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Starting Over

© July 2006 Anthony Lawrence

Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger did a recent series on If I had to Start My Blog Again

Well, I have reinvented my web site a few times, and sometimes the changes have been radical and deep - it may as well have been starting over.

I started this website in the early 90's. It was a "personal" page under my account at Software Tool and Die. Although I did make some non-business related pages, most of it was Unix technical articles. In 1997, I registered aplawrence.com and set up a new website on a vhost at what is now Interland. I transferred my files from the old personal site and began a more heavy concentration on technical articles.

The primary reason for the move to Interland was because I was running into the limitations of static HTML pages. The Software Tool and Die set up could give me cgi capability, but not SSI (server side includes). I needed those to get the features I wanted in my pages, so I switched. Because I was familiar with Perl, and because Perl was the most used language for cgi at that time, I used Perl routines for the SSI.

That's the first thing I would change if starting over: I'd use PHP instead of Perl. Perl is so deeply embedded in my site infrastructure now that it would be tremendous work to change, but if I were to start over fresh, I would start with PHP.

As the site grew, I ran into problems. I'd want to add new features, but then I'd have to go back to the old pages and implement the changes. I'd of course write scripts to do that, but sometimes I wanted the new features in specific locations, and it was hard to write scripts that always made correct changes. I also wanted to make format changes - some of that could be accomplished with style sheets, but not always, so once again I had to make hand edits.

That led me to separating content from presentation. My "pages" now are text files containing only the html and text relevant to the content. The rest of the page (headers, sidebars, footers, comments, related links and advertising) is all supplied by one script that reads the text and outputs it with everything else.

Making that change and retroactively applying it to old content was a big job and it's actually not 100% complete - I still have a few pages that aren't in the new format yet. If I were starting over from scratch, that's the very first thing I would do.

If I had the benefit of foresight, I also would have implemented a tighter copyright policy immediately. I believe in sharing, but I naively thought that people might pick up an article or two now and then. I didn't expect that anyone would just wholesale copy every article on my site. My present policy limits that activity by restricting copying to six articles per year, but a lot of articles were taken before I changed to that.

Finally, there is another thing I still struggle with, and that's the matter of content subjects. I tend to cluster around specific areas, but these are different enough that the website is not as tightly focused as I'd like. On the other hand, I really don't want to split off into separate websites - I tried that, and just did not like it. I'm still a bit ambivalent though and am not certain I'm doing the right thing. If I were starting over, I'm really not sure what I'd do in this area.

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Mon Jul 24 21:28:28 2006: 2288   BigDumbDinosaur

Perl is so deeply embedded in my site infrastructure now that it would be tremendous work to change, but if I were to start over fresh, I would start with PHP.

I have a similar problem here with a lot of the junk running on my shop server, only the "language" of choice is/was ksh, with some C used for seasoning. I've got some shell scripts that run to 30-40K, which is probably way bigger than they ought to be. Some stuff has been rewritten in Perl and a few in C to improve execution speed, but I also subscribe to the notion that if it ain't busted don't fix it. The only rewriting occurs when new functionality is needed and I feel sufficiently motivated to start with bare metal.

Tue Jul 25 20:11:20 2006: 2289   anonymous

PHP is so incredible. I am not yet a coder, though I can figure out and sometimes tweak the structure and functionality of systems like Drupal and Joomla. I love PHP. I've done perl before and it was a bit clunky.

Tue Jul 25 22:27:35 2006: 2290   TonyLawrence

Well, I'd disagree a little: I think Perl is better for general purpose work, but PHP is stronger in the web arena. But I know people who do everything (command line scripts etc) in PHP..


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