I told you earlier in the week that a redesign was coming today, and I wasn’t lying. Hopefully when you see it for the first time you recognize how much we were pushing for simplicity. We moved common navigation-bar items like “about us” into the footer since a majority of users will never need them, and at the same time we made subscribing to our site via RSS, Twitter, and email much more prominent in the header area.
My goal was to give you a design that flows easily with your eyes, and minimizes distractions as much as possible. This is a tough thing to balance because I need to make things convenient, but at the same time weigh what features I think people will use. And then I have to try and present those features in a way that won’t annoy the people who don’t want to use them.
Let’s start by looking at the homepage. Here I tried to think about what I’d want on the homepage if I was a reader. Previously we had about 7 articles on our homepage most of which could be read in their entirety without ever clicking a link. If you’re reading a bunch of articles all at once that works out great, but it can take awhile to load if we’ve included some large images in our posts.
To get over this obstacle I tried to find a good median. What I came up with was displaying the latest article in all its glory right there for you to read, and then all subsequent articles are shortened up in a way that lets your eyes quickly skim past them looking for topics that interest you. Plus you should see that the page loads significantly faster since your browser is downloading a thumbnail that’s pulled from the article instead of the full resolution images. To help put the significance of this into perspective: the new homepage that has 10 articles is about 55% lighter in size than our old homepage displaying 7 articles.
When reading articles you may notice that the content area is significantly larger than what it previously was. This gives us an opportunity to include bigger screenshots in our articles, and will hopefully mean we have to thumbnail photos a lot less.
- Comment Tracking – This will let you follow new comments on articles and even get email notifications when a new comment is posted. You can choose to follow new comments on all articles, only articles you comment on, or only articles you explicitly select.
- CyberMarks – This is our own internal bookmarking system. It lets you save your favorite articles where you can go back and sort or search through them to find what you’re looking for.
Both of these features have been completely rewritten, and perform much better than they did before.
Our comment system has received a rather significant overhaul. We decided to move to a threaded comment system, which means you can reply to comments that other users leave. There’s a downfall to a system like this that I’m very much aware of. Some commenters like to take advantage of threaded comments by always replying to the first comment on the page, which ensures that their comment will show up above many others. I hate that, which is why I made sure I have the ability to “de-thread” comments that are unrelated the parent comment.
Threaded comments also posed another issue for people tracking new comments. If you get notified that there’s a new comment on an article how are you supposed to know which one is new? Sure you can go through them all looking at the dates/times, but when comments are threaded this becomes very difficult. That’s why we now “flag” all new comments so that you’re able to find them in a heartbeat.
We also managed to rewrite our custom AJAX comment system to work with the threaded comments. It was a little trickier than I had anticipated, but I feel like it works pretty well. After leaving a comment you’ll also notice that the page scrolls to where your comment was just posted on the page.
And then there is comment editing. We have migrated to a specialized WordPress plugin for editing comments (with a few custom hacks I through in), and editing comments should be much more reliable for our registered users now.
Note: For avatars we dropped support for MyBlogLog. Now you’ll either need to use Gravatar , or registered users can head to the account settings to provide a URL for an avatar you want to use.
I knew I had to do something about our search system because even I got frustrated trying to find an article with our search system. So now our search engine will sort results by relevance making it a lot faster at hunting down what you’re looking for.
We also tried to put some intelligence behind displaying the search box on the page you’re viewing. For example, if you’re viewing our home page or an article you’ll see the search box tucked away into the pull-down menu at the top of the page. If, however, you’re going through our archives we assume you’re looking for something specific and will therefore expand the search box to aid in your hunt. And we know what a pain it can be at times to work with those tiny search boxes, which is why we super-sized ours.
- We’ve thrown a few new elements into the sidebar, including a better summary of unread comments and recent CyberMarks for users that are logged in. A little further down the sidebar you’ll also see some of our most popular articles (by traffic) in the last 7-days.
- The account management pages are the same in terms of functionality, be I rewrote all of them to make them perform better
- In the footer we still have a nice list of our active All-Stars. These are registered users that actively participate in commenting and send us tips.
So I hope you enjoy the new site! For the last month I’ve spent 40-50 hours a week working on the redesign (in addition to the 40-50 hours at my full-time job), which is why article posting slowed down quite a bit. I’ve got a lot of comments to catch up on, and I have a feeling you’ll be seeing some more great stuff roll out of our site in the coming weeks.
Drop us your thoughts on the new design in the comments below.