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March Newsletter
Issued March 15th 2008

Greetings.

If you are unable to view this newsletter in color (with pictures), please go to the following link.
http://www.CCFDesign.com/asp/webdesign/newsletters/.

This month's Agenda:

1.  Admin Area
2.  Content Types
3.  Future Projects
4.  Location Change
5.  Specials

1. Admin Area - Animals Module

I have finally transitioned all of my sites to an admin area, and almost all of them to the newest version. This is exciting news, because it gives you the ability to make real-time changes to your site. Let me give you some background to the evolution of the admin area.

When I started working on web sites in 2003-2004, I had around 10 clients. I noticed that the ones who wanted to list their goats online, generally wanted to list the same information -- Name, Breed, Sex, DOB, Sire, Dam, Price and a picture. So, I put together an html table that had that information, and whenever I was sent a new goat, I just copied and pasted the table and filled in the blanks.

The process was not too difficult to do, but did involve downloading the email that my client sent, making the changes to the web site on my local computer, saving the picture at a size that was appropriate for the web and then uploading the picture to the pictures folder and the page to the correct page folder. If my clients sent the information in a format that would allow me to copy and paste into Dreamweaver (my web design program), the process of adding 5 goats would probably take 15-20 minutes. If their format was incomplete or difficult to decipher, it could take 30 minutes.

Then, when they wanted me to delete a record, move a record higher on the page, add information to or change a record, or move a record to the sales page, it took time. Some sites had alternating images (the first on the right, the second on the left, the third on the right and so on), so when I removed a record, I had to replace it with one that had the image on the correct side. Sometimes, this didn't jive with how the client wanted the list ordered, and updating sites became a very time consuming job. Some sites also wanted all of the does grouped together with the other does, and wanted to have a page that only showed the wethers. It took a lot of time to make changes. At the time, I estimated that if I had 30 clients who were actively wanting changes, I could no longer accept new clients.

So, I needed to make it easier. Since the format was pretty acceptable, I decided to create a database for each site, and on that database, I could enter in goat records through a web form and then have them output in the manner of my client's choosing. Different sites could have the same input pages, but different outputs so that the sites weren't all looking identical. Thus, began the Animals module of the admin area. it cost me an extra $130 per site per year to have a database and a database connection, but the time savings was evident right at the beginning. Over the next 2 years, I modified the Animals module of the admin area so that it became easier to use. I started to realize that, if it was easy to use, I could make it available to my clients to make changes and additions. When I got a few new clients who wanted me to design the site and then let them make changes to it, I offered them the admin area.

The biggest problem was that when a client uploaded a picture, the picture stayed the same size. When I was resizing images, I would routinely resize an image from 2 MB (2000 KB) down to around 20 KB. This drastic reduction still left the image with a good enough quality for web viewing, but didn't choke dial-up internet users. But, when my clients uploaded pictures, they did not know how to resize images. Subsequently, some pages took forever to load (imagine having 15 pictures at 2 MB each - a visitor was having to download 30 MB of pictures, which could take well over 90 minutes on dial-up!

So, I got a new server. Although this server increased my internal hosting costs considerably, it gave me the ability to put whatever programs I wanted on it. One of the programs was a program that resized images. This eliminated the page download time problem. Another program was a simple html editor. Before, it you wanted to put in paragraph text with spaces and formatting, you had to know html. With the editor, you could format text without a problem.

I continued to refine the Animals module, making it as easy to use as I could. Many times, during phone conversations with my clients where I showed them how to use it, I realized there were points of confusion, so I took the steps to fix those. Now, it is a fairly smooth system -- but I will continue to make it better.

2. Content Types

The next step was to make it so that more of the site was editable. So, I came up with the content system. Essentially, the content system is made up of interchangeable content types - interchangeable in the sense that you can pick them up and drop them at a different point in the page.

By this time, I had over 50 clients, so I had a good idea what people would want to put on their sites. I knew that most often, people wanted to add free flowing text to make announcements like, "We have just updated our Sales page" or "We just returned from the county fair with a bunch of ribbons". Some people wanted to add pictures and text that showed the results of the fair or showed pictures of some of the people they had sold goats to.

So, I came up with a few content types. The first was text. This was already widely used in the Animal module, so would be very familiar.

The next was pictures. This was more difficult, because people had different picture sizes and sometimes wanted more than one picture on a row. So, I came up with the 1, 2 and 3 picture format.

Next newsletter, I will discuss the content types that allow you to couple image and text and give some ideas.

3. Future Projects

I just completed a list of the 50 projects I want to do in the next 12 months. Of those projects, most are in the admin area. Here is a list of some of the things to be looking forward to.

