The subtitle for this column ought to be “What I Did on My Spring Vacation.” While students at the university where I teach were off to places like Florida and Mexico, I hid out at home, finalizing the new design for Latvians Online. The result—still a work in progress—is before you. Here’s a look behind the computer screen at what we’ve done and why.
We began discussing the next steps for Latvians Online last autumn. The site has continued to grow, even though the small core of people who work on it has found itself increasingly pressed for resources. We realized it was time to streamline operations, spruce up the look and functionality of our Web site, and find more efficient ways to continue to produce the news, features and other content our readers find valuable. Our recent reader survey confirmed some of our ideas about our future direction, as well as pointing out areas where we need to improve.
One of the first decisions we made was that we need to adopt a content management system, or CMS. Without getting too technical, most everything you’ve seen on Latvians Online over the past three years has been “hand coded”—each page put together with text processing software before being uploaded to our server. Now many of our pages will be driven by a database, allowing content to be updated faster and used to greater benefit by our readers.
Another decision we made was to adopt a leading-edge approach to the design of our site. We’re now using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), rather than tables, to define how content should be displayed on a page. What that should mean for most readers is that our pages will load much faster. For the Web-savvy among you, it means the door has been opened for us to present our content across various media with little effort.
Using this approach admittedly is a bit risky, because not all browsers fully or correctly support CSS. If you’re using a browser that’s at version 4.0 or earlier, you should consider upgrading—and not only so Latvians Online pages display properly. Most of our readers, according to our statistics, should experience few if any problems.
We’ve added some features that have been requested by readers, plus some we thought were worthwhile:
- When reading an article, you can now click links to view a printer-friendly version or to e-mail the article to yourself or someone else.
- Want to comment on an article? Each article now features a space for leaving your thoughts.
- On our home page, we’ve tapped into the nightly news headlines from Latvian state television’s “Panorāma” newscast. Clicking on a headline will take you to the “Panorāma” Web site. Other Latvian news sources will be added in the future.
- We’re starting a FAQ (frequently asked questions) section. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t get a request for information, such as how to find a long-lost Latvian friend, where to get background for a class project on Latvia, or what to see when visiting Latvia. We can’t answer all questions, but perhaps the FAQ will point some folks to places to get the information they need.
Other improvements are on their way, including a better online store and a better forum format. In the meantime, bear with us in the weeks to come as we tweak the site and move more of our past articles into the database. If you don’t find something you need right away, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to help you.
Here in the northern hemisphere, it’s finally spring. And while we renew ourselves, we’re pleased to note that two of our friends are also updating their Web sites.
First, Editor Māra Gulēna and her crew at the biweekly e-zine Toronto Ziņas have unleashed a new look to their Web site. See it at torontozinas.com.
Second, the Latvian Institute in Rīga—an organization led by Ojārs Kalniņš, formerly Latvia’s ambassador to the United States—is accepting proposals in its Web site redesign contest. I’m tempted to send in an entry, but right now I need to get some sleep. My vacation is over.
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