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IEEE-CSS Portal

T

his project was to redesign a database driven dynamic version of the existing site including migration of existing content on the site to the new site design and provision of adequate documentation to facilitate adoption of the new application within the organization.


Background

The overall purpose of the project is to redesign a database driven dynamic version of the existing site including migration of existing content on the site to the new site design and provision of adequate documentation to facilitate adoption of the new application within the organization. In summary, at a technical level, it is largely a comprehensive content management system with role based access rights and user forums.

We used basic centralized web architecture with a Linux Server running MYSQL 4 and Apache as web server with PHP 4 as server side scripts and Java Applet for basic live chat feature. Cross browser compatibility was a key consideration in HTML and JavaScript compatibility to level 4 of HTML as per W3C guidelines was ensured.

The CLIENT Control Systems Society (hereafter referred as CLIENT) is a technical society within the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (CLIENT). CLIENT serves about 8,500 members worldwide. Its main activities are running several technical conferences and journals to facilitate technology development of the field of control systems engineering. CLIENT governance is through five activity boards: a Conference Activities Board, a Financial Activities Board, a Member Activities Board, a Publication Activities Board and a Technical Activities Board. Each of these boards includes committees and subcommittees. There are no formal CLIENT headquarters; the entire organization is run by volunteers.

Project Objective

The overall purpose of the project is to redesign a database driven dynamic version of the existing site including migration of existing content on the site to the new site design and provision of adequate documentation to facilitate adoption of the new application within the organization. In summary, at a technical level, it is largely a comprehensive content management system with role based access rights and user forums. The project objectives are listed below:

  1. The new site must be oriented to, and cater to, the needs of our audience. User-oriented menus, navigational aids, and a search facility will make it easier and more intuitive for our members and other visitors to find the information they seek.
  2. The new site must have a consistent look and feel throughout, with a singular theme and consistent navigational aids.
  3. The new site must use Linux/Apache/MySQL/Perl/PHP technology and be able to reproduce the functionality of the current Web site.
  4. The new site must be truly interactive with BB/Forum interfaces.
  5. The new site must be truly interactive with interfaces built-in to allow members to voice their opinions on current events and to e-mail elected officials.
  6. We want a site that is designed from the users' perspective, not from the perspective of the society or the organization's internal structure.
  7. The "blueprint" must "layout" and demonstrate the "user friendliness and usability" of the site. Here we are referring to the design and organization of the site. (For example, features that make the site easy and friendly to use, easy to navigate, quickly to download, and easy to search and find specific information on.) In addition, the site should provide the user with helpful and useful links to additional resources.

Explicit Project Requirements

  1. The site should be database driven and should provide performance comparable to or better than the existing site.

    There are two possibilities:

    1. render pages on the fly from the database
    2. cache the output from the database and re-cache automatically after updates are made to pages.
  2. The layout must be the same throughout the site (comparable style and "look and feel") and be updatable through style sheets and include functions rather than by modifying each file.
  3. Content and presentation are to be controlled by Cascading Style Sheets rather than inline commands.
  4. The site is to be hosted on Control Systems Society's dedicated server with firewall protection using IP tables. Only SSH/SFTP/HTTP/HTTPS services are to be exposed.

Static Components:

  1. All archival material such as past content from e-letters, Control Systems Magazine indices, past committees. These should be suitably linked and ideally searchable. For example, as the database of committees grow, it should be possible to query activities of an individual as catalogued.
  2. Possibility to add legacy content - such as past indices/committees, etc.

Dynamic Components:

  1. Newsletter input/subscription, possibly including a change in the nature of the newsletter so that articles appear as submitted and approved by the editors (in addition to a text version being mailed out at the end of each month as at present)
  2. Journal/magazine indices
  3. Committee forums(private/public, micro communities)
  4. Surveys/polls(private/public)

Interactive:

Hierarchical editorial control over content:

    1. An editor/webmaster be able to modify content of entire site including layout.
    2. A section editor may control a smaller section - e.g., the Editor-in-Chief of a journal may be able to edit his/her section.
    3. Area editors may control a large section - e.g., the Vice President for Publications may edit content for all publications.
    4. A conference webmaster should be able to access specific directories and be able to run CGI scripts from within her or his directories.
  1. Webmaster ability to assign sections to people with suitable login privileges.

Miscellaneous:

  1. All email addresses are to be obscured graphics.
  2. Strict HTML 4 compliance of both static and dynamically generated web pages to ensure cross browser compatibility.
  3. We want the "blueprint" to lay out a plan for a text-only parallel site that users are automatically diverted to based on their browser's capabilities. In addition, users may elect this option to speed site navigation regardless of the browser used.
  4. We want a site that would allow us in the future to provide our users with streaming audio and video.
  5. The CLIENT does not permit co-branding, i.e., the Society will not permit links to refer back to the company that designed and implemented the site.

