Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Major Site Reboot

Dodo at Natural History Museum, LondonIf you are reading this on my website you have no doubt noticed something new at Theatre of Noise. If instead you are reading this through a news reader, head on over to check out the new look! Things were getting stale and I was getting bored. I also had a number of new goals for the site that only a redesign could accomplish. Read on and I'll let you know what I was thinking. Of course I value your input, so comment with any pros and cons. (Things might be a little unstable for about 24 hours as I tweak.)

Sometimes change is good for its own sake, but in this case I was looking for the following improvements.

1. Update to new Blogger template system. I've helped others set up new blogs, but my own was still using the "classic" Blogger templates from years ago. The main reason for this is inertia -- I had invested so heavily in hacking and customising the code that throwing away all that work was difficult to consider. But out with the old and in with the new! This has certain advantages.

2. I can now use Blogger's built-in feed widgets. I am just starting to explore these, but one benefit is that the sidebar "Recent Articles" and "Recent Comments" sections are now dead easy to code.

3. I can use Blogger's built-in page break. I hacked my own stylesheet solution to the common problem: You only want the first part of a long article on the home page. This hack can now go the way of the dodo. Not that I have anything against dodos, strange birds though they are -- see illustration! (Note that rolling out this change through the entire archive will take some time.)

4. I can use Blogger's Label system, which provides a handy way to tag articles. Until now I have been collating my own category pages, but these inevitably get out of date. The automatic system is much nicer. Of course, I had to go back and tag 410 articles, but thank goodness that only has to happen once! And this leads directly into...

5. I was forced to re-consider how I was categorising my articles. Yes, I have a lot of active interests. It's often been a challenge cramming them all into one site so I don't confuse people. Some come here to read only about photography. Others are only interested in my own activities in and around Ireland. Others find particular technology solutions by way of Google searches. The best way to serve everyone is to better categorise and cross-index my articles. As a result...

6. You now have category pages you can bookmark if you are only (or mostly) interested in one topic or another. this helps you customise the site to suit your interests.

7. Soon you will see custom content specific to each article category. The changes are mostly cosmetic in the short term, but I plan on making these more substantial as the site grows.

8. You can use Blogger's social network tools. Sharing is nice. And it's now easier. Quickly blog about an article, Twitter it or send it to Facebook.

9. The new site better highlights my photography. With this reboot I have put photos front and centre, with a different image for each category. (A feature that will be working just as soon as I've written the code!)

10. Readability is increased. Now this is a contentious issue. I have had a trickle of complaints over the years about the white-on-black colour scheme. With this redesign I was thinking of ditching it, but y'know, I really like it! To me a black background is the best way to highlight strong images and content. But I have tweaked the typography to ease reading. In particular, the sidebar should now be a lot nicer.

11. I have ditched old links that even I never followed. I will now consider whether to have a blogroll, in order to reach out to the community around me. My main problem with this is keeping it from looking messy.

12. You now have more subscription option. In the sidebar you can subscribe to the posts or the comments. But now you can click a link at the bottom of an article to subscribe to only the comments for that one post. This makes it a lot easier to track conversations.

13. The comment form is embedded in the article page, not in some random additional window. Thank Google for making this long-overdue change to Blogger.

14. I wanted the option to "monetize". Oh no, the dreaded "M" word! While some few have donated to the cause, I am sure a lot more would with encouragement! I must also consider whether a targeted ad word campaign would provide a non-intrusive service.

15. Certain bugs that were haunting me have gone away. Like the inability to delete rogue comments. Hopefully the newer template system will be more stable.

Whew! I think that's it. Fifteen goals and advantages. I hope it's all worth it. Please let me know.



robin said...

16. I've turned on back-links, making it easier to share.

robin said...

Bugs with categories fixed. The category-specific banners are now implemented, so enjoy the new images!

robin said...

Cleaned up post footers and added more social network icons. Re-jigged the introduction text.

robin said...

The changes continue! The sidebar now shows Recent Posts that are specific to the section you are in. Recent Comments have been expanded so you have more reason to follow them...or not. And the Politics section has been folded into Media, since I don't write enough to justify having it on its own.

robin said...

Further tagging has expanded the Poetry and Media categories. I think I am pretty well caught up with article tags at this point.

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