The LLResearch/Bring4th Unification Project
04-22-2014, 03:37 PM,
#53
RE: The LLResearch/Bring4th Unification Project
Hello, everyone!

I’m writing to give a quick update on current development efforts for the upcoming version of LLResearch’s library site, which will be combined with Bring4th. I was asked to give an update because there was an indication given (once the project got underway) that we would be wrapping up development by a certain time period, which is nearing. While there has been the normal expected progress surrounding the planning phase of choosing our technologies and VPS host, the development phase has experienced a few unforeseen technical hurdles, in addition to my own (unexpected and rather extreme) personal catalyst. The combination of these two forces have thrown a wrench into my projected timeline which pursued an aggressive development schedule. But I will continue to report on the current state, as it stands at this time so that everyone can at least stay attuned to where we are.

Progress continues to be made on developing LLResearch.org while merging Bring4th into it. The new Virtual Private Server (VPS) server environment has been successfully set up as a “staging” environment for development. While not accessible to the public by intention, an offline web environment allows development to continue behind the scenes so that any developers or volunteers who eventually perform work to move content can do so without interfering with the current Bring4th.org and LLResearch.org site.

Let’s discuss the applications that are being merged together to support LLResearch. The latest versions of the chat program and MyBB forums are carrying over into the new site. These have been working well for the organization thus far, and both applications integrate with each other, so we will continue using them. The forums are also considered "critical infrastructure" since we not only use the forums to carry a majority of our community communication, but we also employ the forum’s user management system to authenticate users across the various applications within Bring4th. This means once you log into Bring4th one time, you will not have to log in separately for the chat system, then log in again to see the blog area, then log in again to see the store, etc. For the upcoming release of LLResearch.org, we hope to extend this user management capability to the selected e-commerce storefront solution, which will likely be Magento.

While those systems were easy to set up because they are their own independent application, there are a few remaining pieces that do require some “heavy lifting”, as far as coding goes. The Content Management System (CMS) is a custom piece that is being developed right now. A database management application (layer) is managing all page data in a SQL database, which means that all of LLResearch.org’s channeled content, newsletters, speeches, and international texts will be imported into this system. I am currently working to develop the WYSIWYG editor and page manager that will allow designated volunteers and users to add content to the site, where needed. A secondary administrative step is being added that will allow LLResearch staff or designated volunteers to review and approve content before it is posted to the site. Once the CMS system is finished being developed and tested, we will roll out the proverbial welcome mat and ask for volunteers to take on the role of transferring old site content into the new database system. Doing this transfer one time will allow the data to remain in a portable "vehicle" in case the content needs to be moved again for future versions of LLResearch.org.

This is a major improvement over the static solution in use now, since each page’s visual elements, theme, and content are mixed together and cannot be separated efficiently. The current style on LLResearch.org makes it very difficult to rebrand/reskin the interface or to move the data from one physical site into another since all content and visual pieces are represented within their unique file system.

The Magento store is the next application that will require attention due to the increase of complexity over the old store. The store has been set up and it looks promising. Thankfully, Austin has volunteered to take a look at the store and to become familiar with it so that he can manage product creation, tax and shipping tables, and become comfortable with the administrative system, in general.

I am continuing to solve a few issues that came up in the linking of the applications that I described above. The applications proved to be a bit more complex than they were in 2008 when I put together the first Bring4th site. Many of our solutions have their own user systems, so it requires uprooting/bypassing the old system and marrying it to the forum user management system. This is not like pressing a setting button and calling it a day. In many cases, the applications are secure in that they call upon your own user session to make sure the person calling the page is who they say they are. So if I manage to get the user login to become bypassed, I have to make sure every other page on the site also bypasses its own user session check, and instead checks that of the forum—our defacto user system. This becomes even more complicated since we are merging Bring4th into LLResearch.org, which has its own challenges to convey configuration settings that were set up for Bring4th, and rewiring everything to point to the new llresearch.org domain. While doing that, testing needs to be performed on both the desktop and mobile versions of the site to ensure that these two types of users can see the content on both device types.

And lastly, some custom export scripts need to still be written to export the forum databases to the new site. There is no easy way to export the data onto a new domain altogether since we set up the forums for Bring4th back in 2008, and made some database decisions that we have since outgrown. So the migration of the forums is proving to be a little more difficult than first conceived.

Next on the agenda after the user management is worked out is to integrate the blogging system. I have selected a system called Serendipity, which I hope will satisfy the bill when it comes to linking it into llresearch’s user system. This still remains an unknown, as I just haven’t been able to get to it yet. It would be great to go with a Wordpress type site, but unfortunately it is not designed to share its one code base with many user accounts. Assuming the Serendipity system does satisfy the needs of LLResearch, I will then have to write a script that exports all of our Chipmunk blog posts and creates new records within Serendipity. Similar to the forums, there is no easy way to “cut and paste” data from one system to another without writing a program that will move thousands of pages automatically and at once.

Lastly, I need to develop a management system to control all of the preferences and settings, much like like you currently see in the Dashboard area of Bring4th. This is something that I can develop after the main site is launched, but it needs to be done at the end and will remain (for now) as pending work.

So that’s where I am in the moment, in the thick of development, but not too much further from the end. I do not have an estimated completion time, but I told Gary and L/L Research that I’d like to have everything done (or at least all of the core components) before this summer. If you have any questions about the development efforts, feel free to write to me directly at webguy@llresearch.org. I’m not following threads on Bring4th at the moment, so I invite you to write to me instead of commenting.

Thanks!
Steve
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RE: The LLResearch/Bring4th Unification Project - Bring4th_Steve - 04-22-2014, 03:37 PM



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