As I mentioned three weeks ago, I've been working on upgrading this site to a newer version of the software it runs on. While I am doing that, I'm refreshing the user interface, trying to make the site cleaner and easier to use, and well adapted to mobile phones and tablets.
If you are one of those folks who likes to get "behind the scenes" and want to take it for a very preliminary spin, you can do so now by visiting sandbox.thefreshloaf.com. You'll need to use the name "crust" and the password "crumb" to get to the site, then you should be able to login as usual using your account (assuming you've been a site member for at least three weeks, which is the last time I imported the site data).
As you'll see, it is not done yet. If you click around you'll see some red error message and you'll find some things are missing. But hopefully you'll notice some of the improvements too.
A few notes:
- If you can't find a page and want to, find the URL on the current site and copy and paste everything after the .com onto the URL on the new site. There is a good chance it is there still, it just isn't easily discoverably in the new design yet.
- The left rail is gone and useful items have been moved to the right rail. There is still work to be done making sure everything important is in the right rail and in an intuitive order.
- Forums topics weren't imported correctly, so if you try to create a new forum post I believe you'll run into issues there. I am aware of how to fix this when I reimport the site content.
- If you have the time, try logging in and making a fake blog post there. Maybe post about your impressions of the new design. Anything you post on the sandbox site will get thrown out the next time I refresh the database, so don't post anything hugely important there, but go ahead and try making a few test posts.
- If you do post, you'll note a few changes:
- For one, there is an "Image" field right at the top that makes it really easy to upload a single image that represents the story. Once people start using that, I'll be able to do all kinds of cool things like auto-generate thumbnail images for the stories or make sure that those images get used when people post the stories to Facebook or Pinterest.
- There is also a new "Media" button the right end of the editor toolbar button that allows you to upload images and use YouTube URLs to embed the videos. Give it a shot.
- You should still be able to upload images the way you could before too.
- None of the email related functionality (subscriptions, notifications, etc) is turned on there yet because I don't want to accidentally start sending people messages from the development version of the site too. It will be there before the new site goes live.
- Many ads are missing too. Advertising is, I believe, a reasonable way of offseting the site's hosting and development costs and connecting vendors with potential customers is a legitimate part of the ecosystem created by a site like this. I want to keep doing that, but I do not want to make the ads any more intrusive than they are now and want to make sure that any ads display appropriately on the device they are being viewed on. Keeping the ads unobtrusive is tough because market pressures have been pushing for more intrusive ads that are less distinguishable from content ("sponsored posts" and such) for a while now. I don't intend to go there, though it would be financially beneficial to do so.
- Try it on a mobile device! You'll see that it isn't perfect yet, but it is going to be a lot better than what we have now.
- Oh yeah, take a look at your user profile (or mine, once you are logged in). You'll see that your recent blog posts and bookmarks are there now. I've made some changes to the way the bookmarking works too - it should be easier to find your favorite posts. You can also add links to your other social media profiles on your profile page if you want to. There is still more work for me to do here, but I'm really excited about these improvements and think it'll make it easier for community members to connect to one another both on TFL and elsewhere.
- Don't worry about performance (how quickly the pages load). This week I set up a new, move powerful server and will deploy the new site there as soon as it is ready.
- For giggles, take a look and the homepage (or any page) on the new site on your desktop computer, then grab the edge of your browser window and make it narrower. As you do so, notice how the elements of the page change to better fit the small viewport. Some will even disappear. Pretty neat, isn't it? :^)
Let me know what you think!
Personally, I am really excited about the new version of the site and can't wait to get us there. The toolset is so much better... it is going to make making further improvements to the site much, much easier.
Alas, it is going to be a little while yet.
First off, it is tax season, and with multiple employers in multiple countries and residency in two countries this year, this year they are going to be a doozy. Fortunately we are in touch with tax professionals in both countries who'll help us file everything properly.
Following that, my family and I are heading to Poland to visit family very soon. We've not been there in over 10 years and are very excited about it. I will continue to check on The Fresh Loaf while I'm there, but I don't plan on coding while I am travelling.
Realistically, I won't be able to put much more energy into the site upgrade until after Easter. In the best case scenario, an updated version of the site would go live in mid-to-late April, more likely would be May or June. The date will depend on how much further I take it before switching over and how much other work I have lined up when I get back. But I wanted to put this out there now so you could all see what's been consuming much of my energy this past month - it is happening and will be happening soon!