The evolution of Stewartstown.com

I’m sometimes asked about this and figure that with the launch of the updated site this is a good time to share a little history.  Stewartstown.com began as an idea in the fall of 1999.  There were several factors that played into the decision to start it.

First, I wanted to contribute to the community in a way that used my skills and fit in with my situation.  My job as a global information technology manager for a Hunt Valley based company required me to travel globally, sometimes for as long as a month at a time.  That meant I couldn’t be a reliable participant in many organizations in the community.  At the same time I wanted to try my hand at some web site development beyond the simple personal site I had created.  The idea occurred to me of creating a community site that would, as the FAQ states, “use Internet technology to bring residents closer together, share ideas, publicize local events, post news, etc.” Thus was born Stewartstown.com, beginning life in late November of 1999.

Most site visitors today have no memory of the initial site, in fact never saw it.  It was a “static” site, that is, the content mixed in with the html code used to create the site.  After awhile I wanted an easier way to add content, so I developed a simple content management system that allowed me to manage article on the back end, store them in a database, and pull them up for display.  Many will remember that design that had a dark blue textured border on the left side.  During this time we did have a forum that was provided through an advertisement-driven free service.

The next step in the evolution came when I wanted to cut ties to the external forum provider due to excessive use of pop-up/pop-under ads, performance issues, and lack of good site integration.  I also wanted to make it easier for site visitors to submit articles and generally improve the interactivity of the site.  While with enough effort I could have developed something from scratch, after some investigation I found that there were open source, relatively easy to customize and freely available applications designed to create websites around communities of interest.  After trying quite a few different ones I selected one called PostNuke and began recreating the site using it to manage content and provide a theming system for creating and modifying the site appearance.  I used several third-party modules at the time, notably the PostBoard forum and PostCalendar events calendar modules, to make the site more interactive.  This came live in February 2002 and was key to making Stewartstown.com a true community site.

That brings us to the current site update.  It was driven mainly by the fact that I was using an antiquated version of PostNuke, PostBoard was discontinued and no longer supported by the developer, and the site appearance was getting stale.  Though it wouldn’t be my choice today for brand new development, I decided to go with the newest version of PostNuke because it eased conversion, particularly of member accounts and articles.  I had to use a different forum plugin, pnForum, that is current and while not the most feature-rich forum for PostNuke, it is very well integrated (most are not) and has the necessary functionality.  I wrote data conversion scripts to move data from PostBoard to pnForum and customized (and debugged) a few stock themes for the site.  The themes took more work than I anticipated, sometimes because they were buggy and sometimes because of code necessary to accomodate poorly written modules, but at last everything is up and running!

I hope you enjoy visiting Stewartstown.com and interacting with other site visitors.  There are many in the Stewartstown area who have contributed much to the success of this site--providing content, encouragement, ideas--the list is endless.  You know who you are, and I thank all of you.  The fact is that if people like you didn’t visit the site then I wouldn’t do it, so thank you for being a part of this online community!

Posted by Dan Baldwin on 01/29/2005 at 10:27 AM in History
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