Sunday, December 14, 2008

Atticks has sites set on Md. Web upgrade

The executive director of the Association of Maryland wines and I have had an ongoing conversation since I began my blog in April. Kevin Atticks has been a big help, both in providing fodder for stories and offering encouragement.

His association’s Web site serves as a reservoir for stories, and that site only will get better over the next few months. Atticks said by phone the other day that he has been dabbling with a program called Joomla! It’s a free, open source content management system for publishing content on the Web, one that should make the site more dynamic and add a number of new components for its visitors.

Noting that it’s a system developed by programmers that lacks a comprehensive instruction guide. Atticks said he has spent an extended period researching and now experimenting to learn it. But the payoff, he noted, should be significant. “There are some amazing features,” he said. “Blogging is the least of what I can do. It does it very easily, but beyond that, with the flip of a switch, put your own survey on there. Polls are built in [and you can rotate random images and articles]. It would automatically rank your most-visited blog entries; very, very dynamic in how it lays things out. You can turn on a log-in feature so you can create a special section for people to get on there. Something that’s of interest to me is, for our winery members, they always have equipment that they want to buy and sell, so there’s a built-in classified feature. It comes all set up so you don’t need to know how to do any of that. You just give it a title, turn it on and tell the program who is allowed in and out.”

Other features currently being developed, called extensions, will give the site even more power and versatility. Of course, one thing at a time. Atticks said he has developed a ghost site to try the program out. A professor in journalism and communications at Loyola College in Maryland (who earned his master’s in environmental journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder and his doctorate in communications design from the University of Baltimore), he admits that the push to transform the site will require the free time he gets during semester break. Expect to see the first wave of improvements by early January.

“The first new thing that we’re going to do is add a blog feature,” he said, “and it’s probably going to be me and we’re looking to hire someone [to write about Maryland wines and wineries]. And not promo stuff, but legitimate stuff that’s happening, like a conversation you had with a winemaker about a cool new thing they’re doing. Something that’s not promotable; it’s not a PR thing. It’s not going to drive people necessarily to the winery, but it’s of interest to people who like wine.”