The making of BFM 3.0

It’s not nearly as sexy as it sounds :D But there are quite a few people interested in this topic so I thought I’d document the transition.

BFM was a Soapblox blog for several years. When it came time to move to WordPress we had several concerns:

  • migrating all diaries and comments
  • migrating user accounts
  • preserving incoming links and rss feeds
  • minimal downtime
  • minimal costs
  • equivalent functionality

Migration of diaries and comments:

I requested a copy of our database from Soapblox but I never received an answer from them. Instead of spending time on trying to get the database, I decided to use HTTrack to make an offline copy of BFM. This was perfect for my purposes; it turned everything into flat html and it kept the site structure intact. Once the website was completely mirrored to my desktop, all I had to do was upload it to the new site. I tested this a couple of times but I didn’t copy & upload the mirror of the site until the day that 3.0 launched. I will copy some of the diaries over to 3.0 but for now I plan to leave that content in html form in the archives. I would like to move the entire archived site into the WordPress database, because that it’s a cleaner and more elegant way to do things. Since I don’t have the database to work with, this is something that’s on my “someday maybe” list of things to do.

migrating user accounts:

BFM Soap has several hundred user accounts but most of these users are not active. Since BFM 3.0 does not require user registration for commenting, most of these users do not need to be recreated in the system. So I plan to migrate the users manually because this is a perfectly reasonable way to do things under these circumstances.

preserving incoming links and rss feeds:

This is a tedious pain in my rear, but it’s not difficult and it’s worth the effort. Basically I’m building rewrites for the URLs for most of the content in the archives. As for the RSS change, I am reaching out to people to make them aware of the changes. I also wrote a post on BFM Soap before I changed to the new design, so that people would be informed prior to the break in the feed. I will document the process & lessons learned when I am done.

minimal downtime:

I don’t think we experienced any “down time.” We staged bloggingformichigan.com on another website, so that the site could be built and tested prior to moving over to the bfm dot com domain. When we were ready to launch, we filled up the new design (on the staging server) with fresh content that was published on the Soap site. This was because we thought it would make the launch better … new design, new content, new awesomeness :D When the time came to change designs, we simply uploaded the WordPress design to the new server space. Prior to uploading the WP database, I changed all references to the staging site to “www.bloggingformichigan.com.” This is so that our WordPress installation would know that it is now working with the bfm dot com domain, and not the old domain where it was “born.”

The next big step was to change the DNS for www.bloggingformichigan.com. This is nothing more than changing the domain name so that it points to our new server instead of the Soapblox servers where BFM 2.0 was at. That was late Monday night, and by Tuesday morning you could access the new design using the address bloggingformichigan.com.

The Soap site is still sitting out there, but I’m not using it.

minimal costs:

I deliberately built 3.0 with the intent of doing everything at zero cost. Call it an experiment really. I wanted the end result to be a something that someone could recreate without any out of pocket costs. I was able to do this with the exception of the hosting costs. WordPress and the plugins were free, but I made some donations so that I could get premium support on the theme. I will probably purchase the pro versions of some of the plugins later, but I did meet my goal of building the site for zero cost. I’ll document the config in another post.

equivalent functionality:

This is something that I’ll document in other posts, so that I can be more thorough. In short, I evaluated how our Soap site was used, and decided to focus on the most used features. For example, we front-paged most of our user submitted content. Therefore I did not make the old “recommended diaries” feature a priority for 3.0. I simply created a way to allow some users to publish directly to the front page while other users published to the “all articles” section. Anything in the “all articles” section can be promoted to the front page. This is similar (enough) to the publishing system of Soapblox and it’s perfect for how our audience uses the site.

There are a couple of important points here:

* This process was much smoother because we used a new server, and did not attempt an “in-place” platform migration. In fact I wouldn’t bother doing an in-place migration for a platform change. It’s worth the extra effort to get clean server space.

* If you build your site on a staging server, you have to be careful on how you handle the URL changes. If you do not make the proper URL change when your new site goes live, your wordpress install will look like it’s working, but it may be using the database on the staging server. Here are a couple of links on the subject –

http://codex.wordpress.org/Changing_The_Site_URL

http://codex.wordpress.org/Moving_WordPress

What I did was easy. I downloaded a copy of the database off the staging server, opened it up in a text editor, and then did a complete find & replace. I replaced each reference to the staging server URL with a reference to “bloggingformichigan.com” Then I uploaded the database to the new server. Two things to remember here are that 1. this doesn’t change any hard links in your theme and 2. you still have to configure your wp-config to connect properly to the database on the new installation.

So that’s it. If you have feedback, suggestions, etc., feel free to log in and create a page on your own experiences so that we can learn from them. Let me know so I’ll add it to our documentation.

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