13 days, 13 hours, 39 minutes and 10 seconds.
As I write this, that’s what the countdown timer at http://www.elfquest.com says. In case you haven’t been watching the site, there’s been a countdown timer there, since the end of January, counting down to… something. That something is what you see before you now — The new Elfquest dot Com.
And now, I’ve got 13 days to finish it. I needed a break from hacking code, so I decided to write the first “feature” article of the new site and tell y’all a bit about what we’ve done here.
But first, a little bit about me. My name is Jay Grizzard, though I typically go by “Whip” to my friends. (And NO, that isn’t meant to imply an action or object or personality type or anything… It’s actually an abbreviation). I’ve been working with Warp on the Elfquest web site since sometime around January, 1995. That’s more than three years ago. Wow.
When the original site went online, back in April of 1995, it was cool. It was well organized, looked good, it was current with the technologies available at the time… All in all, it was good. And obviously, someone else thinks so, judging by the thousands (literally) of compliments we’ve received and the millions of hits we’ve received.
But alas, the site, as it was, began to show its age. New browsers and new technologies became available, more and more data had to be sorted, stored, and made available on the page, and the Real Lives of everyone involved with the site became more and more hectic. Something that started “good” quickly deteriorated… New content came along that didn’t have any good place on the site to put it, pages got out of date, the site didn’t take advantage of newer technologies, and overall, administering it became a nightmare. With available time to work on things dwindling, and the time it was taking to update things rising, something had to be done.
So, we started the next generation site. There were actually two goals: First, to improve the look of the site, bring it up a little bit to the technical level people expect nowadays, and make it easier to navigate, as well as easier to maintain. Second, we aimed to improve the back-end, to make everything easier to manage, behind the scenes. With the old site, a good portion of the time spent maintaining the site is spent doing simple things… Moving HTML around between pages as it ages, cycling out stuff that’s too old, that sort of thing. That’s time that could be spent adding and upgrading the site, that is, instead, spent just shuffling around what’s already there.
For navigation, I think we came up with a decent solution. The site is split up into four major parts:
• Stuff to do with Warp Graphics, the company that publishes Elfquest (things like press releases, that type of thing)
• Stuff to do with Elfquest itself, such as character biographies, plot summaries, etc.
• The Warp*Store Online, where you can purchase, online, any Elfquest product in print.
• Fan Resources, a brand new section to help fans get in touch with each other, to show off fan artwork, and otherwise help people enjoy the world of Elfquest.
Each of these parts, of course, has many sub-pages with the actual content. On the left of every page (Or, at the top, in a non-graphical web browser such as lynx) you’ll find a navigation bar that will take you to the top level page of each section. You’ll also find a quick jump to the current Feature article, and a link to our feedback page. Not only is this easier to deal with than our previous “list of lots of links on the bottom of the page” menu, it’s also much easier to maintain from a behind-the-scenes point of view.
Many of our pages are now dynamic, being created on the fly, rather than in static HTML pages on disk.
Actually, I take that back. All of our pages are dynamic, at least to some degree. We’re actually building all the pages on the site out of a single “template” that will enable us to make large, site-wide changes without having to change more than a single file on disk.
Some pages are more dynamic than that, of course.. For example, the new guestbook is actually stored in an SQL database, with database queries being made in real-time to generate and display the guestbook entries you see. Another example is the Previews and Warp*Store offerings… The data for both of these is actually stored in a database, and extracted on-the-fly to make the pages you see. When a comic reaches its release date, it gets automatically moved from the Previews section to the Warp*Store section with no human intervention.
Now that’s automation.
We’re also using cookies to track people now. (Hang tight, before you panic, and be sure to read the FAQ about our site before complaining to us about cookies.) Using cookies, we can do all sorts of neat things that we couldn’t do before.. Many subtle things you don’t notice, and a few not-so-subtle things that you will. I won’t say much about this, at the moment, because much of the functionality I’m planning isn’t done yet, but… you’ll see.
Allow me to go off on a tangent here for a moment.
One of the major (only!) complaints I hear about the Elfquest site is that some things are our of date, and that things tend to stay out of date longer than they should.
I’d like to say to all the complainers: You’re right.
… And that’s something that we’re going to fix. Many of the things I talked about above will enable us to keep the site much more up to date. First off, the better layout will actually give us places to put new information when it is available, rather than having to grope around and find a place here or there to shove it into the site edgeways. And second, with less time spent keeping the back-end of things from collapsing all around us, we’ll have more time to actually come up with content. Those two things together should allow us much more time and freedom to do what we want with the site.
A brief note, though, if I may: I would like to remind everyone that the Elfquest website is a volunteer effort. I have a real job, and so does everyone that works with me. The folks at Warp work with me on the site only after everything else is done… After all, they do have a comic to be publishing. Sometimes, things fall behind just because there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. High Ones know we try, but sometimes, we just can’t. Try to keep that in mind, next time you see something on the site that we promised we’d update “real soon now” — six months ago. Please?
Anyhow, back on track.
I think, overall, that the new site should please and impress just about everyone who’s ever had a complaint about the Elfquest online presence. If you aren’t impressed, or you are impressed but something just doesn’t seem right, please send feedback and let us know what we can do to make things better. Without the input of you, the reader, we can only guess at what we’re doing right or wrong.. And I, for one, hate guessing.
There’s a phrase that’s been in every Elfquest comic for as long as I can remember, and I think it’s appropriate here:
Nothing grows without nurturing.
Nurture us, here in cyberspace, and we’ll keep growing for you. I promise.
Thanks for being here with us.