The evolution of mindanews.com

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 May) – Ten years ago, this four-letter abbreviation called HTML was alien to me. It stands for hypertext markup language, which I didn’t have any idea at all when Bobby Timonera asked me what I know about it and how it works.

He asked me: “Do you know how to use Corel, Adobe PageMaker and Adobe Photoshop?” I said, “Yes, just starting to learn them.”

And then he asked me to pack up my things and come with him and Merpu Roa to Iligan City because he will teach me the basics of web design. So I was not going back to Cotabato City with Romy Elusfa, who initially taught me how to use those software since we were running a weekly community newspaper called Headliner.

I was eager to learn web design because 10 years ago, only few 20-year-old promdis would have the opportunity to learn this thriving medium.

But mindanews.com wasn’t the first website that I started to tinker with using the lowly Microsoft FrontPage. It was the defunct Pamantalaang Mindanaw, which Bobby and other Mindanao Institute Journalism (Minjourn) colleagues put up as an alternative news site.

As far as I could remember, the first thing Bobby shared to me was how the Internet works and how a website works.

Then he explained that images should be optimized before uploading into the server so that it would load faster in the browsers and not keep our viewers waiting for a long time.

When MindaNews started to dispatch stories, Bobby was still working on the finishing touches of the website. We were watching the preview at our first office along General Luna St. and every one was so excited to see the animated GIF (graphic interchange format) banner that said, “This is Mindanao! Your number one news source on Mindanao.”

Several days later, mindanews.com went online. At that time, Bobby was updating the website on his own, which means he did the resizing and optimization of the photos, reformatting the texts and designing ad buttons.

The dial-up age

About a month later, he asked me to come again to Iligan because he needed a backup in maintaining and updating the website.

This time, it’s for real because I’d be his backup. It means, I would start to learn what he has been doing for years.

I could still remember that it was a Saturday because mindanews.com was updated weekly. There were at least 40 stories that should be posted by 12 midnight.

One by one, I had to copy the text from the Word file and paste it to FrontPage. At the same time, I had to copy the headline, paste it to the sidebar and link it to the corresponding page. The process was a tiresome routine.

Since I was still trying to master the software, it took me over an hour to finish everything.

Now, it’s time to upload. It was another refresher session on file transfer protocol (FTP) because I had an earlier session for Pamantalaang Mindanaw.

Since we were still in the “dial-up age,” it would take about an hour to upload more than two megabytes of html pages. While waiting, I would take a nap at Bobby’s rattan sofa, situated just beside the computers we were using.

Once uploaded, I had to double check the website for broken links. Unfortunately, for a newbie, broken links are normal. So I had to go open FrontPage again and trace the broken links and upload the faulty pages once more.

After several sessions in Iligan, the Timonera Academy was born.

From weekly to daily

Mindanews.com went daily in February 2003, it was this time when the war erupted at Barangay Buliok in Pikit, North Cotabato.

But before the website went daily, I was still studying at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato. Usually, I would do updates only on weekends when I’m in Cotabato City and had Internet access, and when Bobby is away.

When we decided to publish the dispatched stories daily, I knew I had to come up with a more systematic way of updating the website.

Pido Ayala came to the rescue and suggested to create templates using Macromedia Dreamweaver. He made a few templates for MindaNews and turned them over to us. He came to the office to teach me how to use it.

Using Macromedia Dreamweaver was faster and more systematic than Frontpage.

But we had troubles synchronizing the files in the Davao office against Bobby’s in Iligan City. When I could not update the website, Bobby would assume the task using his ever reliable Frontpage. When it’s my turn to update, I had troubles in editing the html pages from Bobby. I had to update my template as well so that the links would work properly.

Because I’m not a techie person like Pido and Bobby, I had to find my way to fix the errors in the website. But if I could no longer make it work, I would call on Pido for Dreamweaver concerns.

Geejay Ariola also assisted us in improving the website. She shared some tips in using Flash and Fireworks.

By mid-2003, I had already mastered using the templates.

However, there were times when I had to go back to Cotabato where Internet was not reliable. Thus, I also needed to get my own backup.

So I asked Gene Boyd Lumawag if he could serve as my backup when I’m away. Fortunately, he agreed and started to learn both Frontpage and Dreamweaver.

Even our reporter Walter Balane was eager to learn updating the website, which he actually did a few times.

Dreamweaver to Joomla

Sometime in 2005, when I was already out of MindaNews’ loop, the Southeast Asia Centre for e-Media (Seacem) introduced Joomla, a free and open source content management system (CMS) for publishing content on the Internet, to the group. The CMS approach, we were told, was much easier use than HTML in maintaining websites. Seacem even trained one of our staff, Jean Claire Dy, at its office in Kuala Lumpur on the intricacies of Joomla.

It was techie Vic Sapar who finally got us to move to Joomla.

I learned that even editor Carolyn Arguillas was already the one updating the website because it was so easy.

I had no idea what Joomla was and I was never interested in exploring the software.

Meanwhile, I continued exploring Macromedia Flash, CSS (cascading style sheet), and Macromedia Dreamweaver through the help of master graphic designer Bong Segovia.

Then journalist Caloy Conde introduced to me WordPress. He showed one his websites powered by WordPress – Pinoypress.

Since I already had my own domain and a shared webhosting account at that time, I started tinkering with WordPress in 2006.

Out of curiosity, I also tried installing Joomla to my server for comparison against WordPress. But I found it hard to do some tweaking in CSS and in the template itself that I gave up. I focused on WordPress instead.

Joomla to WordPress

Although I’m not a programmer nor a good designer as Bong, I tried to tweak some WordPress themes and create some news or magazine style themes. It’s just a matter of trial and error.

I spent more time reading and understanding CSS and the basics of PHP programming.

On January 2010, I started to create the current mindanews.com theme out of a free theme, which was available from several websites. Four months later, mindanews.com was already powered by WordPress.

When trouble comes, I rely on Google and the forums searching for help or tips. Every help I need is available online.

Unlike the Frontpage and Dreamweaver era, it is a lot easier and faster now to post stories to the web using WordPress. It would take less than 10 minutes to post 15 stories, with few photos, to do it all; that is if you don’t get distracted with Facebook.

With the help of some plugins, life is easier with WordPress.

Since we are already in the “broadband age,” seeking help online is much faster. Unlike during the “dial-up age,” I rarely used Google when I needed troubleshooting tips. It was much faster then to call Timonera Academy than searching the web.

Recently, we encountered problems with our server that we often got calls and text messages asking if our website was hacked. No it was not, it’s just that mindanews.com has grown, now attracting traffic more than ever that our webhosting company had complained of excessive use. They wanted us to upgrade our account, to a level that costs an arm and a leg.

We opted to move elsewhere, hoping we could save money with our meager resources. Unfortunately, our first choice seemed not to know their business well, and the MindaNews website crawled at a snail’s pace for about a week.

In dealing with tech support, we encountered several technical terms that only a hardcore web programmer could understand. So Bobby and I relied on Google to understand what tech support was telling us because we really are not techie guys as others might think.

We changed webhosting company once more, and we were luckier the next time around as we’ve seen a noticeable increase in speed. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)

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