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The Way Forward

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I started making web pages in 1995. That makes me... older than 25. It's a bit hard to fathom that 20 years have almost gone by since I started Armorama, but on December 15, 2021 that will come to pass as well. It's been an interesting ride, but we are about to hit a fork in the road. And this fork has several paths. One in which the site just goes on as it is and dies. Because it's old code, written for old software that is rapidly being phased out of service. Meaning, I won't be able to easily find a hosting company that will support us soon. And I am not sure clinging to old code and software is the way forward. Platforms like Facebook with their easy to use interface (but confusing to find content) are eroding our member base. We need to keep up with the times on at least the 'ease of use' issue. 10 years ago this site was at the forefront of technology compared to most scale modeling sites. We are still one of the few database driven sites to be sure, but that is also costing us up-time and performance as those database queries are the exact thing that is slowing down page loads or crashing the site entirely. So what are the paths?

Before I start with that though I want to make something CRYSTAL CLEAR. We are not losing the content of the existing sites. So please don’t think “Oh god I need to archive Armorama/AeroScale/etc. and save them to my PC”. You don’t need to do that. They will be archived and preserved on their own special URLs and search engines and you will be able to go back and find old posts, content, etc.

Also I want to make it clear that I want the community to have input in this process. I need you guys! I need your help to figure out the best path forward and chose a solution which you will use and enjoy coming back to. It won’t do me much good to make a new site if people don’t want to use it after all. That said, people don’t like change. I get that. We have a lot of older users and I am sure most of them feel it took them a long time to get use to the site the way it is. And to be fair I haven’t rolled out many changes in recent years. I think the last major change I made was the Latest Posts page and that was 2014 or so. So yeah I get it. Change sucks. But this isn’t a choice (not changing) we can choose to make. As I have said in the past when the site changed; Change is good. Embrace the change!

My goal is move to a new software platform that allows easy user created content via direct uploads of photos, video embedding, etc. The platform I am looking at does NOT have a forum option. Forums are their own unique beasts in software development and as such it would be very hard to find a pre-built solution that has both a content management system (CMS) and a forum. So if I go with this option (and most of the others btw) the forum and the frontend “magazine” portion of the sites would be on separate systems. This will mean separate logins as these different platforms don’t talk to each other (yet?) however for most users you will only need your forums login. Only content contributors will need a login for those sites.


And yes if you are thinking to yourself, ‘new login’? I have to start all over. YES! Go back and read what I put in the first paragraph. It’s this or the site dies at some point when I can’t find appropriate hosting. There is no possible way of keeping the existing site as it is with all its vastly complex data schemes and code base. Just the page that loads this forum alone is made up of 30+ files that have over 15,000 lines of code in them. That kind of thing takes a lot of people to develop over a lot of time. Sure I have made major changes over the past 18+ years, but that took a lot of time as well. We don’t have that kind of time and frankly I don’t have that kind of energy left in me to take on such a monumental project. And even if I did it would likely be far more open to hackers and the like as I am no top-notch programmer like some of the kids out there today.


The timetable for this move is to have all sites on their new platforms and the old sites archived by the end of the year. However they will go in stages. Model Shipwrights is already done. AutoModeler will be completed next (around November 5th-10th) and then ModelGeek, RailRoad Modeler, AeroScale and finally Armorama. So for some sites it will be a lot sooner than later.

The forum option is called Discourse (www.discourse.org). It’s a top notch forum with a lot of amazing features. The forum is already up, as you have probably noted on the site menu bar (forums.kitmaker.net. So you are welcome to go over there and take it for a spin if you’d like. Some of the key features are very easy image uploading and photo viewing (much like the lightbox arrangement we have now for articles). As well as a page-less topic viewing system. Infinite scrolling without the need to flip through pages. It even remembers where you last left off on a topic.

The above software is written in coding languages I am not familiar with (and are VERY high end) so I can make ZERO changes to the functionality of this software on a coding level. I will be able to add plugins though that will enhance and increase some things. For example there is a knowledge base plugin that does the whole “Question -> Selected/Best Answer” thing that you see on a lot of tech sites. So that might be useful for our community in the area of specific modeling questions.

The CMS solution so far that best fits what I’d like to see us move towards is a very graphical image friendly system. The first site, for Model Shipwrights has been launched with more to follow. This system allows for fairly easy user creation of news, features, reviews, photos, and embedded videos. There is also functionality for polls, lists, and quizzes but not sure how much we will use those. This system will mean that staff doesn’t need to create as much of the content. Users can do almost 100% of the job once they are familiar with the online creation tools. Each article created has blocks of embedded content. Those blocks can be made up of text, text with embedded images, photos, videos, or other items. Each block has an optional title element as well so headers and doing the HTML tags and such would be a thing of the past for us. The block sorting is a bit tricky, but I think with the right planning or tutorial on it, it would be okay. You can also easily drag and drop image files from your windows directory over to the image blocks (one image per block).

