Monday, November 30, 2009

2010 Ideas and Plans for The Cauldron's 13th Year

[The following first appeared in the December Newsletter. It is reposted here for discussion and comment. All comments and suggestions will be read and considered, but will not necessarily be adopted.]

The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum celebrates its 12th Anniversary on December 13, 2009 -- and that marks the start of our 13th year of operation. We have some big plans for our 13th year and want to share some of them with you. Of course, we can't promise that all these plans will become reality, but we are planning for them to become reality.

Web Site Redesign

Our forum has changed greatly over the years as we have moved to different platforms but our web site has not had anything major done to it in about 10 years. While it has received some minor updates over the years (e.g. reorganized left menus, changed from parchment-like background and colors to the current light blue), it hasn't received a complete redesign in a decade. It is badly +in need of a makeover. This will be our major project for 2010. It will be a long term project because over a 1000 pages will need to be converted by hand. Each old page will need to have its content recoded in modern HTML and CSS and placed into our new page template.

The new template will be standard across all the pages of our web site. Current plans are for it to have a narrow header bar across the top with a drop down menubar and a "breadcumb line" below that. The dropdown menu will completely replace the current huge left column menu. Just dropping the crowded left side menu will make TC's web site look much cleaner and less "busy". Next will be the content area. Most pages will have a large content area to the left and a right sidebar. A few pages will have both a left and a right sidebar. Other pages -- like the forum -- will not have any sidebars at all. Below the main page content will be the footer area. There probably be a row of three boxes with rss feeds and the like in them, followed by the footer proper with copyright info and the like.

Current plans have the entire site more integrated with our forum. For example, pages on magic will display links to current threads in magic oriented boards on the forum. Pages will know whether you are logged into the forum or not, etc. This will make the entire site revolve around our forum instead of the forum and the web site being two more or less separate things as they are now.

One thing that will NOT be considered at all: a dark page design. Dark letters on a light-color background are FAR easier to read than light-colored text on a dark background -- especially for our older members. And in spite of at least one joking suggestion, the revolving Cauldron graphic from one of our first web site designs back in 1998 will definitely not be making a comeback.

If you'd like to follow progress on the redesign, make suggestions, or even volunteer to help with graphics or the like, you can do so in this thread on our forum:

* Cauldron Web Site Redesign Discussion

Social Networking

We plan to continue to use and improve TCN (The Cauldron Network), our members only Ning social network. We also plan to create a page for The Cauldron on Facebook (and perhaps on a few other social networks). We have already started to use Twitter to announce new threads. Social networking will probably remain low key, but it now has a definite place in our plans for The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum.

We have come a long way since our abortive attempt to use kickapps a year ago. Then the Hosts had no idea what social networking was and selected kickapps solely on its ability to let members post unlimited pictures. In other words, we thought of it as little more than a free photo gallery for our members. We soon learned that our members were thinking of it as a social network and found it greatly wanting for that purpose. We switched to Ning midyear and our members love it. The Hosts still don't understand social networking all that well, but we are trying. With a lot of help from our members, we are apparently doing much better.

SMF 2.0 -- To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade

We use Simple Machines Forum software to run our forum. The current branch of the software is 1.1.x, but the new 2.0 version is at release candidate 2 status now. We expect that the new 2.0 branch will go final sometime in 2010. When it does, we will have to decide whether to stay with our heavily modified version of the 1.1.x branch, try to upgrade our current forum to the 2.0 branch, or just close the current forum and open a new 2.0 one.

The easiest thing to do would be to stay with 1.1 -- at least until they stop doing security updates for it. Upgrading the current board and message base to 2.0 would be the best solution, however, it may not be possible as many of the features we use like member blogs come from very old user-written mods that probably will not exist for 2.0 -- ever. I'm not even sure that some of the database changes -- like for the Tinyportal feature or the Donor Subscriptions -- made by mods will carry over to the new 2.0 database if you upgrade it. And this probably will not be known until 2.0 Final comes out. The easiest "upgrade to 2.0" solution would be to make the current read only and start a new board using 2.0 and whatever mods are available for it (as we have done with three previous boards). However, the hosts and staff really do not to lose years of post from the active board yet again.

As you can see, we really have no idea of what the best solution will be, let alone what the best solution that works with the current database will be. However, with SMF 2.0 Final on track for a 2010 release, it is a decision we will probably have to face in 2010.

Do More with CauldronMUX

CauldronMUX is a fun way to chat in a text-based format where you can move around to different rooms, play with items, and even create your own stuff. Unfortunately, we do not do a lot with it. Now that we have a working Java client so that people to not need to download a special client program to use CauldronMUX, we really need to do more with it.

Getting Member Produced Content on the Web Site

Over the years, we have tried several methods for letting members add content directly to The Cauldron's web site: several wikis, tinyportal, Google Sites as subsites for our SIGs, an article section on the forum, etc. None have worked as members just do not use them. It does not seem to matter how easy (or hard) they are to use, they just do not get used. Unfortunately, we really need to come up with a way that people will use as the TC Webmaster no longer has time to manually add material members write to the web site -- and we really need member-written material to grow the web site.

The Hosts aren't sure what the solution is here, but finding one is up there with the site redesign in priority for 2010. We really need more member-produced content -- and members who produce it should not have to wait weeks (or even months) for the Webmaster to find time to manually create a web page for it and link it into the web site.

Book Reviews

This really ties into the "Getting Member Produced Content on the Web Site" problem. Years ago, one of the Hosts used to review 5 to 10 books and tarot decks a month. Then he got married and no longer had time to write reviews. There haven't been many book reviews posted to our web site in the last five years. We know a lot of our members buy and read new Pagan-oriented books, we just need to get some of those members to write reviews of the books they read and have a way they can put those reviews on our web site.

Staff Expansion

Most of our active staff members are currently focused on our message board as TC staff has always been. However, as we expand into things like TCN social networking and the like, we really need to find people qualified and active volunteers to act as staff in these new areas of The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum. We have talked about such an expansion of staff before and never really did anything to implement it. The one time we tried to create some non-board staff positions, no one was capable of actually handling the positions was interested in volunteering. This needs to change in 2010. We either need to find qualified volunteers to staff new features like TCN or we need to shut down the new features before we burn out the current staff.

The Newsletter

Our newsletter hasn't had a major change in years, either. As its irregular schedule the last two years shows, the Hosts no longer have the time to actually produce it every month, especially given how hard it is to get submissions for this newsletter. Getting articles out of members and newsletter subscribers is harder than pulling hen's teeth. We need to decide on the future of this newsletter in 2010. We have almost shut it down twice before, 2010 may be the year we actually do.


There you have it, an outline of some of our major plans for (and questions about) The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum in 2010. We've been around 12 years and we would like to be around another 12. What happens with The Cauldron this year may have a lot to do with deciding if that is even possible. If you have comments or suggestions (other than on the Web Site redesign which has it own thread mentioned above), you can post them right here in this thread.

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