First the bad news: The reviews for the fourth season of TNG are not written. After a very ambitious June, when I watched the episodes and wrote the reviews for the entire third season in a short two weeks, the momentum I hoped would carry into season four prompty evaporated, and three months have now gone by. Here's hoping I will find that review momentum again soon so I can stay on track to finish all of TNG by the end of the year (although that's seeming less likely by the day).
The good news is that a few weeks ago I shifted into Extreme Webmaster Mode and have finally, after five years, gone back and rebuilt the underlying architecture of the Jammer's Reviews web site from scratch. The last redesign of this scope was in August 2002. I take my craft as a web administrator as seriously as my craft as a writer, so this was something I felt was necessary and long overdue.
From looking at the pages themselves, the redesign may not seem immediately apparent, especially on the front page of the site (which I rebuilt to look exactly like the former front page, which I redesigned last year). Visually, I elected to leave most everything the same for the time being. But the underlying organization, structure, and code of this site is all new, and much improved. Also, there are a few key new features that I've built into the site. Here's a rundown of everything that's different, from the essential to the subtle. (Warning: Technical jargon ahead.)
- Commenting feature on all reviews: In the interest of bringing this site in line with the whole "Web 2.0" movement, I've added what will hopefully bring a new level of interactivity to this site. Now you can write your own comments at the end of my reviews. (Please read my comment policy before doing so, however.) Not to worry; if you don't want the comments displayed, you can turn them off with a single mouse click, and if you have cookies enabled on your browser you can leave them off on all reviews by default.
- Printer-friendly feature on all inside pages: Now, also with a single click, all review and season index pages have a printer-friendly link that formats the reviews in a streamlined format that is ideal for printing.
- Fully XHTML 1.0 and CSS compliant: My HTML was sorely lacking in this area. The issue has been addressed. All pages have been reformatted in XHTML Transitional and with global CSS, and all pages have been W3C validated for both XHTML and CSS. This is where the restructuring of my site took a very long time. Not only did I have to build new templates from scratch (all hand-coded, since WYSIWYG editors — or at least the outdated ones that I have — tend not to do this well, if at all), I then had to go through all my existing pages and reformat them. Automated searches and replaces helped but still could not get the job done, so there was a LOT of manual copying, pasting, and editing of my old pages to get them into the new XHTML/CSS layouts.
- Table-free design: A correlating point to the above point. If you want to practice good form, tables these days are considered a no-no in most web-design circles. My previous site layout was practically engineered around tables. No more. This site is now completely governed by <div> tags and CSS. Tables are a thing of the past on this site, except on forms and for tabular data where tables are proper form. The mild downside of this is that old browsers that do not have good CSS support have been deprecated as far as this site is concerned. Too bad; if you're still using Netscape 4, get yourself a new browser or deal with the fact that my pages look crappy in your crappy browser. All testing of this site was done on Firefox 2.0 and MSIE 7.0.
- New URLs for nearly all pages: Organization freak that I am, I had to move files and folders around for the sake of my own sanity. (For example, individual seasons of series have been consolidated into subfolders under a single tree for each series.) As a result, nearly all pages have new URLs. This will unfortunately cause links out there to a few pages to be broken. The vast majority of pages, however, should automatically redirect from their old URLs to the new ones, thanks to server-side redirecting.
- Increased emphasis on PHP: In order to make this site easier to maintain (and ultimately easier to redesign, if and when I tackle a cosmetic overhaul), I've farmed out a lot of the repetitive duties to PHP preprocessing. Things like the star ratings and "breadcrumb" navigation bar are now inserted with PHP variable/function calls rather than hard-coded with HTML. A lot of little things like that (mostly invisible to the end-user) improve my ability to make global changes to the site more quickly. Also, I use PHP includes for nearly everything that is not specific to a page (global headers, footers, left and right rail, etc.). It's not a full-fledged templating system, but it's definitely now an assemblage of separate building blocks rather than a bunch of static pages with a few included elements.
- Site tracking: For my edification, I've installed Google Analytics on all pages so I can track my site's page views and other statistics using a solid (and free; I love Google) site tracking suite.
- Right-side rail on inside pages: A place where I can put more stuff on the inside pages. Specifically, more ads. Possibly other content. Given that most people are using higher resolutions with wider browser windows, it made sense to utilize more of that space for content. Without it, it seemed too bare. This is a design improvement as much as it is an excuse for placing more ads.
- Bye-bye, blue bar: A year ago I killed that annoying blue bar on the front page. Now I've killed it everywhere else in favor of a thinner silver bar. Good riddance, blue bar!
- Auxilary links: On the inside pages there are now handy links to various features, like the comments, printer-friendly version, RSS feed, my blog, etc.
Aside from the above, there was also the garden-variety cleaning up of pages, the attempt to make everything more consistent, some minor tweaking of headline sizes, etc. This redesign was a long time coming and represents dozens of hours of work — time that, no doubt, I will be told by some should've been spent on writing TNG reviews. (To those people: Too bad.)
The saddest part is that this redesign is mostly invisible to the average user. But any webmaster worth his salt also knows that a certain amount of time must be spent keeping the behind-the-scenes stuff up to snuff. This redesign finally does that.