The first version of the website was created by Dave Madill (deceased) shortly after the Peterborough New Horizons Band was formed in 2002. The state of the art in web design at that time was writing complex and ugly HTML or using a website builder (e.g Yahoo website builder) to generate the code. In either event, the HTML is difficult to understand and modify even for HTML specialists. The content of the site, that is the text and pictures, are mixed in with the HTML and the formatting and the control. The possibilities of extending such a site are very limited. The site was hosted at Nexicom.
Lynn Allen laboriously maintained the website for many years. She did a valiant job of extending the site to match the increasing needs of PNHB. The website became critical for publicity and for providing information to members and potential new members. But, over years, the maintenance became more and more awkward.
In 2016, the Board of Directors decided to fund the redesign of a more modern website.
I volunteered for this task in December 2016. My experience with website design was 1. HTML for a site that I developed in the 90's as part of a Masters thesis, 2. Joomla for a personal website that I developed around 2008.
Joomla is a Content Management System (CMS) and similar to WORDPRESS. Joomla and Wordpress both emerged around 2005, and share many similarities. Around 2007 they were almost equally popular, but Wordpress has taken a strong lead in recent years. They share the following features:
Joomla has the added feature of frontend access, which allows users to edit the textual content and even add images directly on the website. This feature is now also provided as an extension to Wordpress.
I developed PNHB version 1 in Joomla. The main objective was to gather all of the information from the previous website, organize it and present it in a more modern form, and expand on areas where there was a need. I used a two level menu system for the presentation because that was easy to get going in Joomla and provided a good way to organize the material that was there. Many members and even board members were not aware of much that was buried in the previous website.
I am grateful for the efforts of the Board, Conductors and other band members for their suggestions and corrections as the site matured. There was lots of work including removing duplicate phone numbers and obsolete information, finding forms, correcting spelling and grammar, correcting out-of-date information. Special thanks to Carol and Wayne Mutton and Lorna Verlust for support at this time. And to Jon Knights for his work on my grammar and spelling.
I was able to build and test the new website on my own server, at SiteGround, leaving the old site running at Nexicom. In March, we were ready to go public. I found the Nexicom server to be lacking in many ways: the interface for loading data was not as convenient as Site Ground, the (memory) space available at the current price was limited to 1K. Most importantly, there was insufficient space to keep a backup onsite.
The decision was made to move to SiteGround, which turned out to be a complex process. Again I am thankful for the support of the Board and also the help of James Burrett in the transfer process. The new site, Version 2, was finally launched in early May 2017 keeping the domain name NHBPeterborough.com.
Version 2 served the band well, though it was neither as beautiful nor as easy to maintain as I had wished. The menu system worked but did not look as attractive as many contemporary websites. As the amount of information in the site increased, extension became quite cumbersome. Backup and transfer from my home computer to the server was slow, awkward and error prone due to the SQL database.
In the summer of 2017, I came across a newer development platform. I was attracted to the inherent simplicity of GRAV (Short for gravity). It shares all the features of Joomla, except that the database for storing the content is a flat file system – that is simply text and image files on a computer. One very appealing feature is that the system builds a menu directly from the structure of the data. The administrator interface is simple, powerful and obvious - it makes content creation easy. As well, the GRAV sites that I looked at were extremely fast.
GRAV is built and maintained by a team from the company Rocket Theme, a company with a solid longterm presence in Web design products. GRAV has won “People's Choice” awards in 2016 and 2017, and looks set to receive the award for "Best Flat File CMS" again in 2018.
GRAV contains a default theme and also supports Gantry 5, from Rocket Theme, for graphical template design – that is the way the content is laid out on the pages. I decided to use Gantry for the layout of the website and GRAV for the content and structure. Gantry 5 proved to be very difficult – the documentation was poor and there was very little support. However, it did provide a way of building a GRAV site. Support from GRAV was amazing.
Over the summer of 2017, I was able to create a GRAV site that mimicked the Joomla site. I then set about modernizing the appearance and easing the navigation. To this end, I reduced the menu to single entries while keeping the structure of the data. Within each menu topic, I provided navigation with image links.
In December 2017, version 3 was released. This provided a more modern looking and very fast website. Modification of the content through the administrator interface was fast and easy. The main downside was that the Gantry interface was less than obvious. Gantry had served its purpose of getting a nice site working and allowing fairly easy experiments with the appearance.
In the summer of 2018, I learned how to program in the language TWIG, which is the template programming language used by GRAV. TWIG is used to generate the layout and appearance of the website, replacing GANTRY. I constructed a special PNHB theme to display our pages in a pleasing manner. Also, some parts of PNHB theme are designed to reduce the effort of content maintenance, for example pick lists of documents are generated automatically from the existing .pdf files.
Version 4 was released at the end of August.
For now, I regard this as the LAST version of the website! There are a few things that are not quite ideal, but none appear to be urgent, and so far I have heard no recommendations or complaints.
In November 2018, I realised that the 3 year contract with SiteGround would expire in three months, and the renewal price was a high USD 11.95 a month. I asked Dave Burrett if he had any better ideas, and indeed he did. He managed to install the website and its documentation (this document) on the server that he had set up as PNHB's mail server. He was able to complete the transfer by 7 Dec, 2018.