Webmaster Wanted



Stiff suspension, vague steering, not firing on all cylinders at anything in excess of tick-over. Luckily my 1974 GTE SE5a is rather better than that, but the description fits me quite well. Advancing years accompanied by deteriorating health are making it difficult for me to do all that I have in the past.

It has been a goodly number of years that I have been supplying the RSSOC with IT services with varying degrees of success. It is now coming to the time that I need to hand over the reins to another (probably younger and more dynamic) person or persons to take things forward.

I do not expect a great rush of volunteers or for a handover to happen in a short time-span, but I do hope that someone with the necessary skill-set exists within the Club and that person wishes to contribute to the Club’s ongoing success. This article will end with a paragraph or two full of jargon and acronyms outlining my responsibilities and setting the scene for anyone considering taking over the RSSOC WebMaster role.

In the years since I took over the role from Alyn Ashworth a lot has changed. Back then there where arguments about websites ‘Designed for Netscape’ and ‘Designed for Internet Explorer’. Whilst there are still differences in the way different browsers handle and display things, the situation is now much better. Also back then websites were mostly accessed from PCs with fairly low resolution screens and through slow ‘dial-up’ modems. Now we expect our online images and videos to be served in high definition and extremely quickly. The other big change is the use of mobile devices. When I started these were still just mobile telephones with the most advanced having the ability to get text from the web via something called ‘WAP’. Now mobile devices account for well over half of the access to website content and the ScimitarWeb has to be designed with this in mind. Another issue that has had to be addressed much more in recent times is that of security. We are constantly under attack from hackers and scammers with their own nefarious agendas and the protection has to be constantly adapted and enhanced.

Overall the job has got more complicated over the years, requiring the learning of new skills and the gaining of new knowledge. In parallel with this the Internet has also developed a wonderful array of free resources for learning, so now it is quite easy to get answers to any question and I inevitably find that I am not the first to experience a particular problem and someone else usually has a cure.

This is where it starts to get technical, but if you think you might be able to help in any way, please read on for an overview of the responsibilities.

First of all the foundation of the system is a Virtual Private Server (VPS) that on the operating system (Ubuntu Linux) runs on, a webserver (Apache) and a database server (MySQL). Although some knowledge of running these via a Command Line Interface (CLI) is occasionally useful, the management of the server is made relatively painless by a Graphical User Interface (GUI) called Plesk. This allows for the management of several domains including the all-important mail server for the RSSOC email addresses.

Built on this platform are the software packages for the web applications that are used to provide ScimitarWeb and other online functionality. All of these packages are database driven and written in a combination of the server-side language PHP and the client-side language Javascript. Knowledge of these languages is needed for customising and updating the packages, but day to day management is through administration interfaces, and other members perform these update administration roles.

The primary software package is phpBB, which provides the very active Forum on ScimitarWeb. This is also the source for the general ScimitarWeb pages, using bespoke extensions to the phpBB software.

The ScimiWiki uses a package called MediaWiki, which is the core of Wikipedia.

The RSSOC online Shop is run on a package called ZenCart, although I am currently looking for a possible replacement.

All of the above packages are free and open source, with tremendous community support.

In addition to these I have a developed an online membership database package, ported from the original software written in DOS, for the use of our Club Secretary. More recently I have written a system to allow the Club’s Competition Secretary to take online registrations for the annual sprint. These are, of course, fully bespoke and have no external support.

Although I currently maintain all of this alone, I can see potential for the splitting of roles. For instance, the VPS support could be one role and software support another. The software support could even be split between the different packages.

I would not drop any volunteer(s) in at the deep end and intend to support them as necessary to ensure a smooth transition of all of the above packages and services.

Please contact me at webmaster@rssoc.co.uk if you wish to discuss anything in more detail.

Ian Rushin