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New Blogcritics Site Design!

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We all owe a huge debt of thanks to Phillip Winn for redesigning Blogcritics.org. We have moved to a horizontal format with jump links to the various sections from the top for easier reading, which many of you have asked for. The new design also loads much more quickly. We have some brand new features as well:

*Spotlight boxes for the latest post in each category. What’s new? It’s there

* New Review Links section: a clearinghouse for links to reviews and news on the latest CDs, books, and DVDs from Blogcritics and around the web – a great way to get a sense of the critical consensus of the latest releases. We will be adding greatly to this section over the next few days.

* New DIY section: Blogcritics is offering a new ‘D.I.Y.’ service for self-publishers! You can now sell your digital content – music, photographic images, a book, a painting, software, short stories, video, or anything else that you can make available for sale online – via secure download to the ever-growing Blogcritics readership.

More surprises coming next week- Blogcritics is where it’s at, baby.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • I should add that “category” links are now called “Filed under:” and they actually work again! Go ahead, scroll up and click on either “Et Cetera” or “Et Cetera: Internet”. You’ll get the last 30 posts in that category.

    Also, the font size is now scalable, so those of you who want it bigger or smaller and run Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are now in luck. There are some accessibility features built in, but it’s not full compliant with, well, anything right now.

    There are lots of more new things – fixes and features – coming. I’d list them for you, but the list is long (I’m looking at it right now), and I’d rather work on getting some of it done.

  • Oh yes, that reminds me. At least for me, the “Remember info” box has never worked before. It does now, but you have to check it each time. So a fix and a to-do item… 8^)

  • Wow, pretty cool lookin’ – and it seems to be moving quite a bit faster, too!

  • Thanks! Faster? I sure hope so! That was the primary goal of the redesign. Er, in addition to adding two new sections, of course. 8^)

    If things still aren’t moving quickly enough, I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve, but at least one of them is likely to be ugly, so I’m hoping this works for a while…

  • Very cool. The only TEEEEENSY complaint I have is that the Search box should be near the top of the page. Other than that, bravo!!

  • For what it’s worth, Solonor, I agree. I think I’ll slide it over to the right to get it nearer the top. Maybe. 8^)

  • Bummer.

    Here’s what I wrote on my blog:

    Eric Olsen and Phillip Winn have given Blogcritics a new look. I’m very disappointed that the “Et Cetera” section, to which I post most often and to which the political content on the site is most often posted, has now been relegated to a ghetto about ten screen-pages down, where it is sure to get much less traffic.

    Because of the new layout, only one story in Et Cetera can be seen on the opening screen. If you scroll down about one more screen, you see 10 music reviews. One more screen, 10 more music reviews. One more screen, 10 more music reviews. One more screen, about 10 book reviews. And so on and so on through video. You have to read or scan 10 screens worth of information before you see the “Et Cetera” section. That’s a lot of labor, and it isn’t realistic to expect that the majority of visitors will make it all the way down to the Et Cetera ghetto. 10 screens. Who is going to do this?

    The old vertical layout gave equal weight to all four sections–from the first screen you would see three of four stories from each section, and the next screen-scroll down, three or four again, and so on. The difference is dramatic. It’s the difference between 1 (the number of Et Cetera headlines you see now in the first 10 screens) and about 35 (the number of Et Cetera headlines you used to see in the first ten screens). It is the difference between having three or four headlines on the front page of the newspaper, three or four on the next, etc., versus having one headline on the front page of the newspaper and 35 tucked away in the back.

    The political material isn’t gone, but it is very inconvenient to access now–which makes all the difference on a website. I have little doubt this change means the political content on Blogcritics will get far less traffic than it used to, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that is part of the purpose of the change. And I have no right to complain.

    After all, it is Blogcritics and, from what I can determine, the site was originally intended to be a CD-review site (expanding to books and videos), and the political chatter wasn’t really part of the original vision. So my thoughts are merely an expression of disappointment rather than a complaint. I enjoyed the political exchanges I had with people of all political stripes at Blogcritics, and I made some new friends there. It was fun while it lasted.

    Oh, and the rumor mill has it that there is a surprise coming to Blogcritics next week–one that should “arouse” some interest (ifyaknowwhatImean).

