Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thoughts on Layout

I'm working on a new page layout for the gazetteer - this is an essential preliminary to the new stuff I'm doing with POI data (since this is where most of it appears). This is the most messy page, and has grown the most during development.

Graphic design and layout aren't my strongest points, and I'm getting a bit stuck. So this is an appeal to all my readers to suggest something a bit better.

My current thoughts have a menu bar down the left, with things like "search", "home page", "set options", "sunrise/sunset","find nearest" and so on. It will also include a data panel with the postcode, OS grid ref, current sunrise/sunset, lat/long etc.

Then, on the right, the main page.

This needs to include at least the following:
Text about the place (such as historical stuff)
Generated text about the place ("... is on the ... canal, 3 miles from ...")
Photographs (sometimes none, one, dozens)
Google maps (if wanted)
Preprogrammed searches (restaurants etc)
Local stuff like shops - optionally tied to the google maps.

Does anyone have any elegant thoughts for what this should look like. Ideally, if you want my neverending gratitude, you could mock-up a page for a few places. You can just grab the HTML for any page and hack it around as much as you like, or make something up with some lorem ipsum and stock photos. I don't really care.

What matters is that the new layout should be able to show all the data included in all the following gazetteer entries, and ideally be easy to add much more to if I want to.

So, not asking much really, am I!

This is also a good time to chuck in any other thoughts on how to make the gazeetteer work better or add thoughts for new gazetteer features.

You can reply by commenting here, or by sending me an email. Googling for "Nick Atty" on uk.rec.waterways will find a currently valid email address for me.

7 Comments:

At 10:32 PM, Anonymous paul said...

hi nick,

I think the left hand side nav is a good idea, it will allow you to have small discrete pages of data, but allow a user to get to other types of data. So you may just initally show the intro text and a nice pic, but have links to other pages of data that comprise the current page(s) like Pubs, Churches or what not.
I would get rid of the 'Find Nearest' at the bottom of the page and actually list out the nearest of those four choices - waterpoint, winding hole etc.. otherwise its another click away.

Possibly put the sunrise / sunset data on the same page as the Lat / long and related info.

Also have a menu item that allows the user to show all the info on one page if they want it like that.... and make sure that prints nicely, so that they can take it with them if they want.

Get the links to be RESTful in their appearance e.g. not this:
http://canalplan.org.uk?run=gazette;where=$k8vf

but this:
http://canalplan.org.uk/gazetteer/lendel-bridge

which means you can then do things like this:
http://canalplan.org.uk/gazetteer/lendel-bridge/pubs or
http://canalplan.org.uk/gazetteer/lendel-bridge/map


You'll get better SEO plus it should make it easier for the user to find places. You can cache the queries for most of the locations to reduce hits against the db and serve out the cached html page(s).

That last suggestion is prolly a big ask and maybe something 'for the future' ;)

Not sure on the value of offering all the other map links and what not near the foot of the page, these are leaks from your site. Can you not pull back the nearest 5(?) listings for each and display them in the page...

Is it perhaps more user-friendly to display all the distances for the listings such as pubs or railway stations in time as well. The average user I would propose does not measure everything in metres but in time to get there. An approximation would cover you... the obvious problem is if the distance is purely as the crow flies or does it take account of roads / alleys, shortcuts..

how about linking to other locations within your gazetteer that are located nearby?

oh, I emailed you a while back with regards to the other blog posting but heard nothing back. Did you get it?

my 2p worth

cheers,

paul

 
At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Tasha said...

I saw something at LuckyOliver that suggests a good concept for you. Suppose you put together a photo collage with representative inserts of key waterway sites. A mouseover would give the visitor highlights and each photo could be hotlinked to very specific info. (Likewise, sunrise/sunset data is integrated as a mouseover with sunrise/sunset photos.

You could also edge the collage with compass point maps that guide to new destinations north, south, east and west. By combining free stock with cheap but still high-quality stock photos, I'd think this could be very doable and lend the travelogue/postcard feel you're probably looking for.

Also, if you tagged each photo with folksonomy tags, eventually you'd be able to put together a customized collage for users, based on what they're looking for. You can add your logo to each collage to brand your work and promote conservative/environmental practices.

The collage effect in mind is at http://www.luckyoliver.com/photo/104133/Fabulous+London+collage

A sample photo that could be an inset for your own collage is at http://www.luckyoliver.com/photo/95832/old+london+railway+bridge

I'm sure there are plenty elsewhere too.

 
At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

SEO friendly URLs is actually not really a problem with Canal Plan. Strensham Sewage Works on Google gets Canalplan as the first four hits - so Google is really indexing the site without SEO work.

Also I think Nicks idea of using the short code was that its neater to put in a link that says where=$6scl rather than where=Proof House Junction Bridge No 96

I guess using a large mod_rewrite command you could make things slightly more user friendly and I will play around with my development installation and see if I can make things neater without huge amounts of recoding.

As to layout I wonder if using a templating style system would be sensible - you could have several template layouts such as minimal low graphics (for mobile use) and full, lots of graphics (for broad band connections)

 
At 12:37 AM, Anonymous paul said...

@steve.
>>SEO friendly URLs is actually not really a problem with Canal Plan. Strensham Sewage Works on Google gets Canalplan as the first four hits - so Google is really indexing the site without SEO work.

I'd beg to differ a little. Take the 3 urls mentioned by Nick in the blog.
Try google.co.uk and search for 'York' or 'Williamson Bridge' or 'Windsor' both with the option to 'search all the web' or 'pages from the UK'. Nothing is found relevant for Canalplan on the first page. PennineWaterways brings back a 4th place for just UK results. Searching for Lendel Bridge (the page refrenced behind the York link) brings up a result as the last link on the first page if you leave it to search all the web.

