Thursday, December 29, 2005

New design for Wind Lines

After a lot of soul-searching and a fair bit of research, I have decided to change the software I have been using to maintain our web site. Back when we were part of the Hang Gliding Association, we started out using Yahoo Groups for our online discussions. Then just before we started the paragliding club, Sharky turned me on to a website system built around databases that seemed promising. Since then I have spent a huge amount of time tweaking and tinkering with this database system, and while I have managed to add some interesting features over the last few years, I have to admit that it's turned into kind of a mess, and the prospect of upgrading or maintaining the various parts is becoming increasingly unpleasant. It's a programmer's nightmare. And recently the system has started to suffer from grave and mysterious errors.

So I have decided to bite the bullet and do what any programmer does when a project gets old and cranky. Rewrite it! I have just set up our new site using tools that are more up to date and simpler to manage: I'm talking about blogging software. Yep, Wind Lines is now a blog, courtesy of blogger.com, the blogging site recently acquired by Google. The site will not be quite as ambitious in scope as the last one, but it will be a lot easier to run, and it won't require any real programming at all, nor any database work, just a little standard web design. I appreciate your patience as we get the kinks in the new system ironed out. Please let me know if you run into any problems or if you have any questions.

Click the thumbnails to switch between the old site and the new site.



Benefits:
  • Number one: this site will be easier for me to manage and keep the underlying parts up to date. If anyone has any experience with blogger.com or any other blogging tools, please get in touch and share any insights you have. This system is fairly simple but I'd love to compare notes with other paragliding bloggers.
  • The new system makes it super easy to create new articles complete with pictures uploaded from your computer. You will need to have a blogger account to write an article for the site - click the "Submit an Article" link on the new site to find out how to get signed up. I tested out at least a half dozen blogging sites and this one is by far the best for composing new articles.
  • You don't have to log in to the site for most purposes. Only posting an article requires that you log in. But you can use the chatterbox, and post comments to articles, and see the entire site without logging in.
  • This blog provides a better chatterbox. It refreshes quicker for more natural online conversations. And you can choose your nom de plume for each chatterbox message to make it interesting. Same goes for the comments to articles.
  • The formatting of the text for the articles is more readable. Also, the design I have set up for us initially is "fixed width" so it doesn't fill your entire browser even if you stretch your browser out really wide. This keeps the articles wrapping at a readable width.
  • This site is a lot easier to redesign and change the layout and formatting. This initial layout is just my first crack at it - hopefully it's not too hideous. I welcome your constructive criticism.
Things we'll need to get used to:
  • We no longer have any hidden content on the site for members only. This includes the forum, the member directory, the meeting minutes and the timeline. I don't think we'll miss the forum too much, since we can use the front page articles and comments for that, but I'll have to think of a way to include the other previously hidden features. The timeline and minutes can probably just be made public. But the directory with e-mail addresses and phone numbers should remain a members-only feature if possible.
  • There is no photo album capability on the new site. You can upload as many pictures as you want into your articles, which is great, and it's much easier than the old system, but there's no way to upload pictures that aren't included in an article. However, this software allows us to include photos from our accounts at Flickr.com, a free photo site that I think may end up being better for our albums anyway. This way we can store the full resolutions online if we want. We'll need to see how that works.
  • Changes in the layout and the reorganization of some menu items in an attempt to simplify the main screen.
Help!

If any of you have a little time and a little html expertise I would like to ask for your help getting all the parts of the old system transfered over into the new one. Drop me an e-mail if you're interested in volunteering for this awesome opportunity to serve your fellow pilots.

2 comments:

Alex said...

Anybody else notice that the site seems to look better in Firefox than Explorer? I'm not sure why it should be that different. Please let me know how the site looks in your combination of operating system and browser. Bob has already reported a slight problem with his Mac OS using Internet Explorer.

Alex said...

I figured out my own problem with IE anyway. It has trouble because my laptop has a very wide screen and I've cranked up the DPI to 125 to make it more readable. Firefox handles this nicely, but IE doesn't. But since I mostly browse the web with Firefox anyway it's not a big deal.