Monday, January 21, 2008

AUSTronics goes public !

Finally ! AUSTronics goes public. For those who don't know yet, AUSTronics is an online magazine for the students and teachers of the EEE department of AUST. Me and some other guys from our semester, under the supervision of our boss Adnan sir, have been working on this site for the last couple of months or so. The site was ready long before and today we decided to go public, which generally means putting up posters announcing the site.
Honestly speaking, this site is not a very huge project. It's a blog which we are using to post articles. But there were quite a lot of work that had to be done in building up the complete site. Let me just try to give a brief summary.
  • The Idea: AUSTronics is the brainchild of Adnan sir. He initially discussed this plan with me and Kanto, and asked us if we were interested. We were always eager to spend some time in the net (whether for something productive or just wasting time). Me and Kanto also had gathered some experience in amateur web development using GPC and blogger over the last year. During the last semester I also learned the basics of HTML. So we were quite interested in this project. So the journey of AUSTronics began.
  • Choosing a Service: First of all we had to chose a blog service. The candidates were Blogger, Wordpress and Edublogs. The Wordpress templates looked professional, but each template had some drawback, and the templates' HTML were not customizable. Adnan sir found a likable theme at Edublogs. But we finally ended up dumping it due the permanent header image. The problem with blogger was that the usable area was narrow and left a blank space on each side of the blog, making it look unprofessional. But after searching a little, I found a template which uses the full width of the screen, and the color scheme was also pleasant, not too flashy( later I found out that all the templates can be widened by editing the template's HTML). The great thing about Blogger is that it is highly customizable. Unlike Wordpress, it allows you to edit the HTML of the template, which opens up endless possibilities. It allows JavaScript and DHTML so we could add cool menus and other stuff. So we decided to start with Blogger.
  • Gmail Account: To receive posts we created a gmail address, post.austeee@gmail.com.
  • The Name: We were having trouble deciding the name of our magazine. "AUSTronics" (combining AUST and Electronics) was suggested by Adnan sir. There were a few more contenders, Electrozine, Emitter, Electromotive. Being unable to go for one we decided to hold a pole in the four of our sections. And it was a landslide victory for "AUSTronics".
  • Collecting Articles: All of us had to go to the teachers of our department several times to request them to submit their articles in the upcoming site. Everyone seemed very interested and eager to participate in the magazine, but getting submissions from them seemed to be a tough job. By the end of our initial deadline, we had only collected one article. After a few weeks we somehow managed 5 (frankly, we didn't expect much more).
  • "Read More" Links: One problem with blogger was that it didn't provide "Read More" links by default. These links allow only a portion of the article to be visible in the main page, the visitor can read the rest by clicking the link. So I had to dig into the Blogger help group to find out how it can be done. Without much trouble I found out the trick and implemented the necessary HTML on our template.
  • Google Pages Account: To store various files I created a Google Pages account using the gmail ID we created earlier.
  • Header Image and its Width: We had to have a custom header. But there was a problem even before we could create one. We found out that the header images, once uploaded, get automatically shrunk, and the image covers not more than 60% of the page width. I knew this had something to do with HTML so yet again I turned to the help group. But this time it didn't help. The locations the experts were pointing to had no problem in this case. So I decided to try to sort out the problem myself. After a long session going through line after line of codes, I was finally able to locate the source of the problem. After a few trial-and-error attempts, I finally overcame the width bug. Then comes the issue of the image itself. To create the background of the header image I searched the web to find appropriate photos. As the background, I put up 4 relevant images and used a blueish tint to match the color scheme of the blog. Now creating the textual logo of AUSTronics was Shorif's job. And he did a fantastic piece of work. Interestingly he was able to incorporate the AUST logo into the text. His logo fitted perfectly with the background, and the header was done. But the trouble weren't over yet. When the images were uploaded, although it was now fitting the full width, for some reason the quality of the image was being reduced. So I had to upload the image to the GPC account and used the image from the web source.
  • JavaScript Menu: There are many sites providing free JavaScript and DHTML codes to create menus. I went through a lot of those sites and finally settled for the current menu. The JavaScript files were uploaded to the GPC account. Customizing this menu needed some time to understand. It is highly customizable, so after learning how to change the different aspects of the menu I made it according to the context of our site.
  • Microsoft Frontpage: Unlike Wordpress, blogger doesn't provide multiple pages. But we had to create some pages dealing with About AUSTronics, How to post, Feedback and Links. So I used Frontpage. To make sure that the viewer doesn't take these pages to be separate from the original site, I had to use the same template. To do that I just saved the main page as an HTML file, and edited it with Frontpage. So the theme remained exactly the same. The text for About AUSTronics, How to post and the links were provided by Adnan Sir. The HTML files created were uploaded to the GPC account and were linked to, from the JavaScript menu.
  • Feedback Form: Typically if you create an HTML form for feedback, what it does is simply opens your default email software to send the mail, unless you knew CGI scripts. From a GPC help site I got to know about a service called Jot Form, which makes the whole process a piece of cake. I decided to give it a shot, and I wasn't disappointed. The form is easy to use, and the message is directly sent to our email address without any hustle. It works great.
  • Short URL: A shorter URL address for the blog was created using a URL redirection service (shorturl.com).
  • Bookmarking Buttons: I implemented two social bookmarking buttons, one for simply bookmarking the site, the other for subscribing to the RSS feed of the blog. The buttons allow you to add bookmarks to your browser or to the various social bookmarking services like Page Flakes, Technorati etc.
  • Custom Favicon: Favicon is the small icon that appears at the left of the page title (like the "G" of Google). I created the favicon just by snapping the "A" out of our header image. The image was created in 32X32 size in png format. Putting it up was easy as blogger allows you to edit the head section of the template.
  • Google Analytics: I inserted the Google Analytics code to acquire various statistics about visits on our site.
Now, let me see, did I miss something? I know it's not a lot of job, but this is the first time I'm putting my web expertise (hahaha) to a real test. Hopefully this blog will be visited by a lot of people, students and professionals. So I hope that the site is at least standard, if not too decorative and extraordinary. AUSTronics has just started its journey and I'm sure it will go through a lot of changes. Now Razie, Tahsin and Shorif have been given the job to publicize the site, which I'm sure they'll do pretty well. I guess some posters have been already put up in the notice boards announcing a new era at AUST (hahahaha). I'm not too far off the mark if I say that, because as far as I know this is the first ever online publication by AUST students, of any department. Tahsin is optimistic about putting up the news on the tech section of Prothom Alo and The Daily Star (believe me, he had much bigger plans).

In many cases you plan to do something so seriously, make a lot of preparations, and in the end fall short, or don't get on the road at all. All praises to the Almighty Allah, we have been able to do what we wanted to do. Special thanks to Adnan sir for his friendly supervision over the complete project. He has been our "Chief Adviser". Actually Adnan sir has even bigger plans centering AUSTronics, I hope all his revolutionary ideas come to life. Congrats to my team mates in this project; Shorif, Razie, Tahsin, Kanto, Arif for making AUSTronics a reality. Thanks to all of my friends for their encouragement. Inshallah by Allah's help and the support of all, AUSTronics will go way further than we can imagine.