Site Redesign: What do you think?

Monday, February 2, 2009

After much consideration, I decided to redesign the look and feel of this site. The old look borrowed heavily from our long-standing family site Casa Dwyer and as I was starting this site last year I decided it was more important to get up and running than to spend too much time focusing on new aesthetics. Although I liked the look of the old site, I like the new look too. Here's why I chose it:

  • The template is called Newspaper and I feel it aligns with the idea of this site being a modern day non-print newspaper or "Press".
  • The background is now white (it was previously black) and the fonts used more highly differentiate bold text which makes for easier to "scan" for key points when reading. I took the advice of Kevin Palmer from Social Media Answers in this entry when making this decision. Judging from Kevin's Twitter bio, we're like brothers separated at birth or something: Social Media, Wine, Sports (baseball cards), Technology, Boston. It's amazing how Twitter can help you find people with the same micro-interests as yourself.
  • I've added About, Subscribe, and Contact links across the top of the page to help new visitors more quickly decide whether the content on this site is relevant to them. In doing so, I leveraged things I learned from Darren Rowse's Pro Blogger in general and specifically this entry. I've found Pro Blogger to be the most useful "how to blog" site on the Internet.
  • I decided not to follow the advice given on The Winery Web Site Report that says if you're serious about blogging you'll use self-hosted WordPress. They're advising wineries that they won't be taken seriously if they user Google's Blogger service. While I agree that self-hosted WordPress seems to be the way to go, it isn't free, it's more complicated than Blogger, and it doesn't guarantee a quality web site. For those reasons, a move to self-hosted WordPress will remain something I'll consider for the future.
For reference, here's what the old site looked like:

I try not to talk too much "inside baseball" here about the site (a wine blog about wine blogging can get rather circuitous can't it?) and instead try to focus on wine. However, I *am* interested in social media in general and especially the topic of how wine businesses present themselves on the Internet.

For me, anyone thinking about blogging should focus their energies with the following priorities:
  1. Quality of Content (Does the author have a unique perspective on the subject? Is the information useful?)
  2. Aesthetics (Does the site look legitimate? Does it align with the subject matter? Is it pleasing to the eye?)
  3. Platform (WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, etc)
I share this order of prioritization because I'd hate to see a local wine shop, a winery, or even a fellow wine blogger delay getting their message online for fear of not getting it just right the first time.  This new media stuff is an evolution, and the only way to figure it out is to get in there and start playing with it.  

As social media evangelist Ron Ploof so eloquently stated: "Afraid of taking that first New Media step? It's easier to jump onto a moving train while it's still pulling out of the station."

Question of the Day: What do you think of the redesign? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Michelle said...

I like it, Bob. I also liked the black gave the site a richer feel to me. Like walking into a nice wine cellar. However, I understand the new design in light of your comments and reasoning.

I have to say, it does feel just the littlest bit generic right now, but it is more readable and I think gives it the appearance of more of a media format than a personal blog.

I will be interested in what other regular readers think.

Michelle said...

Here is another thought. I wanted to leave you a couple of comments about things that you had not specifically blogged on and couldn't really find a place to do it. Anyway, how about a spot for random comments? Or would you rather that be sent as emails for you to be able to more closely monitor what is going on your blog.

Question for you...some sites allow the authors to edit/monitor comments before they are posted. Your thoughts on this? Do you do it?

Bob said...

Hi Michelle!

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I totally agree with them. As I was toggling back and forth between this new site and the old one, I was thinking the old one had a richness to it that I'd grown fond of. We'll see how this new one goes- I agree that it feels a little stark at this point. Perhaps I can spice it up with some minor additions while retaining the improve readability.

I love your suggestion of having a random comments area. As you may recall, I had an area to comment on things like "recent wine reviews" and such previously that I don't have anymore, primarily because I switched from Corkd to Cellartracker for my wine reviews and as part of that change, the way the reviews are dynamically served up has changed. What I'd really like is a Facebook-like commenting system (ie, comment on just about everything) but I don't think that is available in any blogging platform yet. I'll see what I can cook up for a generic comment collector area.

Regarding moderated comments- I don't moderate comments. I allow them all to come through and have never had to edit any of them. I don't like sites that moderate comments because that discourages conversation which is the whole point of blogging for me.

Thanks again!

Heath said...

Hey Bob, I like the new site. I too liked the Black somewhat, but it is much easier now to read.

one suggestion, maybe put a "balloon" at the top of the articles, showing how many comments have been posted next to the title of the article (like a cartoon character thought). Not sure if it works like this or not now, but I like how you can reply to someones comment, and it says "in reply to so and so", and has the reply. not the link replies, but the actual wording in reply to someones comment. Something like that. maybe I am over analyzing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,

I like the new look very much. As the other folks here mentioned, I also liked the previous black template -- but as a former newspaper man, this style appeals to me, too. :-)

Bob said...

Hi Heath!

I'm glad to hear you appreciate the improved readability, and thanks for your great suggestions. A friend's blog ( has the balooned comment count almost exactly as you describe. His blog is on WordPress though (whereas I use Blogger) so I wouldn't know how to emulate that straight away.

I was investigating using a service called TypePad connect that has a notion of "reply to" any comment. That sounded promising, but I couldn't get it to work for some reason. :( I really like the way Facebook handles comments- wish I could emulate that more easily. We'll see what I can come up with over time, but I definitely want to make it as effective as possible for people to comment. Comments are the single most important thing for a blog for a number of reasons.

Hey Tom!

I'm glad you like both the old and new templates. Especially coming from a guy like you (who has certainly seen his fair share of blog templates) that means a lot to me.

Bob said...

Heath- I replaced the old comment system with a new one called IntenseDebate that allows for replies to individual comments and a bunch of other new features. I hope it's useful, but I'm all ears for feedback on whether folks like the new system.

I should mention that the new comment system is only effective for new posts or posts that haven't had any comments yet.

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