How We Did It: SharePoint Magazine Re-Launch

So, you probably know we re-launched SharePoint Magazine today (if today is Tuesday December 7 2010, that is). If you don’t know, check out http://sharepointmagazine.net or, probably in a few weeks time, just Google SharePoint, and I’m sure we’ll be back on the first page again shortly.

Regardless, as is customary when doing stuff like this, we should post a “How We Did It” post to explain the process of getting the magazine back on the air.

Background

I talked to Arno about making SharePoint Magazine part of the USPJA family in mid July. Within two weeks, the deal was done as we went to sleep. Seriously, nothing much happened because the team was so busy working on USPJ Academy that we weren’t able to get around to actually doing the re-launch.

We started the actual work in mid November, if I recall correctly. More on that later.

Platform

One thing was absolutely clear from the start: We were going to keep using WordPress as the platform. I know, I know, it’s a magazine about SharePoint so why not use SharePoint? The truth is, WordPress is purpose built for doing exactly what we want to do, and although it is possible to implement the same functionality on SharePoint, it would simply be too much work to get there. Also, the WordPress plugin and theme community outranks SharePoint by 1,000:1, and, of course, licensing would be a nightmare.

Going with an open platform like WordPress also means that it is a lot easier to adapt quickly to changes and implement new features. In fact, when we looked at all the features we could have added, we had to limit ourselves and go with a fairly simple setup from the beginning. Adding new features is always easy with WordPress, but we don’t want to overwhelm the site with functionality.

We also wanted to improve community interaction, and having built some experience with vBulletin from the academy, it made sense to keep using that for SharePoint Magazine as well. In fact, we wanted to take this to the next level by integrating the WordPress comments with vBulletin to create conversations around each article.

I like to get my hands dirty, so I sat down and learned how program PHP and then how to integrate WordPress and vBulletin.

Building

Although the open source community doesn’t hold a match against the sun on SharePoint in terms of platform flexibility, I’ll grant them one thing: they have streamlined the process of getting content on the web to the extreme.

We decided on the technical infrastructure on November 14 at 16:16. By 17:20 we had ordered and started delivery of the virtual server we’d use. I went to sleep for a few hours (yeah, I work strange) but when I woke up at 03:00 (am), the server was delivered and set up.

It took me about 20 minutes to get a new domain for the server and set it up to use that name. To test everything, I set up a new site for the “What’s New for SharePoint 2010 Developer’s” free report on that new server, running off WordPress, and that was done and ready for launch at 04:57 (still AM).

So, in just over 12 hours, including 8 hours of sleep, we had a server running a new public web site at a total cost, so far, of about $53.

Now things got interesting, because it was time to migrate all the content, settings, design, users, and additional functionality from the old SharePoint Magazine server to the new server. Here are the steps we needed to do:

  • Configure the new server with the correct IP and domain names
  • Setup permissions to support best practices for public facing websites
  • Setup and install WordPress, including all the databases required
  • Install all required plugins and add-on features for new site
  • Setup branding and layout
  • Export all content, including comments, from old server
  • Import all content, including comments, to new server

Of course, all of this would take, well, a long time. The actual time taken was approximately 35 minutes, in fact, and of that, exporting and importing the articles and content constituted about 10 minutes.

As I said, the process of getting content online is pretty slick.

Additional Features

We did want a number of additional features to support better content. After all, as Marc D. Anderson put it, we want to be the Rolls Royce of SharePoint training, without the blowing up over Indonesia part. As such, we wanted to streamline the authoring and content process to focus as much as possible on writing rather than formatting.

In addition, we wanted to add some bridges between WordPress and our other systems, including vBulletin.

The problem with adding features in WordPress is finding which very specific plugin that best fits your needs. For example, when we searched for workflow to add better flow control to our authoring process, we ended up with about five likely candidates, all after a few hours of research and testing on a separate test server we also set up (with an investment of 30 minutes, setting up proper development, testing, and staging environments is affordable).

Luckily, because all plugins are open source, we don’t need to be half satisfied with what we get. In the end, we ended up with a combination of EditFlow and Peter’s Collaboration Emails, and tweaked them a bit to get what we wanted.

Similarly, for the vBulletin bridge, we started with ideas from an existing plugin, WordPress-vBulletin Threads, and built on that to suit our needs. We also built a from-scratch WordPress filter to modify the comment count of articles so it shows posts in the article discussion threads instead.

Oh, did I mention we also added a membership system to allow for easy registration and single sign-on using FaceBook to all our features? Well, I may have forgotten that because as I write this, I haven’t even done that yet. It will be there tomorrow morning, though. Which is today, if you’re reading this today, which really is tomorrow, or yesterday, if you’re reading this two days from now, or tomorrow, if it’s today or tomorrow already.

Aw, I never get these things right…

I’m Sure This Is All Very Interesting, But…

Yeah, yeah, if you have my attention span, you’ve probably already dozed off a few times, so I’ll cut to the chase.

Why Did We Do This?

The SharePoint community grows at an astonishing rate and so does the amount of content available. What is lacking, outside Microsoft and other highly commercial services, is a single place with high editorial quality control, training and following up of authors, focus on community interaction, and a responsible and skilled team.

Many sites in the SharePoint community offer some of these qualities, but we wanted to bring it all in one place. One site offering nothing but quality SharePoint training and information.

What’s Next?

As you may have noticed, we haven’t actually made any revolutionary changes to the site. Yeah, we have a new commenting engine that we’re trying out and we have changed the logo. The major changes have happened behind the scenes, with the team, the attitude, the content, and our incredible creativity. That’s a pat on our collective backs, because we gosh darn deserve it!

We have some amazing plans going forward. This is just the first step. Now, the real work begins…

.b

PS: Did I mentioned we also launched USPJ Academy early enrollment today? And revived the SharePoint Beagle? And launched USP Journal on iPad and Kindle?

Hm… I must have forgotten…

Found this article valuable? Want to show your appreciation? Here are some options:

a) Click on the banners anywhere on the site to visit my blog's sponsors. They are all hand-picked and are selected based on providing great products and services to the SharePoint community.

b) Donate Bitcoins! I love Bitcoins, and you can donate if you'd like by clicking the button below.

c) Spread the word! Below, you should find links to sharing this article on your favorite social media sites. I'm an attention junkie, so sharing is caring in my book!

Pin It

Published by

Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.