Well, at long last, it looks like we’ve finally got our act together and given our public-facing website a major facelift.

As I write, it’s late December 2017. We’ve been trying to update this site for the past 18 months. Finally we made it!

It may not be perfect, but it’s a start. Please remember that everyone’s busy and we’re doing the best we can. If you think you can do a better job, please step forward when asked.

Read on to find out how we’ve got to this point.

A brief history

Back in 2010-ish, one of our former members wrote the first version of this site using WordPress. It looked cool back then, and it worked well for a public audience, but it fell a little short with member-facing functionality, particularly when it came to renewing memberships at the start of a new membership year. Lots of manual admin was required.

It was written before the days of smart phones, tablets and responsive design, so it didn’t look good on every device.

In 2014 I wrote a new members’ only site, which solved the problem of membership renewals. It allowed us – possibly for the first time – to have a reliable list of paid-up members, and for there to be no arguments about whether someone had renewed or not.

Around that time, we experienced a number of outages of the public site, and lost a whole lot of data. It turned out that the site was hosted on a server owned by someone who wasn’t a club member. No-one really knew how or why this arrangement had come about, but it had been the case since the dark ages.

Dead ends

We assembled a small team of interested people following the AGM of 2016. We thought of a few ways forward.

First, and most obvious, was for me to add a public area to the members’ site. Trouble is, the technology used for that would make the club too dependent on the author (me). We knew from experience that we didn’t want to depend on any one person to run things; we wanted to share the responsibility around. We wanted contributors to be able to write content, and to get it live, without a steep learning curve on their part and a loaded development schedule on mine.

We tried using a static site, written entirely in HTML, with no database. But it wasn’t flexible enough, and was too difficult for non technical authors to publish their work.

So we turned back to WordPress, and implemented a very simple theme to get something going.

Performance and hosting

The Club had purchased a small server from 123-reg back in the day when it was initially thought that the original site needed upgrading. Performance of the new WordPress implementation on that server was poor. Sometimes a page took 5-10 seconds to load.

At the same time, the members’ site was hosted on one of my servers. This seemed to go against the grain of having the system in the hands of just one person.

In order to get things moving, I decided to try hosting everything on Amazon Web Services (AWS). It’s been a voyage of discovery as I had never deployed two such systems to a cloud environment before, but as I write, it seems to work. The inevitable drawback is that AWS costs money (aw c’mon, Amazon have to make a profit somehow, right?) Exactly how much is up for debate because the pricing model is pay as you go. However we have a year  to try it out at a reduced cost that’s competitive with the old arrangement. The more traffic the site attracts, and the busier it gets, then the more it will cost to run. That’s life I suppose. We’re learning as we go along.

Security

We’ve made sure it’s full https access, everywhere. You should always see a padlock. If you don’t, something’s gone wrong and you should report the offending URL.

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