Making Links 08 – Intensive Web Day

The Making Links 08 conference was held this week at the University of Melbourne. The tagline of the conference is ‘where social action and technology meet’ – and the delegates are primarily from the community, not for profit, activist and educational sectors.

I decided to catch the train up to Melbourne as it’s both cheaper and less stressful than driving in peak hour traffic through the West Gate car park. Who should happen to sit next me on the train? None other than former Liberal member for Corangamite – Stewart McArthur. The irony was not lost on me – a presenter at a largely left wing conference chancing to sit next to a right wing MP. Perhaps the universe was having a chuckle. Stewart was devouring his way through at least three newspapers – so I tried to break the ice by asking him which one he thought was the most truthful. To his credit, he took the question very well and provided me with advice on the merits of various individual journalists. We got talking and I found out he was a keen runner, and he encouraged me to take up the sport. I felt like a politician when I refused to commit 🙂

My talk on the day was on free software for non-profit organisations;

making-links-kathyreid-useful-free-software (Open Office .odp file)

making-links-kathyreid-useful-free-software (Powerpoint .ppt file)

The presentation went well, and the audience let me know they were very pleased with it – and had a load of questions! 🙂

I then lead the CMS session – which didn’t go quite so well as we spent a lot of time on security issues rather than being able to demonstrate the software in a lot of depth.The group really wanted to see some different options with skinning Drupal and Joomla – however I hadn’t upoaded any and I couldn’t get FTP access with the wireless network connection. There was a lot of contention over whether Joomla or Drupal were more appropriate for use – with the comment raised theat Drupal documentation wasn’t up to scratch.

Some of the key themes expressed during the day were;

  • Concern over having sensitive information in databases hosted on the web: CiviCRM is a tool which holds contact details and personal information on donors and volunteers. Delegates were concerned about the security that would be applied to ensure that unauthorised access did not occur to this data.I’ve provided some links below for further information on these products.
  • Criteria on which to base a CMS decision: Many organisations wanted information on how to select the best CMS for their need. One of the delegates provided this handy link to CMS matrix which allows organisations to compare the functionality that is available through different CMSs.
  • How to being a foray into social networking: The organisations that were present needed pointers on how to step into the social networking waters – with some already on Facebook or Twitter, but with no real engagement strategy or supporting strategies.

Other key presentations included:

Jason King (non profit web designer) presented tips for non profits, including;

  • Register your name and keep it registered (so that somebody can’t grab it when it expires) – this theme was also bourne out by Darryl later on in the session with his presentation on whatsinaname.com.au, which lists all of the domain name registrars and prices for domain hosting (interestingly my host, Servers Australia isn’t on the list – and they’d be near the top for pricing)
  • Make sure that you keep all the details such as passwords for the site – so that in the event of a disagreement or dispute with the web designer, you’re able to get into the site and take control
  • Choose your web developers carefully – sometimes the director’s brother’s kid son is not the best person to plan or design your not for profit web site.

Andrew Edwards, of Huge Object also gave a presentation on working with developers, the key take aways being;

  • Know what you’re paying for – understanding exactly what the developer is quoting on can give you much clearer expectations of what will be delivered
  • Check our your developer – by making sure that they know what things like web standards are for instance
  • Have a clear idea of what you want in your website – so that what is delivered is more likely to be what is delivered

[Updated 17 Nov 08 to include summary of Jason and Andrew’s presentations]

Software Freedom Day – Free and open source tools in education

Further to this post, the presentation I gave at Software Freedom Day in Melbourne is now available. It is a brief presentation, as most of it was demonstrating WordPress and Alice. Unfortunately I had a few hiccups on the day, and it was only with the much appreciated assistance of Ben Balbo and others that the presentation could go ahead. You see, Sakai runs on a Tomcat installation and I had it set up ready to go, but had to reboot, then had Java issues so I couldn’t get it to work. The other hampering factor was that external internet access was not available, and most of my demo used online websites. Never mind, there’s always next year.

It was great to see so many presenters and participants, however numbers were down compared to last year. The Hub, while being a great venue, is a little bit out of the way for most – not as central as the Town Hall.

Free and open source tools in education (Powerpoint, 107kb)

Links for the tools referenced are given below;

Questions and comments are warmly welcomed.

Bonnie Babes website now live

Deakin Uni was approached by Bonnie Babes a couple of months ago to assist with their web presence, which was quite dated. I’ve been working on a redesign using free and open source software. The key features are;

  • An easily updateable website using the WordPress personal publishing system
  • A custom theme for WordPress based on Bonnie Babes’ organisational colours
  • A number of freely available WordPress plugins including WP e-Commerce, SEO Tools, ShareThis and pageMash

It wasn’t all plain sailing however. The hosting platform (which is freely provided with thanks to Apex Hosting in Melbourne) is based on Windows and IIS. My use of WordPress has centred on a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) based platform, and I’ve certainly not used PHP much under IIS. The fact that this platform is in use has limited a number of the features of WordPress, so much so that it is likely that the site will be moved to an alternative hosting arrangement. They include;

  • Inability to use nice permalinks: Because IIS has no inbuilt mod_rewrite (one of the Apache modules that most hosting providers have installed), the pretty permalinks don’t work in IIS without a lot of kludging. While it is possible to get them to work using mod_rewrite alternatives for IIS, most hosting providers don’t have these installed by default – and they’re unlikely to install on request. WordPress have obviously come across difficulties with IIS and permalinks before – hence this article.
  • Inability to use cURL libraries: The cURL libraries in PHP are incredibly useful. They are also used by the WP e-Commerce plugin (which I was aiming to use to facilitate an online shop) as part of the checkout functionality. It wasn’t until I got to testing the checkout that PHP threw a fatal error 🙁
  • Inability to have WordPress in one directory, and make your blog another: This is related to the permalink issue, largely due to the fact that IIS does not support mod_rewrite or .htaccess without third party tools
  • Difficulty making certain files and directories writable: On a Linux system, you can easily use filesystem permissions to make a file or directory (to Linux they are the same thing) writable. Writable files and directories are used all throughout WordPress, for things like;
  • Sitemap generation
  • Storing of uploaded media such as images, word documents and pdfs
  • The ability to edit CSS and other design elements through the administration interface

So, where to from here? It’s likely that we’ll go with another hosting provider who provides a LAMP architecture..