    My latest at Blogcritics highlights the questions Robert Fisk is asking.

  • I’m sorry, but I’m rather disappointed with the new look. I liked the old 4-column look. It made it look like a newspaper, which was cool. I agree with Brian – the Et Cetera section (often the best part) will now end up like Pluto, accumulating ice at the far end of the solar system. I know you probably worked hard on this, and maybe I’ll get used to it, but for now I’ll have to give it a thumbs-down.

  • Unfortunately, what was merely difficult with four or five columns was simply intolerable with six or seven or more columns. Remember that there are two more columns than there were, so something simply had to give.

    However, there are still a variety of ways posts to the Et Cetera section can draw interest: (1) There are frequent “Jump to” sections which enable people to jump directly to the section that most interests them. (2) As you mentioned, the “spotlight” section (as I’ve been calling it) highlights the most recent post, and that may (hopefully) be further expanded later to allow for more editorial control – like the most commented post within the last 24 hours or something (3) On the left, unfortunately not super-high on the screen, is a list of the last five posts on which there have been comments. Assuming it doesn’t kill the speed too badly I’d like to expand that to 10 or 15.

    Also, I can’t speak for Eric, but I would be averse to separating “Politics” from some of the other stuff that currently falls under the “Etc.” label and spotlighting it separately as a seventh section, perhaps paired with another pullout section for parity. . I’m just not sure whether political interest will be as high once the war in Iraq has faded from the American public consciousness. Probably, and you can certainly take the lead in making sure it does. 8^)

    Anyway, I completely understand that you’re not so happy with it. I knew that there would be people unhappy with it, because there always are. Please try to keep in mind the additional load that the page was being asked to bear, and give it a little time. At the same time, if you’ve got any suggestions that you think might make the situation better that don’t involve an infinite horizontal screen size, I’d be happy to hear them!

    As far as that rumor mill goes, well, I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see. Next week? I don’t know about that – it’s not all my responsibility as this redesign was. 8^)

    Re-reading your comment, Brian, to make sure I didn’t miss anything, I assure you that politics wasn’t shoved down on purpose. At one point we discussed rearranging the sections based on the number of posts, or the number of page views, or something like that, and the decision was made that it would be easiest and least controversial to leave them in exactly the order they were on the old site, with Etc. #4. While you’ve rarely posted a single string of more than three words in a row with which I can agree, I read every one of your posts, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so.

    One of the other things coming soon is an RSS feed for each separate category, so that you can even highlight the Etc. headlines on your own site with a little PHP or Javascript wizadry, or whatever. Keep in mind also that you can link directly to (and bookmark) the Etc. section separately, or even more specifically (now I know I won’tbe able to change those URLs!) which might help, too.

    I would say that the ‘[more Etc. posts]’ link immediately under the pullout box (as well as the “Jump to…Etc…” links at the very top as well as within each section) is very much like having the most important political story on the front page of the newspaper, with the rest quickly available in the political section – very much like my local paper right now.

    Anyway, wait until after the holiday weekend and see what kind of comments you get on your posts. I personally will leave your Fisk stuff alone, but I’m reasonably sure that many of the usual suspects will still argue with you. 8^)

    P.S. As I write this comment, your post from 5:37pm is still the highlighted post, even almost four hours later. That’s certainly lucky! It means that the people drawn to the site by the press release about the redesign will see your post first!

  • Phillip,

    Thanks for the feedback. I probably should have also said that I thought you did a fine job with the layout graphically. The realization that all Et Cetera posts would drop to the bottom of the home page after their one moment in the sun kind of dominated my attention, but the site does look cool.

    And I can see that a six-column layout would be impractical to do the old way. And I did notice that the categories are in the same order that they always have been.

    As far as the moving of politics to the bottom, I thought that might have been purposeful due to the complaints of war-related content (including from Eric) recently, but I wasn’t at all sure about it. Just “I wouldn’t be surprised,” as I said (and wouldn’t have blamed anyone, either–having been a Blogcritic for only a month or so, I’m hardly in a position to cry foul). No doubt some regular visitors will find it a relief not to be distracted by various commie headlines, though. And confronting those unsuspecting folks with my posts is what I’m going to miss.

