If you’re a regular reader, you may have been startled by what you found when you pulled up the site today. After nearly eight years with very little change, including a look that’s remained essentially static for five or six years, we’ve made sweeping changes to the site’s design and operation. These changes include a new layout and a whole new suite of back-end tools, built new from the ground up, the result of a project hatched over a year ago known internally as TR 2.0.
Why the change?
We’ve always liked the old site, but we were well overdue for a change, for a whole host of reasons.
For one, our old design didn’t feature our reviews nearly prominently enough. Our reviews are the heart of The Tech Report and have the broadest audience by far, yet we weren’t presenting them to the world consistently. A few days after publication, they would drop off of the front page almost entirely and disappear into the void. Compounding that problem, the old site was oftentimes difficult to navigate and made finding old news and articles a chore. Our search function was bad, our news archive was hopeless, and our old articles were indexed solely by title—in a text list.
We also needed to project a more professional image. We entertain a constant stream of web surfers coming from places like Google, digg, and Slashdot, and we need to convert more of those people into regular readers in order to grow our audience. To make that happen, first impressions are important. Not everyone will take the time to read our articles, no matter how good they are, if we don’t surround them with the right look.
The new TR includes some key provisions for long-time readers you won’t want to miss. Here’s the coolest one: at the top of each page on the far right of the navigation bar, just past the search field, is a little "A/A" icon. Click it in order to swap color schemes and return to the blue glory of old-school TR. Your browser should remember your preference when you return. Also, in direct response to your requests, we’ve created a news page that retains the bloggy, scrolly nature of our old front page. This page can be reached via the "More stories…" link at the end of the news item list on the front page. Use these two features together, and you can party like it’s 1999.
The rest of the new site is the result of our attempt to address the old site’s shortcomings and to improve ourselves on a number of fronts. The front page and the section pages accessible via the nav bar make our reviews instantly accessible, and the new design frames those articles with the sort of look they deserve. Even better, those articles are framed with links to other content that’s relevant to the context. The site’s interface is also more visually oriented, allowing us to showcase the photography in our reviews.
You may have noticed that we have a new logo with an iconic representation of who we are, and we’ve modified our tagline to match: "PC Hardware Explored." We believe these elements better represent our identity and focus as a publication. With luck, we shouldn’t have to field any more questions about, say, where to find our Office 2007 review.
Let me invite you to go for a spin around the new site to see what it has to offer. Surf the section pages across the nav bar, like our GPUs, Motherboards & Chipsets, and Storage areas, to see how they work. You can even subscribe to section-specific RSS feeds, if you’re so inclined. Try out our snazzy new archive tool, which lets you view articles by type and subject matter. You can multi-select tags to build custom views to your liking, and the calendar widget will, magically, let you travel back through time. Very slick.
Having said all of that, I realize change can be disruptive, especially a radical change like this one—and particularly if your web site’s audience happens to be a big collection of geeks. Many of us don’t tend to handle change well. For those of you struggling to accept the change, let me make a request: give the new site some time to grow on you. You may be surprised to find that it does. We’ve given a lot of thought to the interface, and we’ve incorporated some subtle touches than may not seem obvious initially but are quite nice once you discover them. We here on staff have been using the new site internally during its development, and we’ve already come to appreciate its merits. In fact, several of us have been using it to find older articles because it’s simply easier to use.
What have you done to TR?
Our new front page may seem "cluttered" at first, but don’t forget that our old one had four text lists across the top and others down the left- and right-hand columns. It wasn’t exactly a paragon of simplicity; it was just familiar. We have much to show you, and presenting it all isn’t easy. Once you get acclimated, I suspect you’ll find the new front page even easier to process. Look for major news and reviews to cycle through the big "feature box" at the top left. We’ve incorporated some logic to show you the freshest items available in that space each time you visit.
As with any major software release, we’ve had to cut some features to get the thing out of the door. We intend to add a wider version of our CSS templates, complete with a button like the blue switch, fairly soon. Our new Google-powered search (available in the nav bar on every page) is a big improvement over the old site’s search, but we can do better eventually. And we’ve managed to integrate our news comments system into the new site so that it’s reasonably serviceable, but we realize that integration isn’t optimal. We have bigger plans on this front for the future, but hopefully this solution will tide us over.
In fact, we have a development roadmap of sorts that includes a host of potential improvements. Our new tools give us a strong foundation for this future development, so we should be able to move much faster than we have in the past. Like some of the companies we cover, though, we may not hit every milestone in a timely fashion, especially since our focus in the coming months will be primarily on reviewing an avalanche of new hardware that’s on the horizon.
Personally, I’m very pleased with the new TR, and several folks deserve credit for it. Our web developer, Steve Roylance, has performed an increasingly difficult string of minor miracles in building a new content management system from the ground up, bringing over all of our old content in its various forms, and making a startlingly complex web application work well. Cyril Kowaliski, who is normally our news guy, has spent the past month working long hours in order to turn a design draft into CSS code that’s cross-compatible with all of the major browsers. He and Steve have teamed up to create and style each page of the new site, all while putting up with my constant meddling and overemphasis on detail ("Try it one pixel to the left.") without cracking. The rest of the TR staff has chipped in as needed, as well. Thanks to all of you guys.
Please let us know about bugs or problems you find with the new site. We may hit a few bumps as we break in the new code, and we’ll be working to bring over some of our very oldest articles (mostly from 1999 and 2000) in the next little while. Our plan now, though, is to turn our editors loose with the shiny new tools and bring you the best possible coverage of that avalanche of new CPUs, GPUs, and other hardware that will be arriving soon—in traditional TR fashion.