Merchantville Online History
Merchantville.com has matured into a dynamic municipal website. It acts as a great community ambassador while providing an efficient and effective communication tool. Merchantville's website has been maintained by volunteers and provided free of cost to the Borough and residents since 1997. Shane Brennan is the website systems administrator. Joan Brennan is the website administrator. She manages the content and the database. Contributions to the site are submitted daily from municipal employees and community volunteers.
In early 1996 the original idea of a Merchantville website was proposed and presented to the business association by new resident and business owner Ken Adams. His company, Interfusion, provided development services and programming though IBM Lotus Notes. He and his wife Barbara loved the town had a very strong sense of volunteerism. Furthermore, Ken's industry encouraged and honored "pro bono" efforts with an annual philanthropic award so he was contemplating a website challenge that would meet the criteria for consideration.
Ken had started up cherryhillnj.com for the Cherry Hill Chamber of Commerce years before and saw the need in Merchantville. He researched and found a small site created by resident and BOE member, Mike Sullivan. It had some borough and school FAQ's as well as a walking tour of the Cattel Tract. Ken wanted to start from scratch and create a user friendly, fully integrated town website. He decided to write up a proposal and present the concept to all of the organizations in the community starting with the Borough and the MBPA.
During 1996 eight residents attended the series of introductory meetings about the borough website including issues such as management, maintenance, content, security and training. On October 16, 1997 the domain name, www.merchantvilleNJ.com , was purchased and we embarked on the journey of discovering whether an all volunteer borough website was possible.
Ken's mantra was "content drives a website" so we needed committed volunteers. Seven of the eight residents who attended the introductory meeting volunteered to learn the Lotus Notes program and manage a specified portion of the website. The volunteers included Sue Walker from the Borough, Wayne Bauer from the Police Department, Joan Brennan and Barbara Adams from MBPA, Greg LaVardera from the Historical Society, Denise Brouse from NPP, Shawn Waldron from Main Street and graphic artist, Garrett Toffey. Barbara Adams, who was a certified lotus notes trainer, offered group and individual instruction at her home. The hope was that as each volunteer learned the software, they would begin updating and adding content in their specific community area.
In the beginning, Ken and Barbara kept general content updated in their spare time. Joan published and edited business content and Garret helped to create the header, ads and some event banners. Unfortunately, as with many great volunteer driven plans, the constraints of busy lives coupled with a certain level of "computerphobia" kept many from developing their portions of the website. so, by 1998 the website team consisted of Ken, Barbara and Joan. The website was managed, maintained and hosted free of charge on Ken's servers at Interfusion. All of the software and any upgrades were provided to the town by him. Ken also continued to create municipal content while Barbara and Joan took over management of community and business content.
During 1999 the Adams' professional and family lives changed. Barbara devoted herself to her new roles as adoptive mom and grandparent caregiver and Ken sold his business. While the database for merchantvilleNJ.com continued to be housed on the same servers as always, they were now located in the Adams home on Maple Avenue. Ken still administered the website and maintained the servers and municipal mail. Joan continued her role as business content manager and assumed responsibility as community and borough content manager.
MerchantvilleNJ.com went through considerable programming and server upgrades from 1999 through 2004. In 2000, the MBPA began a banner and newsletter ad campaign to promote and encourage community and visitor use of the website. Joan generated emails to community event and information contacts in order to cultivate content from government, organization, school and church groups. A static business directory was created with links to business ads and websites.
In 2002 we put together a team of people to work on a new design and new content for Merchantville's web site. We called the project MerchantvilleNJ.com v2.0 . and Ken volunteered to be the team leader of this "web team". The web team had it's own web site that that was used for collecting new content, sharing information and ideas, and managing the work. This is the team description as it appeared on the site in 2002.
Joan Brennan has been maintaining the web site's content, almost single-handedly, since the site first went on-line in 1997. Joan is the owner of Bayberry's.
