Technical Information about the BPN Website


The original BPN website was created in 1995 by Ginger Ogle to archive discussions from a mailing list she had started a few years earlier for UC Berkeley parents. At the time, mailing list and blogging software were not available, so Ginger set up a web server, wrote scripts in Perl for subscribing and posting, and over the years created more than 8,000 hand-coded HTML pages containing advice and reviews she copy-pasted from the newsletters. In 2012, BPN became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and we raised funds from our subscribers for a new website that would take advantage of software that was now widely available for websites and mailing lists. Starting in 2014, Ginger worked with Amit Asaravala of Return Control to create a new Drupal website for BPN, which was based on the old site, but would allow us to accept payments and automate many of the actions we had to do by hand.  The new site launched in 2015 and the transition was completed in 2016.  We continue to add new features and enhancements working with Return Control.  

Technical Components of BPN (as of December 2019):

  • Drupal + customized modules created by Return Control
  • Acquia for web hosting 
  • Mailchimp for 5 weekly newsletters (for 30,000+ subscribers)
  • Paypal for accepting payments and managing paid subscriptions with yearly renewals
  • G Suite and Google for Nonprofits for staff & volunteer email accounts and mailing lists
  • SurveyMonkey for occasional member surveys
  • Staff: 1 full-time director, 1 assistant director 25%, 15 volunteer moderators, 1 part-time business manager, and technical support from Return Control as needed

Design & Structure of the Website 

  1. Databases:  Three searchable databases were compiled from pages on the old website that contained parents' reviews of hundreds of schools, childcare facilities, camps and classes. For each school, camp, or class, we added additional information such as license numbers, capacity, addresses, contact information, etc.  Each school/class/camp in the database has a profile page that paid subscribers can edit themselves, and that parent subscribers can post reviews to. 

  2. Listings:  The listings contain current posts (posted during the past 2-4 weeks) from subscribers. Most of the listings also have a weekly email digest that subscribers can opt in to, which contains the week's new posts.  Only certain types of subscribers can post to each listing. For example, only community subscribers can post announcements & events, and only parent subscribers can post reviews and advice. See Where Can I Post? for details. Most of BPN's listings can be viewed by the public on our website, although some listings are restricted to subscribers only:

    • Announcements  (public) school openings, services for parents and kids, classes, camps, workshops, etc.
    • Events  (public) kid-friendly events and school admissions events
    • Childcare  (parents & nannies only) parents seeking/recommeing nannies, and nannies available
    • Marketplace (BPN subscribers only) items for sale, items wanted, garage sales, housing offers
    • Parent Q&A (public)  advice and reviews in a Q and A format
    • Tutors & Teachers (public)  tutors, music teachers, college advisors offering their services
    • Parent Connections (parents only)  parent meet-ups, support groups, playgroups, etc.

  3. Archive:   The archive includes parents' advice, recommendations, and reviews from BPN's newsletters 1996-2015, and from the Parent Q&A listing 2016 to present. Advice is based on a Q&A format - a parent asks a question, other parents reply. Each new question from a parent - we get 20-30 per week - is assigned a topic by moderators (eg., "Pediatric Dentists") and topics are assigned to one of 12 main categories, so that the entire archive of 8000+ topics can be easily browsed. Profile pages of schools and businesses also appear in the archive, in the appropriate sub-category. The archive is publicly available.

  4. Subscriptions & User Accounts: BPN's website is publicly available, but some sections can be viewed by subscribers only. Only subscribers can post on BPN. Parents subscribe for free, while Community Subscribers pay a yearly fee to subscribe. Some community subscriptions are free, such as teen babysitters, public schools, public libraries, and city-run programs. All new subscriptions are reviewed by a moderator. We use Paypal to manage paid subscriptions. Every subscriber has an account page where they can view all their past posts, and edit their account information such as email address, username, and newsletters elected. 

  5. Posting: Subscribers can post to any of the listings they have access to (see Where Can I Post?). Access is controlled by the website, based on the type of subscription. Anonymous posts are accepted for Parent Q&A. All other listings include at least the poster's username. An email or phone number is required on announcements and events. Moderators review every post before it is published on the website. 

  6. Messaging:  Subscribers can send messages to one another using the website's messaging system. Clicking the username on a post allows one subscriber to send a message to another subscriber, both of whom are identified only by their username. 

  7. Other Functionality & Content:
    • Administration: Special privileges are granted to moderators and administrators, which gives them the ability to approve/reject posts, view full subscriber information, create profile pages and FAQs, etc.
    • Documentation:  How-to pages for admins and moderators that document website procedures, operation and maintenance. These pages are only accessible by administrators and moderators.
    • FAQs: Public "Help" and "About" Pages on the website, such as this page, that explain how BPN works and describe policies for subscribing and posting.  See About in the main menu on the website.