Announcing the New 2.0 Shambhala Center Website System
“As the Webmaster of Shambhala South Africa, I’m thrilled with the new website you have created for us. It is streets ahead of the previous version in both functionality and appearance — and I haven’t even scraped the surface of what is possible with the WordPress CMS.” – Patrick Madden-South Africa Shambhala Center
During these past years a great deal of thought and effort have gone into ways to further unify and strengthen Shambhala’s Information Technology (IT) infrastructure. The Shambhala Database, the unified password project, Shambhala Times and the Shambhala Network are examples of the work that has been done.
Now Shambhala websites will be undergoing fundamental changes too. These changes will assist us in presenting ourselves to the world in a consistent fashion, both visually and from the standpoint of content and messaging.
New features include:
1. Editable content using a Shambhala account from any computer
2. Donation and membership forms
3. Video-based user manuals for training
4. Easy to customize homepage layout
5. Social network sharing links (facebook like, twitter, etc.)
6. and many more…
Moreover, in response to the constantly challenging issues of website security, the new Website 2.0 templates have been developed to be more resistant to hacking and intrusion.
As with the current generation of centre website templates (1.0) the new templates have been developed by Cameron and Deryk Wenaus of Blue Mandala Communications. Cameron and Deryk have played a central role in Shambhala IT and developed the Shambhala Network. Though Blue Mandala is an independent enterprise owned by Deryk and Cameron, Blue Mandala and their team have worked closely with Shambhala on a wide range of projects, both as volunteers and paid contractors.
Website system 2.0 replaces 1.0
According to Larry Barnett, Director of Communications, “The current 1.0 system has served Shambhala very well, but is no longer well-adapted to our use. Web standards have changed, including page width and functionality. The administration of the 1.0 websites requires installation of older third-party software (Contribute) on a local computer, and work on the 1.0 websites is restricted to the computer that has Contribute installed. The connection to the Shambhala database for program calendars and registration works, but the connection is slow and creates serious security weaknesses.”
Accordingly, the new 2.0 system is built on a custom WordPress platform. WordPress is an open source system, which has been used to create millions of websites. WordPress developers are continuously adding (and improving) modules, plug-ins and other functions. They offer these free of charge to the WordPress community. We have been able to develop Shambhala’s new look and content using this system and will reap the benefits of being part of the WordPress community.
The Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche, has personally chosen some of the design elements and content of the new 2.0 template and our other internet tools. Specifically, the Sakyong has authorized:
~the use of a new version of our “sun” logo (reflecting the visualization in the Shambhala sadhana)
~new custom typography (encoding the energy of the Ashe stroke into the first “A” in Shambhala)
~an accompanying “tagline” that can be deployed across all websites in the 2.0 system.
These custom elements have been designed by long-time Shambhala designer Mary Sweet.
In addition, specific language describing Shambhala Vision, Lineage, and worldwide community has been chosen by the Sakyong. That content will be included in every 2.0 website, on pages that will remain consistent worldwide.
“A lot of work has gone into what may seem like a modest tweak on Shambhala’s sun logo,” says President Richard Reoch. “There is a slight adjustment to the centre of the sun and the sun beam near it to reflect the visualization in the Shambhala Sadhana. The flow of the Ashe stroke has been embedded in the first ‘A’ of the word ‘Shambhala’ and the typeface meticulously modified, letter by letter, to accommodate this.”
President Reoch went on to say, “The idea is that these two (the sun and the single word Shambhala) would now be used increasingly in this way in all our materials. There is an optional italicized line under the single word ‘Shambhala’ that points to the pivotal mission of making enlightened society possible. When we had the opportunity to present the final round of designs and phrases to the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo, after more than a year of work on this, there was a lot of appreciation. He felt we were on the right track. I liked the way he said that, with the gentle reminder that Shambhala is still a work in progress.”
This also affects our other sites on the internet. Mr. Barnett reports that shambhala.org is currently being rebuilt within the WordPress platform, and will feature these new graphics as well; Shambhala Times is also being modified. Eventually, all official Shambhala websites will incorporate these new design elements.
“The content boxes and other widgets and widget areas are so useful! The featured images are so fun to have! You managed to find a great way of bridging our comfort zones from the old sites to the new. We have yet to learn all the things that are possible and train everyone in using the site but the flexibility going forward is awesome.” -Kate Cain Madsen-Denver Shambhala Center
Site Administration Template 2.0
Ingeborg Keyser of Blue Mandala reports, “The WordPress platform used in template 2.0 is a better tool for centers than Adobe Contribute. It will be much easier for centers when adding and changing content. Administrators can access it from any computer with internet access; no special software is required or needs to be installed. Also, unlike Contribute, the WordPress content management system is built right in! The common password-protected administration means that many people can be trained and they can be available to each other to share ideas and answer questions.”
