January 25, 2006

Community Server - a brief synopsis of my experience setting up this site

As I mentioned before, this blog is actually just a small part of the entire site.  This "suite" of sites also encompasses my wife's and children's blogs as well that I gave to them (along with their own domain names) as Christmas presents.  I had needed to get my domain up and running again because it had been down for a few months since Online Focus closed down.  Around the same time that I was thinking about getting this up and running again, I decided that I wanted to do my family's sites, too.  I had a little bit of experience of playing around with Community Server a bit earlier in the year and I though that it might make the perfect foundation for what I wanted to do.  I didn't think I needed the forums part of the Community Server suite, but I wanted the blogs and I thought I would give the Photo Galleries portion a go, too.

My last site had been built on .Text (which is the predecessor to the blogs portion of Community Server) and I had really come to like .Text.  I thought about possibly just going with .Text again, but I had been looking for a reason to explore Community Server further and this seemed to be tailor made.

So how did it go and what do I think of it?  Read on...

Installation went well.  I installed the site and the database on my laptop first and explored the code and setup the four blogs and experimented with the functionality to see how everything worked.  Everything seemed okay, so I moved on to the next step.

I moved everything up to my site at WebHost4Life and began exploring further.  I have four domain names pointing to this site, mine - danhounshell.com, my wife's and my kids'.  Because of this I wanted it to behave so that if you came into the site through any of those URLs you would go directly to the blog for that specific user.  My way to accomplish this was to add code to the default.aspx page to check the domain name and then redirect to the appropriate blog.  Doing so basically did away with the default home page for the site, but I really didn't need it and I really didn't like the looks of it anyway.

My next step was to perform some other updates that I found.  I installed some add-ons that can be found on the Community Server site, namely Dan Bartel's FreeTextBox Wrapper to replace the Telligent FreeTextBox Wrapper and the FreeTextBox.CSImageGallery add-on to better integrate the galleries with the blogs. I really, really like this add-on because it truly ties in the two functionalities much better than the stock implementation.

I then went looking for some blog skins that I liked better than the ones included with CS by default.

My final fixes (for now) was to modify some of the navigation of the blogs and the sites to make everything fit together a little nicer.

I really like the CS platform for the most part.  There are a couple of things still lacking a bit - while the skins for the blogs, their availability, and the support for making them are abundant, skins for the rest of the application are nearly non-existent.  It would be nice to apply one skin to the entire site that would apply to blogs, the gallery and all misc pages so they would all look customized and carry one theme.  I also like the way that the .Text admin was set up a little more than the admin for the blogs for CS, but most of that is based from memory and we all know how volatile memory can be.  Barring those small issues, though, I really like CS and think it is a great platform. It was nice to be able to have the source code so that I could make changes to the application to form it to the mold of the site that I envisioned.  And maybe best of all - I didn't have to pay anything for it.  I have read comments from others stating that they don't like the "bloat" of Community Server, especially when just wanting to have one blog.  I disagree.  While Community Server is big, I don't think it is bloated.  Even if you "just" want to implement a blog, you probably want to implement the galleries, too.  That leaves only one portion of the suite, the Forums, that you may not want/need, and those are easy enough to turn off. 

The final verdict is that I like Community Server and I can't wait until the official release of version 2.0.

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