Working Notes: building out the design

Had a few days where I couldn’t work on the project much, but I spent some time on it this weekend to push it forward another step.

One unexpected change: I woke up Saturday morning to find my that brain had been having a discussion with itself overnight about the FYC site, and whether I really had the cycles and motivation to keep things fresh and build content for it reliably. The decision of this internal oversight committee was that I don’t.

And in thinking about it, that’s correct. For at least the next year, much as I’d like to build out that part of my content suite, it’s — not gonna happen. Or not reliably. And it’s a bad idea to build out something that ends up looking like a ghost town and building virtual tumbleweeds.

So the content I’d planned for FYC is being rolled back into the main site, and I’m only going to do a split out the photography content from the main site, and leave everything else on the main site. That decision has me wondering if I should do the revamped main site in Photocrati instead of the theme I’d decided to use. I’m going to take a few days to chew on that — whether I want the two sites to share a strong common design look with differences, or whether I want the two sites to have distinct looks with common elements. I can make good arguments either way. Going with Photocrati would be simpler because I could share more of the design across both sites, but I’m not convinced that’s what I really want. Decisions, decisions.

Speaking of decisions…

Speaking of decisions, I’ve built out the new photo site and started using it to build out the design. Again, to my surprise, it came together surprisingly fast (6-7 hours) and I’m pretty happy with it — I think. I need to live with the design for a few days and let it sink in to see if I continue to like it.

Here’s the current look of the front page. (you can see the site here at


Some of the thinking behind this look. I knew I wanted the front page to feature the photography and as a large carousel of images rather than a gallery or slideshow. I considered going full bleed, decided against it.

To show off the images, I knew I wanted the background behind it to be fairly dark, relatively unsaturated, close to a neutral color, but I intended to design this site around blue so I wanted the background to have some touch of blue to it. I decided I liked this color, which is the pre-defined value for “dark slate” — it’s really a grey with some blue in it, and I don’t think that will clash with images.

All of the other colors are keyed off of that (with one exception). the text is an extremely dark version of that color — close to black but not completely black. The header and footer backgrounds go the other direction to be lighter, but with the same color and saturation values. The drop-down menus, since they cross both the light background and the dark background, needed their own value so it takes on the color of the text with the text being the light background and then reverses for the chosen item. The footer mimics this.

The menu’s been refined out. The logo and branding has been brought from the existing site and revamped into the new color scheme and tweaked a bit to fit into the design.

I’ve been experimenting with various image sizes to see what the best size of image to use; right now I’m standardizing on 1500px wide as the max size (probably not optimal for Retina displays, but I still want to limit image size online as a way to reduce the impact of piracy; there is no great tradeoff here). I’ve shifted to a much lower-visibility watermark, and since I’m not going to do any kind of printing or distribution off the site (well, officially. If people grab stuff, that’s different) so the watermark is being added on export from Lightroom. I’ve been working on the selection/management/export part in Lightroom and the import/organization part within NextGen to make sure that all works smoothly, and I think I have that under control — the less of this stuff you standardize up front and build processes for, the more chaotic your life will be when you roll into production.

As with the current version of my site, I’m going full-width with the “sidebar” content either being made accessible through the menus (like the blog archives) or in the footer, because I find the sidebar cramps the width of the main content area and clashes with the images, and I want the images to stay front and center. In studying most sidebars, I find most of the content there is being given much higher priority on the site than it deserves, so I’m less and less enamored of sidebars on sites. There are a few places where this decision will complicate other decisions — but I want the content to be the star here, not the administration. Is that true on your site?

Along the way I came to the conclusion the site was too monochromatic and needed some element to break up the endless display of blue. The obvious places to add that were in the headers, and for the main header I went to a compatible red because it’d make it easy for the eye to see the start of an article, and for sub-headers I went with a dark version

The dark background complicates the text pages. For instance, the blog page needed some work to make it usable, so I had to hack the theme a bit to display the text on a light background. I personally hate white on black text almost as much as my middle-aged eyes hate text displayed in a low-contrast setup, so I am always going to design with dark text on a lighter background. While the background isn’t white, there’s good contrast.

