5th Generation Arena ChMS Website

Friday, November 18, 2011 8:57 AM by nairdo

Today marks the launch of our 5th Arena ChMS powered website.  This time around it was more of a cosmetic face-lift, and as far as the switch-over was concerned, we used all the tricks we learned last time to make the change very smooth (more on that below).  The bulk of the switch took 8 seconds (scripted), about 1 hour of minor manual tweaks by Jason Offutt and I, followed by roughly 4 hours of additional fine tuning by Jason Ake.

5th Generation CentralAZ.com website - aka "007" 

A few lessons were learned during the 4th generation site (aka Hasselhoff) which were largely based on feedback we received from the congregation and staff.  Gone is the campus selection integration that was initially prevalent after the initial launch in the summer 2010.  Now the only place a person needs to think about which campus they care about is when they're exploring the calendar, giving online (since one of our campuses has a different giving system - ugh), and when they simply want information about our different campuses.  It mostly turns out that people don't like campus separation/segregation.

Although the new site is based on the "Elegance" theme, props go to Jason Ake (our new web designer) and our graphic artists, Jeremy Wagner and Mitch Eiler, for their many cool elements and tweaks.  Most of the cool code changes including the newly tweaked event calendar, our Facebook login integration, and Vimeo video wall come from Jason Offutt, who's continually pushing me to learn the latest techniques and libraries.  To that end, this time around we used a little Mustache.js, Backbone.js, and as we discussed at RefreshCache 2011, we wrote some of our JavaScript in CoffeeScript.  Our promotion slider (seen here) is still based on our Promotions via XSLT module but this time around our XSLT spits-out Awkward-Showcase jQuery library goodness to handle the transitions and widgety-thumbnaily UI.  The recent blog entries that are pulled into the the home page is using a slightly customized (I added caching) version of Arena's standard XML File Transformation module (which I just posted to the shared repo here).  Lastly, we also used the Promotion via XSLT module on a standalone page to "feed" our Arena based promotions into our "Welcome" Facebook page as seen here:

CentralAZ Welcome Page on Facebook 

Overall these changes took our code team between 2-4 weeks of execution time while all the rest of the project work took Jason Ake between 2-3 months of planning and execution.

Now, about the planning, staging and cut-over...

First of all we decided to ease our pain by creating four new Arena templates which would roughly match our previous four (home page, child page, single column page, and wide page). In addition to that, whenever possible, we used identical "area" (placeholder) names inside the templates.  These two steps alone simplify the cut-over tremendously since our cutover SQL script now basically only has to change (for example) pages that use template 65 and update them to use template 77, etc.  I highly recommend you use this same technique when upgrading/updating your website from generation to generation.

Once the templates were created/beta we also immediately added them to our production Arena install so that we could get their final templateID (for use later when writing the cut-over script).  At that point in the process it's also a good idea to add any new pages that you're going to want in the new website and just set the "Display in Nav" to false.  On the day of the cut-over your script can surgically flip that bit to make it show up.  At about t-minus 2 weeks we copied our production Arena database and Arena website folders into a new test instance for testing the cut-over scripts. We added an alias to our internal DNS and set up IIS to serve the test site up as http://testweb/ for general staff User Acceptance Testing.

Now that this website is behind us, next up will be creating a personal, personalized space on the site and the modules needed for people to access all of "their" stuff (profile, prayer requests, small groups, contribution statements, event registrations, customized news/promotions, etc.).


  1. Mitch Says:
    Well when you put it like that, it sounds like we did something impressive! ha ha Nice work by you and Mr. Offutt

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