The CMS software is written in a fairly modern style PHP and MySQL, which are the coding choices we use for KitMaker now. So I will be able to make changes to this site as we move forward. The Discourse forums are a whole different thing though written in Ruby on Rails and PostgreSQL so yeah… I am not changing that other than adding plugins and mods. I am not worried about the forums though. It’s a very well managed piece of software and basically Enterprise level in terms of how it functions.

We are experiencing all the normal hiccups of a transition like this. Our new email provider, SendGrid, is getting through to about 88% of folks, but some of you are on older email provider platforms and those still use a lot of old-style ‘spam-blocker’ lists that basically mean if X host sent the email then it’s blocked. Whether it’s spam or no. We will be working with members on these issues as they arise. You can let us know via the old forum or via email ([email protected]) if you aren’t able to validate your email. We appreciate your patience during this transition and remember the staff are volunteers so be nice. Me you can yell at. :)

Best wishes,
Jim

Some images below of the sites over the years.

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About the Author

About Jim Starkweather (staff_Jim)
FROM: NEW HAMPSHIRE, UNITED STATES

I started building models in 1971 when I was 6. My first model was a 1/32 P-40 Warhawk. Revell I believe. From there I moved onto the standard cars, Apollo spacecraft, and other kid orientated kits. I don't know what got me started on Armor. I must have seen a Monogram tank kit one day and said "Mom...


Comments

Ahh, is one of the inducements to get up to move removing the latest post link from the top of the page? There used to be one in the header at the top of the page and one in the footer at the bottom. Now it's just the one at the bottom.
NOV 01, 2020 - 04:43 AM
The Latest Posts button was visible at the top when I checked 30 seconds ago ...
NOV 02, 2020 - 12:26 AM
The Latest Posts button was visible at the top when I checked 30 seconds ago ... [/quote] It's not there for me either, only at the bottom of the page.
NOV 02, 2020 - 01:49 AM
Robin was speaking of the LP button on the main forum page. It is still there. The LP button was removed on the topic pages to make the archives cleaner. There will likely be MANY more changes to the way the current forums here are working to make sure the archive captures all the posts as we missed some when I did the Model Shipwrights archive. Hopefully I can go back and re-archive just the forum on another pass for MSW. Cheers, Jim
NOV 02, 2020 - 02:19 AM
Jim, did you just call me old and resistant to change in your last post??!! (Just joking) I think the new forum works great. In fact, I guess this will be my last post here. I think the new homepages will look great too. Only thing are the campaign ribbons. I hope this will be a feature for future group builds in the new forum. See you all in the new forum
NOV 17, 2020 - 01:24 AM
I would like the campaign ribbons retained, too. And with 252+ campaigns completed,that's a big salad bowl on your tunic!
NOV 18, 2020 - 04:20 AM
I am liking most of the features of the new site. But I do miss my campaign ribbons and my 'rank'. I was so close to 5,000 posts.
NOV 18, 2020 - 04:40 AM
252! Wow Jesper. Nice job. Yeah the old ribbons will likely have to be memorialized in creative ways like Jesper has done on his profile on the new forum, for new campaigns we will try to achieve some kind of badge for them. It's a work in progress. Cheers, Jim
NOV 18, 2020 - 06:34 AM
Well Jim I realized there was need for change but after years and years of being comfortable with the old format I was apprehensive about change. I had perused the 'new' forum and it seemed like I was lost in a huge mall, not knowing where anything was our how to do anything. A couple weeks ago I forced myself to spend time at the new forum. It wasn't too long before I was comfortable with and began to understand the new layout. Now, after about 10 days, I really like the new layout and all the new features. The hallmark of course is the ease in which the user can post photos (be sure they are the right size). I have posted more photos in the new forum last few days than I had posted in the old forum in the past few years. It's just like the original Armorama in the beginning days. I would recommend to anyone who is posting in the old forum to swing over and give it a try..... you will love the atmosphere and ease of navigation once you get used to it. And again Jim, let me thank you for having provided a great site for us to gather information, share our hobby and just hang out on for the past 18 + years. Looking forward to the next decade(s) of Armorama. Cheers, Charles
NOV 20, 2020 - 04:21 AM
I haven't been active and this is the first time I was going to login and came across this article. It really brings me joy to see that we are finally moving on and get more modern. And that there are finally some improvements in usability and such things. Looking forward to this.
NOV 20, 2020 - 05:20 AM