The dark side of ‘the personal project’

Last year, sometime in February I think, a couple of design/marketing friends and I got together for coffee and one of the things that came up in conversation was an idea for a particular type of website that’s not represented in our region of the country. Let’s call it Idea X, just for kicks.

I was intrigued by Idea X – I’d been playing with the concept for a few months, but when it was also mentioned by someone else, I really couldn’t get it out of my head.

I started doing some research into how to implement Idea X in a website. I wound up installing a copy of Joomla and spending time looking for the right combination of plugins to build my site. Months later, I’d spent a lot of time on this project – a huge amount of time customizing the plugins’ styling, and learning how to build a custom template for Joomla. But it just wasn’t working the way I wanted it too, and I was at a standstill on getting help for the main plugin that formed the glue of my site.

I had a few colleagues test the site, and the results were not good. Last summer, I wound up walking away from the project for awhile.

Enter WordPress

Then, around July or August, I got a couple of WordPress projects back to back. I didn’t know how to theme WordPress at that point, so I hired someone to do it for me. To make an icky little story shorter,  my designer totally missed the mark and failed to deliver. That turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise – I was forced to sit down and learn how to theme WordPress myself. The first one took 10 hours; now I can do it in 2-3, pixel-perfect.

So after a few more months and a lot more WordPress work, I once again found myself thinking about Idea X. I wondered if it could be implemented in WordPress?

The short answer: not easily. The long answer: how much time do you have and are you willing to spend a large amount of it hunting for obscure answers on Google?

I jumped back into it and set up a WordPress site. I found some really intricate and well-written tutorials about doing Idea X in WordPress, pretty cool stuff, although most of it was not up to date.

I recreated the site, plus a few extra features, in WordPress. I translated my custom Joomla template over to WordPress, added in the recommended plugins, then got my hands dirty learning how to do programming to customize the plugins according to the tutorials I found.

This version of the site took less time than the Joomla one. When I sent it out for testing, the results were mixed, but better – it was clunky, but it was a good idea. It didn’t do ‘y’ or ‘z’ the way it was expected too, but my testers could see the value of such a site.

Some of the things that were problematic for the testers were issues that I couldn’t resolve – they were products of the outdated plugins, and I didn’t have the programming knowledge to fix all of them. And I was beginning not to like the template anymore.

Frustrated, I walked away again.

Round 3

But I came back over Thanksgiving weekend – I scrapped what I was doing, installed a fresh copy of WordPress with none of the old plugins, and reworked the template until I was happy.

I read a chapter in a book that taught me how to build a job board (one of the extras I’d planned) from scratch – I happily followed the tutorials and then spent a few weeks customizing it. It’s cool, it looks pretty good and it works – and I learned a lot in the process, learning to work with some of the tried-and-true WordPress plugins like TDO Miniforms.

I did more research on Idea X and WordPress, hoping to find something more current. I thought I had – I purchased a plugin, installed it, was very pleased with it right out of the box and spent, again, a lot of time customizing the look and feel.

Until the developer dropped off the radar in March. He took down his forum and stopped responding to any support requests. Custom fields entered using his plugin are not saved to the WordPress database, and I lack the time and inclination to fix that.

Today I found another plugin – current, with an active forum and support ticketing system. I more or less like the look of the showcase sites and the demo, and sent a list of questions to the developer to see if this will be my holy grail for getting Idea X off the ground. I’m not opposed to switching again, but I think this will be the last time I do it, if it turns out that this plugin will indeed do what I need it to do.

At least for a few months.

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