The links were another place I could toss in a bit of color, so the links are using the red I used in the headers. The hover effect needs to confirm to you that it is in fact a link, so there needs to be a noticeable change when you mouse over. In this case, I think it’s okay to use that low-contrast because it’s the change from the non-hover that matters and because your cursor already has focus on it — in that case, it’s less about readability than confirmation of that mouseover action.

Finally, while none of the fonts I’ve chosen are locked in and permanent, I’m pretty happy with the choices right now; the text font is a slab serif, mainly because I’ve wanted to design with one for a while and see how it works in practice, so I’m curious what you think of the readability. Right now, I like it.


The pages (as opposed to the blog postings) are used for the longer articles, for landing pages, and for portfolios and because of how the theme displays this, I’m having to introduce custom elements to hold the text rather than just overriding some CSS (I’ll probably move this into a custom page template when I finalize it). As you can see below, I’m testing the look of things within that element. All in all, the customization at this stage is quite minimal and I can use the existing theme structure as is without a lot of tweaking — some of that is by making decisions that take advantage of how the theme is built rather than trying to fight the theme to do things it’s not set up to do natively.

This sample portfolio gives you a look at my current choice for showing off a portfolio page, which is a masonry style display three wide. For the galleries on the main site, I’ll use a similar look, but five-wide, so there’s a visual difference between the portfolios and galleries. For individual images I’ll use NextGen’s Singlepic style, and for multiple images inline in a  blog or text block where the images will live within the light background, I’ll either use the NextGen slideshow, the NextGen blog display block, or as I do on this sample portfolio, use multiple text blocks to put the images back on the dark background — depending on what’s visually less cluttering.


Next steps

Right now, it seems like things have moved quite far along, and you’re right — except….

So, imagine you’re custom building a house. You’ve poured the foundation, you’ve framed it, you’ve added the roof and closed in the exterior walls so the house is waterproof and you’ve framed the insides and are putting up the electrical, the plumbing and then putting up the drywall. At that stage, a house under construction seems almost done, but it’s not. You have trim, you have appliances, you have paint, and carpet or flooring, and window coverings and outlet covers and… the sheer amount of detail to finish a house can be amazing. And then once you get to the point you can move in, they drop off a truck or three of stuff you’d left in storage and dump 20 years of boxes and furniture  into the rooms for you to organize and put away.

As far as this site’s concerned, I’m at that point where the drywall is mostly up and I’m picking wall colors, but there’s a large number of small design details I still haven’t started working on — to name just one, the way a blog post’s author information is displayed doesn’t work for me and I need to go redesign that. Same with ordered and unordered lists.

And then content. Oh, god… it’s going to take a long time to clean up and move the content, rewire all the images, fix the structure of all that content, update outdated content, etc. Putting the furniture in the right places isn’t that difficult, but there is 20 years of boxes of virtual books and pictures (that need framing and hanging). I’m estimating I’m maybe 30% of the way through this just for this site in terms of number of hours I’m going to have to invest to get there.

I could cut corners, but then every time I look at it, I’d see stuff that doesn’t look right or act right, and even if you, the viewer, don’t pick up on it, elements will be off and the site won’t come off as well as I want it to. Some of that I can automate, but everything will have to be manually reviewed and edited to fix at some level or another.

But it’l be worth it, and part of doing all of that now is to make sure I don’t have to think about it until the next major redesign…. And since two of my goals here — removal of all flash display blocks and shifting to a fully responsive design for mobile devices — can’t be done without going through all of this, it’s worth it. And Having looked at the current site on both iPad and iPhone, I’m pretty happy with the results on those devices so far.

