Advice sought: platform for low traffic, interactive, data driven web
October 27, 2014 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I've been out of the web dev loop for a while but am aware of (but have little practical experience with) various new platforms and packages from a design/technological architecture standpoint. I have two needs: a personal/professional home page and a data-driven purity-test-like quiz, both of which I want to make as clean/pro as possible.

I'm willing to put hours into learning/implementing new platforms/languages but would like help selecting an approach and would appreciate any pointers and recommendations you have. My end goal is to implement these two things to help out with the job hunt next Spring.

My web dev experience is from, most lately, C#/Microsoft, and some hackathons with Ruby on Rails. I started programming with 6502 Assembly and BASIC in the 80's and have dipped a toe in on occasion with each great generation of platform/design/architecture. I'm familiar enough with UNIX/Linux to set up most basic infrastructure, as well as with OS X and Windows too. I know some PowerShell, some Perl, some csh/tcsh/bash/ksh scripting, I know how to use a command line, to read and debug compile warnings and errors. I can edit makefiles and recompile kernels. I never did any real-time programming/design nor deep kernel stuff, so I'm not every manager's programming wet dream or anything, but I get around and can hold my own. I already know the essentials of Perl, PHP, Ruby/ROR, Javascript, Java, C, C++, C#, sed/ed, rexx, regex (general and specific), early Assemblers, etc. I've done a little RoR stuff, as well as SASS and server-side directives and partly compiled stylesheets. Because of my long work with Web Applications (since 1994 or so) and SharePoint (since 2003 or so), I'm deeply familiar with deriving end-user-visible content algorithmically from back-end database-hosted data. I know MediaWiki well, other Wikis okay. I know WordPress well, other CMS systems I can usually muddle through.

And I think that's the general direction I'd love to go: content in database, some styling/decoration in database OR static files on web server, presentation layer generated semi-dynamically on the front end.

What I have to work with:
- Linode account with some credits in the wallet and would be happy to add more if I knew where I was going with that. I could sign up for some other service too just as easily. TBH, Linode's cool but most of their server templates are not modern and it's hard to browse for the newer ones.
- Dreamhost account/hosted domain. Happy/willing to move to another service or add on a cheap one (like Linode) as long as in the end I can host a couple of MediaWikis and a couple WordPress blogs. Dreamhost is great for their prepackaged goodies (like Wikis and WordPress) but not so amazing at hosting dev platforms.
- Desire and knowledge to implement various platforms/stacks securely, to see to their backup and secure maintenance, keep them viable.
- Various knowledges as alluded to above/below in this question.

Specifically, what I want:
- I want a home page that doesn't still look like HTML 1.2 and I have a ROR/Twitter-bootstrap/SASS-based draft I'd like to replace it with. I'd be happy to/interested in converting to another syntax/platform but would like to keep the Twitter-boostrap style if possible, unless there was a compelling reason not to. (please let me know!)
- I want a good idea of and a starting plan to host (with whom, what technology/platform stack, basic approach, common gotchas) a data-driven quizzy purity test application. I'm currently working on creating and cleaning up the initial data set. It will not retain or record user answers but will display Question, Image, Details (All hosted in a database of some kind) and allow a user to enable a checkbox for each answer they qualify for and provide a score at the end.
- It doesn't really matter to me if the quiz isn't scaleable. It won't be driving any revenue for me. Mostly I care about the data remaining clean and uncorrupt if there is some massive social media viral response (I can't imagine why there would be). So I'd like to avoid stacks that are clearly overburdened - I would avoid Excel and Access, for instance, in favor of mysql or sqlite that could sit on a DMZ virtual server near the web server. I would favor database servers that couldn't support transactions in favor of those that can.

Suggested answer vectors:
- If you work with or designed an end-to-end solution for this and have suggestions for this (best-of-breed sort of approaches, etc., or experience from the trenches) I WANT your KNOWEDGE.
- If you have implemented part of this (like how to retrieve formatted data from Google Spreadsheets or Amazon Web Services or mysql hosted databases) and have a strong feeling about How To Do It, I'm all ears.
- If you have heard of or you like a particular platform for similar stuff, I'd love to hear about it.
- If you have strong feelings about another architecture, lay it on me, bro!
- If this question has already been answered elsewhere to your satisfaction, please link!

Have already looked at the following AskMes:
- Protean web framework
- Spinning, exploding Excel-driven web app
posted by kalessin to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You haven't really stated what your goal is here. I mean, achieving both of your stated goals is entirely within the scope of Wordpress, and you'd certainly learn about and have control over the database, styling with CSS, and a font end. Or, you know, with MySQL, PHP and CSS which are all very standard these days.

When you start talking stacks etc then it seems like that's not really what you want to do. Are you actually asking what framework you should learn now to give you marketable skills in the spring?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:59 AM on October 27, 2014

I guess my desires are split:
- If it's easy to do with WordPress (and WordPress's tech stack), then sure, I can implement Twitter styling bootstrap there and just do the home page and the quiz there as custom pages and the quiz with extra back-end and be done with with it and do it all on Dreamhost where I already have some assets set up.
- If there is a good learning opportunity here for using the latest bad-ass stack to do the same thing sort of quickly and easily I'd love to know about it so I know what to poke at and look into and see if I can build a prototype.
- The marketable skills thing is sort of lower priority - while it's clear I have a variety of skills (none of them very deep, tbh), I'm actually planning to get out of deep geek territory and get into technical writing, if possible. Though tech writers do need to be pretty technical, a diversity of knowledge is probably better for that than a depth of knowledge.

So either way I guess. What would you recommend?
posted by kalessin at 12:04 PM on October 27, 2014

Laravel might be worth a look.
posted by popcassady at 1:01 PM on October 27, 2014

I have read a lot about Meteor, but I haven't used it beyond some demos. It sounds like exactly what you want, though: implementing the purity test would probably involve no more than hacking away at the examples for a little bit.
posted by amicus at 5:52 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

In your situation I would consider doing it with WordPress, building and releasing the Purity Test as a plugin, and providing excellent online documentation for it. Two portfolio birds, one stone -- code and technical writing.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:59 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone! I'll probably go with DarlingBri's answer first. If I do decide to do a tech portfolio, I will probably just keep working on different tech stack implementations of the same purity test (sort of like the 99 bottles of beer site - disclaimer - I submitted a MOO version) to show I can get various approaches up and running.
posted by kalessin at 12:42 PM on October 29, 2014

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