Darkstar Media: Blog Categories

Category Archives: Database Driven Websites

Champion Iron Responsive WordPress website launched!

We are pleased to announce the launch of the Champion Iron website (www.championiron.com). This was a large project and Darkstar Media worked with OMG (Onside Marketing Group). Darkstar Media handled the graphic design, website development, and data entry and OMG handled the project management.

Some of the features of this website include:

  • Four Languages (English, French, German, Chinese)
  • Fully Responsive
  • Dynamic Sidebars
  • Stock price and graph integration
  • CRM integration
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

champion iron logo

How To Make Your Own Website Using WordPress

WordpressThe internet is huge, and it is growing bigger everyday. Some estimates put the number of new websites brought online every day at 150,000, and that number is only going to get bigger as time goes on.

With this massive growth, anyone who is anyone needs to stake their claim on the world wide web and create their own website. There are a huge range of reasons why you might want to make a website. Maybe you want to create a blog to express your political beliefs, or write short stories. Maybe you just want somewhere to share your travel photos and stories for your friends and family to see. Perhaps you have grander plans and would like to start an online business.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to make a website, you can get started for free by using WordPress. WordPress is the most popular content management system on the internet. The best things about WordPress are that it is completely free and supported by the open source community. There are two main options when using the WordPress software, you can either download a copy of WordPress and upload it to your own hosting space or you can use WordPress.com, which is a completely free hosted solution. All you do is create an account, and you will have a free website. The best thing about using this option is that there are no costs whatsoever.

How To Make A Website For Free Using WordPress.com

  1. First, you need to go to the WordPress.com website, and create an account. This is really simple, just press the large orange ‘Get Started’ button, and follow the simple instructions. You will be asked to select a domain name – make it memorable, so people will remember it when you tell them. To get the free site, make sure you click the free site option at the very bottom of the page.
  2. Once you have completed all the site set up steps it is time for one of the most important steps in making your website, selecting a theme. There are loads of free themes available, so pick the one that suits your site and your goals best. If you want to customize your theme further you can do that, changing the header image, the colors, and more.
  3. After you have finished customizing your theme it is time to start building your websites content. WordPress will present you with the chance to create your first post. So go wild! Introduce everyone to your blog, say what you hope to achieve, or just launch into a huge blog post about whatever you want. This is your website, so do what you want to do.
  4. The final step in making your own WordPress website is to promote it. Once you have made some fantastic blog posts, you are going to need someone to read them. So promotion is key. You can start by tweeting, or posting on Facebook your blog posts, so your friends and family will read and share them.


How To Make A Website For Almost Free With WordPress

If you want a little more from your website however, there is another WordPress option, and that is hosting your own WordPress site. It is easy to do, and the size, and scope of your site is basically unlimited.

  1. First you need to buy a hosting package, there are thousands of providers, and prices start at just a few dollars a month. The hosting package is where you site will be located.
  2. Next get a domain name, this is the .com (or .net, .org, or any other domain name), this is how people will find your site. This is much more professional than the free WordPress site, which doesn’t have domain name like this. Some hosting packages include this for free, which makes them even better value.
  3. Now you are ready to install WordPress on your hosting package. Go to WordPress.org and download the software. Next you need to upload it to your hosting account via FTP, don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense, it is easy to do, your host will have instructions. If it sounds too complicated, many hosts have a one click WordPress install, so you can have it up and running on your site in seconds, without having to do anything else.
  4. Once it is set up you can login and go to the dashboard, from here you can go to ‘Appearance’, and then ‘Themes’, where you can choose from one of thousands of free themes, either choose one of the most popular, or use the built in search engine to find one that suits your site perfectly.
  5. You can now make your site grow by adding posts, and pages, on whatever topics you want. The more content the better, as there is more chances for people to visit your site.
  6. Now the promotion part begins, and there are thousands of options for promoting your site, with everything from telling your family and friends, to paid advertising on Google, and other sites. Once the traffic starts coming, the potential for growth is almost unlimited.

Free Or Almost Free?

There are benefits to both WordPress options. If you are just looking to make a simple blog, then the free WordPress.com option will suit you fine. In fact even if you want to make a more complicated blog, the free option will suit you.

But if you are thinking bigger, you might want to go for the paid hosting package. It still only costs a few dollars a month, but you have unlimited growth potential. Not to mention that your site will look more professional. If you choose this option there is no limit to big your site could become.


Custom vs Downloaded WordPress Themes

wordpress theme searchOne of the biggest advantages to using a content management system such as WordPress is the almost unlimited access to different themes and functionality. Spend a little time and you can search through the different themes using WordPress’s extensive search options  (search by colour, column, layout, subject and features).

Several such themes have built in SEO features, calls to action, slideshows and image galleries, giving you pretty much anything you need. You can also use child themes to make minor modifications and add custom functions and designs to your theme without having to disconnect your theme from any future theme updates.

With all this sounding as good as it does, why would you even consider creating a custom theme from scratch?