Once I decide on my final theme for the new main site, I’ll start rolling in the design there. Right now I’m thinking to make them be distinct but clearly related is to swap out the light/dark backgrounds, which since the other site will be a lot more textually oriented will make the design a bit easier. And from that decision a lot of the other design ideas (font colors, etc) will be easy, too.

But I want to emphasize, I’m at the point where a lot of the easy stuff is done, but there’s still a huge amount of work to do, and much of that work is the kind of grinding hand work that takes a long time to do and which can get really boring while doing it, but which ends up making a difference between a site that feels slapped together and a site that people like to visit.

If there are two lessons to reinforce to people following this and thinking of doing their own site setups, it’s these lessons:

  • Installing the server and wordpress and installing the theme is the easy part. No theme is going to 100% solve your needs or present your look at first install. How you customize and personalize the theme is going to make a huge difference in whether people see your site as something sloppy and generic or something polished and personal. it’s worth the effort, if you’re going to open the hood and do something like this, to do it well.
  • And if you’re going to go through the work to update your site and modernize the look and feel, you’re really doing yourself a disservice if you don’t clean up your content as well. that part can be mind-numbingly manual and grinding — but people (and the search engines) notice the broken links and ugly formatting and other problems that crop up over time, and if you don’t fix those things, they’ll be things that encourage people who do find your site to not come back. Sloppy look and feel will make them see the content as sloppy as well, and you’ll find it a lot harder to build your reputation and grow your audience if you don’t sweat the details.

And now, back to testing…

Posted in Redesign 2015: Upgrading in public

The Apple CES Media Overlay and the leaked 12″ Macbook Air rumors

If it’s time for CES, there’s one thing seemingly guaranteed every year now, it’s that some kind of Apple News will come out, and as one media person I follow noted, “Suck the air out of CES”. Sometimes Apple’s released a product or issued a press release, but even when it doesn’t, people know it’s a good time for a rumor to come out and get played with. Some of this is simply that the media knows the public will pay attention to Apple news, even weird and obscure rumors — and I think some of media types that don’t go to CES use this as a way to meet their page view quotas against their colleagues who are in Las Vegas.

For whatever reason it happens, it seems that a whole bunch of companies spend a lot of money on CES to promote their products, and then at some point, some kind of Apple noise gets made and drowns out a lot of the fanfare being made in the Vegas Convention Center. I’ll bet that pisses off a lot of PR people in Vegas…

On the other hand, stop and ask yourself how many things were announced at CES last year that you now own. Or care about and want to own. Or even remember being announced. That’s the problem with CES: 95% of what goes on there are companies and products hoping desperately to be noticed, and in fact very little of what happens there has any real substance, so even weak Apple news can easily replace it — because even a weak signal will usually drown out what’s in reality background static and noise.

There are always a few things that come out of CES and become useful technologies or products, but it’s rarely clear until later which ones they are.

This year’s Apple media overlay showed up in two big pieces.

Apple is going to hell. (not really, but hyped up headlines drive readership, right?)

First, Marco posted his worries about where Apple’s software quality is headed. That triggered a strong response with a lot of agreement. Marco later had second thoughts about posting it because of the intensity of the discussion it triggered, but I think that was because I think he’s onto something. If Apple sees nothing out of that discussion, it should pay attention to the number of people who chimed in with their own, similar views, especially from the group I’ll consider the Elite Indie developers, because I see them as the canary in this particular coal mine.

I got involved in that discussion on twitter because I agree with most of what Marco said, but I’ve been struggling with putting out my concerns in some detail. Fortunately, I don’t have to, because Craig Hockenberry did it for me. His piece nicely sums up my worldview in a way I was struggling to. This isn’t an “Apple is doomed” scenario, but to me, the trendlines are negative — there is no cliff, but the beginning of the same kind of worry for a trip into the future that ends up looking like SGI (remember them? No? Ask your dad). A couple of people put up the claim that Apple was nowhere near as bad as Microsoft, and I agree, but to me, that’s irrelevant. What we’re comparing is not Apple compared to any other company, but to the Apple that should be, and the existing Apple and the possible Apple are starting to diverge.

