Media Burn Archive: The move to WordPress

by Michael Cannon in Featured, WordPress · 0 comments


The Media Burn Independent Video Archive collects more than 6,000 documentary videotapes produced by independent videographers outside of corporate contexts. The tapes chronicle four decades of 20th and 21st century life, including politics, arts and culture, community life, urban issues, ethnic identities, and more. Media Burn recognizes the power of documentary to change the way we understand the world around us. That’s why it is our mission to preserve our shared cultural history on analog videotape and make it available for generations to come.

Media Burn Background

We built our first website in 2005 and 2006 when online video was still new. Because what we wanted to do then was kind of unheard of, at least for a small nonprofit (thousands of full-length videos streaming, with full timecode-based descriptions), we went with a Canadian company that used a combination of TYPO3 and Alfresco and a video player called Clipstream to create what we needed. (The alternative at the time was Flash, which I guess was too expensive.) We were also self-hosting our videos, which at the time seemed to provide a lot of flexibility for us.

Several years later, the site was hopelessly dated and relatively useless in a world where every video is embeddable and fullscreen and where video codecs and players change constantly. On top of that, the company that built our site had moved on from TYPO3 development to focus exclusively on cloud storage solutions and was no longer interested in maintaining our site. We do not have an IT person on staff so we found it very hard to keep up with the technology.

Outside of a few screenings and events per year, the audience we serve is exclusively online. So it was a really big deal for us that our site was becoming useless. Very few people in North America work on TYPO3; essentially no one knew how to handle our combo of TYPO3/Alfresco. Our search for a new developer involved lots of “oh, sorry, I thought I could work on this but I can’t” after giving a candidate access to the back end. Which meant that our site was static for a long time. Silly things like the date on our webpage went unchanged for years since no one had the skills to work on the site.

We found Michael and he helped us figure out a plan to transition out of our unusual and difficult situation and into WordPress, which has made it so much easier for our staff and interns to make changes to the website without the kind of expertise one needs for TYPO3.

Just a few weeks ago, two graduate students spent five days here creating this new portal for guiding viewers through collections of historical camera original footage: We have never before had the flexibility to add projects like that to our website before, and it’s incredible that they were able to do it in a week-long internship. So, WordPress has been a major improvement for us.

Okay, Your Questions!

We have many short videos on our site and are interested in how you are storing and rendering video on your WordPress site

Our videos are hosted by vzaar, which is a UK-based company. We researched vzaar, Viddler, YouTube, Vimeo, Wistia, Brightcove, and onsite using HTML5 plugin/AmazonS3. At the time, vzaar offered the services we needed, like being able to upload hundreds of videos at once while we transitioned, for the cheapest price. I think the main deciding factor was that vzaar would serve up multiple versions of videos for different devices (like lower resolution for mobiles) without charging for the additional copies, which was not true of most of the other options-the pricing quickly changed if you’re multiplying your storage needs by five to accommodate the different versions. vzaar also has great customer service. They’re still a small company so they are very responsive. WordPress seems to work pretty well with most video hosts-when I embed videos from other places it’s very easy. I imagine that any option you choose will be very compatible with WordPress.

When did you switch from TYPO3 to WordPress? How long had you been using TYPO3?

We switched in January 2012, and we had been using TYPO3 since 2005.

This is probably much more about the video player than WordPress alone, but in December 2012, about a year after the transition project started, we were able to report this incredible result in our annual appeal: “Today alone, our site has been viewed more than 13,000 times. The same day last year, we had 219 views.”

What types of pages were most problematic to convert?

I have no idea. Michael made the process seamless on our end. He talked with us extensively beforehand about why we had certain features so he was able to reproduce the same end results with new technology.

The custom database components were the least reproducible. Our full archival database of 6,000 videotapes is the backbone of our site, and I do still miss how much more easily sorted and searched this database was in TYPO3. This is really the only downside, though, and it only affects our archival staff.

What integration do you have with other programs (e.g., constituent management, accounting).

None, really? Our WordPress site is not currently integrated with our Mailchimp email account (other than an having email signup page), our Quickbooks, or eTapestry donor database. Perhaps in the future, although I don’t really see this as a real limitation currently.

Correspondence courtesy of Sara Chapman, Executive Director, Fund for Innovative TV

Contact Michael for help with your WordPress migration and support needs.

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About Michael Cannon

Hello, I'm Michael Cannon, Peichi's smiling man, an adventurous water-ratchief technology officer, cyclist, poet, WWOOF'er and world traveler.

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