  • Make it so that you can hyperlink the images added under the 1 Image content type. This is particularly useful if you are linking to a goat association and want to use their logo to link. While I normally caution my animal sites against providing external links, I am also starting to use the content system for more generic sites that would have more reason to provide external links.
  • Allow my clients to add new pages and sections. I already have the capability in the admin area where I can add new pages using my "Super Admin" login, but I want to streamline it so that you can add new pages and sections without having to email me. There are some barriers in the way of getting it to work without errors, but this is one of the things that I am going to focus on in the next month to get to work.
  • Some of my clients want to add animal records from the animal module in with the content. The way the site is set up right now, this is impossible to do (since the code for the modules are both in their own individual containers). I plan to introduce an Animal content type (which might actually eliminate the Animal module and just allow you to add through the content module).
  • I want to make it easier for you to sort and filter your animals - both in the admin area and on the site. So, if you just want to see the wethers or does or animals on the sales page, I need to make that easier. I used to have it where that was an option, but with the latest system, that became harder to manage, so I need to write some code to bring back the sorting.
  • Some people would like to put a slide show on their site. So, I have been working on doing one. I currently have the code for one on my test site (BoerGoatWebDesign.com - click on slide show). If there is anyone who wants to test out a slide show on your site, let me know and I will add the module.
  • For some other projects, I want to make it so that you can edit your contact forms. As you probably know, whenever someone fills out a contact form on your site, one copy goes to you by email, and one gets filed in the database. The one that gets filed is merely a backup copy in case you lose all of your contact data. In the future, I want to make it so you can delete forms that you do not need, and can add notes to the ones that you need. Perhaps even make it so you can sort the forms alphabetically by the sender's last name, and can get an accurate count of how many forms have been filled out on your site in the past month, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, etc.
  • My biggest project is to create a sales site that creates a database of all of the goats that my clients have for sale. Every time you add or change a goat for sale, a record will also go to this site. This will create another way for you to advertise your goats. People will be able to go to that site and find goats near them. I am pretty excited about this project, because it will be a value-added service for my clients. I will allow my clients to opt-out of the service (if you don't want to have your goats listed next to other people's goats), but I think that it will generate a number of sales for all of my sites.
  • Finally, and this is long overdue, I am going to create help files for the admin area. I will have little help icons that open up a page on an external site to give detailed explanations of all of the facets of the admin area. I used to have a long email that I sent out to clients that listed the "how-to" of using the admin area, but in the past 18 months, I have made so many improvements, the help file got out of date. By having it online, I can change it whenever I make changes to the admin area.

4. Location Change

As many of you know (but will be a surprise to some), designing web sites is not my full-time job. I am an Active Duty Soldier. I started designing sites during free time in Kuwait in 2003, and continued doing sites when I moved north to Baghdad, where I was until the end of 2004. My contact with my earliest clients was entirely through email (most of whom did not know I was in Iraq at the time).

For the past 3 years, the Army blessed me by sending me to get a PhD. The work for the PhD was very difficult and time consuming (and not yet complete, by the way), but the time allowed me to grow my business. The two tasks actually worked hand in hand, because many of the things in the admin area stemmed from projects in the computer classes I was taking at school. Additionally, a lot of the work I have done on the site coding has helped with development of the tools for my dissertation study.

When my time at school was complete, I was supposed to go to a curriculum development and teaching job for the Army, but at the last minute (the day before the movers came), the Army decided to send me to Korea.

And so, here I am, north of Seoul, South Korea, working on this newsletter. What does this mean to my business? Well, not much. I obviously wouldn't have gone to the lengths of writing this whole newsletter (including future projects) if I thought the business was in jeopardy. To the contrary. For the year that I am in Korea, I will actually have an abundance of time to make these big projects a reality. On a weekend like today, I have all day to work on a project, and I expect to knock out 3-5 of the 50 things on my list between today and tomorrow. South Korea boasts the largest proportion of internet users per capita, so having access to high speed internet is not a problem. I have not had a day since I arrived that I could not check email or go online. I have continued site development and improvement as if I were at home. Before I came here, I asked several clients to be patient and I would make a change to their site near the end of the month - and if you were one of those sites, those changes should come.

The biggest problem I am going to have in Korea is the time zone problem. I can call to the States for around 2 cents per minute - which is a pretty good rate, but the window of time that I can call (and you will be awake) has shrunk. Still, I will work out time periods where I can make phone calls if needed. This time period will probably coincide with my early mornings, or your weekend mornings. There is a 14 hour difference between Korea and the central states like Texas and Missouri. So, if I call in the morning at 6 AM my time, it is 4 PM in Dallas. Likewise, if I call at 10 PM my time, it is 4 AM in Dallas. So, my window of calls will likely be between 9 AM and Noon Central time and 5 PM and 9 PM. If you need me to call at a different time, just give me a few days notice and I can try to adjust my schedule to accommodate calls. Also, it looks like I am going to get a state-side phone number that I can check on Skype. More details when I get that. Essentially, you will be able to call that to get in touch with me (your normal long distance rates will apply). The benefit to that is that I should have voice-mail on that phone. Also, note that I added a new telephone number that goes through Skype and will go to my Skype voicemail if I am unavailable.

One change you will see soon is a support system in your admin area. This will generate a support ticket that I can handle - or could be handled by my support staff (I have a few people who are going to help out while I am gone and will probably stay on the payroll when I get back).

So, I am going to try to cut back on direct email questions so that we can make sure your updates are made. There will be an email address created that you can use to send emergency support pronlems - for instance if your site is down and you can't access the support portal. This email address will be one that gets forwarded to me and any other people I designated I am going to set up generic emails for support and sales that will also go to my support personnel.

OK, I know this was a long email - probably an indication that I need to be doing this more often.

5.  Special

I am not running any advertised specials right now, but might have something later in the spring. For the new customers, this is where I let you know about specials I might be advertising - so you can pass those along to any friends you know who might be thinking about getting a web site.

That's all for now.

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