    For that reason, I personally would rather not isolate “Politics” any further than has already been done. But I will admit that my reasoning is not exactly user-friendly.

    For now, I think I’ll work on “music” reviews along the lines of, “Hey, did you hear Madonna has spoken out against file-sharing? She did. Moving on, Robert Fisk writes in his latest screed…”

    Oh, and one actual constructive suggestion: How about a note under each post, in addition to the “Choose Home at the top of the page…” note, that says, “Scroll down to read comments on this article and to leave your own comment.” Some people who go to articles from my blog were surprised to learn they even could comment. They thought the Amazon ads were the end of the editorial content.

    I do like that the bylines for the articles are under the title now. Good change.

    And your idea for a more prominent “hot topics” listing on one of the side menus sounds good. You’re right about it being hard to notice now–I didn’t even notice it until weeks after coming to the site.

    While I’m at it, some other suggestions that would no doubt make your life hell to implement:

    –The ability to subscribe to comments. That is, to get email notification of a new comment to a certain thread, even if it isn’t one’s original post.

    –The ability to create an Amazon comment on any post. That is, let anyone add Amazon products to the ad section of any post. I think this is one of the coolest things about Blogcritics–I consider choosing those products to be a way of commenting in and of itself, and it would be interesting to see what others do with it.

  • Something’s wrong with the CSS. In IE 5.5 when I look at the front page, the links all vanish from the side columns as the page opens. All I see are empty brown columns. The links are visible using Opera 5.12, though. (For some reason CSS actually works better with Opera than with IE for once, although the text of entries and comments in Opera spills over into the right column.)

  • Rob

    I likethe design, I originally came here for reviews of books and music, this layout works for me.

  • Rob – Thanks.

    James – If you refresh, do they come back? If you scroll down and then back up, do they come back? Email me at the link on the top left of every page and I’ll take a closer look. It works fine for me under Opera 6 for Windows (my normal browser at work), IE6 for Windows, IE5.2 for Mac OSX, and Safari Beta 2 for Mac OSX (my normal browser at home). I didn’t actually try IE 5.5, cause I thought that should act more or less like IE6. 8^(

    Brian – And you’re still #1 with a bullet up top with Fisk’s stuff, even as we capture more and more of the leadership day by day, negating Fisk’s initial point! Oops – never mind.

    As it happens, while I had plenty of time to tinker with the front page, the design of MovableType is such that I had to redesign the individual posts basically in real-time. To do otherwise is possible, but would have delayed posting and commenting evn longer than they were, and I feared that would cause people to throw up their hands and never return. So anyway, the end result is that I’ve seen quite a few things on the individual post page that I’d like to change now that I’ve seen how it all looks with the new CSS, and I think your suggestions are good – thanks. I’ll add some way to draw attention to the comments when I tweak and rearrange the bottom section a bit.

    Subscribing to a post you didn’t create would be nice, I agree. Unfortunately, I don’t think MT has that option by default. I’ve written it down, though, and I’ll research if there is a way to pull it off, either within MT or without. There are a bunch of wizards who live on the MT forums that can surely steer me in the right direction!

    If I understand your Amazon question correctly, you wish to be able to add ASINs (and therefore Amazon links) to posts you didn’t create? I can definitely see where that might be useful, but I really don’t think that’s going to happen for technical reasons. I can’t think of how to allow that without allowing everybody to edit everybody else’s posts, and you wouldn’t want people changing your political posts now, would you? It’s bad enough that I have the permission to do so, but at least I have self-control. 8^)

    Anyway, consider this v2.0, and v2.1 will be coming soon and help out a few things. I want to wait a few more days until everybody gets back into the swing of things after Easter to see where the problems spots actually are in normal practice.

  • Earlier when I said “I would be averse” I actually meant to say that “I wouldn’t be averse.” It seems Brain accurately deduced my meaning, but it must have been due to some psychic ability, ’cause I wrote it incorrectly. Brian, I hear you about not wanting to “further” ghetto-ize your favoriate section. My thought was simply that by pulling it out to a new section, it wouldn’t have to compete with non-political Etc posts.

