03 August 2009

Do you need a Portal?

No, I'm not talking about some Stargatesque gateway to shuttle you along the wormholes of the universe nor am I speaking of the Guardian of Forever
from which with a short step you can relive your childhood, or perhaps your children's children's children's childhood. As interesting as those particular portals sound (and to me, a science /
scifi / history / philosophy geek, they sound pretty damn fascinating) I am writing of the much more prosaic (and much less speculative) web portal.

I built one. Here's the why, the whats and the how.

The Why.
I've had a photo website for quite a few years. It's grown long in the tooth, is difficult to update in any kind of easy, timely workflow fashion, is comprised of static pages, is irredeemably not optimized for search engines, and has no connection to the rest of my life. All of the above but the last statement was enough of a reason to rebuild the photo site from the proverbial ground up. But since embarking upon this new phase of my life last year in this so-called gig economy (already commented upon in a previous post) I found that trying to manage and maintain multiple online presences as well as businesses was a challenge. Clayhaus Consulting, Clayhaus Photography, a Twitter page, my Flickr photostream, Facebook (both personally and professionally), this blog, microstock photography accounts, my published book and more! Yikes! There was no easy way to gain access to, Clayhaus.net, the "brand." Until a friend (thank you Cory!) planted a seed, or perhaps more accurately watered the nut of the notion that I needed ONE access point to the Clayhaus.net online world. A portal.

The What. The timing was perfect. I had been (still am, actually) dithering on making a decision around my photo site: open source or compiled code solutions. At the same time I was consulting for a startup non-profit, RERSLC, and they elected to retain a local web developer (Third Sun) who builds sites on the open source content management system called Joomla. In the open source CMS world there are two heavy-weights: Joomla and Drupal. They both have their advocates and they both essentially do the same thing: once setup and initially configured, updating websites' content (they are after all, content management systems!) becomes trivial (well, pretty close to that anyways). No HTML programming is necessary as plenty of templates, documentation, robust help forums, and extensible modules and components exist to help you through the forest. A piece of cake? A walk on the sunny beach at low tide with a lollipop? No, not quite. I'm a reasonably savvy IT guy with some Logic (yes: capital L) education, but with little in the way of true programming training or skills. I went with Joomla because that was what my client was implementing because that was what the developer was most skilled in (that's the way these things work). (The logic being that what I learned on my own, would help support my client as well.)

The How. I started by installing XAMPP on my Windows box. What is that? Straight from their page...XAMPP is an easy to install Apache distribution containing My SQL, PHP and Perl. If that is all Greek (or, perhaps Geek) to you -- and yet you want to learn more -- go to the Joomla pages that discuss installation on a local system. Other sources? VEOH or Miguel Sanchez. At any rate, make yourself very familiar with the Joomla installation pages...please. The bottom line is that I wanted to build a site offline -- meaning on a local system -- and then upload to the shared hosting at my Internet provider. So after installing XAMPP I then downloaded the latest version of Joomla 1.5 and began learning and configuring at the same time. You have the option of loading sample content into your new site and that is exactly what I did. I was able to reverse engineer some of the installation and eventually added my own templates and components and modules. It was an iterative learning process. This included the eventual upload to my ISP, XMission. After they set up the MySQL database, I FTPed the Joomla files and a new configuration file (a must!) and the site went live. I few more permissions tweaks and I was also able to administrate my site. Add metadata and voila! The hoards will be banging at my virtual door! Naaah, but that is the subject of another post.

I succeeded: the Clayhaus.net portal is live. I still have to maintain and manage all the other Clayhaus accounts and pages and sets and sites, but that's my job. You the Internet Traveler, do not have to bookmark, write down on a post-it, request an email link, etc. any of those pages. Just remember Clayhaus.net, and you are good as gold. (Don't believe me? Enter clayhaus.net in Google or the Yahoo search engine...see?)

The site is live, but not static. With a CMS, change can always be afoot. I will add a forum and some other features and functions shortly. Now though, I must turn my attention to...the photo site...it will morph soon and you will hear about it. Lucky you.


  1. Wow Dad. I am not going to lie. I have no idea what the second half of your blog is talking about! But the portal rocks!!!

  2. Nice post, Jeff, and thanks for the shout out. I have comments on the portal itself (bien sur!), but really, this is so impressive! I like the personal/client connection benefits to Joomla, too.

  3. Cory: would love to hear your comments on the portal. I was hoping to have the forum up-and-running so comments could be put there, but busy on other mini-projects. Send your comments any-which-way you wish.


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