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Learning-by-doing: Building a personal Joomla! site

We don't only work with Joomla, we also use it. A lot of us help clients on a daily basis, but we also create our own personal sites.

My father is a (retired) military man, and I am very proud of him and his service. The unit that he was stationed with the longest - the 7th Radio-Technical Battalion of Łask, Poland, where he served as Chief of Arms, had a fairly poor website and I decided to build them a new one using Joomla.

derek1The old site had a lot of  features when I took over, but it was still in the raw HTML form, and, speaking frankly, it would have made a 1990's web developer cry blood. I decided to remake it in Joomla! The military unit (Siódmy Łaski Batalion Radiotechniczny in Polish) no longer exists, as the splash page states. The site was initially just a single page where the unit's “sympathizers” could learn about future reunions. Later, as old service men and other staff found each other, they started exchanging photos, and a gallery was born. The history of the battalion was developed in much the same way. Subsequent reunions produced even more photographs and the gallery currently features 13 years of reunion photographs from 1998 to 2011. Older photographs of equipment the men when they were soldiers were also added. Images of Polish-made and USSR-made weapons, radio turrets, guidance systems and much more were also added.

When I started rebuilding the site, I started with Joomla 1.5 (I think it was actually 1.5.21). It is still a 1.5 site, and I know I should upgrade it to 2.5, but who has the time? I used the now discontinued CloudBase template based on the T3 framework (a predecessor to our current CloudBase 2.0 based on the Gantry Framework). I choose a bright yellow/orange layout to match the battalion's banner colors of green, yellow and orange.

I've had a lot of fun working on it because it was basically the first website I made in Joomla! that required something more than core Joomla! features. It took a while to develop. I completely redid the photo gallery using Phoca, added commenting feature provided by the JComments extension, and a guest book extension that has since been removed from the JED. I also took advantage of the built-in meta tag and keyword system and got the site to 3rd place in Google when searching for “battalion radiotechiczny” (radio-technical battalion), “łaski battalion” (battalion of Łask) and similar phrases. I'm sure the JCrawler extension also helped with that.

It was a great experience. I am a firm believer of learning-by-doing and it was actually the first website that I created from scratch (some of the content was written by others). I learned a lot about setting up extensions properly and developing a clear menu structure (which is quite important if you have to setup galleries that contain 50 years of history). I also did some extension translation because elements like the GuestBook component were only in English – and most of the site's visitors speak Polish and Russian. It's hard work to continually go between the PHP code and language files to find the right string to adjust the translation. But it was very satisfying in the end. Probably, most of all, I was happy to honor my father and the valiant battalion that he was a part of.

I still update the site when people send me additional pictures, when new reunions take place, or when people make new comments. I will soon start the migration for to Joomla 2.5, and there will be a learning curve, but I'm looking forward to it. 

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