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Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

New School Website

I'm nervously approaching a very important day. This Monday I switch on a new website for Springfield Public Schools.

I have been working on this new site since last December. It's a complete re-write of the whole site. The current site has been around for four years and had gotten to the point where adding new features was extremely inefficient. The current site was built to enable teachers and schools to post content online themselves without having to upload static HTML files via FTP.

We've come a long way since those days, and now we want to have students logging in, interacting with teachers and creating digital portfolios. We want to have private discussion forums, groups that share information, clubs and sports that have calendars that users can subscribe to, dashboards where logged-in users can quickly see all the information important to them, etc.

In December it was apparent that the quickest way to move forward was to go back and start over on a new site.

The launch date is Monday, and I'm getting close to being ready for it. I thought it would be nice to take a little break and post a few notes about the site.

So far the code base has about 100,000 "words" of code. Web code isn't necessarily written like English, but the comparison works on some level. At an average word count of 300 words per page, I have written the equivalent of a term paper over 300 pages long (only in a term paper, the words don't actually have to communicate with each other).

More important than the number of words I've written is the number of words I haven't written -- the new site uses less than 30% as much code as the site it's replacing (the current site has over 2.5 million characters of code).

The new site is much more efficient in how it's written, how it's executed and how it will be maintained in the future. I spent a couple months in the winter developing a solid foundation for the site that has proven to make development as easy as possible.

The new site doesn't use the Adobe Flash plugin anywhere. This wasn't a goal of mine going in, but as I got close to the end, I was able to find better solutions for the few tasks that I currently use Flash for (uploading multiple files, showing progress bars for uploads and presenting video on a page). This means better compatibility for Apple's mobile devices and easier upgradability when it's time to make changes.

What does all of this mean for the average user on Monday? Probably not a ton. The site should look very similar to the current site. It will be wider and have updated graphics, but overall it will be relatively the same style. Some things will be in different places, and school and teacher home pages will look quite a bit different.

The strength of the new site should make itself apparent as the school year progresses. Students, teachers and employees have much better tools and many more ways to put content online. The hope is that they will USE the tools and actually put stuff up there. It doesn't matter if we have the best tools around if people don't actually use them to post stuff online. But I have to realize some things are out of my control.

Anyway, I'm excited. I'm pretty nervous. I just want it to work without any major unexpected problems. I expect there will be issues, especially on Monday and Tuesday. Hopefully the major bugs will expose themselves quick and will be simple fixes.

I'm kind of looking forward to having my life back too. I've been in "crunch time" mode for over a month now, and I've had a hard time letting myself do anything for fun. I'm feeling very sloth-like and need to get back out in the real world and move around. Maybe in August.

Awesome, you've been doing this for ages. After a short break it'll be time to start yet another rewrite!
LimeyGeorge   Thursday, July 15, 2010
Oh I've already started on the next site. It's rad, but what's really rad is the next next site. It will be launched in 2025 and will only use 10 lines of code. I better get moving on that...
Dave Heinzel   Thursday, July 15, 2010
What!!!??? You mean in 2025 we will still have the Web - we won't have advanced beyond that? Bummer!
stheinz   Thursday, July 15, 2010
As I said before, you never disappoint. Can't wait.
Gilmore Family   Thursday, July 15, 2010
Sounds like a project! It is hard when you let it go and people don't appreciate all the hard work and fine effort you put into the little things that will make their life easier--they will only notice the problems and make sure YOU know about them. And then forget to tell you when the problems are fixed. Well done! Hope you take a good break and enjoy summer before MW winter sets in again.
LGrant   Thursday, July 15, 2010
Excellent work as always!
shoo   Thursday, July 15, 2010
Very cool! I know you're so ready to get that site behind you and move on a bit to something else, maybe more analog. I can't wait to see the finished product. I've enjoyed seeing bits and pieces along the way but I'm sure the end result will be pretty awesome.
Denny Deaton   Friday, July 16, 2010
Congratulations!!! What a project. Must feel good to see it come to fruition. And double-good job on getting rid of Flash. I hate it!
girlcarew   Friday, July 16, 2010
Congrats! My fingers are crossed for you that all goes well!
Ames   Sunday, July 18, 2010
Thanks Ames. It's not going as smoothly as I had hoped, and I'm going to have to push the launch date back a day. I have been working on it all weekend but it's just not ready yet. I'm gonna try and stay up a couple more hours.
Dave Heinzel   Monday, July 19, 2010
Hey Dave, I checked out the new site it doesn't seem very good but i'm sure you are still in the process of making things better.
Jacob Bennett   Saturday, July 24, 2010
I haven't flipped the "make very good" switch yet.
Dave Heinzel   Sunday, July 25, 2010
When are you going to flip the switch?
Jacob Bennett   Sunday, July 25, 2010
Possibly in 2015.
Dave Heinzel   Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lazer ciler
Fatih.d   Tuesday, December 31, 2019
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