Chief Web Geek:
Ken Adams acting as team leader, handling some of the project management, writing the program code that powers the site, and providing technical support to the web team.
Web Team Members:
Denise Brouse, Neighborhood Preservation Program
Denise gets content on the Neighborhood Preservation Program together for the web site.
Mary Frances Giordano:
Mary Frances, from Rama Yoga helped create and pay for the MerchantvilleNJ.com sign that now hangs in the middle of town at Park Ave. & Center St.
Mary from Healing Hands helped create and pay for the MerchantvilleNJ.com sign that now hangs in the middle of town at Park Ave. & Center St.
Nancy gets content on Main Street Merchantville together for the web site.
John from Private Editions, does some of the graphics work for the site. He did the graphics for the MerchantvilleNJ.com banner that appears at the top of the site pages.
Sharon Hartson Stine:
Sharon gets content on the schools together for the web site.
Janice Stridick, Main Street Merchantville
Janice gets content on Main Street together for the web site.
Brad from The Darkroom Studios, takes lots of photos that are used on the site.
Sue, the Borough Administrator, gets content on the borough government together for the web site.
Lee helps out by editing content.
In early 2003, due to work considerations, Ken wanted to reduce his administrative duties. He needed a resident who was able and willing to dedicate the volunteer time required for this endeavor. Ken asked Shane Brennan and he agreed to learn the website server administration in Lotus Notes to assist and eventually take on those responsibilities.
In March 2004 Barbara and Ken left Merchantville to build a home in Clayton, NJ. Unfortunately, a T1 digital connection was not available in Clayton and the website could not be run on a standard DSL/Cable modem so Ken could no longer house the website servers. The municipality had not anticipated sharing or assuming responsibility for management or costs associated with a website at this time, so an appropriate site for Ken's free servers needed to be found. Ken approached Mayor Brennan with his dilemma and the mayor offered his business office. It had T1 digital business connection and Shane, who worked there, could manage the servers on site. Once the servers were relocated, it became obvious that the physical machines were near failure. At the time, there were two distinct machines replicating data between themselves to prevent downtime or data loss. If the machine that usually did the mail was down, the other would step in until the first was restored. It was a very well designed system, but the system was becoming dated and over-utilized. Both machines were constantly bouncing up and down, and combined with a corporate connection to the internet shared by Mayor Brennan's company and the borough website and e-mail, it was quickly determined that other alternatives would need to be pursued.
Discussions about the future of the website, its servers and hosting took place over six months before the move and in April 2004 Ken took the position that the Borough should purchase new servers and take over the website management and development. When Mayor Brennan informed him that it would not be possible negotiations stalled and the website and mail system continued to experience slowdowns and interruptions. Ken was no longer upgrading the website and since he was the sole owner of the domain, the future of the website became a concern. Ken's last communication to Shane and final offer to the Borough for transfer of the website carried a $10-20,000 pricetag including purchase of the domain name and reimbursement for software, equipment, hosting and administration.
Facing the reality of failing equipment and the possibility that Ken might choose to shut down the servers, resulting in the termination of the website, Mayor Brennan began investigating possibilities for transitional options until the Borough could assume responsibility. He found that the domain name Merchantville.com was owned by a small software company in Cherry Hill. They had purchased it, along with the domain names relating to other local municipalities, in the hopes that they would be providing a for-pay internet portal system for the residents of some small communities, but they had found success in other software avenues, and had let the domain name linger.
Since it still had value, and they were not content to merely transfer the domain for the cost incurred, so they sold it to Mayor Brennan personally for $1,500. Once this was reserved, Shane researched the possible replacements for the Lotus Domino/Notes installation. To do this, it would be necessary to handle both the internal mail that the Borough offices had been using for free for many years, combine that with mailings from the new domain name, so the Borough would be able to continue to receive mail at their old merchantvillenj.com address, but begin sending mails from their new merchantville.com address. Also, there needed to be a simple content management system that would somehow be able to import the old Lotus Notes pages.
