Ignition, Inc

In 1999 my brother Dan Thorman and I merged our Internet applications company, If.Net, with Ray Kristof and Amy Satran’ interactive application design studio Ignition to form Ignition, Inc.

The combined company operated successfully for two years before we amicably split it again, with Dan and myself leaving to form the startup company InterNetwork News / INNX.

During that time, the company completed a number of high-end design and development projects, mostly but not all Web-based, for a number of corporate and non-profit clients.

Some of the most technically-interesting projects are outlined here.

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) (1998-1999)

In 1998-1999 Ignition designed and implemented a massive overhaul of HCR-Net, the 12,000-page secure and confidential Intranet Web site that drives the daily activities of the 5,000+ employees of the UNHCR in over 130 countries.

Ignition did a completely new information design, interface design, implementation plan, and taxonomical structure. I developed automated tools to apply the new designs to a snapshot of the existing site to convert it to the new design. The Ignition team also developed training and process documentation materials for the Geneva-based Web team.

The data-driven site remapping software tools I developed allowed for a phenomenally-successful “instantaneous + 1 week” cutover from the old site to the new one.

The remapping tool was implemented as a perl application running on Linux that read the entire 120MB site into memory, analyzed, corrected, and re-mapped it and all its links and content into a completely new and modern taxonomical structure and hierarchical disk layout, while simultaneously applying a new visual design and multi-level frames-based navigational infrastructure.

The tool was developed over the course of several months, with dry runs applied to increasingly current updates of the original site.

On the designated cutoff day, the old site was read into the tool, remapped, and then the Web team simply spent a week visiting, reviewing, and doing any residual manual cleanup on the 12,000 pages of the site, while simultaneously adding new content. After two weeks, the new site design was fully implemented.

The team has reported that the design and 7-plus-level taxonomy developed by Ignition are still in use today.

Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC) Edmap product (1997-1998)

CCC approached Ignition to work on a number of design and development phases of its development of an integrated in-school Web delivered curriculum management product, EdMap (see Featured Projects at the Ignition site).

One of the development challenges was the need to create the visual and technical design for a large number of Web application templates to be used in conjunction with the data-access code being developed by a third-party contractor located in Israel. The decision was made to use the then-nascent and relatively inconsistently implemented Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) technology to create the layouts.

The ultimate result was a beautiful and visually consistent family of application templates.

Aside from the challenging process of figuring out ways to make the application layouts work with the requirements of the client, the software developer, and the finicky style sheet technology on multiple platforms, the biggest technical challenge was creating an automated release and configuration management process for deliveries from our design team to the client.

Solution: Using a series of perl scripts and an HTML-based meta-language, a customized release-management application was developed to automate the releases of the sets of templates for the client. Any team member could, at any time, initiate a build of the project.

The build process collected all the relevant resources, instantiated and customized the templates by interpreting the project’s ad-hoc macro language, created a Web-navigable HTML index of all project elements, posted it to internal and external Web sites for client and team review, and built both tarred and zipped archives in Unix and DOS formats respectively for archiving and download by the client and the offsite engineering teams. Finally, an annotated delivery index was created to allow any element of any build to be compared via the Web with any element from any previous build.

The automated configuration management tools allowed for rapid turnarounds of project builds and for careful control, tracking, and accountability for changes made from one build to the next.

Church Publishing Inc. (CPI) and Macromedia

Some of the CPI and Macromedia projects begun or completed during the time of If.Net’s merger with Ignition are listed in my If.Net project diary.