The new North End Waterfront.com is live! After a very, very long weekend of coding, fine-tuning and too much espresso, the new website is up and running. Months went into the planning, but it gets to a point where you just have to take a leap and see what happens. Fortunately, it came together and I am excited to bring NorthEndWaterfront.com to the next level of hyperlocal “news & views.” My goal was to make the new site visually stunning while allowing for robust hyperlocal news and a community experience. Did I mention the new mobile site is live now too for all the iPhone, Android and Blackberry users? And, three cheers for the return of real-name comments. There is a lot more … keep reading.
Magazine-Style Grid – I have always thought of NorthEndWaterfront.com as more of a magazine than a daily newspaper. And now, the site has the look of an e-zine. The most visible change is the grid-like article excerpts on the front page with with a bold, dynamic video-capable slider for featured articles. It is a significant change from the old-style vertical blog format, but don’t worry, the site will still be relatively clean and uncluttered. Once you get used to the grid format, I think you will love it. It should be easier and quicker to find the highlighted stories while still being able to peruse all the everyday content.
It’s all about the content. Some things don’t change and the quality articles, photos and videos will continue to be the bread and butter of NorthEndWaterfront.com. All the 3,000+ articles from the beginning of NorthEndWaterfront.com nearly 3 years ago have been transferred to the new platform. I am still working on the images and links in older articles, but if you are looking for something it should still be there. (Hint: the new search box is in the bottom right footer of every page. Also, an article index is located in the main header navigation menu.)
Real name comments are back! We have previously discussed the pros and cons of anonymous versus real-name commenting. Unfortunately, moderating comments became very tricky. With the change, I hope the discussion will be just as robust, but more thoughtful and constructive. Many commenters were already using their real name and afraid of being attacked by anonymous comments. Real name commenters should feel more comfortable with the new system. For those that were posting anonymously, I hope you will come out from under the veil and continue to participate in the discussion.
[Update: Facebook Comments brought too many bugs and several readers could not comment, so we changed to a real-name system without requiring a login or any association with Facebook. Read more in this comments update.}
After doing extensive research, I have chosen the Facebook system for the comments system (yes, I am as surprised as you). It certainly is not perfect, but Facebook does one thing really well, real names. It has developed a way for people to comfortably post on the internet using their real name. Comments from the old site are no longer visible on the new site. This was an unfortunate outcome of the switch. The lifespan of comments is short anyway, so I do not envision this to be a major sticking point with most people. You can go back to older articles (up to 90 days) and re-comment if you so desire. To post a comment, you will have to be logged in to your Facebook account. If you don’t have an account, you will receive the option to sign up for free when you post a comment. You control whether your comment appears only on NorthEndWaterfront.com or if you want to cross-post to Facebook itself. Comments will appear almost instantly. I will not be moderating comments although I can turn that on if necessary later. As always, I will delete offensive comments. Major news sites are switching to the Facebook comment system, so I knew it was right for NorthEndWaterfront.com. In just a few days, I am already impressed with the comment discussion. If you are having problems posting comments or viewing them, please contact me. Go ahead and leave a test comment below this post if you wish.
We’re Sliding Now – You can’t miss the monster front page slider with featured articles that will include not just top stories, but some of the best visual images of the community. I spent a lot of time on the tech side to allow for videos to play in their entirety in the slider. I’m biased, but that’s simply very cool. Try it out.
Top News, Recent News and More News – In addition to the featured slider stories, the very top header will highlight important articles. These won’t necessarily be the latest posts, but ones worth reading with broad appeal. The header posts will appear on every landing page of the website, not just the front page. If you are a frequent visitor to NorthEndWaterfront.com, the latest news can be found in “Recent News” section on the front page under the slider followed by slightly older “More News” closer to the bottom. Under Recent News, an ajax category selector allows for filtering without having to reload the entire page. The advantage of the grid layout is less scrolling down to get to the articles you want to view.
Sidebar – I moved most of this “stuff” (polls, widgets, social icons, links) to the footer where it is more out of the way. The calendar is still accessible from the top navigation menu.
More Social Than Ever – Everyone loves to Tweet and Like these days. The social network capabilities have been expanded and more importantly, they should actually work now! This includes Facebook, Twitter and Google+ buttons on each post. We’ve also added a slew of others, such as Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg for those that want to do more. There’s still a way to email articles and dare I say it, hard copy printing under the Share button. If you want to follow/subscribe to NorthEndWaterfront.com, see the social icons at the footer of this page.
Photos and videos will continue to be a key part of NorthEndWaterfront.com. As an example of some new options, here is a video post from New Year’s fireworks and a photo gallery from the recent City Council inauguration. Most photos will have clickable lightboxes to show large, gorgeous images.
