As part of this latest incarnation of Mightor Industries, one of my main goals was to integrate the forum so that users of both the main site and the forum would be one in the same. As you may have noticed, there is a login screen at the right of the screen. Right now this has zero function, except for Greg and I. You’ll notice at the bottom of the screen, in the footer, that our website is powered by WordPress. When Greg and I were deciding on what CMS type software we wanted to use for the main site, we wanted something that was powerful but not overly complex to manipulate and use. There was only one obvious choice: WordPress. I have had some previous experience with several CMS solutions, all of which have their positives and negatives. WordPress is an open source software project, which has great appeal to both Greg and I, because we’re broke. We run this website as a hobby project and don’t have a lot of resources to invest. Because of that restriction, we’re left with using freely available tools to power our site. This is not a bad thing, because there are some damn fine tools out there. WordPress being one of them. As I mentioned earlier, we’re also working on integrating our forum into the WordPress software and I wanted to share my experience with this so far.
We’ve been using the Simple Machines Forum (SMF) software for quite some time (since 2006). It has always worked well for us and has been always been full of features and fairly easy to work with. Granted, we don’t have a huge community and probably don’t take advantage of what we currently have. However, its been a fairly successful venture using this software. After doing some Google searches to try to figure out how to integrate SMF with WordPress, I determined this was going to go one of two ways: either this was going to be difficult and costly or we were going to have to switch to something else. I found that the licenses that these two pieces of software use are dramatically different, creating quite a roadblock for creating a bridge. I certainly don’t have time to learn the intricacies of each software package to write my own. So I decided to make the painful decision of looking for another software package to power our forum. This is nothing personal against SMF. The time has just come where SMF is no longer useful to us if it doesnt integrate into WordPress. After more searching on Google, I came across a forum package that claimed to integrate into WordPress. I started reading through the documentation and decided to give it a go. Now, I always test these types of changes locally before throwing them out in the field, because I want to know what I’m getting myself into. So I downloaded SimplePress. True to their word, it integrates. Fairly well. In fact, to install SimplePress is as easy as adding a plug-in to WordPress. From the dashboard, upon activation, will give you the opportunity to install. After installation in my local environment (XAMPP 2.5.8), I started experimenting and its actually pretty damn sweet. The forum shows up in the post area of the site when you click on it, so we can maintain all of the header images, the sidebar menu and the footer, without any changes to the current design. SWEET! I took a gander at the settings and there is more than enough in there for what we do with our forum to continue. OK, so the decision has pretty much been made that SimplePress will have enough features to power the site. Now lets talk data conversion.
Off to Google I went. I came across the SimplePress support forum. I did a search for converting SMF to SimplePress. What I ended up finding after doing some reading was that I was going to have to go through some serious gyrations of upgrading SMF to phpBB to bbPress (all forum software packages) to SimplePress. I was NOT excited by the amount of work, but decided that if that’s what I have to do, so be it. I then decided that I would post and see if there was any documentation, since I really don’t want to spend the time learning phpBB and bbPress to figure out how to get my data to SimplePress, since I wont be using either of these two forum packages, except to convert my data. I was then informed that there was a direct way to do what I wanted to do, all I had to do was use their Importer utility (which is still in beta testing) to import the data. I thought, why not? I’ve got nothing to lose, since Im working locally. I’ll give it a try. After an email later, with some instructions on how to implement, I was off to import. Except the import failed. 2 users and no forum posts. DAMN! After another email, I found out that I needed to be on a newer version of SMF in order to import. OK. I spent the next 3 hours trying to figure out that process. After finally getting the SMF forum upgraded to the latest revision, I ran the import again. This time, 2 users and all of my forums had come over. Except that my forum dates were all January 1, 1970. I emailed back explaining my results. I was then requested to send off my data for a developer to take a look at it. Sure, I’m game for that too, since data can sometimes be the determining factor in finding an issue with software. After several emails back and forth with the developer, who was more than willing to keep plowing through the issues without any complaint, we finally got our data imported, with no issues! Thanks SimplePress for all you do!
The point I’m getting at here (sorry for the rant) is that I believe the key to a successful open source project, like any other project is two fold. One, organization. Organizing your product so its easy to understand will go a long way to determining who uses your software. If it’s easy to use, chances are, people will use it. That was one of my determining factors in choosing WordPress. WordPress is organized well and their documentation is far superior to most of any software package Ive ever used. Two, a community. In open source software, this is the lifeblood of your project. In most cases, the stories you will read about someone attempting to use an open source package will go something like this “They were so rude to me and called me a noob and told me to read the documentation”. While there are many cases of this sort of situation, this is NOT what I experienced when working with SimplePress. They were more than willing to help and to spend their free time (Andy, again, thanks!) to not only improve their software but to help out someone who was looking for a solution. These people are dedicated to their product and are willing to do what it takes to make it work. It was this dedication that pretty much made up my mind about SimplePress. As an end user, I’m extremely grateful for the assistance they’ve provided me. I only hope that once the forums are converted (probably this weekend, assuming all goes well) that you are just as impressed with the new design. I, for one, am super excited about it.
If you’d like to read through the post from the SimplePress forums, I highly encourage you to do so. I’ve included the link below. My posts are toward the end of the chain (its fairly long). It goes into a bit more technical detail of the process I went through to convert the SMF forum from 1.1.7 to SimplePress. Expect the forum upgrade sometime this weekend (as soon as Friday night). Once I have a more concrete date, I’ll post it here.