It has been over five years, eons in internet time, since we did any significant design work on this site, so a complete rethink was long overdue.
We started the process back in the late summer of 2019 by spending a bunch of time analyzing both how existing members use the site and the path that casual readers take to become members. Here’s what we learned:
- Over 60% of members, and a slightly smaller percentage of non-members, now visit the site on phones or tablets.
- Although the site was mobile responsive, using it on a phone was clunky at best.
- The side bar was fundamentally useless, with almost no one using it, and yet everyone had to put up with all that stuff loading on every page.
- The way we were separating member content from free was horribly awkward and confusing, as well as a nightmare to maintain.
- There was a huge amount of code being loaded on every page to support features that very few people use.
- Consequently, the site load times were way longer than they should be.
- There were way too many choices on the main menu.
- A number of the articles in Online Books ended up there because it was the only way to keep a series of posts in a logical order, rather than because they offered hard, actionable information, as all Online Book chapters should.
- Navigating around our over 1000 articles was awkward.
Here’s what we have fixed so far:
The sidebar is on its way out:
- Recent comments have been moved to the bottom menu.
- The list of Online Books is now under “Books” on the main menu.
The advantage of this change is huge, since now that information only loads on your device when you click on the menu item, instead of on every page load.
In addition, we can display many more recent comments than we used to, together with a snippet of text to help you decide if a particular comment interests you.
Goodbye Corporate Members
The only reason the sidebar was still there at all is the advertisements for corporate members. So what to do? We have long said that if we got enough members we could dispense with the ads. That time is here, thank you, members.
By the way, a huge thank you to the corporate members that supported us over the years, and particularly during the dark early days of membership. Without their support we would not be here.
We have long had a separate menu for cruising topics. That’s gone and the topics are now under…wait for it…”Topics” on the top menu. Clicking there yields a simple and clean hierarchical Table of Contents. Again, the speed benefits are huge.
All cruising topics pages now have breadcrumbs at the top, so you can easily see where you are in the Archives, and so you can navigate around without having to return to the Topics page.
Series Within Topics
All of these changes will let us clean up the Online Books to make them even better. This will take time, but we are pegging away at it.
The specific page of free stuff is gone, ditto specific free topics. Instead, all articles are clearly tagged so those of you thinking about joining can scroll through quickly to the free stuff, while still seeing what members get.
We renamed the old “Member” page “New”, because that’s really what it is: The newest articles in reverse chronological order (newest at the top). This is the page you will want to bookmark in your browser.
Site search is still available on the top right of every page, but now with a simple icon, rather than a search box. Would you believe that change saved a quarter of a second on every page load?
Account and Help
There is now an “ACCOUNT” link that displays at the top right of every page as soon as you members log in. If you have not yet checked it out, take a moment now, it’s where you can manage every aspect of your account and email preferences, as well as contact us if you need further help.
So all of the above is Phase 1 completed. But there’s still a lot left to do:
- Continue to optimize the site code. It’s better, but still horribly bloated. And, yes, some features (for example, comment editing) that only a small minority of members use, may end up getting the chop.
- A new faster and more readable theme. Probably a few months before we see that, it’s a huge project.
Let us know what you think. Please leave a comment.