IndiaBioscience is a non-profit program responsible for evangelising the growing academic opportunities in biology and life sciences in India. They also work to bring together existing practitioners as a community and improve the community’s engagement with the country and world at large.
We began working with IndiaBioscience as early as October 2014 when we visited their office at the beautiful NCBS campus in Bangalore (where they are currently incubated), and went over the breadth of the organisation’s historical and ongoing activities as well as future plans, in detail. We learned that in order to provide a comprehensive resource for opportunities in India the website will need to host a diverse range of content and cater to a wide array of audience whose needs could greatly vary, to illustrate a few — scientists and biologists looking for discussion spaces and assistance in their work, researchers abroad mulling about pursuing options in India, students who want to participate in meetings and exchange experiences, organisations around the world looking for partnerships, and several more.
The project was realised in multiple development phases, the first one started off with identifying three primary types of section based on the content formats and interaction models: article based content for News and Columns, public classifieds for Jobs, Grants and Events and directory listings for Institutes and Cities. These sections naturally formed the major components of the new website. Further, a set of minor sections such as free-form resources, projects and meta information about the organisation itself were also identified. Lastly we deduced taxonomies (such as scientific disciplines, subject themes and academic levels) to classify and group content across various sections. This went on to allow users to discover related content across the entire site.
The second phase simplified few long-standing operational activities undertaken by the organisation. IndiaBioscience conducts multiple kinds of meetings throughout the calendar year. The website CMS was extended to allow them to easily add micro-sites for each meeting, accept applications and facilitate a review process whereby evaluators can shortlist participants. Other than the events, thousands of community members are kept updated and engaged through newsletters. The website control panel now allows the organisation to quickly compose newsletters by handpicking relevant content from the information dense website and sending them out to the subscribers. Lastly a new discussion forum was integrated with the website to facilitate active interaction among the community.
In addition to being the longest project we have worked on so far, this was also the most iterative. Each development phase was broken into multiple smaller releases. We ranked the content sections based on importance and tackled just a couple every release. This allowed us to debut and maintain a beta version of the website as early as December 2014. We have since gathered valuable feedback and completed two major iterations on the visual design as well as doubled the number of sections on the website, leading up to the transition as the primary IndiaBioscience website in September 2015. We collaborated with Pooja Saxena on the final visual design of the website, and Nigel Babu for setting up the discussion forum.
We chose to build the new website using Pixel & Tonic’s Craft, a CMS we have come to appreciate a lot even as we push it to its limits. Craft was chosen for its native support for completely custom content schemas, flexible classifications via categories and inter-linking of content. We have exploited these capabilities to provide a densely inter-linked and cohesive experience to site visitors who can effortlessly hop from a news item, to a related institute, to jobs offered at that institute, to more jobs available in that city, to events happening in that city, all in a single thread.
We have also extended Craft’s functionalities in certain areas during the course of development and released a few of these extensions as re-usable plugins:
- Router — routes requests to pages with a filtered, pre-loaded list of entries.
- Emailer — sends entries as emails.
- Obfuscator — adds a Twig filter to obfuscate emails or any other content using Hivelogic Enkoder.
- Cryptographer — adds Twig filters to perform cryptographic operations.
For the discussion forum we opted for a self hosted installation of Discourse. Discourse supports single-sign-on which eliminates the need for the users to create separate accounts in the main website and the forum.