The Way Forward
I started making web pages in 1995. That makes me... older than 25. It's a bit hard to fathom that 20 years have almost gone by since I started Armorama, but on December 15, 2021 that will come to pass as well. It's been an interesting ride, but we are about to hit a fork in the road. And this fork has several paths. One in which the site just goes on as it is and dies. Because it's old code, written for old software that is rapidly being phased out of service. Meaning, I won't be able to easily find a hosting company that will support us soon. And I am not sure clinging to old code and software is the way forward. Platforms like Facebook with their easy to use interface (but confusing to find content) are eroding our member base. We need to keep up with the times on at least the 'ease of use' issue. 10 years ago this site was at the forefront of technology compared to most scale modeling sites. We are still one of the few database driven sites to be sure, but that is also costing us up-time and performance as those database queries are the exact thing that is slowing down page loads or crashing the site entirely. So what are the paths?
Before I start with that though I want to make something CRYSTAL CLEAR. We are not losing the content of the existing sites. So please don’t think “Oh god I need to archive Armorama/AeroScale/etc. and save them to my PC”. You don’t need to do that. They will be archived and preserved on their own special URLs and search engines and you will be able to go back and find old posts, content, etc.
Also I want to make it clear that I want the community to have input in this process. I need you guys! I need your help to figure out the best path forward and chose a solution which you will use and enjoy coming back to. It won’t do me much good to make a new site if people don’t want to use it after all. That said, people don’t like change. I get that. We have a lot of older users and I am sure most of them feel it took them a long time to get use to the site the way it is. And to be fair I haven’t rolled out many changes in recent years. I think the last major change I made was the Latest Posts page and that was 2014 or so. So yeah I get it. Change sucks. But this isn’t a choice (not changing) we can choose to make. As I have said in the past when the site changed; Change is good. Embrace the change!
My goal is move to a new software platform that allows easy user created content via direct uploads of photos, video embedding, etc. The platform I am looking at does NOT have a forum option. Forums are their own unique beasts in software development and as such it would be very hard to find a pre-built solution that has both a content management system (CMS) and a forum. So if I go with this option (and most of the others btw) the forum and the frontend “magazine” portion of the sites would be on separate systems. This will mean separate logins as these different platforms don’t talk to each other (yet?) however for most users you will only need your forums login. Only content contributors will need a login for those sites.
And yes if you are thinking to yourself, ‘new login’? I have to start all over. YES! Go back and read what I put in the first paragraph. It’s this or the site dies at some point when I can’t find appropriate hosting. There is no possible way of keeping the existing site as it is with all its vastly complex data schemes and code base. Just the page that loads this forum alone is made up of 30+ files that have over 15,000 lines of code in them. That kind of thing takes a lot of people to develop over a lot of time. Sure I have made major changes over the past 18+ years, but that took a lot of time as well. We don’t have that kind of time and frankly I don’t have that kind of energy left in me to take on such a monumental project. And even if I did it would likely be far more open to hackers and the like as I am no top-notch programmer like some of the kids out there today.
The timetable for this move is to have all sites on their new platforms and the old sites archived by the end of the year. However they will go in stages. Model Shipwrights is already done. AutoModeler will be completed next (around November 5th-10th) and then ModelGeek, RailRoad Modeler, AeroScale and finally Armorama. So for some sites it will be a lot sooner than later.The forum option is called Discourse (www.discourse.org). It’s a top notch forum with a lot of amazing features. The forum is already up, as you have probably noted on the site menu bar (forums.kitmaker.net. So you are welcome to go over there and take it for a spin if you’d like. Some of the key features are very easy image uploading and photo viewing (much like the lightbox arrangement we have now for articles). As well as a page-less topic viewing system. Infinite scrolling without the need to flip through pages. It even remembers where you last left off on a topic. The above software is written in coding languages I am not familiar with (and are VERY high end) so I can make ZERO changes to the functionality of this software on a coding level. I will be able to add plugins though that will enhance and increase some things. For example there is a knowledge base plugin that does the whole “Question -> Selected/Best Answer” thing that you see on a lot of tech sites. So that might be useful for our community in the area of specific modeling questions.
The CMS solution so far that best fits what I’d like to see us move towards is a very graphical image friendly system. The first site, for Model Shipwrights has been launched with more to follow. This system allows for fairly easy user creation of news, features, reviews, photos, and embedded videos. There is also functionality for polls, lists, and quizzes but not sure how much we will use those. This system will mean that staff doesn’t need to create as much of the content. Users can do almost 100% of the job once they are familiar with the online creation tools. Each article created has blocks of embedded content. Those blocks can be made up of text, text with embedded images, photos, videos, or other items. Each block has an optional title element as well so headers and doing the HTML tags and such would be a thing of the past for us. The block sorting is a bit tricky, but I think with the right planning or tutorial on it, it would be okay. You can also easily drag and drop image files from your windows directory over to the image blocks (one image per block).
The CMS software is written in a fairly modern style PHP and MySQL, which are the coding choices we use for KitMaker now. So I will be able to make changes to this site as we move forward. The Discourse forums are a whole different thing though written in Ruby on Rails and PostgreSQL so yeah… I am not changing that other than adding plugins and mods. I am not worried about the forums though. It’s a very well managed piece of software and basically Enterprise level in terms of how it functions.
We are experiencing all the normal hiccups of a transition like this. Our new email provider, SendGrid, is getting through to about 88% of folks, but some of you are on older email provider platforms and those still use a lot of old-style ‘spam-blocker’ lists that basically mean if X host sent the email then it’s blocked. Whether it’s spam or no. We will be working with members on these issues as they arise. You can let us know via the old forum or via email ([email protected]) if you aren’t able to validate your email. We appreciate your patience during this transition and remember the staff are volunteers so be nice. Me you can yell at. :)
Best wishes, Jim
Some images below of the sites over the years.