Well, today we take a quick timeout on outward bound ‘Cats news and focus inward on the community. Thanks to our October pledge/membership drive, we’ve got some funds to invest in the community to make this more of what you want it to be. Our man, Brian DeConinck, the LTP site designer/programmer/master has taken the time to share some of the neat things we’ll be unrolling in the next month and over the next several months. But first, help us out and fill out this survey:
OK, now on to some questions we’ll pose to Brian and some he’ll pose to you.
LTP: Brian, thanks again for joining us. Give us some highlights of what you’re looking to learn from the readership.
BD: I’m really looking to see what the readers say and respond to their wants, but there are two categories of things already on the docket – 1)upgrades and 2)new features. First, let’s talk about the upgrades.
I’ll be doing some back-end programming stuff (AJAX) basically, making the site load in segments rather than in a single piece will dramatically improve speed, and is huge for smartphones and tablets. Included in this is also all outstanding fixes– the autotweets and a few minor bugs that I’ve noticed.
Mostly determined by the results of the reader survey, but also some basic changes to what the site looks like to make it a bit cleaner and more modern. .
NU Bar Network
Rather than just a page, turns the Bar Network into a searchable database and a page that, for users with geolocation enabled (smartphones especially), can detect the closest NU-watching bar within a reasonable radius and give you directions. Includes a home page widget with a map and a ZIP search box.
Game Highlights/Schedule Widget)
This would make the schedule widget a bit more interactive, a bit larger, and would include links to highlights videos. The schedule could be viewed in a table, as it is now, or in individual panels featuring a photo from the game/logo of the upcoming school, two games visible at a time, that scroll left and right.
Automatically-generated front-page post that 1) opens the live chat when the game starts, 2) includes links and excerpts from relevant posts leading up the game, 3) updates with the highlights video when that’s posted after a win, and 4) is archived and connected to the schedule widget, so that after the game has passed, there’s a one-stop page you can go to to find highlights, information, etc.
Wildcataganda Talking Points
The best bits of information about Northwestern teams, compiled by you and entered into a sortable database, and easily printable/quick mobile access. Basically, where you go if you want to be the most knowledgeable fan at your tailgate/watch party, or if you want to one-up that Illinois fan in your office, etc.
Big Purple Button: “Buy New Season Tickets,” “Buy Bowl Game Tickets,” etc.
A big, highly-visible button in the sidebar or at the bottom of posts to click that will take you to the NUsports ticket page, or anywhere else you’d like to point it.
That’s the name I’m working with right now, for lack of a better one. Think of it as a simple form to fill out to contact your friends to get them to buy season tickets. You log in, write your personal message, the e-mail is LTP branded and has additional information (for instance, tailgate testimonials, links to exciting highlight videos, etc.).
It makes it incredibly easy for a reader to reach out to people they know who might be persuadable.
If you don’t have time or don’t want to dedicate a whole post to it, but there’s a piece by Rodger Sherman or Adam Rittenberg or Jonathan Hodges that everyone really has to see, this is a quick way for you to highlight it on the home page. All you need to do is paste the link and write a short (one sentence tops) description, and it will automatically retrieve any image that’s associated with the destination and put it in a prominent place.
Same idea as above, but you don’t have to do anything. Readers who spot something good on the internet can post the link, and it’s automatically formatted and displayed as desired. To combat spam and to make sure only the good stuff shows up on the home page, this would likely be a page of its own with up-rate/down-rate buttons on each link, with the highest-voted link featured on the home page. It’d be a good way to engage readers, and a good way to use the community to catch things you might not have seen.
An easy form for readers to fill out if they’ve written a post. Once submitted, it goes into an editorial queue for you to evaluate it (ie. weed out the opposing fans and post-loss drunken screeds), and if it’s up to your standards, you publish it and it’s posted like any other blog post.
Share Your Story
Slightly different concept here– Readers would create their own profiles (potentially even connected to their Twitter, Facebook, etc.), with a space for sharing why they’re a Northwestern fan, their greatest sports memory, their season ticket conversion story, or whatever. Every time the home page loads, one story is highlighted at random.
LTP: Wow. Sounds like a ton of great new stuff, Brian. What else are you thinking about?
BD: I’m really looking for help from the community to drive other innovation. In the upgrades I’ve listed above and as I try to put everything together, I’m trying to emphasize two main themes:
- A user-friendly, readable blog
You don’t have to be ESPN, with a thousand different things trying to get your attention when the page loads. You just have to be really good at directing the reader toward what you want to focus on. Any upgrades to the site’s design should have the reader experience as the top priority, with daily content as the starting point and all of the other features flowing naturally from there.
- Filling up Ryan Field with 47,130 mostly purple. That’s the goal, right?
With that in mind, here are some areas that I’d like to focus on:
- Cleaner, more modern layout/fonts/color scheme.There are some ways to make the site easier on the eyes and a bit more up-to-date.
- Faster page loads. Mostlythis is on me on the back-end. By restructuring how I have it coded, I think we can speed things up dramatically.
- Better social media integration. Besides fixing the Twitter feed, this might mean tying Facebook and Google+ pages into the site in a meaningful way. It might also mean a way of engaging readers– soliciting photos, stories, etc.
- Integrating all features seamlessly. That’s easier said than done– besides regular posts, we’ve got a lot of other things going on that are worth drawing attention to. I have a few ideas on how to do this, but this is the area where I think the reader survey will be most helpful.
- Topic-based reading. Besides just a regular search bar, I’d like to find a way to highlight posts by what they’re about in addition to what order they were written in.
LTP: OK, Brian, we’ll be back with more once the survey’s start pouring in!