To start with you may have specific requirements for call outs, online marketing, social media integration, SEO, structured data, and content flow as well as very specific branding. With these requirements, building exactly what you need from the start can be much faster than searching through (and testing) themes and plug-ins.  Also if the theme isn’t exactly what you need it to be, you then have to spend money on a developer to modify it anyway.

I tend to work with a lot of designers and agencies. They know exactly what they want and as such, I find it much more efficient in these situations to start with a clean, responsive theme such as Twenty Thirteen and use that for my base to build on.

In many situations the decision on whether to use a custom or downloaded theme comes down to budget. Many themes are free or have a very small rollout cost while developing your own theme can be a bit more costly. If you are hiring a skilled design agency or developer, they have the skills and knowledge to guide you in website best practices and can strategically develop exactly what you require.

To summarize, I think using a downloaded or low cost theme is a good way to get your website off the ground on a minimal to low budget. Then, when you are ready to take your website to the next level with online marketing, SEO, brand promotion, or incorporate an eCommerce element, it’s better to hire a skilled developer or agency to develop a custom theme which can best address your company’s evolving website needs.

phpExcel: Adding accounting format and review

While working on a long-standing CMS (Content Management System) project I needed to find a way to export database results into a working Excel document. For years I have been creating functions which exported .CSV files which were then easily imported into Excel, but for this project a working Excel document was needed and I was lucky enough to stumble across PHPExcel. I am very pleased with this code and I have spent the last week learning it and writing an export function. You can download your own copy here https://phpexcel.codeplex.com/.

The functionality of PHPExcel is very in-depth and I only scratched the surface of what it can do. Basically it can do just about anything Excel can do. One thing it didn’t do was save number formats in the Excel accounting format, which was having the $ sign on the left of the cell while the numbers would be aligned right. Luckily it is very easy to modify and contribute to PHPExcel and I managed to figure out a way to add the accounting format.

This is how you add accounting format to PHPExcel


First open PHPExcel_1 > Classes > PHPExcel > Style > NumberFormat.php

Within this class add the bolded text.

class PHPExcel_Style_NumberFormat extends PHPExcel_Style_Supervisor implements PHPExcel_IComparable
// Add this
const FORMAT_ACCOUNTING = ‘_(“$”* #,##0.00_);_(“$”* \(#,##0.00\);_(“$”* “-“??_);_(@_)’;


Then when writing your export code you now have a new number format

‘code’ => PHPExcel_Style_NumberFormat::FORMAT_ACCOUNTING

One very important Item to note, this only works in Excel itself, not Open Office! If you are using Open Office it will not display the number format like Excel does, this is because of Open Office limitations, not PHPExcel.

While I haven’t found an official WordPress plugin for this, this site is a WordPress site and as you can see I have integrated the functionality into my website. Please use the form below to test out and see how it works. I hope you find this functionality as useful as I do.

Test it out yourself and export an Excel file


Only a text only name a proper number will work!!

Content Management Systems’ (CMS) have become the norm for web design

wordpress dashboard12 years ago, when I started in the web design business I spent a lot of time building static web sites. Most of my time was spent in Photoshop at the design stage of web development. Here, I would export my design as slices in a table layout. From there I would designate a few spots for HTML copy, then add in my Flash and JavaScript elements. For these websites I would usually do any number of requested updates to the site on a certain day of the week and invoice my clients monthly for these changes.

I would also get projects which required having an image gallery, press feed, bulletin board or an e-commerce component. For these I would build a dynamic database driven content management component which would allow the client to manage this content.  For these projects I would integrate my static HTML code with the dynamic PHP and MySQL components. On other occasions I would get projects which were company intranets/extranets and all the content was database driven.

Let’s define a content management system. As per Wikipedia a CMS is described as:

“A content management system (CMS) is a computer program that allows publishing, editing and modifying content as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment.[4] These procedures can be manual steps or an automated cascade. CMSs have been available since the late 1990s.”

CMS websites are typically used for content control, user management and tracking, searching and editing data, creating reports, eCommerce, blogging, and publishing a news feed among other functions. There are thousands of CMS systems out there for a variety of website sizes and requirements, and on top of those developers would need to develop plug-ins or an entire custom CMS system.

For websites which were a fusion of database driven content and static HTML code, the Content Management Systems (CMS) component was always an extra item, one that was specifically asked for based on an estimation of how often the content would have to change.

What has changed in the last few years is the emergence of open source projects, sites such as WordPress, Magento, Drupal, and Joomla, to name a few.  These sites are free and developed by countless web developers worldwide. I think because of the combination of cost (free) and the input from many developers working towards making the systems easy to use and update, these CMS systems have now become the standard. They are what is expected by web site owners.

This works best for both the developer and the owner. Content updates in the past, which were critical to the website owner to promote or showcase new goods or services, were sometimes inconvenient for a web designer to do immediately, as they were usually in the midst of another project. It makes sense to use a CMS such as WordPress for a small to medium sized website because

  1. Doing so allows the customer to manage all the text, image, press, products updates themselves
  2. Website owners have started to expect and reply on this content control.

