WordPress Site Conversion

Falcon in mid-February 2012, while conversion of content made in 2007 was underway.From June 25, 2011 to July 1, 2012, I undertook a major project to bring The Schumin Web up to modern standards.  The project, codenamed “Falcon” (after a JMU student web server), involved converting from a site made mostly of static pages with several small databases providing some (but not all) content, to the WordPress content management platform.  This allowed more flexibility in updating the site, and finally separated the site’s design from the content once and for all.

This was neither a simple nor quick process.  I had determined that I was going to do this the right way, and thus make a site that was very solidly built, with no kludges or other funny workarounds.  Everything would be built like it was supposed to be, even if it took a long time to implement.  Choosing the design of the site – what the site would actually look like – was the easiest part.  While an early plan had been to do a full site redesign along with moving the content to WordPress, I ultimately decided, in part due to my inability to come up with a new design that satisfied me, to simply build the existing site design as a WordPress theme.  Thus there would be no major changes in the site’s basic appearance, which made learning how to build a WordPress theme that much easier, since I just had to duplicate what I already had rather than create a totally new design on a system I was still largely unfamiliar with.  A full redesign would come later, after I had fully mastered WordPress via the conversion process.

The theme was built by the middle of August 2011, and content conversion began soon after, lasting until May 2012.  Content conversion was a manual process, bringing existing content into the new WordPress system, and then updating links to point to new locations for content and restoring images.  Many images were reprocessed from the originals, with the resulting images available in much higher resolution than before.  Reprocessing from the original digital files made many images appear better than they ever had, as some of the image processing over the years yielded results that I later considered odd looking.  This process corrected those flaws, and also created a new set of image masters for the site in the process, which will certainly prove valuable in future site work.  The site, as rebuilt under WordPress, launched on July 1, 2012.

On this page, I lay my cards out for all to see.  I designed the theme under WordPress 3.1 and 3.2, and in the process of learning how to build Schumin Web in WordPress, I consulted an amazing amount of reference material.  The links presented here are those that helped me reach the finished theme and site, and get over various issues that I encountered in the process of site building.  Hopefully this will help others who are similarly building WordPress sites for the first time.

Getting started

General theme building

Custom post types

Custom fields

Miscellaneous functions

The biggest thing that I had to remember when switching to a CMS for the first time is that I was not alone.  Lots of people used WordPress in ways that I had never thought about.  Whenever I was in doubt, I went into Google and looked up exactly what I needed to find out, and often found something useful.

And if I got stuck, I went to the WordPress support forums.  For the support forums, I soon discovered that I got the best results when I brought some code to the table.  The users of the forums will not write your code for you, and I also didn’t do very well with more generalized questions.  However, the folks there were great if I had given it a shot first, and then presented the code.  People looked at the code and then came back with answers, telling me what I had done wrong, and how to do it better.  And of course, the number one rule of social spaces still applied: be courteous, and post a thank you message once the issue is resolved.

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