WaterShapes

The web site for all professionals and consumers who've made or want to make water a part of their lives

Giant Steps

Blog art croppedBy Jim McCloskey

I’m beside myself with satisfaction – and no small amount of pride:  After months of painstaking development, we have within the past week launched two major initiatives within the WaterShapes.com web site:

[ ]  First, the system by which we categorize and file articles has been completely revamped.  

When the site was originally mapped out, we worked with topic headings related to what we had been doing with the WaterShapes EXTRA newsletter.  Basically by default, this meant we picked up category headings such as “Lessons Learned,” “Solutions” and “Essential” – meaningful to those of us who were involved with preparing the newsletter and transferring articles to the site, but absolutely baffling to anyone who might come across WaterShapes.com and actually needed to find something.

Those old categories have now been replaced by clearer, more self-explanatory ones, such as “Pools/Spas,” “Fountains” and “Landscapes/Plants/Hardscape/Decks” – plain, descriptive headings we trust will guide site users more easily toward inventories of articles of greatest interest to them.  There’s also a special category labeled “Professional Watershaping” filled with articles about the profession and how top watershapers believe it should be pursued.

Naturally, any such category scheme is filled with overlaps and shades of distinction and will be less than ideal.  But we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and just about everyone we surveyed as we approached the recategorization process told us how much the new structure would help them navigate our site more easily.

[ ]  Second, the technology we’ve used to mount and display feature articles has been completely altered and upgraded.

For the best part of a year, we’ve thoroughly evaluated web modules intended to make the reader experience of our articles more engaging and valuable.  In these trials, we had one key goal in mind:  Whichever way we went, there would have to be a qualitative improvement on the basic experience of leafing through printed editions of WaterShapes.   

Through a long process of trial and (mostly) error, we finally found a system that was worthy of fuller development.  To test it out, we reformatted and mounted all columns and articles from the editions of WaterShapes published in 2010 and 2011, figuring that in such a span of issues (more than 100 individual items from 13 issues) we’d run into just about every sort of weirdness we’d ever encounter in the conversion process – and happily, everything came together with no significant hitches.

The cool thing about the system is that it lets readers blow up images to very close to full screen size with a simple mouse click.  (Not every image does this, however, as there are lots of articles that originally appeared in the newsletter where there were limited numbers of illustrations and we decided in these cases not to implement the system.)

As you get into it, you’ll notice what we now call our “gallery format” and know that when you pass the cursor over an image and a magnifying glass with a plus in it appears, the image will grow with a click and stay that way until you’re finished examining it.  (To see this tool in action, click here – but please do come back to learn more!)  

I call this system the great equalizer:  In putting the magazine together for all those years, we had to make so many hard decisions about which images to use and at what sizes, and now that’s no longer a factor.  Better yet, in moving forward we will be able to expand the number of images we’ll use beyond counts we could ever consider with the magazine and will, as videos become available for more projects, be able to expand the experience well beyond anything that was possible with the printed page.  

I miss the magazine as much as anyone could, but this new way of staging articles has so many advantages that I’m becoming a true believer.

What startled me in working with all this material was how many wonderful photographs we had published and how limited their impact had been in so many cases on the printed page.  With the gallery format, the photos are big and bright and do a much better job of capturing the work and results of watershaping more clearly.

These are both exciting developments and say a lot about what we’re trying to accomplish in improving your experience of the information we have to offer.  Better yet, this is just the beginning:  We have much more still to come!

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