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Online Editor's Report, ISIT 2008

Updates on the web project, anticipation of web hosting issues, and summary of the Plone experiment for the First Annual School of Information Theory.

New Website Development

Project Overview

The Society launched a $60K project with SixFeetUp for a new website based upon the Plone CMS.  The initial scope of the envisioned project is broken into three phases:

  • Discovery and Requirements (4/1/2008-5/21/2008)
  • Design and Development (5/21/2008-8/25/2008, expected)
  • Content Migration and Rollout (8/25/2008-, expected)
    • Volunteer effort to be planned by Allerton 2008
    • Minimal costs, mainly organizational changes within the Society

Through this process, the Society will have to decide to fully deploy the resulting system (see issues related to web hosting below), or continue with another round of design and development to refine existing features and/or add more functionality.

Design and Development Update

Progress has accelerated on the design and development due to a thorough planning phase.  At this point, SixFeetUp is pursuing three components in parallel:
  • Basic layout and graphic design of generic pages
  • Advanced layout and graphic design for the main home page
  • Plone customizations to handle IT Society people, groups, papers, and awards

There has been substantial iterations between IT Society and SixFeetUp on the first two components.  Once these are finalized, SixFeetUp will translate them from standard file formats used by web and graphic designers into a customized "skin" for the Plone CMS.  With the initial Plone skin, IT Society will be able to interact with the site as it evolves, allowing us to migrate our existing content and to provide feedback on all three of the above components.

SixFeetUp estimates that, by the July 6 BoG meeting, they will be 40% complete with development and will have spent 200 hours at a cost of $22K.  They seem to be happy with the amount and timeliness of feedback from IT Society.

Translation of the layout and graphic design into a Plone skin is one of the most tedious and costly parts of the entire project, so it is imperative that IT Society substantially commit to the content, layout, and graphic design and avoid many iterations in the skinning process.  Those interested in checking status and/or providing feedback are welcome to point a web browser to the following links:

Among the links above, the test site is the most preliminary and incorporates only some elements of the graphic design; it is meant to provide a feeling for the interactivity of the site and current state of development, and will continue to evolve as SixFeetUp proceeds with development and IT Society provides feedback.

Note that the basic layout and graphic design elements to be used on generic pages consist of the header and footer and left and right "sidebars" from the home page.  It is important to stress that the wireframes are meant for sorting out the content and structure of the homepage, and the graphic design is meant for sorting out the colors, graphic elements, and overall look.  To the extent possible, it is most convenient for development if we first freeze the wireframes and then freeze the graphic designs.

Web Hosting

As the Society's web presence grows more sophisticated, it is important that we evaluate current and future options for web hosting.  Web hosting is the service of running a web server and associated programs, essentially contract servers and system administration for the web.

The current state of IT Society web hosting is as follows:
  • IT Society currently pays web.com $80/month for a "shared" hosting account with 2 Gb of disk space, mainly for the Pareja paper submission and review system.  This account periodically runs low on disk space, but can be cleaned up to ensure around 200 Mb (10%) of free space.  Although other hosting services offer more disk space for the price, changing hosting would cause a disruptions and it is unclear how long the Society will continue to use Pareja.
  • IT Society owns a rack-mounted server that is currently hosted and maintained for free at the University of Notre Dame.  This server currently runs the mailing lists, and several "experimental" web servers (cms, media, school).

The Online Editor is finding that the demands of the web project with SixFeetUp and system administration for the web.com account and ND server have significantly hindered editing work.  Furthermore, once the design and development phases of the Plone website project are complete, the Society will have to move the Plone website created by SixFeetUp to either its own server(s) or a web hosting provider that can support Plone.

In addition to performing web consulting, design, and development services, SixFeetUp offers web hosting capable of supporting both the Plone website as well as Pareja application for as long as it continues to be utilized.  The Society would not have to stay with SixFeetUp hosting indefinitely, but doing so makes the most sense through the design and development stage (during which SixFeetUp does not charge for hosting) and the migration and rollout period (during which there is likely to be substantial interaction with SixFeetUp to fix bugs covered by the 6-month warrantee period and pursue planning for future rounds of development).  More details and a formal recommendation will be presented at Allerton 2008 or via email if the decision point arises before then; however, in this report we want to inform the Officers and BoG that there are likely to be recurring costs for web hosting in the range of $120-200/month.

Plone Experiment for the First Annual School of Information Theory

The organizers of the First Annual School of Information Theory agreed to use the latest version of the Plone CMS for the school website. Given the popularity of the school and limitations on the number of students allowed to attend, capturing as much content as possible from the school program and archiving it on the website can provide a valuable resource to students and researchers all over the world for years to come.  With minimal Plone experience, and a bit of help from members of the Online Committee, the school organizers archived the following at the school website:

It's important to stress that nearly all of the content above was put on the web with zero involvement from the Online Editor. This experiment demonstrates that even a small handful of new users can gather, organize, and archive a significant amount of useful content using a Plone website.  The Online Committee will continue to interact with the school organizers to learn about what worked well and not so well, and whether we might be at the stage to try a similar experiment with an upcoming ISIT or ITW.