Like most efforts to build an on-line community, this website has been anything but the product of one person's labour. However, if you really wished to point the finger at one specific individual, then Grant Malcolm has been responsible for designing, building and managing this site - for free! His object has always been to create an environment in which those with a passion for the performing arts, and in particular australian theatre, can promote their work and share their experiences.
On-line communities don't just happen! The first version of this website was developed to support the objectives of the Independent Theatre Association. The independent theatre community of Western Australia played an active part in shaping the early development of this website. While the site now supports a thriving national network, the WA theatre community continues to play a vital role.
Remember, this is your website. We all thrive on each others contributions, praise and thoughtful criticism.
From 1999 until 2008, Perth-based Internet Service provider, Informed Technology generously sponsored Theatre Australia providing free hosting and support. They kindly provided sophisticated server technology to support this site's features and the friendly Informed Technology staff always responded very promptly to questions and demonstrated considerable tolerance for the trouble we occasionally caused them!
From the outset it was apparent that simply reproducing details from ITA newsletters or producing an on-line sales brochure advertising the benefits of ITA membership, was neither going to meet the varied needs of the ITA membership nor take advantage of the interactive nature of the Internet and World Wide Web.
A site that would fill these criteria would have to be highly interactive allowing for the maximum interchange of information and a high degree of participation by interested parties. The site would need to be regularly updated and preferably by as many people as possible to share the work load if not the responsibility.
Maintaining such a site using conventional methods would have caused an updating load beyond the capacity of a team of dedicated workers. However, a range of options were available to allow the site to be "served" live from on-line databases. This means that the site effectively updates itself, providing a fresh copy of the latest information everytime a visitor comes to the site.
There are literally hundreds of examples of sites providing information from databasess - search engines are the most obvious examples. However, sites that maximised opportunities for visitor input were not so common.
Simple WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web authoring packages help with laying out the original site. But these were quickly dropped in favour of writing the HTML (hyper text markup language) by hand in a text editor.
To give the site it's interactive facilities a range of software was used. The first packages used were Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts - text files - written in Perl. The packages included a simple flat-file database manager by Selena Sol used to maintain the What's On, Audition, Library, and Company databases. The highly popular message boards were running on an early "freeware" version of Webbbs by Darryl Burgdorf. The Free-For-All-Links page script was courtesy of Matt Wright and the polls script was from BigNoseBird.Com. All of these marvellous tools were at least free for non-commercial use. They also came with very liberal licences that allowed them to be radically modified to suit the needs of the ITA site.
The collaborative philosophy of this site is reflected in the choice of Open Source tools for its development.
You'd have to be either a Luddite or Net novice, not to have heard of the "free" Linux operating system. This marvel of modern engineering is a product of the co-operative efforts of the Internet community.
The "free" Apache server software running this site runs on the Linux operating system. The databases are maintained on a "free" SQL database called PostgreSQL and are served using the "free" server side scripting language PHP.
Until 2006, the message boards ran on a modified version of Phorum, a "free" php-based system. The What's On database was built almost entirely from scratch with some calendar display routines from an Open Source community calendar originally by Rosenet, Inc. The site's search engine was based on a GNU 2 Licenced version of DGSSearch by Digital Genesis but with substantial changes to the search logic. Modification to these scripts and the home-brewed scripts for the Links, Companies and Polls were all done in a simple text editor - often pico or nano in a Linux shell. Images were prepared using the GIMP and IrfanView.
In 2005, Grant began migrating the site to Drupal, an open source content management platform. Drupal provides a powerful open framework for developing sites that encourage community collaboration. Migration wasn't a straight forward process, there were
to be migrated from the old website to new Drupal modules.
A little more than a year later the current version of the website was launched in March 2006 - coinciding with the 8th anniversary of the site's inception.
In March 2008 Informed Technology sold their business and with very little time to put a solution in place, we were looking for a new home for the website. Adrian at Xenion was very helpful in setting up a virtual server (VM) for Grant but it was always going to be an underpowered temporary solution for what is a very, very busy site. (Just how underpowered would quickly become apparent!) Mark started out helping with the DNS transfer, then some tuning of the VM before finally offering his own VM as a database server to try and keep the site alive while a new server was sourced. A week later a second hand Dell 2650 was installed in the rack at the co-location. When it was switched on it took down the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and a rack full of servers. A couple of week's later Mark purchased a new server out of his own pocket and Grant agreed to pay for the rack space to get things running more reliably. Finally on 12 May the site was up and running on the new hardware. Mark collapsed in a tired heap, Grant smiled and Adrian looked on from the US and said that it was a good thing.
In case you hadn't noticed, this site was built entirely using Open Source, "free" software. So the next time you are tempted to fork out money for what looks like a fancy piece of software, think twice.
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