(for an idea of why some of us think the real and potential Apple’s are diverging, you can read Glenn Fleishman and Adam Engst and Tidbits. Both nicely talk about the kind of things we’re seeing crop up that Apple didn’t tolerate and never should tolerate in its own software). My evidence for the prosecution is the quality of iCloud, the absolute disaster that is today’s iTunes (a tool that’s three or four years overdue for a complete overhaul) and the woeful quality of many of the Apps and how those have been changed significantly in non-compatible ways without any real recourse for existing users and no real warning to let them prepare for the update. That’s just not understanding or caring for the end user, and to me unacceptable.

My bottom line on this: Apple has been pushing really hard to get a lot of big things out: the new designs of IOS and Yosemite; the Watch, Apple Pay and better interoperation between IOS and OS X — and that’s some amazingly great technology, but it’s pushed the Apple programming teams really hard. Too hard, and quality has suffered and the rough edges are showing. Now that this massive cycle of innovation has happened, What I’d like to see Apple do is slow down and focus more on performance and quality.

One big change I hope Apple does is push the iPhone to a two-year release cycle. The need for annual, full-line refreshes is over. My suggestion: release a smaller form factor iPhone this year (iPhone 6s) with a screen the size of the older phones, and keep the larger phones in the product line and then iterate the phones every other year — 2015 is the smaller iPhone 6, then 2016 would be the iPhone 7’s. That would allow them to slow down the release cycle of IOS and allow them time for polish, performance and bug fixing, and match up phone releases with the carrier two-year refresh cycle.

Now would be a good time to take a breather for a year or two and focus less on non-stop innovation and more on refinement and improvement — while working in the background for the next big changes in a couple of years.

Apple is coming out with a new Macbook Air (because rumors are always true, right?)

The other new item running through the press right now is a well-timed rumor based on a  leak that shows a new, 12″ monitor version of the Macbook Air. Now, we always know that rumors are always true, right? So we’re all arguing about something that couldn’t be made up. Right?

The big noise about this is that the rumor says that this new Macbook only has two ports, one for headphones and one USB3 (or something like that) to do everything else. And some folks are hypering about how bad an idea that is. Assuming the rumor is true, of course.

What few people seem to do with information like this is take a step back and consider why Apple might be doing this and how it can make sure this new design will work for us. It’s a lot more fun and a lot easier to declare Apple is stupid — when the fact is Apple usually has these things thought through a lot better than the rumor commenters do.

So here’s my thought on this new form factor, assuming it’s true and what Apple might be up to here.

My general thought: I really like this. The primary purpose of the MacBook air is portability, low weight, small form factor. By removing all of the existing ports, you can make the device less power hungry, lighter and smaller. All good things for a device designed to be carried around and used on airplanes.

But only one port? How is that a good idea?

Two ideas: the MagSafe connector is gone. People are talking about power through this single connector, but I don’t think so. The watch is using a new inductive charger (which was something we did with the Touchstone at Palm). I think it’s not unreasonable to assume if Apple is doing a major hardware redesign with this new model that it decides it’s time to retire MacSafe in favor of this updated technology, and the reason there’s no power connector is because you don’t need one. Instead, there will be a place on the case where you can place a magnetic inductive charger, and that will charge the mac without having to plug a cable into the device via a connector. So we no longer need a power plug.

And this new single-port?

Think about we usually use a  MacBook air. Here’s my view of the most common use cases:

On a plane: while traveling, you aren’t going to be plugging in a lot of peripherals. you’re going to be working in a restricted space, and the only thing you’re likely to do is plug in your headset so you can listen to music or watch a movie — which this unit allows. If you can attach an inductive charger to this as needed to keep it powered, you’re covered for this use case.

Away from your workspace: in a coffee shop, in a conference room, hanging out on the couch. Your connectivity needs in this case are limited; maybe load pictures off a card, maybe plug in a portable disk, but you’re not going to wire up lots of things. Inductive charging and one port is going to work fine for most people in this case, but there are ways you an cover those that need more connectivity — I’ll explain in a second.

