Lessons learned while building the new Hippo site

by Volker Weber

hippo11041.jpgWhile I built the new Hippo site over the weekend I learned a few things:

First of all, the old site was built with Frontpage by somebody unfamiliar with web technology. I spare you the details but it wasn't pretty.

I looked for a CMS to maintain the site and then decided I might as well code it with SubEthaEdit. After all, the site has only six pages now and will most likely have less than ten when I am done. What I did however was to split all pages technically into three parts: a common header, a specific body and a common footer. If you look at the source then everything from the top to <div id="center"> is in one file. And everything from </div> <!-- center --> is in a second file. I include these in all the pages you see at runtime. One change to the first file and we have a new navigation item on all pages.

The next thing I needed was a newsletter application that allows readers to subscribe and unsubscribe. I went to Hotscripts and looked at a few of them and decided to use txtList. That was a good pick. It was easy to include in my site design with two forms to subscribe and unsubscribe. I was able to import a list of addresses easily and from there left it to the users to add or remove themselves. I sent out the first newsletter today without any difficulties.

hippo11042.jpgI also wanted to add a guest book and it took a little bit longer to find a good script. Most of them are total overkill. Finally I chose simplemb which only needed a little bit of tweaking to fit it into my site design.

Finally I wanted to add a photo album. Requirements where a nice customizable interface, a thumbnail preview and background loading of images so I can use the time somebody looks at a picture to load all the other ones. While I generally dislike Flash, I found that Flickr had made good use of client side Flash applications. Instead of using Gallery as I do at my photo site I went for SimpleViewer. This would normally require a manual upload of thumbnails and images as well as an XML file defining the album. Instead I added SimpleViewerAdmin which lets me build albums by uploading files. This is usable for a small number of pictures but I would not recommend it for a hundred photos or more since you have to add them one by one.

Everything was smooth sailing. Everything except the nasty CSS bugs in Internet Explorer.

Comments

Actually, I liked the old logo better. It made a point, so to say ;-)

Stefan Rubner, 2004-11-05

That Flash photo album is pretty nice, but does it bother you that visitors can't save any of the images, save for taking a screenshot?

Also, since this is your first post about it in English, I feel I finally have to right to ask what this Hippo business is all about, if you'd care to enlighten.

Jeff Chausse, 2004-11-05

No, it does not bother me. It is a feature. I don't actually want people to pass around party pictures. It is much easier to remove them if somebody does not like his picture this way. It is not completely secue, but good enough.

I posted in English since I was talking software now. The event is a party and is only interesting to locals.

Volker Weber, 2004-11-05

Excellent job. Neat and clean. Personally I don't have the knowledge to build a site myself and therefore I have been looking around for tools. If you don't know it already, I suggest you have a look at Mambo.
It's OpenSource, it's free, and it's real powerfull. Very interesting.

Pieterjan Lansbergen, 2004-11-05

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