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About the VFMC Web Site


This document provides essential background information about the VFMC web site, and explains why the site is structured as it is, and why specific technologies have been used for its development.

The first iteration of the VFMC's web site was created by Bill Buttler using the "personal web site" provisions of his Telstra internet service. The site was written in the straight forward HTML code supported by the service. It gave the Club some internet exposure and raised awareness within the Committee of the sort of uses and facilities that a web site could provide. This low cost (free) approach had a drawback in that the web site address made it appear that VFMC was a subsidiary of Bill Buttler.

At the time, Steve Bullock was using a web hosting platform to support the Jeeves Audio Services web site. There was spare capacity that was offered to the VFMC. This allowed the VFMC to purchase it's own web site address, and vfmc.org.au was registered as our URL (for an annual fee) and the web site was transferred to the new platform.

The VFMC Committee had several discussions about the purpose of its web site, and the direction that development should lead. The Committee agreed that the primary purpose should be to promote the club's activities, and so the "home" page was structured to feature upcoming events, with a menu to access other pages about the purpose and history of the club, contact information etc.

There was much debate about the way that events are displayed on the home page. Should events be displayed in chronological sequence? Should one type of event be given more prominence than another? Should there be a different treatment for regular v special events? It was eventually decided that the page would be divided into three columns featuring sessions, concerts and dances respectively. "Special" events would be included, when required, at the start of the page.

Don Gingrich joined the web site support team. There were frequent discussions at the Committee meetings about the issues of keeping the event information up to date. Details of future events were sometimes delayed and some information, particularly performer pictures and details, were sometime left to the web team to hunt down. Timeliness of updates to the web site became problematic. With each page written in HTML, event details were hard coded. Pages had to be re-written every time an update was needed.

At about this time, Harry Gardner was busy collecting and typing up music scores, and producing .MP3 audio files to help people to learn the tunes. A corner of the web site was dedicated to "Fireside Fiddlers" where this music could be made available to everyone. Harry's enthusiasm was causing a lot of work for the web team to keep adding material to Fireside Fiddlers. Eventually, we gave Harry a pro-forma web page, and access to his corner of the site. This opened the flood gates and Harry added a vast collection of material. This has also introduced a long term maintenance issue. Changes to the style and presentation of the web site require a vast amount of maintenance effort which is still pending. But Fireside Fiddlers has proved very popular amongst the folk music community, and continues to exist as a rather lumpy looking add-on the the web site.

With a team of volunteers to do the work, it proved very difficult to produce timely updates to event information. In an ideal world, the web team would set to work in the late evening, directly after the end of an event. They would re-code the impacted page(s) rapidly and accurately, to display the next event. Reality proved otherwise. Our volunteers have other calls on their time, and other priorities to meet. The situation at Committee meetings was becoming heated.

The web team decided that the only solution was to prepare the event information well in advance, and to have a mechanism by which the impacted web pages would automatically update after each event happened. Don developed a file structure which could hold encoded information about regular monthly events (concerts and dances) up to a year in advance. He also introduced the use of the PHP web site coding language which let the web site access the file of encoded event data at the time the page was displayed, and to build the wab page dynamically each time it was accessed. The PHP programming language, which runs of the web site server computers, is used to generate the HTML code of the web page whenever a user accesses the page. This HTML code is then delivered to the user's web browser and displayed. This is called a DYNAMIC web page. The HTML code is never stored, but generated afresh each time the web site is accessed.

The change to dynamic web pages was a game changer. The web team could chase down event details whenever they had time available to work on the web site. The event details were encoded and sat ready to be displayed when the time was right. Our members could access the web site immediately after attending an event, abd would see details of the next event.

Despite the success of these dynamic web pages, problems emerged.

  1. The file structure of the encoded event information was necessarily complex, and was subject to errors. Updates to the file required a detailed knowledge of the encoded file structure. A single mis-placed comma could cause the web page to break completely.
  2. The PHP code to access and convert the encoded event data was also complicated and required complex date and time calculation and conversion processes. This coding was minimised by keeping the file data limited to one year at a time. But this introdueced another complex maintenance task at end of year.

Steve Bullock had considerable commercial experience in database development. Faced with the success of the dynamic web page approach, but the issues of supporting the event data file structure, Steve and Don set about the development of a database to replace the event files. The web site hosting service supports the use of MySQL databases. The PHP language we are using supports the inclusion of SQL code (Structured Query Language) to access databases. SQL provides powerful query capabilities which greatly simplify access to the event data, especially simplifying the date and time manipulation requirements. SQL statements are designed to be read and understood in plain (but structured) English.

The database driven, dynamic web pages have proven to be robust and successful. Updates to events are achieved by changes to the database records in clearly defined fields. No changes to SQL, PHP or HTML code are required. The old event records in the database, and the future event records, have given us the options to add enhanced functionality tothe web site, including performer searches and access to past and future event details.

Several other web pages have been re-developed to make use of database tables to drive other dynamic pages such as the publications page. Details of the database tables and updating procedures are provided in the following sections.

The Committee were becoming concerned about the long term viability of using the web site hosting space being provided courtesy of Jeeves Audio Services. It was eventually decided that VFMC should pay for its own web site hosting. A hosting supplier was selected and an account opened. After some careful planning, the transfer of both the web site and VFMC email accounts was conducted. Synchronisation of the change over was not without problems, but after a few days of frantic efforts by the web team and support staff at the hosting service the change over was successfully completed.

With the increasing prevalence of people accessing web sites on small screen devices such as mobile phones, some recent development has been directed towards making our web pages more friendly for users of small screens. The home page, in particular, with three events displayed across the page, was not convenient to view on small screens. The code has now been revised to examine screen size and adapt accordingly. As screen size reduces, the three columns are compressed horsontally until a minimum width is reachec. When the critical width is reached, the display changes to two across and one below. Further reduction in screen size eventually reaches the limit at which the three columns are displayed one above the other. The narrowing process also results in the "columns" becoming much longer. To counter this, each column now displays in a scrollable window of fixed length, allowing the second or third column to be reached without excessive scrolling. Special events are still inserted above the three columns, but now as a single line which can be expanded or shrunk on demand. This type of approach to supporting small screens is being progressively implemented across all impacted pages of the web site.

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About the VFMC Website Database

The official site of the Victorian Folk Music Club Incorporated (Reg No A2511Y) ABN 28 668 156 704

Last modified: August 14 2023 18:23.