At your desktop: And after playing road warrior for the day (or days), you come home, go back to your desk, and wire it up to all your stuff. You’ll need more ports and more varieties of ports here, but there’s no reason those ports all need to be built into the computer itself. If you have one port, you can expand it easily, using a hub.

And that’s the way Apple makes that one port connection work. Inductive charging and hubs.

If you’re a road warrior, maybe all you carry is the inductive charger, and you plug the charger in and slap it on to charge when you need to.

If you’re sitting at the coffee shop and need to load pictures off an SD card and save them to your portable hard drive, then you use the neat new charger/hub combo. this is a unit that includes both the inductive charger and a small hub system. slap the charger onto the induction spot and the magnet holds it the the unit, so the hub won’t flop around like Apple’s current dongles. Maybe that hub has an HDMI, 2-3 USB3 and a thunderbolt. More than you might need, in a space maybe the size of a deck of cards that attaches to your computer for you to use — but only when you need it. No need for that stuff to be permanently wired into the classic of the computer any more. Apple wasn’t afraid to remove the DVD drive when it was time to move on, and people yelled about that when it happened, but see how that turned out? This is the next generation of that.

And when you get home? Plug in your desktop hub, just like many of us plug in a thunderbolt hub today, and get the functionality of the network, HDMI, thunderbolt and USB ports — all from one onboard port.

By the way, are we really sure that’s a USB hub? Maybe Apple’s going to announce a new, thin format thunderbolt port standard instead that would allow for a smaller, thinner connector to allow for a smaller, thinner computer?

I’m not saying this is what Apple’s doing. Instead, what I’m saying is more of the people trying to be pundits should stop looking at what’s there, and start thinking a bit more about how Apple would make a system like this work — because there’s a lot of commentary that seems to circle around Apple being stupid, when assuming Apple’s stupid is almost always a bad bet.

And it doesn’t take long to think about ways to make a new form factor like this work, especially when all of the technology pieces already exist and are staring at us in the face…

P.S.  I really like the idea of a magnetic mini-hub for people who need more connectivity some of the time but want light and portable most of the time — and I like it even more when you bring in the idea of inductive charging, which seems to be about to hit the tech world big time. So this could well be, if this device actually sees the light of day, the start of some interesting hardware innovations….

P. P. S. The one worry I see about inductive charging is energy transfer efficiency. Charging a Palm Pre via a Touchstone was only about half as efficient as plugging in that charging wire. I’m hoping Apple’s figured out how to improve that, or we may see the return of the energy sucking wall warts in a new form….



Posted in Computers and Technology

Working Notes – Site Architecture and connections

What I’ve been doing since the last update includes a couple of things — continuing to dig into WordPress Themes and making preliminary decisions on them (done!) and starting to build out the architecture of this thing so I know both what content I plan to go where and how I need to interconnect them, and what content is being sucked in or pushed out from other services.

For things like this I use a mind map (click through for a larger version)


There are four sites in the combined setup now: www (replacing the existing, fyc (the review system), photos (the photography portfolio/blog site), and my files server (an apache server that handles random weird stuff I want to make available).

Files will continue to exist as it is today, so it won’t get further mention in the plans. It is basically an apache web server with directory display disabled, so if you go in and look you’ll get 404 pages; without an explicit URL you won’t find anything, and it’s a handy place to dump large files or other random goodies — I use it for the list archives and for things like distributing PDFs and panoramas. Overall, pretty boring and utilitarian.

Notice that the galleries site that I’ve already prototyped up has disappeared from the list. As I built out the architecture it became clear the galleries were sitting off in a corner feeling neglected, and more important, I’d designed in a web site to host them that really didn’t need to be there — they were a feature and not a server. I also consolidated my idea for a commentary digest (working name ‘chuquisplains’ into the three-dot digest because they were too similar and had no real need to live separately.

