Every few years I've got to get my webmastering on. In 2007 I made a complete overhaul of Jammer's Reviews from a structural and architectural standpoint, while making some minor design tweaks and adding a major new feature (the user comments, which have been a huge success thanks to all of you). Well, it's 2012 and I've done it again. Over the past several weeks, I have been hard at work tearing up the foundation of this website yet again, hopefully for the last time.
Last time when I reworked the foundation of this site, I'd hoped it would be for the last time, but I made some crucial errors in that process. Most notably, I did not completely separate the content from the design. I separated style from markup, but a lot of the markup was still within the review page content. This meant that, while I could make global style and script changes, changing the actual underlying HTML was not possible to do globally.
I have now finally fixed that fundamental error. It meant basically going through every single review, article, and index on this site — more than 880 in all — and pulling out and reformatting the content. It was a long and arduous task, but as a webmaster who wants to stay current, I felt the need, and I had the opening in my schedule to get it done.
The review content now exists completely separately from the new templating system. I can now make global structural changes to the entire site by changing a few key template files, which is great for the future. I did not employ a CMS to do this, although I considered it. In the end I decided to build my own PHP-based template system while converting the PHP/HTML review pages to purely PHP data pages. This allowed me to keep all the existing URLs without having to find a way to port over the 8,700 user comments (which were tied to the existing URLs) into some other system.
So, what are the benefits for you the user? Let's go through them. If you are particularly observant, some of this you might have noticed last week when I switched things over to the new system. Other features just went online now, as I was working on them as recently as today (and may be refining in the coming weeks; if you notice any bugs, broken links, or missing or truncated reviews, please e-mail me).
In order to make it easier to interact with your fellow readers, this new feature allows you to view all the comments on Jammer's Reviews in one place (although not comments from Jammer's Blog, which is still separately maintained in WordPress). The default view shows the latest comments from everywhere on the site right at the top, and you can page backward as far as you want. You can also search all the comments by the containing text, by the author name, or by specific or partial URL. So, if you wanted to see all reviews for TNG season five, you could simply do a search by URL for "st-tng/s5". Or if you want to see all comments I've made, you can search the author field for "Jammer".
You can bookmark any of these custom search pages to revisit later to view new comments posted. If you want, you can even get an auto-generated RSS feed to follow for any custom search of your choice.Important: As a result of the new comment browser, the URL for the old comment RSS feed has been changed. Please find the new address on the RSS feeds page or get custom comment RSS feeds from the Comment Browser.
Pages for every review
For years — more than a decade, even — there have been sections of this site that, because the format of the reviews was shorter, I simply rolled them into single articles. This was the case on all the TOS reviews, the first two seasons of DS9, and the first four seasons of TNG. Aside from the inconsistency from the rest of the site, the biggest problem with this arrangement was that comments for those seasons were all rolled together into a single stream, making it difficult for people to discuss one episode out of those seasons. It was sort of a conversational mess.
So I've gone back for those seasons and created individual pages/URLs so that the comment streams are separated. This meant that the existing comments had to be moved from the single stream to individual reviews. I went through and manually moved the comments to where they best made sense. If the comments talked about multiple episodes from a season, I generally moved them to the last episode discussed, except in cases where the conversation was clearly geared toward being placed earlier. It wasn't always easy to pick the right place for each comment, but I did my best, and this will make for more focused conversations on those episodes/seasons going forward.
Improved mobile experience
Mobile website usage has exploded in recent years, and I've found personally that I am annoyed when a website I visit for reading doesn't have a mobile reading interface. To that end, I have made some improvements to my site to make it even better and more seamless for mobile users. There is now an auto-detect feature that will take you to the mobile site if it detects you are using a mobile device. This can easily be overridden, although you will need to have cookies enabled in order to do so. Mobile navigation has been improved, as have the stylesheets and the simplified form elements, which should make reading and leaving comments via mobile easier. I also intend to improve the mobile detection/interaction between Jammer's Reviews and Jammer's Blog in the near future; at the moment, that may not yet be working seamlessly.
I've made a few design tweaks, the most notable being that the width of the content pages now max out at 1100 pixels. Thus if you maximize the page on an HD monitor, the page does not become so wide and unwieldy, which had long bugged me. This also makes the home page and interior page designs more consistent. Also, some new icons in the upper-right corner of the interior pages link to various delivery methods (RSS, mobile) and social platforms (Twitter, AddThis). No biggie; just a little bit cleaner approach to the page header.
TNG season six reviews
Not part of this process, regrettably. I'd imagine if there's one thing that would've been what you wanted, that would've been it. Apologies. I fully understand that I've now dragged this project out literally longer than TNG itself was actually on the air. (Groan.) I assure you I will indeed be getting back to it, likely this spring.
So, have at it. The vast majority of the site is unchanged, under the old adage of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Feel free to discuss below.