After much research, the first attempt was to purchase a used 4 processor Compaq Proliant 8000 for $1000.00, including shipping. As well as redundant processors, it also had the hard-drive data on redundant systems. After the install of an operating system, database, mailing system and web content manager, the machine was thoroughly tested before any hosting . Unfortunately, due to the constantly failing Notes servers, all importing needed to be accomplished by hand, with each article being opened and recreated in the new system by Joan Brennan. The look and feel were developed by Joan and Shane Brennan and additional programming needed to handle all the different responsibilities this machine would be taking on were completed by Shane. The machine had been shipped directly to Arizona, to be hosted by ipowerweb.com. The fee for this co-location was a bit over $160/month, plus the setup fee of an additional $160.00 plus $80.00 more to install a basic OS that would be immediately replaced. This was accomplished by January of 2005.
This system worked very well, but due to an intermittent hardware problem, the costs associated with having the hosting company physically replacing disks and such, plus a relatively catastrophic failure of the hard drive controller itself, the site was moved to a leased dedicated machine with a similar, but more modern build. The company that would be hosting the new server was aplus.net, and since there was no up-front purchase, the cost of the machine would be spread out monthly. The fees were and have remained consistently around $340.00/month, depending on whether the machine exceeds its allocated bandwidth for a month. This happened in February of 2006.
Since 2004, other than the cost of domain itself and the internet connection from Mayor Brennan's office, all of the fees and costs for the website associated with the equipment, software, hardware and hosting have been paid for personally by Shane Brennan. The server itself is a Dual Xeon machine with 2gb of RAM and 250GB of mirrored drive space. It contains a tremendous volume of photos in the photo gallery, a large, searchable, relational database of all articles, and hosts and stores all the mail that the Borough Offices use, other than their personal e-mails. Additionally, since the e-mail server is not housed in the borough offices, it requires that a remote server meet certain criteria including redundancy and email separation. Conversion from Ken's original redundant machines to a single machine required that the single machine have redundancy built in. Redundancy is provided by a RAID system that prevents data loss even in the event of a hard drive failure, since the drives mirror their data onto each other. A July 2002 letter from the state of NJ addressed guidelines for best practices in government electronic mail systems including complete separation of data.
As of November 2005 the town website had greeted 30195 unique visitors. The statistics showed that each viewer looked at 14-15 pages during each visit and on average returns to the site 2.35 times monthly. Our email database includes more than 1800 individuals who view the online Borough Newsletter and updates about our town.
In 2007, after 10 years of free hosting and service, the municipality formally purchased the domain name, merchantvillenj.gov and assumed responsibility for Borough email requirements and associated costs. At that same time the municipality discussed the purchase and hosting of merchantville.com. To that end the Borough Administrator, John Fry, invited the Mayor, the Borough Clerk, the Website Administrator, the Website Programmer and representatives from municipal government to a marketing presentation by a company selling website document processing, email and online update access. After the presentation everyone in attendance agreed that merchantville.com was already advanced well beyond the level of the software and hosting package offered. Following that presentation a request was made for funds to purchase the domain during the 2007 Budget process. The funds requested did not include the cost of hosting, administrating and upgrading the website so that proposal was not enabled.
During the 2008 Budget process purchase of the website by the municipality was again proposed by Council representative Shawn Waldron and included a request for $4000 for purchase of the domain. Unfortunately, these funds only included the purchase of merchantville.com and when the 2008 Budget was approved in June there were no monies allocated to either fund the purchase or future hosting and administration. Absent funds from the municipality to purchase, sustain and improve merchantville.com the website will continue to be privately owned and hosted.
On June 15, 2010 the municipality launched www.merchantvillenj.com, the official government website for the Borough of Merchantville.
On September 1, 2010 www.merchantville.com relaunched in its new iteration.
On April 7th, 2019, the website was relaunched in the current iteration.
We hope you enjoy it.