TL;DR: the WordPress platform as-is needs plugins (extensions) for creating complex and good-looking CMS applications. Toolset from OnTheGo systems is for me the perfect plugin to fill in this gap !
WordPress is —whether you like it or not— the leading CMS on the internet. One of the reasons is the extensibility of the platform enabling third parties to extend the basis functionality with whatever you can dream up. So, no matter what you’re trying to do, likely there’s an extension—or plugin in WordPress speak—for that!
In its basic form WordPress support just the creating of posts/articles and pages. In this you can see very well its heritage as a blog platform. The core does in fact contain all capabilities of a full-fledged CMS. Fortunately you can define your own post types (data types) in WordPress so you are able to extend the functionality with whatever data type you need. In the WordPress world we call these self-defined post type “custom post types” or CPTs. For example, if you are in the business of renting out houses you can define a CPT ‘House’ or for a hotel the CPT ‘room’ with attributes as availability, floor, number of beds etc. But without the help of plugins it is only usable by seasoned (PHP) developers.
For the site of our project “Fossiles Numeriques” we needed more. We liked to register our participants with attributes as ‘school’, ‘class’, ‘favorite color’, ‘teacher’, ‘video they participate in’ and so on, so just posts and pages would not cut it. We also needed to separate the data for the three different kinds of participants all with their own special fields and attributes. On top we like to organize the information in a logical way with parent-child relations for information, etc. In short several CPTs with relations between them. And last but not least—as this was an art project—we needed the site look visual attractive.
Types to the resque
At first I did code the needed CPTs by hand but as soon as hierarchical relations were added, things started to get messy fast! Another thing was that the project was evolving, new idea’s added on daily basis, so no stable requirement to work from either.
In fact it took less than an hour for installing the plugin and defining all the CPTs and fields needed, including with relations and interdependent fields. It was a relief after several long days of coding and figuring out why things did not work at all or —worse— not behaved as expected. And with Types I found it was not only simple to create data types but also easy to change things and amend later, therefore the use of Types turned out to be a great timesaver in the project with as added value a more stable and better coded and maintained product.
The next step —with the information needed nicely sitting in the database — was the design and implementation of the pages of the site. And there I found that having the data in the CMS is one (important) thing, but showing it on the website (in an attractive way preferably) is a whole other ball game! Again I first tried a coding approach for the templates for the pages of the site, and found soon enough that it was
- error prone,
- very time consuming mainly because of the testing required and
- very inflexible as every change in the page layout required a code change of the template.
Views for the front-end
After struggling for a couple of days, I installed the plugin Views, also from the Toolset family. With this Views plugin it was very easy to create attractive looking pages and to insert the data on the page. An important aspect was that it worked out of the box with my preferred page builder software (BeaverBuilder).
Among others I created a template for all the participants from the nearby schools that, based on the database, showed different symbols for girls and boys, changed the color of the page based on the favorite color, etc., all without writing one line of code.
Another benefit was the flexibility of the software. If there was a need to change the order of fields, add a field or whatever, it all could be done by simple WYSIWYG-type edits in the BeaverBuilder templates.
And because the CPTs, their relations, etc. are managed by the plugin and not by the theme you can also easily change themes without losing all your hard work! The Toolset plugins are well coded and well maintained, both in terms of speed as security, which is not always true with your in-house code :-). This makes keeping up to date with exploits, new WordPress versions, new page builder functionality and also new PHP versions extremely easy. You just have to make sure the plugins are updated as new versions are available —business as usual I would say— and you are home free. Last—but very important when building complex sites—their support and documentation are top-notch. You don’t need it often but if you need it you really need it. I had to consult them twice and they know their stuff very well and were able to help me out fast.
To resume :
If you need/want to build a good looking complex WordPress site and you
- don’t want to hand code all the data types and their relations with all the code testing and management required
- and/or you want an easy integration with page builders without the need for coding,
- want to decouple design and data
then Toolset by OnTheGo systems is imho the way to go. As mentioned earlier the plugin is well coded, documented, regularly updated and enhanced with new functionality and support for other WordPress plugins and ‘just works’.
No, there is no thing as perfect software but in the grand scheme of things the combination of WordPress, BeaverBuilder and Toolset comes pretty close to it.
NB: the Toolset consist of a family of plugins for creating complex CMS sites on WordPress. In this project I have used two of then Types (to create the Custom Post Types, taxonomies & fields) and Views (displaying the content on the site’s front-end).
The other parts of the Toolset suite are:
- CRED for front-end content creation forms
- Layouts the drag-and-drop Bootstrap editor for pages and templates,
- Access for access control and custom roles management and
- Maps a tool for displaying anything as markers on Google Maps.
In onze tweede podcast spreek ik met Michael (strategisch adviseur innovatie met ict & ict-infrastructuur bij Kennisnet en expert op het gebied van innovatieve ict-ontwikkelingen en ict-infrastructuur in de school) over internet of things, wat is het en wat is de relevantie voor het onderwijs.
In onze eerste podcast spreek ik met Michael (strategisch adviseur innovatie met ict & ict-infrastructuur bij Kennisnet en expert op het gebied van innovatieve ict-ontwikkelingen en ict-infrastructuur in de school) over de verschillende onderdelen waaruit een ict-ecosysteem is opgebouwd en welke afhankelijkheden verschillende leveranciers daarin hebben aangebracht.