I would argue it is partially indexing the site, or possibly linking to some very deep but very specific content which can be good dependent upon the user looking for information.

I'm curious why you don't keep everything under the canalplan.org.uk domain rather than the mihalis domain which is actualy the domain listed on the google result mentioned above. You're missing an obvious benefit of building on the actual domain name for generating more traffic. The downside to that of course is that it may cost you more money due to bandwidth transferred.

Have you made use of the google sitemapper to push all the urls to google in a quick and easy manner?
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=40318&topic=8514
(watch the wrap)


>>Also I think Nicks idea of using the short code was that its neater to put in a link that says where=$6scl rather than where=Proof House Junction Bridge No 96

Neater or more convenient? Neater for who? Yes, I can understand it is for Nick, and at the end of the day it is his site, but think about the users. How easy is it to remember that url compared to a more RESTful one... does "dollar six ess see el" tell you what the page will be about when you get there or even guesable when you in another part of the site? The url can also have an impact on your SEO in that you can get search terms into the url which seem to count towards your page's ranking in results. e.g. Look at the results that come back from that 'Windsor' search.

I appreciate that my initial suggestion was a big ask hence my comment... but if you don't ask, you don't get ;)

>>I guess using a large mod_rewrite command you could make things slightly more user friendly and I will play around with my development installation and see if I can make things neater without huge amounts of recoding.

hmm, I think you may be into a world of pain there. We use mod_rewrite and whilst it does a lot of heavy lifting we are moving to redeveloping the actual structure. If it's just you then I guess the structural changes will need to wait until you grow extra arms / heads after you've finished your day job eh? :)

>>As to layout I wonder if using a templating style system would be sensible - you could have several template layouts such as minimal low graphics (for mobile use) and full, lots of graphics (for broad band connections)

Yeah, seems sensible. You could try checking the user-agent string and serving mobile content accordingly, or serving text only so that blind or partially sited users can really hear the info in a clear manner. If you get the template right with CSS then you can actually mitigate some of those problems there and then and use the media attribute for the stylesheet to create the right look and feel. e.g. one look for the screen, another for print, another for aural.

Please don't take the questions as being adversarial, I'm really trying to understand the rationale behind the descisions that drive the site and maybe help you from making the same mistakes that we have made in the past.

My suggestions are all aimed at making the content more accessible at a higher level and the user / bots can easily dig down into that information.

cheers,
paul

 
At 12:55 AM, Anonymous paul said...

@tasha.
that link is neat :)

I guess another extension might be to have a collage of any photo's you have uploaded and then other people's photo's who are near to you shown around the outside. Assuming you register where your boat is at that time. I think maybe similar to a Frappr / Flickr mashup.. but with waterway style images. So you can see who's near to you and what pics they have taken.

anyway, thanks for the link tip.
Paul

 
At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Steve said...

Try google.co.uk and search for 'York' or 'Williamson Bridge' or 'Windsor' both with the option to 'search all the web' or 'pages from the UK'. Nothing is found relevant for Canalplan on the first page. PennineWaterways brings back a 4th place for just UK results. Searching for Lendel Bridge (the page refrenced behind the York link) brings up a result as the last link on the first page if you leave it to search all the web.

True - but I guess we really need to look at what Nick is aiming for. If Nick is looking for people coming from Google having searched for "Williamson Bridge" then maybe he needs to look into lots of SEO work. If however he is looking for people coming from Google having searched for "canal route planner" then things seem to be OK. Nick hasn't paid for any SE submissions so his google ranking has come from spidering and lonks from other sites.

Nick can explain the mihalis situation - I have let him have a set of virtual server config lines for the server.....

 
At 8:11 AM, Blogger Nick said...

You know, blogs are wonderful, and very Twen1Cen but this is crying out for 1970s technology like quoting, threading etc.

So here are a list of responses to Paul's questions from two postings, vaguely in order.

The URLs are difficult. I made a very conscious decision to link by ID rather than full name to provide short-links (a-la timyurl and their ilk), to avoid messy characters like brackets, and to provide valid links if I change the name.

I'm sure it does weaken my prominance in search engines. The index page is an attempt to get round it: google at least certainly does index the query_string URLs, but I can see how nicer URLs might well increase my rating.

I think my original decisions are still good ones (I still have a lot of sympathy with Sir Tim's view that URLs are for machines not people) - the user doesn't need to remember that $5eve is Leeds Bridge or $nick is Foxton - they can go to the quick search box. But I can see the argument the other way as well. I think wikipedia has altered people's ideas of what things should look like in this respect.

Incidentally, http://canalplan.org.uk?run=gazette;where=Lendel+Bridge
works - anything that takes a place name can also take a dollar-prefixed (that's what the $ is for) place ID. Maybe I should suggest both forms.

The reason, btw, that it's all inside mihalis.net is that this is where it is hosted, and I only get to change the apache.conf by emailing the administrator who is also doing this for fun, not profit: I've never got round to learning all the messy stuff myself and can't really ask him to go out and learn about it either.

Of course, all of this is orthogonal to caching the pages - I've thought for a while about doing this, but never found the load worth the effort.

PS Paul: No I haven't had an email from you - in repsonse to your comment on a previous posting I tried mailing you as well. Can you try again please (your name at the canalplan domain is pretty-well guaranteed to reach me).

 

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