The critical benefits which Content Management Systems (CMS) offer are greater content control and superior flexibility. Not only do they allow you to update content information on your website more efficiently, they also free you from being tied to a specific developer. With an open source CMS, you can get almost any developer to add functionality to your website.

Next Generation Responsive Website

Think Insure responsive website previewWe are pleased to announce the upgrade and launch of a new website, thinkinsure.ca. Why do we call this the next generation responsive website you may ask. We developed this website to be fully responsive, it resizes and reorganizes data to create the best user experience for whatever device the viewer is on. This is not entirely new, nor is it our invention. Our point is that many companies are just realizing that this is now the standard. A few years ago it was just an option.

WordPress is extremely popular due to the easy content control it provides. As well, WordPress is a blog platform, and posting on a Blog regularly is a highly effective and recommended method for improving your website’s SEO. This website is not a WordPress site; however we did seamlessly integrate a WordPress blog into the site.

We included one of the latest technologies with this website called “structured data”. It is a new way of formatting different types of data which will help search engines (e.g. Google, Bing) to best understand your content.  This will improve your SEO efforts.

What is an itemprop and why does my website need it?

Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are all working together to help web developers and their own search engines to display more relevant data, the latest thing they have come up with is structured data. What structured data does is help to identify what kind of information is being diplayed on a website. They are already good at finding keywords and phrases, but they want to know is what that keyword (or phrase) is describing.

For example if the words are “Art Show”, is this page trying to sell tickets to the art show (“Art Show” is referencing a product) or is it a review of a past art show (“Art Show” is referencing a review). Why this is important is that if the page is for a product, then by using structured data tags you can easily tag and target text on the page as the price, or if it is a review you can give it a 5 star rating with your tags. Then when you use a search engine to find these terms, the search engine will know to display you the price or stars. It will also help your web pages get better SEO if the search engines can get more specific information about your web page.

Of course it gets much more complex with all the different types of data you can tag and display, you can also include reviews inside of products if it is applicable. A website has been created which will help you pick the relevant tags and show you how to use them,   schema.org It is very easy to use these tags within existing website tags or wrapping text in span tags. Example below.

<div itemprop=”review” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/Review”>

   <span itemprop=”name”>Art Show at AGO</span>

   <meta itemprop=”worstRating” content = “1”>
   <span itemprop=”ratingValue”>1</span>/<span itemprop=”bestRating”>5</span>stars

   <span itemprop=”description”>Very beautiful artwork, I wanted to bring it home with me</span>



Case Study: Custom Extranet and CMS for a Unique Business

We have just recently completed a project for a long standing BEI logoclient (Bluestein Export Import Inc.  aka  BEI) which involved a content management and accounting system for their business. What made this project unique was that this client is the only company that does what they do and finding an out of the box CMS or accounting system that would do what they needed was next to impossible. They tried other applications and found them to be lacking.

We have been working on this project piece by piece for the last 10 years and we had a pretty good understanding of how the business worked. Since the project was developed over 10 years, it was constantly evolving as BEI realized they needed more and more functionality.  So the last year we completely redesigned the extranet website to be much more efficient, streamlined and user friendly (these were some of the top priorities) by adding jQuery technology, better navigation, more control by the administrators and more effective PHP and MySQL coding.

The main function of the website is that it does exactly what BEI needs it to do to manage their businesses data, they do not have to change their system to conform to an out of the box application. Out of the box applications can be very effective and cost saving tools, yet in some situations it is more efficient to build a custom application, especially when your business is very unique.

Some of the main features of this website include:

  • Multi-user and security level management
  • Administrator can browse and work as any user
  • Content control for all drop down / select menus
  • Complex financial reporting for both users and administrators  (users submit daily reports, administrators can summarize all reports)
  • Invoice creation with printable versions
  • Expense reporting
  • Quick summaries and views of financial data
  • CVS exporting into Excel
  • Email notifications
  • Financial and report validation

To summarize, we now have a very efficient and highly useful website which works for BEI and allows them to focus more on their business rather than their process. It uses modern coding practices and it is future friendly, ready for any new evolutions that need to be added. A website that does exactly what they need it to do.

2 new WordPress websites with geolocations

Over the last month we have launched 2 custom WordPress theme websites, both of which  are integrated with Google’s geolocator. What this does is allow locations to be searched by postal code to provide end users with the most relevant data for them.  In both cases we seamlessly integrated the locations into the WordPress administration panel for ease of use by the website administrator.

As is our specialty recently, this is a custom built WordPress theme website. We can turn any design, from any designer into a fully functioning CMS website.

cremation basicsarbo memorial

Jar Creative WordPress Website Live

Wearing my hat as the website developer for Jar Creative I am happy to announce the launch of their new website. This website pushed the limits of WordPress theme development and I am very pleased to be have been part of the team which includes Designers, Creative Directors, Project Managers and SEO Specialists.

One item I especially proud to have developed is the image focused blog as seen below on the left.

jar blogjar data pagejar home page

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