Archive for the 'Heath Sadlier' Category

Zoom zoom zoomify

Te Ara on screen

As a visual person, I love Te Ara because each story is told through images as well as text. We source images from anywhere and everywhere, but mainly through institutions like archives, libraries and museums. As users, you usually only ever see a smaller image that has been optimised for the web. Behind the scenes we are very lucky to see the more detailed version of every image.

However, using a tool called Zoomify we can allow you to zoom in and see all the detail in an image. We have been using it for years, but until now you have only been able to view it in a small window. We’ve recently updated Zoomify, and we’re now adding the ability to view them full-screen as we gain permission from copyright holders.

Full screen zoomify

When viewing the high-res image, especially full-screen, you tend to notice details you’ve never seen before, like the texture of the paper, emotions on faces or the amount of detail that was hand-drawn into text.

Example zoomifys

So rather than view the image below in a small window, click on the green full-screen button, use the controls to zoom in, and fill your screen with moths (that might not sound particularly appealing, but you will just have to trust me). If you would prefer, we also have the pages covering larvae … and, if you must, butterflies.

Currently there are only around 200 that have the special green button, but we plan to extend it to more images in time. Here is a list of some of the best images that you can now view full-screen:

And last but not least is a popular board game from the 1950’s called Holdson’s Educational Tour of New Zealand. Don’t worry if you end up in Palmy, you can immediately advance to Wellington.

Is your favourite image on Te Ara available full-screen? Let us know if it isn’t (or if it is) in the comments below.

(p.s. sorry for picking on you Palmy, you know I love you.)

Earthquake v Encyclopedia

In the early hours of Saturday a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck just outside of Darfield near Christchurch. You know the story, it has been everywhere for almost a week. On Saturday, if you were not directly affected, you, like me were glued to the media hungry for more information.

New Zealanders surged online for information about the quake. As the day progressed and in the days since, people have been searching out more and more information about earthquakes. GeoNet, a tremendous source of seismic information saw a massive increase in traffic.

Te Ara received more visitors than ever before and our page views doubled:

Te Ara's pageviews over the previous month
So what was everyone looking at? Well…

Active faults
The most viewed page by far was this map of active faults. Visitors would have quickly noticed there aren’t any active faults marked near Darfield. Faults are only considered active if they have moved (and broken the earth’s surface) in the past 120,000 years. Kelvin Berryman, manager of the natural hazards platform at GNS Science explains:

‘Before Saturday, there was nothing in the landscape that would have suggested there was an active fault beneath the Darfield and Rolleston areas … Geologists have no information on when the fault last ruptured as it was unknown until last weekend. All we can say at this stage is that this newly revealed fault has not ruptured since the gravels were deposited about 16,000 years ago.’ (

Due to the interest in the map, I have created a high resolution version and added the epicentre of Saturday’s quake. I’ve also added the 22-km-long surface rupture (fault trace) which represents the previously hidden fault line.


Historic earthquakes
Our Historic earthquakes entry was also popular, perhaps as people tried to put this disaster in context. These were the quakes they were most interested in (in order of page views):

What causes earthquakes?
As well as information on active faults people were clearly interested in what causes earthquakes and seismic activity in New Zealand. We have a number of diagrams that illustrate various aspects of earthquakes that were amongst the most viewed pages:

That last one is very similar to this animation created by Chris McDowall using information from GeoNet. It visualises six months of New Zealand earthquakes and ends several days after the Darfield quake.

Damage, ruptures and distortion
The Deans family were the first permanent European settlers in the Christchurch area. This photo of their homestead was the sixth most viewed page on the site. The registered historic place, built in the late 1800s, was severely damaged in the quake.

I find the pictures of the damage left by Saturdays quake hard to refer to as stunning, a typically positive term, however they did stun me. Visitors to Te Ara were obviously fascinated by ruptures and land distortion, such as these:

Around the world
There was also a lot of interest from around the world with traffic increasing 50% from the United States, 76% from Australia, 89% from the United Kingdom, 111% from Canada and a whopping 500% increase from the Dominican Republic (which, admittedly was only an increase from 1 visitor last week to 6 visitors this week, so far).

We’re pleased that Te Ara’s wide range of information, photos, maps and diagrams about earthquakes was able to help people understand what has been going on in Christchurch over the last few days, but do you have a question that you can’t find an answer to? Let us know in the comments below…

New player in town

With the explosion of video sites like YouTube, Vimeo, MetaCafe and so on, people have come to expect high-quality video online. To keep up with the times, Te Ara has moved to a new video compression format, and has a new media player to display it.

Currently only a dozen videos on Te Ara are using the new, higher-quality format, but we have begun re-compressing the other 840. The new player was designed by me, and coded and built by Chrome Toaster, who have worked with NZ on Screen and The Film Archive. Read more »

‘See a mess’ to CMS – part three

Last year Te Ara made the biggest change since it launched, with our move to the Drupal content management system (CMS). 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 future

In part one and two I covered why we moved to the Drupal CMS, what we changed along the way, and suggested that the move allows Te Ara to evolve in the future. Well it’s twenty ten now … it is the future … what’s changing?

New homepage

New homepage design (click for larger view)

Homepage version 3

It’s hard to know what should be on the homepage of an encyclopedia. Should it get out of the way and allow users to find the content they’re looking for – simply consisting of a range of navigation and search options. Should its primary focus be to promote elements of the diverse content within? Or should its focus be to indicate what’s new and fresh on the site?

We took on board what users were telling us and mixed it with the ideas from the Te Ara team. Looking back, we were trying to please everyone, and after a lot of wireframing and concepts, user testing confirmed we were trying to do too much.

The final design is far simpler, and I can’t wait for it to go live (by the end of next week) and see what our users think.

Regular publishing

Other than the four Places stories we publish each year, we publish one theme (consisting of around 100 stories) every 14 months. As each theme landed online it became obvious Te Ara needed to publish more often. Unfortunately, between our CMS and our internal workflow, it has been an enormous challenge to reach this goal. Our new CMS, Drupal, enables us to quickly assemble new content, get it signed off and publish it … in theory. We’re still tweaking the workflow process, but the goal will be reached, and all new stories will be published as they’re finished.

The DNZB on Te Ara

Integrating the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Along with regular publishing, the encyclopedia will also be bolstered by the inclusion of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB). The DNZB contains over 3,000 biographies of people who have ‘made their mark’ on this country. Once migrated, we aim to link all mentions of these notable people in the encyclopedia to their biography.

Improved linking

Probably the biggest challenge facing us is improving the links between Te Ara content. Improving our related stories list is a small step towards improving linking, but our main focus is to introduce links throughout the text. So if a line mentions wētā it links to Wētā. Unfortunately, doing this dynamically has turned out to be incredibly complicated. We have since discovered there are teams around the world struggling with this same issue. A post about the issues, potential solutions, and our progress will be coming later in the year.

Other stuff to look forward to

The new media player

The new media player (click for larger view)

Several other improvements and additions are planned for this year, including improving our search results, navigation and tweaking the design throughout the site.

This year we will also be including clips from from NZ on Screen and The New Zealand Film Archive, and will improve the way we compress and present video we receive from institutions like TVNZ, TV3, and Archives New Zealand. And wait there’s more! To go with this improved video presentation we are updating our media player.

Those are our priorities. What do you think we should change, fix, improve or even remove?

‘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.