I don't even know where to begin.
September 3, 2012 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I have a really good idea for an online...website thing. Involving user submission. I don't know anything about programming or what-all. Help me figure out what tools I need to create this!

Here's the structure of what I want to create, with completely made-up substance (i.e., the real website has nothing to do with naming pets).

the website: Name My Pet!

User describes his/her pet. Other users respond with what he/she should name said pet.

...and that's it. Simple enough, right? Maybe there could be bells and whistles like AskMe's "best answer" function, but all that would be icing on the cake. I realize this could theoretically be accomplished with a forum, but I want this to be much simpler, more elegant (think very minimal), and with an emphasis on individual threads/"entries" rather than any overarching community. Maybe people could even respond as guests without registering.

How can I create this? I'll learn a simple language if necessary. It would be cool if there was something free and off-the-rack that I could just customize, though. I'm generally web-savvy as a user but know literally almost nothing about creating web services and such and lack even the proper language for talking about such (check out the tags for this question if you want a good yuk).

Help me not-name your not-pet. Thanks!!
posted by threeants to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You can do this with WordPress. Really easily.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:15 PM on September 3, 2012

Do you want to use a question and answer (Q&A) type format? If so, I can recommend some possibilities.
posted by Dansaman at 7:19 PM on September 3, 2012

Response by poster: I also should add that I want maximal control, if possible. Something I can just put on a domain name I buy, and I run the show -- I own the whole thing, can monetize it if necessary, whatever. (Prompted by the WordPress suggestion but not at all shutting it down -- thanks, I had genuinely no idea!)
posted by threeants at 7:20 PM on September 3, 2012

Response by poster: Dansaman: yep, it is basically a Q/A format; but I don't want to be forced into any pre-loaded elements (i.e. unchangeable question mark doohickies or what-have-you).
posted by threeants at 7:22 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: There are some Q&A systems that are basically a highly customizable CMS (content management system). For example, Question2Answer.org. You would probably need to hire someone with PHP programming experience to do some of the more major customization. Others that are well-known are OSQA and Shapado but I don't know how customizable they are. There is also a Wordpress Q&A plugin, but again I don't know how customizable it is.
posted by Dansaman at 7:28 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: I also should add that I want maximal control, if possible. Something I can just put on a domain name I buy, and I run the show

You can do this with WordPress. You download it and install it on your own hosting. If you want a Q&A site, there are like a million Q&A plugins for WP but I actually would not go in that direction.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:44 PM on September 3, 2012

Response by poster: Hopefully this is explanatory enough not to be thread-sitting, but: by way of example, the look/structure I'm going for is along the lines of the myriad what the fuck should I sites. Only the minimum functional information appears on the screen-- and not some wanky idea of "minimalism" that actually means impenetrable mystery meat.

Thanks for those suggestions, Dansaman! I'm taking a look to see if they're a good fit. I literally had no idea there would be such a thing as a CMS specifically for Q&As. Y'all rock, keep 'em rolling. (On preview, thanks DarlingBri too-- had no idea. You'll notice a theme here with the whole having no idea thing. Thanks for not being offended by the dabbley audacity of asking a question equivalent to "I don't know how to draw! How can I draft an architectural blueprint?")
posted by threeants at 7:47 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For my searching, is there some keyword that describes interactive-oriented CMSes (like Q&A systems) vs. CMSes oriented towards content written by the site owner/s (sites, blogs, pretty much anything else)?
posted by threeants at 8:56 PM on September 3, 2012

Why do you want to make this? ?? Runningleanhq.com

How should I make a simple prototype? http://www.osqa.net/
posted by specialk420 at 9:40 PM on September 3, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry to chime in yet again, but it's another auxiliary question-- that's ok?

I have a feeling after looking over a ton of CMSes and QA systems and such that I'm not going to be able to get the visual simplicity and elegance, but somewhat complex internal structure, that I'm envisioning; they mostly seem to have a sort of spammy/'content'y look that turns me off. If I were to learn a...uh...language?...to create my idea myself, what should I learn?
posted by threeants at 9:42 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: The CMS -Wordpress or whatever- is the backend and has NOTHING to do with the look of the site. You can design and code a totally minimal site and have Wordpress do the database stuff for you. You will need to learn HTML, CSS, and just enough PHP to hook WP into your theme. (You will have to design the theme yourself.)
posted by ella wren at 10:04 PM on September 3, 2012

This guide might help you get started.
posted by uncreative at 12:43 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are commercial Wordpress themes that give you the Q&A functionality out of the box. Here are 5 to consider. You install Wordpress on your own server, you'll have total control.
posted by COD at 7:26 AM on September 4, 2012

Best answer: First, I would strongly recommend sitting down and writing out EXACTLY how this site should look and how it should function when it's built. You sound like you have a vague idea of what you want, and also a vague idea of the technologies you will need to use to create it, but that's not a good way to start a project like this. No offense intended, I build sites like this for a living, and I've seen countless people become frustrated and go way over-budget due to poor understanding and planning. Even with an idea as seemingly simple as this, there are dozens of ways to build it, and choosing the most advantageous method is paramount to getting the site up before you run out of patience, time, energy, and/or money.

Start by writing down your users workflow. Something like 1. User visits site, 2. User clicks "submit my pet for naming" link, 3. User is prompted to upload a photo with the following requirements (size, dimensions, extension, filetype, etc), 4. photo is uploaded, then resized to XXX dimensions, 5. etc.... Repeat this process for each type of user (pet-submitter, pet-name-suggester, pet-picture-lookie-loo's, and admin tasks such as name and comment moderation, database backups, and customer contact forms. I recommend shelving any unnecessary-but-cool functions until after the bare-bones system is up and running. Certainly write them down somewhere and keep them in mind as you make design decisions so you don't create more work down the road, but save them for after the site is up and running.

Once you have this written out, create a wireframe of the site. Sit down and draw out how each page TYPE will look, how they will be organized, what will be on them, and how each element is linked to a function in your workflow. This step is pretty much you drawing a picture of what each page will look like. Don't worry too much about the page text just yet - instead think about menus, navigation, and efficient implementation of your desired feature set. Be as specific as you can. I believe there are online apps that will help you with this (and a couple expensive downloadable ones like Axure), but I prefer doing it on paper or a white board.

Now, you should have a very specific understanding of how your site should function AND look, so you're ready to begin researching CMS and technology choices. Wordpress is a solid choice for beginners, it's relatively easy to learn and serves as a good introduction to HTML, CSS, MySQL, and PHP. As you are considering CMS's (and their associated themes, modules, and plug-in's that might provide you extra functionality), pay attention to what the server requirements are so that you can make sure the hosting provider you select can adequately support the software you wish to run. Once you've exhausted the net in your search for an out-of-the-box solution, you will have a much better idea of which CMS you should be using as a starting point, and whether you are comfortable trying to modify the scripts yourself or want to go with a contractor.

The next steps are fairly obvious. Secure reputable and reliable hosting, configure server/hosting if needed, purchase/download your scripts, install 'em, modify 'em, test 'em, and you've got a live site ready for testing on real people. Good luck! It sounds like a fun site to build!
posted by Th!nk at 1:52 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers! This is going somewhere in the 'long-term projects' bin, but y'all have given me a great basis for understanding what doing this will entail.
posted by threeants at 2:03 PM on September 16, 2012

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