This is one of the joys of this kind of build-out model, which I like to call “prototype and iterate”. Sometimes you find a better way in the exploration and make changes along the way (that’s a feature not a bug). Since I’m product manager, implementor and business owner and ultimate approver of this, it’s works as a nice, fluid way to get to where I want to be. If I were doing this for a client or my real bosses, I’d be putting more time into design/architecture up front for their approval. That creates a comfort level for them, but I think at times limits the ability to find and create “hey, this is a better way” as you discover stuff in the journey. I find it works for me, and that’s what matters.

So the galleries site will down the road get torn down, but I’ll leave it up for now for folks to poke at if they want.

What is all that stuff, anyway?

This diagram looks complicated and may seem intimidating if you’re in the “I just want a blog” faction out there watching, but it’s not as bad as it seems. The first layer represents the four sites I’ll use to produce my online presence — and remember, I’m taking content currently living on some external sites (SmugMug and Flickr) and pulling it onto my own servers, so if you sit down and map out your own online existence it may well turn out to be this complicated – you just may not be doing it on your own servers.

The salmon books define what the distribution platform is (Apache is basic HTTP, WordPress is the CMS that manages content and shoves it out through Apache). The red blocks are the key tools I’m using to enhance the CMS (wordpress themes and major plug-ins like NextGen Gallery), which tells me what functionality is embedded in the system.

The light blue blocks define which content topics live on which server. The peach blocks do the same for the photography. The dark grey are the special content types based around my three-dot Lounge digest style posting.

The green blocks define what I’m calling portals, which are special code blocks I need to attach to the site to suck in content from other places, while the purpose are gateways, which is the same kind of thing except these are places where I’m pushing content from the site out onto other services.

Basically, these are the things I need to create and the touch points I need to manage. Still missing from this are a few things — the FYC site portals and gateways are only partially designed because that piece is going to trail the other sites in implementation (for now), so I’m still figuring it out. Also, minor tools like, say, a plug-in that enables the mailchimp connections are assumed and not called out in the technology blocks. Also missing are some of the between-site connections (like how I’m going to pull ads from FYC onto the other sites), although I have those generally mapped out in my head. I’ll deal with that later in the design phase and map them in as needed.

This gives me an objective way to look at the new setup and compare it to both my existing sites and my plans and make sure everything I’m currently doing or plan on doing has a place and I understand how it will be treated, what technologies I need to enable it, and how all of the pieces will interact with each other.

This still looks complicated!

Yeah, I hear you. It is. But that’s what makes it fun (and hopefully interesting).

Part of the reason it’s complicated is that I’ve got two intertwined environments here: my photography and my personal interests. In the existing setup, I’ve surpassed a lot of the latter in favor of building the former, but I’m now at the point where I want to put more effort into both, and I don’t believe they can both thrive in a single setup, so I have to split it in two and build them both out to be separate but sharing with each other. The FYC stuff is a way to continue to build the plans I have for creating and growing income off of this site via passive revenue, mostly through amazon affiliate sales. I don’t even have my planned before&after video podcast on the design yet, either.

Also realize there’s a lot of complicated content here. I have blog content going back to 2001 and other content dating back into the late 1980’s, plus my photography. There are a literally thousands of assets to worry about in about a dozen topic categories of content.

If you look at what a photographer who keeps a blog has to manage, it’s honestly not so different, and my feeling is if I’m going to do this, I want to do it right — and build it so I don’t feel the need to rebuild it again for three or four years. Or hopefully longer. all while supporting growing the number of assets into the tens of thousands while keeping it all easy to find and use by all of you — while keeping it efficient to manage and create for me.

So, piece of cake, right?

(actually, if you put in some time up front and build it right…..)

Next Steps

Next steps for me: start defining the structure of the sites by defining the navigation menus and what the major landing pages are going to be. And after that, it’s back into building and prototyping and experimenting with content until I like the structure and feel like it’s pretty solid. And after that, starting on the chrome.

