I realised I really needed a spreadsheet app, as I exported as CSV so i could do it.
I took the topic names and did lots of find and replaces, got rid of the spaces and replaced with ‘-‘, and all the rest of the odd characters so I only had letters, numbers and dashes – I think this is the requirement for slugs.
Then I fiddled around with trying to bring those values back into the sql database. That wasn’t easy – a lot of this was new to me even though I’ve worked with databases before. instead of using phpmyadmin, i used ‘sequel pro’ app on the mac to make things a little easier to do. I like nice mac gui’s!
FINALLY, it worked! I was missing display names for users, so I fixed that too in the same way.
But then I had about half the users not display in the buddypress list, even though they’d all show in wordpress admin?!
So i spent hours basically going in to each user that wasn’t showing up and just ‘saving’ it basically, just hitting enter on update on each user. That seems to fix that problem, and all 250 users or whatever we have collected over the years are now on buddypress.
There were heaps of other problems i had, too many images in the image galleries that dynamix theme created. Lots of crazy permissions things, php memory limits, hosting problems and fixes, .htaccess things, php.ini changes…
eventually, with the help of toastyhosty our host reseller, and the hostdime main host they use, we got it all working!
I shut down the old backstage.alphahsows.com.au and linked it to the main sites blog (as well as imported all the old blog posts from that site, you can view these posts by going to www.alphashows.com.au/blog)
I shut down forum.alphashows.com.au and had it divert to the new forums as part of buddypress groups – www.alphashows.com.au/forums
There are now the groups too, where you can post things more akin to status updates, rather than starting an official forum topic. If you just want to chat and let others comment in a more causal fashion.
I put a bunch of plugins to make this better as well, so you can like, or post youtube vids, or chat, or get email notifications for forum posts etc…
Then I finally shut down store.alphashows.com.au and diverted to the internal store – www.alphshows.com.au/store.
When I originally created all these separate sites, I thought it would help. But Tracey, who has come on board, suggested and I agreed that it would make more sense to bring everything under one roof. If you’re logged in, you can do anything you want – post to the forums or groups, buy shows, comment on posts, edit or write posts if you’re an author, or whatever else you might want to do by being logged in.
Kids will feel better like they’re part of the site now, they can become Alpha members by registering at www.alphashows.com.au/register
The only site that is still separate is auditions.alphashows.com.au. I am thinking about bringing it in too, but I’ll leave it there for now. it’s too much work!!
That’s it for now. I’ll post another post about the new social network and encourage people to sign up and make friends etc.
Comment on this post for any thoughts or ideas or problems.