Author Topic: Hillrunner.com: 10 years online  (Read 1870 times)

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Offline Ryan

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Hillrunner.com: 10 years online
« on: April 19, 2009, 04:27:38 AM »
Wow. As I reflect on where the website has come from ten years ago to where it is today, itís amazing. Sure, there is always more that could be done. If I had unlimited time, it would be much different than it even is now. However, reflecting on all of the changes, Hillrunner.com now is in many ways not at all what it was when it began. Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Iím sure even the earliest visitors to Hillrunner.com would still recognize a lot of what we have here today.

Iíll offer fair warning here. This is going to get a little tech-geek at some points. I think some of you will be interested in the technology changes, while others will experience their eyes glossing over. Because of that, Iím going to start with looking at the visible changes that have happened, then Iíll indulge the techies, not to mention my own interest in documenting some of the tech changes that have happened along the way, with a discussion of some of the technological changes that have happened here.

Visible Changes

The website may look much the same as it did ten years ago. In fact, looking at the first web archive snapshot of Hillrunner.com from October 9th, 1999, you will see a lot of similarity to what you see here today. A very similar color scheme, with the old navy blue updated to a more ďmodernĒ looking blue gradient, a very similar left side navigation bar that even has some of the same categories we have today, and generally the same formatting throughout the main page that we see today.

As I look through the web archive copy of Hillrunner.com from 1999, itís interesting to see the sections. The original incarnation of the forum, which quickly took over as the central part of the site, began around late August or early September. The links and pictures sections were already around, as were the training section and the store. The NCAA section and the results section eventually evolved into the Running News forum, where results and NCAA news are posted alongside all the other news of the running world. All the other sections you see now have been added along the way.

The forums themselves have gone through quite a bit of change. Iíll get into the technology later but, for the first four years, they were essentially just a text-based bulletin board before we had a major outage that wiped out that system and I scrambled around to replace that system with a more modern system in late 2003. Unfortunately, all the posts before that time were lost due to that outage.

The rest of Hillrunner.com has also changed quite a bit. The calendar was added in the early 2000s and has gone through some software changes before, eventually, I simply started from scratch and wrote the calendar system we see today. The polls also went through quite a few changes before I also started that from scratch and wrote the polling system we use today. The links page went through a couple of complete redesigns, as did the training section. Of course, the homepage has also evolved through the years, the most recent changes being the sidebar on the right where you can find the current poll and upcoming events from the calendar and the tabbed interface that allows you to more quickly and easily see everything that is going on at Hillrunner.com.

Throughout all of the changes, I have always tried to keep Hillrunner.com as user friendly as possible. If you canít easily find and do what you want, then Iím failing. On that note, Iíve taken a lot of input from all of you and that input has gone a long way in shaping Hillrunner.com. I hope you will continue to offer input, either response to changes that are made or ideas on how Hillrunner.com can be made even better. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to continue to help shape Hillrunner.com into the site that best serves your needs and, hopefully, the needs of everyone who visits.

Technological Changes

When Hillrunner.com first began, it was extremely simple. Mostly static HTML with a little JavaScript mixed in to liven things up. Having started on a student page, this was really about all that could be done. Quickly, though, I attempted to expand the technology base of Hillrunner.com. The first attempt was to install a PERL-based CGI forum. I struggled for a bit before Horace of MERVís Competitive Running Forum assisted in getting the first Hillrunner.com Forum started. It was a very basic text-based WebBBS bulletin board system. Using WebBBS and online tools to self-learn PERL, I began playing around with other scripts, including some chat room software. I also tried my hand in coding some basic scripts, including the first contact form.

In 2003, we had a major server issue and the WebBBS forum was down for the count. I worked with the server administrators for a few days before deciding there was no possibility of recovery and going out to find what, to me at the time, was new technology called php and installed phpBB. I never became completely sold on phpBB, which is why we converted to SMF - another php-based system - in the spring of 2006, but I did quickly become a convert to php. It didnít take me long to begin converting all the PERL-based CGI scripts to php scripts. Then, began the major undertaking. I decided to convert all of Hillrunner.com from static HTML to more flexible and dynamic php scripts. As of now, with one or two exceptions, every page on Hillrunner.com runs on php.

Other technologies are also in play. JavaScript is still used throughout Hillrunner.com, most visibly in the calculators but also in other places. From almost day one, Iíve leaned heavily on CSS for formatting, though itís obvious to anyone who looks at the code behind Hillrunner.com that Iím not a ďpuristĒ who believes HTML tables should never be used for formatting (of course, part of the heavy use of tables is a result of legacy code that I simply donít have the time to convert to more ďpureĒ code). Most of the behind the scenes data handling is taken care of through MySQL databases.

Again, throughout the past decade, the technology used on Hillrunner.com has been dictated by what I can use to bring you all the best features I can come up with, with an eye toward keeping up with modern web technology so Hillrunner.com is always leveraging the latest and greatest tools to bring you the most user friendly site possible. Actually, as I have been writing this, Iíve noted how the forums have been the leading edge of two of the key technology changes. The original forum led to my exploring PERL-based CGI scripts, the change to php-based forums led to my exploring php scripts and MySQL databases. Of course, other technology used on Hillrunner.com like JavaScript and CSS have been in use even before the first Hillrunner.com Forum came online.

I hope at least a couple of you have enjoyed the past three weekends of strolling down memory lane. Next weekend, Iím very excited to take a look at what the future will hold for Hillrunner.com, including a whole new section which we tentatively have scheduled to make its public appearance on the 26th.

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