Much to my surprise, this is coming together a lot faster than I expected. Hopefully that will continue… (part of that, to be honest, is that I’ve been working this out in my head for a few weeks, and so putting it down on paper is effectively my second draft of the design)

Posted in Redesign 2015: Upgrading in public

Working Notes: The Gallery Front Page design and Rethinking Photoshelter

One of the tasks last night was to spend some time going more in-depth on Photoshelter and dig into the design and presentation of some of the sites they promote as well as some other sites I found that use their service. As I was going through it, I noticed that the blogs of the sites I really liked weren’t hosting on Photoshelter but were separate. Lindsay Adler, for instance, is a WordPress blog — not obvious at first look because whoever built that did a nice integration. One that does use the Photoshelter system to blog is Robin Moore, which looks fine to me.

Of the sites they promote as part of their site marketing, about 90% of those that have blogs are blogging on a different platform; about half seem to be WordPress, but I found one Squarespace, one Tumblr, some Blogspot blogs and a couple I didn’t figure out.

This is a good time to remind everyone to take some time and validate your assumptions. One of my key reasons to consider a Photoshelter site was because I wanted the integrated blog, so I wouldn’t have to muck with one more thing to complicate my life. When you look at what Photoshelter users do, most of them are blogging off that platform. Is that because the blogging platform is weak? Is it because they had existing blogs and kept them when they moved their photography to Photoshelter?

I don’t know. I don’t see any obvious flaws in the blogs that are hosted there (and Photoshelter does handle it, unlike SmugMug), but when you find something like this where the data is so skewed away from what you expected to find, it’s a good idea to take a couple of steps back and think about it again.

There’s been that voice in the back of my head reminding me that I could build the site myself in WordPress, but I’ve wanted to avoid that because of the time involved, but stepping back and looking at this entire project as it’s evolving, the incremental time increase isn’t going to be as significant as I first thought; by using wordpress/photocrati/NextGen as the core I can leverage a lot of design in common across the sites and create a nice common look between the galleries on the gallery site and the portfolios on the main photo site. And the cost is sweat equity and not monthly charges.


So I need to think this one through, but now I seem to be leaning towards building it out myself. Whether that really makes sense or whether I’m rationalizing that because it’s fun to build this stuff, I’m not sure yet. Or whether it matters…

A few notes on the front page of the gallery site

I was thinking about the front page of the gallery site, which isn’t actually covered by photos, but by blog postings. I expect someone will notice that and ask whether that’s a mistake — shouldn’t a photo site promote the photos?

Yes, but…

The gallery site is really a utility site; it’s job is to hold the photos, make them nice and pretty for the google-bot to search and encourage people to visit from search engines, and put them online for me to use in other ways. I don’t see the site’s role as attracting users (and I’ll be stunned if more than five people subscribe to the RSS), but instead I need to build out the navigation and text to help people find the rest of my content on the other sites. Putting some big images on the front page and making it super pretty might confuse people about whether this is my main photo site or not. To have it look a little utilitarian — kinda like Flickr instead of an online portfolio — makes sense to me here since I want the front page to have a quiet feel of “this is not the good stuff” because, well, that’s not the good stuff. That’s the okay stuff.

There’s still a fair bit of work on the chrome and the backing text to make that clearer, but that’s why it looks like a blog with photos on the front page and not a photography site.

And.. Thinking of adding one more piece to the puzzle…

And in the shower this morning, I started thinking about some of the other bits of my online world that have been on the “someday” list. There are a couple of hunks of my past languishing in the world of linked text files:

  • OtherRealms: the SF Fanzine I published online and on paper in the 80s, which gathered a couple of Hugo nominations along the way (I win: finished ahead of No Award). I’ve long thought that some day I’d do something to present this content better than the current “it’s here, dig through if you wish” presentation that looks like something you’d see on the browser of a Friends episode. This morning I started thinking I could rebuild this using yet another WordPress site and do something nice to it. (“hey, it wouldn’t be too much work. honest!”).
  • Those Mailing list archives: 500,000+ emails from the history of the mailing lists we ran over the years. To me, this is an archive of a point in time online that deserves to be studied. From a technical level, trying to make them more presentable (and more important, searchable) is a non-trivial project, coding it all and dumping it into a database where I can do full text searches on it. I’ve had a design for this for years, but never the motivation to build it. And I still don’t — I doubt I’ll ever get to it at this point. But I’d like to think maybe sometime.

