Projects: Web Development

Content Management System:

My latest project was a major WordPress deployment. WordPress is arguably the most popular blogging platform around, but it is so much more. It is more like a framework (in the computer programming sense) than simply a blogging tool. It had been a while since I had used my PHP skills so I had some relearning to do as well as learning the whole WordPress theme/template tag system.

My client wanted a site for an alumni association that included detailed information about each alumnus. Since Austin High is the oldest high school in Texas, there are over 38,000 alumni in their records. Their goals included listing all these alumni by class year, as well information about upcoming events, and other relevant information. Further, the folks running the site wanted to be able to update the content on their own. All this (except for the large alumni database) suggested WordPress. For privacy, the information about each alum was to be visible only to registered members of the site (standard WordPress login).

I worked with a designer who provided me with a Photoshop file as a prototype. From that, I created a complete and complex WordPress theme, supporting everything from static pages to widgets (the theme requires more that 20 PHP files). WordPress does not provide a good solution for large numbers of people profiles, nor does it provide much customization of the information that can be associated with a person. Therefore, I had to also create from scratch everything required for storing, searching, displaying and editing the alumni records, while keeping the data separate from the standard WordPress tables, but integrating it with the rest of site itself. For example, the custom pages use WordPress’ authentication. I discovered how to load the JavaScript libraries included with WordPress for the slideshows and other images. I also migrated all the data from FileMaker to MySQL.

Displaying and editing alumni

Left to right, a class year, and alumni record as displayed to a member, and the record as seen by an administrator when editing.

It was a big job, but very interesting and I learned a great deal. The result is a robust and attractive site that has just begun to take off, with over 600 registrants in the first few weeks. In the future, we’ll add more kinds of information such as calendars and countdowns as well as permitting alums to post.