Feb 052011
Last week the Beast project went live with a new website that has been in the making since December:

The old website was several years old, adding or changing content was very cumbersome and bottlenecked on Stefan or me. All edits had to go into the source code repository, adding content pages meant editing web/Makefile.am and changing a menu entry required the entire site to be rebuilt and re-synced. Also beast.gtk.org went offline for several weeks due to hosting problems at UC Berkeley.
So in the last few weeks the Beast website has been gradually moved from beast.gtk.org to beast.testbit.eu and a different hosting service that has more resources available. In the last few years, I’ve gained experiences with Plone, Drupal, DokuWiki, Confluence, a beast-specific markup parser, Joomla, WordPress, etc. They all have their up and down sides, and while I prefer WordPress for my own blog, I’ve settled on MediaWiki for the new Beast website.
Running the new site entirely as a wiki makes the contents easily accessible for everyone willing to contribute and MediaWiki’s markup is what most people already know or are likely to learn in the future. MediaWiki must be the hardest tested collaborative editing tool available, turns out to be impressively feature rich compared to other Wiki engines, has a rich set of extensions, scripting facilities and due to Wikipedia weight a reliable maintenance future.
Much of the previously hand crafted code used for site generation and operation becomes obsolete with the migration, like the screenshot gallery PHP snippets. The entire build-from-source process can be eliminated, and running a dedicated Beast theme on MediaWiki allows editing of the menu structure in a wiki page.
Also MediaWiki allows running multiple front ends under different domains and with different themes on the same Wiki database, which allowed me to merge the Beast site and testbit.eu to reduce maintenance.
A small set of patches/extensions were used to tune MediaWiki for the site’s needs:
  • Enhancing the builtin search logic, so it automatically resorts to partial matches for empty result lists.
  • Adjusting Expires/Cache-Control headers to utilize mod_disk_cache – this increases the number of possible requests per-second by more than a factor of one hundred.
  • Adding support for [[local:/path/to/download/area]] URLs, to refer to downloadable files from within wiki pages.
It took a while to migrate contents gradually into MediaWiki format, as some files had to be migrated from a very old ErfurtWiki installation, some came from the source code repository and some were available in HTML only. Big Kudos to David Iberri, his online html2wiki converter (html2wiki on CPAN) has been a huge help in the process.
I hope the new site is well received, have fun with it!