When “out of the box” solutions come up short, it’s time to find a new store.
I’ve had a vision dating back a dozen years about delivering my image captures with maps and data displayed to tell a larger story than an image alone can tell. My first website version was created manually by a hired developer, but did not come close to the vision I had. In those days website development was a rather tedious process of hand cranking code to deliver a page. Creating new content was slow and the results were inconsistent. A few years ago a concept called Content Management Systems (CMS) was introduced. Some of these systems were tied to the Microsoft Server framework and would require massive work to keep pace with the changing server requirements. This made for user “unfriendly” interfaces. I dabbled in some of these platforms with varying successes, but never achieving my vision.
Then I learned about WordPress, a Linux based system that was first released in 2003. By the time I connected to this platform, it had matured to a user-friendly set of tools with loads of add-ons (called Plugins) that could change the behaviour of the website and deliver a multitude of features not possible in earlier times.
One version of shadeTree Imaging combined a Windows based image manager (Gallery Server Pro) with WordPress. While this combination was effective at delivering the image content on the Windows side, and Blog content on the Linux (WordPress) side, it required two servers, and in the end I abandoned the Gallery Server Pro (Windows) content when server stability proved unreliable (and expensive).
I then placed all my cards in the WordPress (Linux) basket and looked for a plugin to manage my images. The best one I found (NextGen) was an out of the box, one-size-fits-none solution, but it was stable and affordable, though never able to come close to carrying my vision to the rest of the world. Images could be delivered well enough, but the detailed metadata was not exposed to the viewing public.
Metadata is information piggybacked in an image file that can include perhaps 50 or 60 categories of information such Artist, Copyright, Title, Date, Description, dozens of camera parameters, geographical data (latitude, longitude, altitude, direction, speed, …). The list is long, and since I’ve been gathering images (even with film scanned to digital files) I’ve been diligent about attaching this kind of information to my images. My view is that one might learn more about a subject if is more than a pretty picture.
When I first started out in WordPress I hired a local developer (GasLamp Media) to build a framework that I could maintain myself. The developer offered to host my site for me at a reasonable rate, but I’d already started out with GoDaddy and due to scaling back from an expensive virtual server, to a cheaper Managed WordPress version, I had a considerable credit built up with GoDaddy (they don’t return funds, but only “store credit”), and I did not take up the local developer’s offer.
Several years passed and a few months ago I got fed up with the sluggish performance and server errors on the GoDaddy system, and I walked away from them. My first call was to GasLamp Media and I moved my web hosting to their servers. There was an immediate tenfold increase in speed, and reliability seemed stellar. Knowing this team had skills in developing WordPress add-ons, and feeling frustrated by the limitations of the NextGen plugin to deliver my vision, I entered a negotiation to get a custom package developed for my website. I was committed to entering a vagabond lifestyle, taking pictures and blogging as I went, and I wanted a framework to help me tell these stories.
It’s over three-and-a-half months later and it looks like the new features may go live next week.
If any brave souls want a preview <Click Here>. There are a few fine tuning issues to get sorted out, but nothing that I know of is broken. First look at the “Galleries” menu. There you will see the menu has been extensively updated (my work) to deliver images in a more robust way. Then look at the “Photo Blogs” menu and see how I’ve organized the blogs by location (States) and dates. That’s all I will say for now about the new features, but feel free to poke around at will. I plan to put out a blog when the site goes live that will explain some of the less obvious features. Stay tuned!