‘See a mess’ to CMS – part two

Recently Te Ara made the biggest change since it launched. However, on the surface little has changed. This is part of a series of posts that will try to explain why it’s exciting for us and why we hope it’s exciting for you. We’ve broken the story into three parts: Te Ara past, present and future.

Te Ara present

In part one I talked about why Te Ara moved to the Drupal content management system (CMS). While we were messing around ‘out back’, we took the time to make some changes to the front. Ross listed them in his post but let’s take a closer look at what has changed.

Browse Te Ara
In the past the navigation around the Te Ara relied on people understanding the site’s structure:

Home » theme » sub-theme » story

Later we added this column browser to allow users to browse through our stories.
Te Ara's browser

However, because of the technical limitations mentioned in part one, we could only easily add it to the home page. The old CMS also meant the listings had to be added by hand, rather than dynamically. Moving to Drupal enabled us to link the browser to the CMS and add it to every page on the site.

Browser button in the header
At the top of each story page is a button to ‘Browse Te Ara’ which, once clicked, will reveal the browser. This is now our primary navigation, and we can’t wait to see how people use it, the categories they browse, and their feedback.

To see how we’ve improved our search, compare these two sets of results for ‘kiwi’:
Search results comparison

You wouldn’t expect the story titled Australians being listed before the story devoted to kiwi would you? (And, when comparing the image and media search results, I noticed the old search listed the cheddarmaster before the brown kiwi!?) The results on the right are far more relevant, and they’re generated by Sphinx, Te Ara’s new search engine. This has been a long overdue improvement, and the much better search results continue to amaze those of us that use it everyday.

The Short Story
Every story in Te Ara also comes in a simpler, refined, easy read that we call the Short Story. The Short Story has changed in two ways. First, the button is now in the same position no matter what page you’re on.
Short story button
Second, the old button opened the Short Story in a pop-up, which had its drawbacks. So we now use a technique called Lightbox to display the short story. This blog also uses Lightbox to display larger images. In fact, here’s an example of both.

New location of biographies

New location of biographies

Previously, story pages had a tab that listed relevant biographies from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB). We’ve now moved the links to relevant biographies to the bottom of the story page, above the footer. Currently, we display a thumbnail picture, name and what the DNZB people call ‘years of activity’ (usually their birth and death dates), but we’re hoping to add more information later … more about that in part three.

Tabs (above) vs Back to Story (below)

Tabs (above) vs Back to Story (below)

The biggest change to the in-story navigation was the removal of the tabs. They seemed like a good idea, but whenever we watched people use the site, hardly anyone used the tabs and most didn’t even know they were there. Once we moved the biographies inside the story, the only purpose to the tabs was to switch between the images and the story. We decided a ‘Back to Story’ button, similar to Trade Me‘s ‘Back to listing’ button, would be clearer, and more useful. Also, by freeing up the space, we could keep the short story button location consistent. However, out of all the changes, removing the tabs seems to be the most contentious amongst our users. What do you think? Do you prefer the tabs or the back to story button?

Other bits and bobs
Those are the biggest changes, but you may notice little tweaks like new icons and our new media series layout. Hopefully you haven’t seen our new 404 page, which unfortunately became quite popular while we were working the kinks out of our URL redirection thingamabob.

As I mentioned in the first part of this series, what matters is that a huge barrier has now disappeared and Te Ara can start evolving. But, other than the modifications we’ve already made during the migration, what is going to change? Where is Te Ara heading? I’ll let you know, what I can, in part three.

Subscribe to Signposts to make sure you don’t miss Part three – Te Ara future, a look at what’s next.

3 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Ross Somerville || September 16th, 2009

    Nice post, mate.

    I guess it’s indicative of the flexibility of the system that Drupal calls itself a ‘comtent management platform’ rather than a CMS as such. Looking forward to the future – it can’t come fast enough. I’m pretty sick of this imperfect present!

    And I hope we get some feedback on the tabs/no-tabs options. And can anyone find the browser? (How about a blink tag?)

  2. Comment made by malcolm || September 17th, 2009

    I learn more about how the site works this way than any other, and like what I learn.

    Here’s a ‘finding’ though. If you open up an entry, go straight to the image gallery, then to an image, you THEN see an instruction ‘back to story’ – although at that point you haven’t yet been to the story.
    Don’t have an ‘answer’ to this – maybe have ‘go to story’? – and maybe it doesn’t matter, but thought I’d mention

  3. Comment made by Heath || September 17th, 2009

    Thanks Malcolm we’ve had other people comment about the wording ‘back to story’. We also haven’t got an ‘answer’ but we will make sure it doesn’t involve blink tags.

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