In deze podcast bespreken we de verschillende onderdelen waaruit een ict-ecosysteem is opgebouwd en welke afhankelijkheden verschillende leveranciers daarin hebben aangebracht. Het ecosysteem van een leverancier beoogt veelal integratie en samenwerking van onderdelen binnen dat systeem, maar welke beperkingen levert dat op als je combinaties van producten van verschillende leveranciers wilt gebruiken?
Bouwstenen van het ict ecosysteem
Het ecosysteem is het geheel van devices met hun besturingssysteem, appstore, beheer- & klassenmanagement mogelijkheden en het cloudplatform dat de kern vormt van zo’n systeem. De cloudomgeving bevat naast toepassingen vaak ook functionaliteit om devices eenvoudig te kunnen beheren en klassenmanagement te ondersteunen. Zo bevat Google apps for Education naast Google Classroom ook voorzieningen om Chromebooks eenvoudig te kunnen beheren. Die mobiele devices vormen een andere belangrijke bouwsteen die niet altijd elke cloudomgeving ondersteunen. Zo werken Chromebooks het beste samen met de Google cloudomgeving terwijl Windows Laptops vooral goed werken in de Office 365 omgeving en Apple devices zoals iPads in elke cloudomgeving goed functioneren.
Volg het business-model van de leverancier
De oorzaken van afhankelijkheden en beperkingen in ict ecosystemen zijn eenvoudig verklaarbaar uit de keuzes die leveranciers maken om inkomsten te genereren. Microsoft verkoopt software licenties en abonnementen, daarom is het in haar belang Microsoft software goed te laten werken op elk device. Apple verkoopt vooral devices en verdient aan de verkoop van apps, daarom bevordert ze een breed aanbod van applicaties op haar devices. Google’s genereert vooral inkomsten door haar gebruikers heel goed te kennen en hen een persoonlijk aanbod te kunnen doen. Dat begint bij de juiste zoekresultaten maar wordt altijd begeleid door gerichte advertenties waarvoor andere partijen hen betalen. Daarom biedt Google gratis clouddiensten aan die worden gefinancierd uit de advertentieinkomsten. Die clouddiensten zullen ook altijd gegevens over haar gebruikers verzamelen, dat vormt het fundament voor de gerichte advertenties die google verkoopt. Chromebooks zijn daarom ook uitsluitend gericht op het gebruik van (Google’s) clouddiensten en ondersteunen geen lokale toepassingen die immers niet bijdragen aan de profielinformatie van de gebruiker. Lettend op deze belangen is het goed mogelijk het gedrag van elke leverancier te voorspellen en zelf te beslissen welk ecosysteem en eigenschappen het beste past bij jullie school.
Tot slot is Amazon ook een belangrijke speler in de cloud, maar vooral op de achtergrond als toeleverancier van zeer efficiënte bouwblokken (opslag, rekenkracht) die het fundament vormen van de clouddiensten van een groot deel van de markt.
It has been a busy year until now and it looks like that the next year will not be too different, which is good! Anyway, this year I, among other pursuits, have descended into the world of 360 degree video. The idea is to use this techniques in some of the projects we are to execute next year.
Today I like to share my major takeaways from my first months working in the field of 360 degree video
The first observation that it is a very fast moving field, new players, hardware, software and services are emerging every day.
With regard to hardware it is not clear what the major players will be in the next 5 years. The usual suspects for professional video gear (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Blackmagic etc) have no real worked out professional proposition, although their gear is used a lot in the different rigs of the suppliers of 360 kits. In fact GoPro looks like the mayor supplier of complete solutions for high-end 360 video. Furthermore you find new niche players such as brahma360 who can also set you up with high-end 4K or 9K rigs with 4 or more cameras.
In the consumer market you find several somewhat cheaper options such as the Samsung Gear, the Nikon Keymission and the Ricoh Theta. These cameras all make nice second rigs to complement the primary gear.
With regard to the software you have to differentiate between the stitching software (to stitch the different streams to one 360 video) and the postproduction software to edit the resulting streams. With regard to the latter you see that Adobe has taken 360 video very serious and have made great progress, so with the latest versions of Premiere and After Effects you have all the tools needed to post-process your 360 videos.
For the stitching part it depends a lot on the platform you use. As I am on Mac the choice is easy as there is only AutoPano Video Pro by Kolor.
With regard to hosting and streaming services the market is also very restricted. You can of course publish your videos on Youtube or Facebook but that is not an ideal solution. Apart from (copy)right issues these platforms are just for streaming the videos, they miss all the extra services needed to implement more engaging storytelling experiences. And my favorite hosting site for ‘normal’ video Vimeo has no 360 options whatsoever. All in all I only have been able to pinpoint one provider: viar360, a startup from Slovenia who have implemented a stable and more and more complete storytelling environment for 360 content.
After all the research I have chosen for the foreseeable future for a main 6 camera rig (the Brahma 6 Prores 9K 360 by brahma360), Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro software, a Samsung 360Gear as second rig and the viar360 web-environment. I will go into these choices in more detail in later posts, as i have planned to use this place to further capture my ventures and share my experiences in producing 360 video.
As I saw this morning: it is exactly ten years ago that I published my first post on this blog. Lots of changes since – both professional and private – but also a lot of same old stories. Also today- as you can see – a fresh new look, a bit overdue, but anyway. After giving my attention to bootstrapping my new life here in France, it was now time to clean up the blog and give it this new look. And you can expect from now new content far more regularly than the last couple of years, indeed not the hardest of tasks ;-).
Further are planned more post as co-author together with Michael van Wetering and others, so keep posted for new things to come.
I may even will try to exercise my French language skills by posting in that beautiful, but oh so difficult, language but no promises on that one yet.