It seemed like a simple request: "I need a second gallery added to my web site." Sally Rhone-Kubarek is an artist with an extensive gallery of prints available for purchase on her printsbysally.com web site. And now she desired a separate, gallery with more flexility, a second domain name, and new ways to organize and display her artwork.
It was certainly a reasonable request, however, it exposed a variety of technical and hosting issues. As I looked into enhancing her existing site I found the following:
- The existing site host was no longer supporting the version of PHP on which the site's content management system (CMS) was based.
- The host periodically disabled or shut down the site citing old technology only to bring it back online when asked.
- Joomla, the site's CMS, had no upgrade path, or a very painful manual one if we wanted to spend the time and effort.
- The version of Joomla on which the site was built would have to be upgraded if new features or updates were going to be made.
- There was no way to build on what was there. The core of the CMS had moved on as had the extensions.
Picking a Direction: Joomla vs Wordpress?
When I developed the original PrintsBySally web site it used the most up-to-date version of the Joomla content management system (CMS) at the time. However, the following release of Joomla was a major update that offered no direct or automated way to upgrade. So, it was never upgraded.
Currently Joomla version 4 is available, but it is still very new and like the previous version I used it is also another major upgrade and is waiting for many of its extensions to be redeveloped to be compatible. So, my concern was do I use the newest, shiniest version hoping it is stable and that I can find, or shortly find, all the extensions I need? Or do I use the previous version that has all the features I need and is tried and true and then have an upgrade issue later on? Neither option really appealed to me.
My initial impression of Wordpress was not a favorable one. Of course it was initially developed as a blogging solution, not as a CMS. Then, like a lot of software, features started being added with more or less success and ease-of-use. However, recent work with Wordpress has left me with a much better impression and more optimistic outlook of it as a full-featured CMS. There are issues, like Wordpress' default content editor, which is just okay in my mind. But then there are some very robust editing systems that can be installed. The issue then is mainly keeping Wordpress' editor and the more robust ones from colliding with each other and doing bad things to your pages and content.
Both CMSs have their oddities. However, even after many years of using Joomla I'm still not sure I get where everything lives or why everything seems to be structured around menus as a primary organizing principle. The oddities of Joomla, especially as I thought about how to explain and document for the client how to maintain their own site, argued against staying with Joomla. All in all, the deciding factor for me was that it would be much easier to show the client how to author, edit and maintain her site using Wordpress than it would be with Joomla.
So, while I still use Joomla version 3.x for my One Bad Ant website I decided that Wordpress (version 5.x) was the solution and had the better content authoring and editing option. Wordpress also seems to have done a better job handling version upgrades.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (Turn and face the strange):
...as the David Bowie song goes.
Change isn't aways easy, even if the new way is better, the old way is known and that makes it comfortable. The original PrintsBySally web site went live over ten years ago and except for content updates was never modified or enhanced. To be honest, that's actually really good in technology years! And while I decided not to use Joomla this time, that is an amazing track record. A site that survives for that long without needing any attention is a rarity. It also means that the content authoring and editing system was in place for that long and was very familiar to the client.
So, to help with the transition to the new site's administration system I created a basic "How To" document organized by the type of content the artist needed to manage. We were then able to walk through the document using Zoom and sharing my screen to demonstrate the instructions and the administration interface.
Documentation is a good thing.
Zoom is a wonderful tool.
My first goal was to locate a new host for the new Wordpress site. I chose Rochen, a company I've used for a number of sites and that has excellent reliability and support. The original (old) site was left in place on the old host until the new site went live.
The client didn't want a complete redesign of the site. While we made some significant changes and improvement in layout, small animations and UI feedback we also found a template that allowed much of the site design and colors to be brought forward from the original.
The new site also supports multiple domain names that point to different areas of the web site. The main printsbysally.com site points to the site's home page and the new domain name, artworkbysally.com points directly to the home page of the artist's new gallery.
The new Wordpress site with the Woocommerce extension and Paypal provides a robust, maintainable and extensive inventory and ecommerce management system.
The new site is responsive and can be viewed on tablets and smartphones.
With Wordpress the client can easily to add artwork to her galleries and online store. She has a great blogging solution and is able to add new Artist Updates that include images and galleries of images.