Creating a Community Archive for Domain of One’s Own

Reclaim Hosting has recently hired an Instructional Technologist from one of their Domain of One’s Own Schools. It’s been interesting to watch how an outside organization and frequent collaborator like Reclaim Hosting responds to new ideas and new energy. It will be really interesting to see if the perspective of being a campus lead for a project like this will benefit Reclaim Hosting and by transfer all of their clients. My hope is that Taylor Jadin will be able to communicate to the Reclaim Hosting team the things that were hardest about his job, where there are gaps in the current suite of services, and where they can work to solve those.

I think Taylor’s first real contribution in the category of identifying things that are hard and trying to fix them was the creation of a Community Site Template. He created a template that could be shared with any customer as a showcase of sites. See Taylor’s Community Site template.

Taylor’s Site has two great things going for it:

  • It has a catalog-style frontpage where you can filter by category.
  • New items can be added to the catalog / frontpage through a simple form. The form can be filled out by anyone, which creates a draft post that can be approved by an admin.

The beauty of the template is its simplicity. So I immediately wanted to mess it up.

First the Form!

The template uses Gravity Forms, a premium WordPress plugin to create the “Submit Site” form. The first changes I made to the form was to add different questions to Gravity Forms. What’s important about adding or changing the questions isn’t so much that I added a new question, but I thought it was really important that if we were going through the trouble to collect metadata on the projects, it shouldn’t just be displayed in text in the body of the post, but that it should be entered into WordPress in a way that it was sortable, filterable, and queryable. So I added a few questions to the form, but then I went deep into the WordPress functions to make them searchable the way I wanted them.

Creating Custom Taxonomies:

So by default WordPress has two Taxonomies. Every WordPress post can be sorted into “Categories” and “Tags.” Every Category or Tag is built into the way WordPress operates. Every Category or Tag has its own archive page that displays all posts that have that attribute, and even have their own RSS feed. Taxonomies are deeply integrated into how WordPress works, so I wanted to use those features, but just more of them. I wanted to be able to sort and display around 6 different types of attributes, and that’s well beyond WordPress’ default capabilities. A plugin that I have used in the past to add custom Taxonomies is TaxoPress. I have found it is the easiest way to add custom taxonomies to WordPress. So now every post on my site can be categorized by:

  • Type of Site (Class Project, Course Textbook, Organization / Community Site, Portfolio, Repository / Collection)
  • Built with (WordPress, Pressbooks, Commons in a Box OpenLab, Omeka)
  • Creator (Fill in the Blank)
  • Creator Context (Faculty / Staff, Student(s), Faculty / Staff & Student(s))
  • Institution (Fill in the Blank)
  • License (All Rights Reserved or any Creative Commons)

Back to the Form:

Now that all my Custom Taxonomies were created back in TaxoPress, I wanted to make sure that every question was linked to those custom taxonomies. For this I needed another plugin. Specifically made as an add-on for Gravity Forms, I installed the “Gravity Forms Custom Post Type” plugin. With this, I had the option for every type of question whether it was Fill in the Blank, Checkboxes, or Multiple Choice, that the possible answer were be pulled from a WordPress category and when the post was created that the submitted answers would become the terms attached to the new post draft.

Displaying the Catalog:

Finally, the plugin from the template catalog was “The Post Grid” but that wasn’t going to meet my purposes. While I really liked the display and the animations on filtering, the way the plugin was set up was already pushing it to its limits. Using The Post Grid, you have a really nice display and I like the filter, but you can never use more than one filter. So it had to go! As I was considering the replacement, I chose to test out WordPress Full Site Editing, a new feature that gives creators more control over their theme by allowing the site creator to edit any template with blocks instead of PHP code.

For my catalog, I used a pair of plugins from Code Amp: Search and Filter, and Custom Layouts. Using Full Site Editing in the new Twenty Twenty Two theme, I was able to add a sidebar to the Frontpage, Search page, archive page, and Catalog page. In the sidebar I added my Search and Filter Shortcode, and created how I wanted my posts to display using the Custom Layouts. It was important to me that if I was going to use a plugin to create custom layouts, that I was able to edit the default WordPress pages that appear in searches and archives and not just the traditionally editable pages. That was the point in creating all those custom taxonomies after all. In this way Full Site Editing lived up to its promise, because I was able to remove the default queries from those pages and add my display.

What I Have Learned:

Overall, this was a fun exploration, but what really matters to me is that all the time tweaking, picking out different plugins, picking and rejecting filters and display plugins is that I think I have a reusable set that can be used to create a catalog based search experience in WordPress.

  • Gravity Forms is a must-have for sites that want to anyone to be able to quickly and easily create a post, even if they don’t have a login.
    • Two key add-ons for Gravity Forms make this possible. Gravity Forms Advanced Post Creation and Gravity Forms + Custom Posts Type
  • Custom Taxonomies make Catalogs even stronger. TaxoPress was super easy to work with, and created reusable custom taxonomies.
  • A good filter plugin is tough. I got really far into the process with another plugin “Filter Everything” but I had to drop it because it was just too buggy. The “Search and Filter” plugin did it better, and the fact that it is already made to pair with “Custom Layouts” plugin makes it even better. A weakness of the “Search and Filter” plugin is its vanilla display, so a future project may be making the the CSS look better.
  • Finally, Full Site Editing is still in its Beta, but this project convinced me of its promise. I’m looking forward to it getting even better. Eventually it might get refined to the point that we don’t even need the “Custom Layouts” plugin because the Query block is so good, but we aren’t to that point yet. The thing that made me give up on FSE was when I couldn’t get my Post blocks to be equal height. They just aren’t at that level of refinement yet.

I know of at least two more projects that wanted to create a searchable repository of Open Pedagogy projects, so I’m really looking forward to building more sites with this combination of plugins. The next project won’t take half as long.

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