Real-World Organic Web Development

Cell Cleavage and Site DevelopmentAs an initial manifestation of my post on the potential of CSS to open up possibilities for cross-platform institutional Web publishing, I am in the final stages of developing a “skin” for WordPress that is identical to the the UMW Web site. It also allows for two- or three-column layout.

I’m sure to many folks this is a big snooze. The NOT big snooze part of it is that it was so darned easy. With the exception of footer content and some plugin customization I am working on, it was a snap to re-skin a theme called “ET-Starter” and make it look just the way I wanted it to in a few days.

Why would I do this when we are embarking on a new design for the site? There are multiple reasons. First, because it’s a great proof of concept. Second, because I can :). Third, the SACS Re-Accreditation committee needs a public Web presence right now, and it has to live for about 3 years. I didn’t want to create that in our aging Contribute/PHP environment — we’d have to re-create it when we move to WPMU for the public site. Rather, the idea here is to allow the SACS committee site to appear as another  part of the official UMW Web site, but to live within WordPress Multi-User in a production environment.

This approach will be a great way to protoype functionality that this site is going to need and that our current public Web infrastructure can’t deliver in a scalable way: internal logins for private documents, easy Web publishing without a local client, rss aggregation and consumption, discussion forums, etc. When we are ready with a new graphic design, we simply skin this theme, port the SACS site over to the new server maintaining the same URL, ask IT to update the DNS, and voila!

What “skinning” and CSS allow us to do is to take advantage of the separation between content and presentation allowed by accessible, standards-based Web design. It lets us test, in a real-world application, much of what we will need in the live site without having to re-do tons of code when the institution decides on a look and feel. My fantasy is to have all the kinks so worked out on the backend so it will take a week to get us into full production after a new design has been chosen.

In the long run, and Jim Groom will kill me for blaspheming against the gods of WPMU, I see the possibility to roll this approach out to multiple platforms, not just WordPress. The goal of the Web for communications is to respond quickly as communications needs and goals change. By porting a skin from our home-grown environment to WordPress so quickly, we are proving that anything is possible moving forward.

Hey, I can dream. Even if it’s longer (like a month, probably), this is vastly different from the way we used to do the web with endless, amorphous wish-lists of functionality, creation of non-functioning prototypes, followed by months of development, testing, and then presentation design.

This is the kind of thing that gets me up in the morning, when my kids don’t do it first.


#1 Reverend on 07.27.10 at 10:01 pm

Fact is, the architecture we are talking about with subdomains for departments, etc. would allow for u=others to work in other applications besides WP a lot more easily, in many ways make that idea a good one the more and more I think about it. No blaspheming here.

#2 Reverend on 07.27.10 at 10:06 pm

Also, just tested the theme/skin you did in Firefox, and it looks all crazy, but perfect in Chrome. Isn’t that an odd change from how things used to be :)

#3 Cathy Finn-Derecki on 07.28.10 at 10:29 am

You were looking at it as I was working on it, dude! Give a gal a break! I’m working on the two-column option and want it to load dynamically from the form.

#4 Jim Groom on 07.29.10 at 12:02 pm

No breaks, ever :)