In Our November, 2017 Issue:

Two techies talk: A conversation with Levi King, developer of The Metropolitan website

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The Metropolitan’s Web Edi­tor, Joseph Par­sons, sat down with his pre­de­ces­sor Levi King to talk about the his­tory and devel­op­ment of The Met­ro­pol­i­tan web­site. King grad­u­ated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Com­puter Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy, and now works as a course­work edi­tor for Capella University.

How did you get involved with The Metropolitan?

Orig­i­nally it was because I had a class in my Tech­ni­cal Writ­ing major where we were basi­cally required to fin­ish an arti­cle in the class and then sub­mit it to a real pub­li­ca­tion. A lot of peo­ple were going to places like City Pages and what­not, but I didn’t feel like I was ready to jump straight into some­thing that was dis­trib­uted on news­stands on the street.

I had never really thought about the actual paper at Metro until that point. I saw [the Met­ro­pol­i­tan] at the news­stands around cam­pus and got involved. And it turned out they ended up need­ing some­one to do the web design aspect of it. So I sub­mit­ted two or three arti­cles before join­ing the staff proper, and then it became a monthly arti­cle on staff and went from there.

When you started going into the web design, how long did that take?

Imme­di­ately after I joined, they only had a very sim­ple place­holder web­site. It was unfor­tu­nately com­pli­cated. They had very lim­ited func­tion­al­ity and essen­tially were only able to pro­vide a link to a PDF. And I did the small upgrade. I found a work-​around where I could use Mozilla’s PDF.js library to embed the PDF so it was view­able on the page and didn’t have to be down­loaded. Which was a step up. But still a far cry from what they wanted it to be.

Orig­i­nally it was really dif­fi­cult to trace the his­tory of what hap­pened to the orig­i­nal site. But the short of it was that who­ever had been run­ning the site before had chafed at the require­ments where Metro State requires stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions who are going to run a web­site on the Metro State server — it has to be straight HTML, noth­ing else.

So who­ever had been doing the web design before I was on had done their own solu­tion on their own host and had paid for it them­self. And when they grad­u­ated they quit pay­ing for it and it dis­ap­peared. So we had a gap in the archives. It was really unfor­tu­nate. I repaired what I could, but I was never able to fig­ure out how to get in con­tact with that per­son. I think I found them on LinkedIn but they didn’t reply to my mes­sages. And that was at that point I just said “Okay, we’re going to be build­ing a new site, I’m going to try to make this thing future-​proof.”

So you made sure the school paid for the web host­ing?

That was the really hard part. That was mul­ti­ple meet­ings with the stu­dent coun­cil. I was just going for a standards-​based approach to every­thing. I chose a very coop­er­a­tive web host­ing com­pany. Not a huge oper­a­tion. I picked them because they com­plied with the way the school pays, through pur­chase orders.

I know you worked with two other stu­dents on the web­site. How did you col­lab­o­rate with them?

When I started the cap­stone [ICS 499, Soft­ware Engi­neer­ing and Cap­stone Project], very early on there was the pitch process. Essen­tially the instruc­tor tells you “come up with a project or I’m going to give you one.” And I had made sure in advance to tell him “I’ve got a project, I wanna find class­mates who’re going to help me with this project.” And I had the for­tune of find­ing two guys in the same class who were will­ing and able to help me out with the heavy-​lifting, because that’s not my strong suit. I hadn’t had that bad of a time with the broad strokes of it, but that’s why I wanted some­one more technical.

Were they com­puter sci­ence students?

Yeah. Ben, he was the real for­tu­nate one for me. He had expe­ri­ence with pretty much the same kind of thing, mak­ing cus­tom parsers. He just fig­ured out how to make it func­tion the way that I envi­sioned it. And then Seth, he did the UI [user inter­face]. We all shared the tasks equally, but Ben did the core func­tion­al­ity, Seth did the UI, and I did most of the rest of the project.

Did you look at other options for the web­site, like WordPress?

I don’t like Word­Press, and I don’t like it because it would even­tu­ally be a prob­lem. There was going to be a time when some­one argues “Let’s do a plug-​in!”

And then you’ve got secu­rity issues up the wazoo?

Secu­rity issues, and you’ve got the obso­les­cence issues where: “Oh, the com­ments thing that we decided to do, they stopped sup­port­ing it! We’ve got to migrate to a new com­ments sys­tem or we’re going to lose all our comments.”

The one time that there was a seri­ous dis­cus­sion of doing com­ments, I pro­posed a library that was strictly local, where the user could leave a com­ment and see the com­ment under the arti­cle but it didn’t actu­ally post to a server. So it just like… a dummy to serve that urge to comment.

At the time, it was due to our Black Lives Mat­ter edi­tion. There was hate mail being shoved under the door of the office. It was just a sit­u­a­tion where, “Do we want to pro­vide the voice [for online com­ments]? If we do pro­vide the voice, maybe we can just make it a fake voice.” And nobody had patience to ever mod­er­ate that. So I was always very much of the “no com­ments” posi­tion. If they ever do, woe betide the stu­dent who man­ages it.

Inter­net com­ments are just the worst part of the inter­net, so why would you even wanna have to deal with it? We post arti­cles on Face­book, if peo­ple really want to send us hate mail, they can hate the posts on Facebook.

And then at least it’s attached to a real iden­tity. Or you can just block them from the page. It’s a lot eas­ier because Face­book is going to give you these con­sis­tent tools. You’re not always going to want to use the Face­book tools, but at least they are a con­sis­tent set of tools that any edi­tor can come in and work with.

Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.