One of the projects I’ve been working on of late has been redeveloping the NACCAP website. NACCAP is an organisation for Christians who work in the world of Higher Education admissions in North America, and I took over management of their site at the start of the year. It’s constantly reminding me of the complexities of moving a large existing site onto a new footing.
There are three key aspects to the management of this site: maintaining existing features, gracefully transitioning the existing content into new systems, and adding new functionality. Ideally, the last of those would be completed before any other work is begun. Having a new Content Management System and Process in place would save considerable time on keeping the site up to date, and would also make the process of moving everything into clean, accessible templates a great deal easier. Sadly, things don’t work that way.
The approach that seems to have worked so far is to very gradually shift the balance from the old methods to the new. As new functionality comes on line, I can slip it in place of the old, and as time allows I can move old content into new templates stage by stage. The CSS definitions are built up as I come across new types of elements that need to be moved across, and over time the old content gets easier to maintain.
Naturally, there’s a downside to all of that, and that’s that for quite some time things are going to be far from optimal: PHP (the language I’ve chosen for this project) will be mingled with HTML on many pages until the CMS comes online; the CSS will be unnecessarily verbose, requiring a good bit of optimisation further down the road.
In the end the result will be a lean and effective website, and the existence of so much initial content can be very helpful in defining the parameters for new tools. But it’s easy to overlook the extra work these situations bring, and important to plan for them.