Feature List:

There are two parts in the application. One is the front end site that is accessible to the members based on access rights and the second is the admin panel where the super user or a few select managers can control the content of the site as well as track the communication among members and between the members and the society. The front end site has the following capabilities from the view point of a site visitor as per the RFP:

  1. Cross browser compatibility will be supported for a consistent look and feel of the site across browsers necessitating use of only basic HTML and JavaScript capabilities that are common to most popular browsers like IE or Netscape or Mozilla Firefox. So, that users can comfortably see the site on Windows, Macintosh or Linux clients.
  2. Members can choose between a light weight text site (low bandwidth like dialup) or a media rich site (better connection like DSL or Cable or T1)
  3. Display Links on top bar and side navigation bar each leading to an index of contents, which can be clicked to view the details including text and graphics as per the context
  4. Ability of members to register and login on the site to see a "My Account Page", where a specific member can send offline messages to other members or participate in discussions on open forums or do a live chat with other members.
  5. All content could be indexed and classified as per the committee structure into which members are organized. Hence private and public committee forums and custom micro communities of members who wish to form a group (both public / private) will be supported
  6. Members can sign-up for a newsletter in one or more of the specified categories
  7. All dynamic features of the site will be supported with a wizard based help navigation
  8. Users will have a basic version of a live chat feature so they can interact with other online users or society representatives on the site using instant messages
  9. Journal and Magazine indices will appear on the site in a professional tree layout
  10. Each page of the site will allow a user to forward the HTML content by e-mail to a friend or to own e-mail ID provided at the time of registration
  11. Home page of the site can have a featured section or an opinion poll or recent news or highlights that the site visitors will notice upon opening the site.
  12. There will be a my favorites menu for each members, where the members can add certain links of the site to a list and use this list to reach those links quickly
  13. There will be a suggestion box, where members can fill a form and give their ideas for improvement
  14. There will be an inquiry form where the casual site visitor can ask a question and specify an e-mail ID on which a reply can be sent, if required

The editor login will be given to area editors or section editors or conference webmasters and they will selectively get the following capabilities based on granted access privileges in the administration part of the site:

  1. Ability to register and sign-up
  2. Ability to delete any objectionable content in forums, if any such issue arises and in case there is a complaint
  3. Ability view and respond to messages from members or groups or committees
  4. Ability to define a newsletter by choosing a template and uploading text and images
  5. Ability to define a workflow among editors to edit and finalize a newsletter
  6. Ability to create multiple newsletters classified by category
  7. Ability to define a survey and view survey results, which can then be published on the main site in the survey or opinion poll channel of the site
  8. Ability to define the content of the header graphic or side graphic or logo or background image on the site and define a workflow among editors for editing and final approval of content changes
  9. Ability to define new topics for general, committee specific and micro forums
  10. Ability to allocate members to various committees or micro groups with any member belonging to one or more committees or groups
  11. Ability to define the links and sub index in top bar and side navigation bar and provision of text and graphic content for each of the links and sub links using a content management tool
  12. Editor rights can vary as per the privileges defined by the site administrator

The site administrator (overall web master) is a super admin user who has a master login for the administration area of the site and has the following capabilities:

  1. Approve registration of members, committees, micro groups and editors
  2. Define access privileges for editors
  3. Define workflow for editing and approval of content among editors related to site content or polls or newsletters
  4. Define and edit featured articles, highlights or recent news that appear on the home page
  5. All rights provided to editors
  6. Ability to do a shadow login and view the site like any specific member or editor to validate access privileges
  7. Administration of messages, inquiries or suggestions and ability to edit the profile or access password / access privileges of any member or editor

Technology Architecture

PHP 5 with MYSQL 5 on Linux server is proposed as the technology stack for this application. Cross browser compatibility across Safari, IE 6 / 7 and Firefox 2/ 3 is adequate.

Application will be optimized for Internet Explorer 6+ but HTML 4 compliance will be preserved to ensure cross browser compatibility with other common browsers like Safari and Firefox.

Cross browser compatibility is largely ensured through use of XHTML 1.0 and HTML 4 compliance. All application testing will be done in Firefox which has a more restrictive implementation of HTML / JavaScript and this ensures that it runs well in IE browsers too. Any cross browser issues will be debugged if they arise during module testing. Optimistic locking will be used in database operations to improve concurrent user performance. Extensive use of stored procedures will ease network traffic and database performance.

PEAR coding standards will be used throughout the application.