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The Second Time Around
2009, Q1 (April 03, 2009)
By Rick Sapir, Carolina Chapter Webmaster

The TE SIG Website
The new Technical Editing SIG site.

In January 2009, the Technical Editing SIG relaunched its website. They moved from a WordPress blog to a full-featured, wiki-based, content management system (CMS) — the same CMS that powers the Carolina Chapter's website and the Caroilna Communique. As the webmaster for both groups, I was heavily involved in both sites' transformations. Here's what I learned the second time around.

Don't Underestimate the Conversion Effort

The Carolina chapter had several years of information on the old site (meeting notes, award announcements, etc.) that was converted. For the TE SIG, we chose to convert only items that were still considered "live." Anything more than one year old (with the exception of original "newsletter articles") was not converted. This substantially lessened the amount of content to move.

Databases Rule

The old TE SIG site was a WordPress blog. All the "data" was stored in a MySQL database. By comparison, the old chapter site was pure HTML. Since the new SIG site is a dynamic CMS driven by a MySQL database, it was a relatively easy process to "dump" content from one database to another.

No News is Good News

When we began converting the Chapter site, we ran a "beta" with the members of the chapter's admin council. Having this small group provided a chance to address the most obvious usability issues. For the SIG, we followed a similar path. A group of approximately 20 volunteers participated in the beta. Their feedback resulted in streamlined menu structures and several overall, organization changes. The site's contact form continues to invite feedback and enhancement requests.

Less is More

The CMS that powers both the Chapter and SIG sites has more than 40 core features. I tend to think of it as a Swiss army knife. For the Chapter, I had initially attempted to use as many features as possible, in order to make the site as functional as possible. For the SIG, we used a relatively small set of the available features; is easy to enable other features in the future.

Additionally, for the SIG we were able to combine the new site with one of the SIG's most valuable assets — the mailing list. Each mailing list message is automatically posted to the the site's forum. This gives SIG members multiple methods to get the information.

A Brave New World

Throughout the conversion process of both sites, I encouraged everyone to think differently. The new wiki-based CMS provides an opportunity for everyone (or anyone) to become a website contributor. Simply by logging in, members can (with the appropriate permissions) create or change content, reorganize and recategorize pages, and start new discussion threads.

This "free-form" structure (the organic nature of wikis, in general) requires a different organizational structure. Instead of rigid hierarchies, the web site relies on categories for as its primary organization.

Finally, the new website is causing the SIG members to "rethink" what it means to publish a newsletter. In the same way that the Chapter moved the Carolina Communique to this CMS (in order to take advantage of all the opportunities that the online medium offers) the SIG is also exploring how to use the new SIG website to "publish" a newsletter. Stay tuned... more changes are in the works!

Rick can be reached at webmaster at stc-carolina dot org or webmaster at stc-techedit dot org. End of article.

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