Articles never looked so good! – Ever wonder why text on the web is always displayed in one wide, vertical column? Me too. I choose this theme for the site because it offered a newspaper-like layout for individual articles with 2 and 3 columns and lots of flexibility to incorporate photos. Here’s an example of a 2-column post, a weighted 2-column post and of course, this is a 3-column post you are reading now (unless you are on the mobile version). Very slick, if I do say so myself.
You are mobile and now, so is NorthEndWaterfront.com – The most requested feature was a version that was readable and quick on iPhones, Android phones and Blackberries. We are pleased to have introduced a new app-like mobile version of the NorthEndWaterfront.com. Importantly, you won’t have to do anything different. The software will recognize if you are on a mobile device and give you that version. (You can comment on the mobile version of the site too!)
Submit a Post – Much of the content already comes from the community. Taking the next step, you can now upload your own articles and photos. I added a new input form open to everyone, making it much quicker for me to post your news and images on the site. This is now the primary way for people and groups to upload their own flyers, announcements, news and photos. Look for “Submit a Post” at the very top and don’t be shy – send something in!
Images and internal links are still a work in progress. I have updated the past few months worth of posts so far, but there is a LOT more work to do. The images did not port over at all from the old site, so I have to do that all manually. Links are a mixed bag. Obviously, the site is still linked to NorthEndWaterfront.com, but many internal “permalinks” changed ever so slightly and just enough to be annoying. This mostly impacts links inside articles and related posts.RSS Feed Change – If you were subscribed to our old RSS feed, please re-subscribe to the new RSS feed. It is unfortunate that had to change, but if you get your news through RSS, you will definitely like the new feed with all the photos and videos.
Daily Email List – Although I discontinued new sign-ups a while ago in favor of the weekly e-newsletter, some folks were still receiving our daily Feedburner email. With this change, the Feedburner email is dead. I hope to bring back a better daily email option soon. The RSS and Daily Email change does NOT impact the weekly e-newsletter. The weekly e-newsletter is the most popular way articles get distributed and you don’t need to do anything different to continue receiving it. If you want daily updates, look into the RSS reader option, Twitter or the Facebook page.
Things I am still working on:
Speed and Loading Times – I are working on speeding things up, specifically for image loading. For better or worse, the new features and design are resource-intensive and made for a fast internet connection. Users should already notice an improvement with the new mobile version.
Missing Pages and Photo Galleries – Many of the static pages, especially in the Living Here and Visitor Guide are yet to be transferred. Watch for those soon, including more maps and business listings. The Historical Photos gallery is coming back soon too.
Forum – I am testing new forum software and looking for a better way to build and integrate with other community websites. As basic as it was, the old forum received a regular series of weekly postings and sharing, so I know there is a need for some type of information exchange/forum.
Larger Type? I am considering increasing the size of the text body font size. Of course, you can always increase the type size in your browser too. [Update: Based on your feedback, I changed the font to Palatino that was created for the web and increased the size to 14pt to make the article text easier to read.]
The Logo – The header logo is something I quickly put together for the new site. I plan to change the header image and typography from time to time. Send us your suggestions!
Technical Jargon – For those that are interested, the site is now self-hosted, on an open-source, WordPress platform using a customized theme from WooThemes. I was hoping that my previous hosting service, SquareSpace, would finally roll out its spiffy new version, but that does not appear to happening soon. I started to play with Drupal, but decided it was overkill and beyond my one-man technical skills. I am also impressed with the leaps and bounds made by the WordPress CMS (content management system), on top of its vast community resources, theme selection and plug-ins (huge!).
Still Non-commercial, Still a Hobby Project – As always, the site is not an organization, group, business or anything other than a hobby-like project that I do on nights and weekends. I receive help from many folks in the community who contribute information and posts, but it is still mostly a one-man band. NorthEndWaterfront.com is non-commercial in nature, meaning that there is no paid advertising and I do not make money from the site. I am thinking of how to turn the site’s growing distribution into a way to raise some money for the community non-profits/charities. This effort is still in the very early stages.
Thank you for your patience! – The access and loading issues suffered during the transition should be mostly alleviated, however, I will still be doing some heavy maintenance over the next few weeks. It will take another few months to get it all fixed.
Please Give Me Your Feedback – I want to hear what you think, especially problems with things that don’t work or don’t look right. I am also interested in your questions and feature requests. Leave a comment below, use the Contact Form or feel free to email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, please vote in the front page poll on how you like the new website. Thanks again for all your support! —Matt