This morning shower project meeting has me thinking that maybe I should do the OtherRealms piece; if I shift over the fiction bit, I can turn it into an archival site of my days when I was a lot more involved in SF/F fandom and SFWA than I am today. I really do wish those OtherRealms issues had a higher profile and, like, things like links to individual reviews and articles. My first guess is a couple of weeks of grunt work to pull it all together, another week to do cleanup and make it pretty. Maybe, just maybe, it makes sense to do this.

This is the joy of projects like this. for a while, they tend to encourage widening the scope and adding more stuff to the project list. the big trick in managing this is figuring out what’s a good investment of time and what isn’t (hint: that mailing list project isn’t). And a project like this, unlike a software project, doesn’t have a “I’ll do this in the next release” flag. While I expect to tweak these sites over time, I don’t plan to do do a second round of work on them once I build things, so I’m not getting into the “we’ll put this on hold for the next phase”. I don’t want a next phase here, I want to get back to writing and taking pictures…


Posted in Redesign 2015: Upgrading in public


Time for a checkpoint. As I write this it’s Saturday (Jan 3, 2015) about 4PM. I’ve just point about four hours into whacking the galleries site with a stick, and I’ve basically got the thing built out the way I want it, minus any real design customization.

Functionally, the site is now 99% complete, in about four hours of hacking. This is why I love geeking WordPress for smaller projects like this. So far, this is 99% integration of existing tools. I’ve added one new plug in beyond what I documented before, WP Post Navigation which lets me customize the previous/next navigation on post pages better than the default. The photocrati theme is Scout (that might change but so far, I like it for this purpose), and the only changes I’ve made to it are two small CSS hacks to hide comments and the default page navigation, and I changed the size/color of the footer a bit.

there are basically three content types on this site: the front page, the blog post detail page, and the gallery page. I’ve decided to go with the fairly standard right sidebar. The front page has room for four blog posts of the type I’m planning to do (gallery announcements or short admin pieces). I’m putting in a photo from the NextGen galleries for the featured image. The image blocks in the sidebar are done by NextGen. The other sidebar items are standard wordpress widgets.

The gallery page display is a standard NextGen Masonry album. I’ve dumped in two sets of images (at 1200px on the long side) to experiment with. I could publish it like this and it’d be okay, if rather generic. All of this stuff is basically using the functionality that comes with the packages I chose (which is why I chose them).

Since I’m going to continue working on this, here are screen shots of the three page types (front page, blog, and gallery). you can go and click over to the site and poke at it all you want.








Next steps:

I need to figure out how to organize and move images from Lightroom to NextGen. I have some ideas about that, but I need to do some experimentation.

  • And the site design which I can’t really do here; I need to do the Photoshelter design first and then adapt it back to this theme.
  • Very happy with the progress so far; I didn’t expect to be this far into it yet, but I’m trying to see how much I can get done before I get back to work on monday (of course, you won’t see this for a couple of days….)
  • Work out some of the back end infrastructure details (content hosting on a CDN for performance, caching and performance tuning, and some housekeeping like tweaking backups and etc…)

I do think the next big piece of the puzzle is to fire up the photoshelter site. But I can see getting all of the photos loaded and organized and being able to retire the flickr site fairly quickly without waiting for the final site design and chrome. Even generic, this isn’t bad at all.

Fascinated to hear what you think about the basic look and feel and structure…



Posted in Redesign 2015: Upgrading in public