“Many centres and groups need only basic functions from the template, like the ability to change content. And for those centres requiring special functionality due to their size or other special circumstances, Blue Mandala is providing custom solutions,” she added. “Some of these solutions are available now, and can be easily incorporated into a 2.0 site.”
“The best part of the new site, from the back-end, is that WordPress is much, much easier and more convenient to use than Adobe Contribute was.” -Travis May-Shambhala St. Petersburg
Through the power of WordPress, mobile versions of all 2.0 websites will be made available once most of the basic center websites are converted to 2.0.
Server configuration and access to the host server
All 2.0 websites will be centrally located on the Shambhala WordPress server, bringing substantial benefits. Having all the 2.0 websites located on a common server means that “master” pages or page elements can be immediately and uniformly deployed across the entire network of 2.0 websites.
Navigation to other 2.0 websites is instantly available to those who sign-in to the Shambhala Network. Because the 2.0 system is co-located (on the same server) with the Shambhala Database (SDB), connections to the SDB will be much faster than they are today. This means that program pages and calendars will load faster. Importantly, the co-location means a greatly reduced data security risk since SDB data will no longer be sent across less secure connections.
In addition, no File Transfer Protocol (FTP) access will be possible within the 2.0 system. FTP is notorious for its use in unauthorized server access, and is greatly responsible for most hacking successes. By eliminating FTP access, Shambhala can devote far less server administration time to server protection and security than at present. No FTP access, however, does mean that centres will not have unlimited ability to customize their websites and will have to accept some constraints. Plug-ins, for example, will have to be installed by Blue Mandala or the Shambhala IT team.“As we draw closer together as a growing worldwide community, it is important to understand the power and necessity of maintaining online coherence, knowledge-base sharing, improved economies of scale and consistency of appearance and content,” Mr. Barnett suggests. “All these are only possible by accepting some limitations on individual centre variations. This is part of working together as one mandala and crucial if we are to follow the Sakyong’s 2020 vision. Our web presence is one way that we ‘clarify our structure’”, he added.
“Everyone seems to enjoy the look and feel of the new site, and loves seeing pictures and images from our very own center! People love seeing the local leaders and teacher pages. I think the blog is more prominent and having the membership form on the website is a dream come true.” – Ashley Goodwin-Boston Shambhala Center
Timing, deployment and costs
There are many centre websites to recreate using the 2.0 template, however, it is only possible to proceed with a few at a time- perhaps two-three per week. Roughly twenty websites have been converted to date during a “soft launch” of the 2.0 system over the past six months. Examples include: Los Angeles, The Hoosier Heartland Group, Melbourne, Victoria, and Boston. Note: these sites don’t include the Sakyong’s design changes; those will be coming in the next weeks.
It’s expected that every center will want to make this change as quickly as possible, but the reality of staff support and finance means that patience will be necessary. Larger centre sites require more custom work, and such transitions will take more time. A queue has been created, and all centres are being asked to place themselves in line for their 2.0 makeover.
To bring a centre or group onto the new system, Shambhala Website Setup presents the steps to follow.
What about costs?
“It would have been lovely to have been able to make this transition free of charge to all Shambhala centres,” according to Mr. Barnett. “If fund-raising efforts earlier this year had been more successful, that might have happened. As it is, this effort has been financed entirely by Blue Mandala and their charges are intended to recover their costs, plus the cost of ongoing staff support services to each centre during the transition.”
Costs are based on the number of dues-paying members in a centre, for example, a centre with 35 members will be charged $600. You can find more information about the costs and development process by visiting http://website.shambhala.org/payment/.
“This system is beyond an upgrade from our previous. It is another planet entirely.”- Joseph Mauricio Director-Baltimore Shambhala Center
Trouble-shooting, feedback and looking ahead
Mr. Barnett said that he recognizes that any IT change brings with it challenges, frustrations and plenty of surprises. Some will be due to limitations of the 2.0 system, and at other times limitations on the part of the centre or website administrator. Various tools have been created to help sort out issues. He encourages webmasters to use these tools and get in touch with Shambhala IT directly if assistance is needed. Improving the system will be a constant and ongoing process; technology changes too quickly for any solution to fully satisfy user needs for very long. “Within the capacities of Blue Mandala and Shambhala IT, we are committed to providing support and assistance to those needing it,” Mr. Barnett added.
By visiting http://shambhalanetwork.org/groups/2-0-support/ you can find contact information, FAQs, and forms to report problems.