  • Brian – After 18 hours in the spotlight, you’ve finally slipped down in the Etc. section. I’m still mulling over some ideas about that, but note that I’ve already made a few of the changes suggested above. Comments are mentioned prominently in a blurb now located above the Amazon section, and the number of comments for each post is also listed on the main and category pages to further draw interest. In addition, the comments will be numbered from now on to make for easier references to earlier comments.

    Also, Solonor, the search box is now at the top right of each page.

    More changes will come, and while nothing can ever be as good as it was forever in all areas, I think Blogcritics.org overall will get better and better and you’ll be happy with the result after a while. 8^)

  • Please ignore this comment. I’m testing. 8^)

  • Eric Olsen

    Phillip, did you get that modified logo? What do you think? Email me if you get a chance. EO

  • Phillip.

    Looks good.

    Feedback on browser display:

    Mac OS X Safari Beta 2: The comment “bylines” appear evenly spaced between each comment, making it unclear whether the comment above or the comment below is being attributed.

    Mac OS X Explorer 5.1.3: The comment bylines actually appear directly under the comment above (no space), appearing to attribute the comment to the wrong author.

    Maybe put separator bars between each comment?

  • Ren

    Not to be a party pooper or anything, but this new design ain’t that grand. For one thing, I don’t see the menu down the side. As the page loads, the list of contributers, ads, etc vanishes “beneath” the brown backgrounds. Much like James’ problem, and I’m using IE 5.5 on a res of 1028×764. I’ve also tried the site in the latest Nutscrape (obviously I’m not a fan, but I had to try) with the same result. Refreshing does NOT bring up these links, which makes the site REALLY unworkable for me. I see nothing but what’s on the main section of the page… all the things you suggested for James don’t work for me. I actually have to hit refresh and then quickly hit stop so I can access the links down the side of the screen before everything gets tucked under the brown columns – but then of course, nothing gets to load in the main section because I’ve stopped it.

    The speed of the site is about the only GREAT thing that I’ve noticed. I don’t mind the way things are set out too much but I’m not fond of the fact that all areas of the site aren’t getting equal billing, but thems the breaks.

    But yeah, Phillip, could you please look into the CSS problems? I refuse to go changing my browsers for one site… (not that I’m being a bitch or anything, which I usually am).

  • Eric Olsen

    Ren, James and anyone else having technical difficulties: clearly we need to resolve whatever the problem of not seeing the content of the sidebar. But that is some kind of technical problem, not really a design problem (I hope). We will do our very best to get that resolved before the regular wrok week begins tomorrow. Thanks

  • Gee whiz, I tested every browser available to me, then borrowed the design from a popular site, and I even had several people test it. Still, something is wrong.

    Specifically, MSIE 5.5 is a steaming piece of crap that violates the CSS rules and thinks that “background-image” means “cover-everything-with-this-image”. Sadly, despite this being a free browser which is distributed with an operating system which has a specific habit of prompting people repeatedly to upgrade to the latest free version, some people still haven’t. It boggled the mind.

    So now I’m not sure what to do. Apparently I must cripple the page to work within an obviously-broken and buggy browser. Argh.

  • It’s even worse than it first appears. It turns out that lots of things are completely broken with CSS in MSIE 5.5. How on earth did this browser get so darned popular? Did you know that if you specify a background-color, it is also interpreted as cover-everything-with-this-color, unless you also specify background-color transparent? What the heck?

    For now, MSIE 5.5 users can see things, but I still have no explanation for why that particular browser insists on positioning the rest of the page much too high, obscuring part of the header. And the workaround means that parts of whichever columns aren’t the longest look super-funky.

    That’s all I’m doing today. My holiday good wishes don’t extend much to compensating for seriously buggy browser behavior when I should be eating more junk food. Happy Easter, except to MSIE 5.5 users. You guys should upgrade.

    And I guess I know what I’ll be doing all next week – redesigning things again. 8^(

  • Ren

    I guess I SHOULD upgrade, but I thought that IE 5.5 was the best of a truly bad lot.

    By the way Phillip, don’t feel bad – *I* can’t do this shit at all. Don’t stress too much and enjoy stuffing your face.