ReelThoughts: January 26, 2009

"Teen Angst"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


January 26, 2009: Australia Day, Chinese New Year, ReelViews becomes a teenager.

If not for a snowstorm in January 1996, there might be no ReelViews. I'm driven by inertia. I can procrastinate with the best but, once I get started on something, I attack it with the force of a tsunami. Shortly before Christmas 1995, I began toying with the idea of creating a little on-line space for myself where I could archive all those reviews that had been published at rec.arts.movies.reviews. So I signed a contract with an ISP and bought a book about html and did... nothing. Then came the blizzard of January 6-7.

The snow started to fall early Saturday afternoon and the winds began howling as the premature evening turned to dusk. The precipitation, light and fluffy, continued all night, all day Sunday, and into Sunday night. It stopped before I awoke Monday morning. 30 inches of snow was enough to create a situation of roadway paralysis, and that persisted for about three days until the army of plows had created snow-walled canyons for thousands of miles of blacktop. It wasn't until Thursday or Friday that the streets were sufficiently clear for travel to be considered. That meant nearly a week of not going to work during a time when remote working wasn't quite a reality for those at my job. And, because I lived in a townhouse, the only snow removal I had to worry about was brushing 2 1/2 feet off my car. So I was given a parcel of about a week during which I was trapped within my 5-room domicile. Of course, I watched a fair number of movies (on laserdisc) during that period and wrote a few reviews. But it was during that snowbound week that the initial coding was done for the site that would become known as ReelViews. That code, which comprised a main page and a few hundred reviews, went live on January 26. By then, a lot of the snow had melted but the seeds of this website had germinated.

This has been a busy week for ReelViews behind-the-scenes. Not only has the site undergone a facelift, but I also changed web hosts. ReelViews' previous place of residence, Lunarpages, engaged in some shady practices that came to a head last Thursday when my site was suspended due to what was termed as an "excessive use of shared resources." It took two hours to get an answer about why the site had been suspended, and the person I spoke to was unable to elaborate on specifics. The "fix" to this was for me to purchase a more expensive hosting plan. When this was mentioned, the light bulb went on. The old bait-and-switch. By the end of the day, ReelViews had been relocated to a new home. This should have been transparent to most readers of the site (except those who tried to access it during the period when it was blocked). Over its 13 year history, ReelViews has now been hosted by four companies (Cybernex 1996-1997, Colossus 1997-2007, Lunarpages 2007-2009, InMotion 2009).

I have referred to today's upgrade as "ReelViews 2.1." Most of the improvements are visual. The revived "quick archives" is more of a refinement than an improvement. If the lists they return don't seem as robust as they were for the old site, that's because reviews are still being ported into the database - slowly but surely. Eventually, everything will be available (but not yet). Porting reviews that only get a click or two per month is low on my list of priorities. All of the high volume reviews are in the database; now it's a matter of prioritizing the order of the remainder.

My profuse thanks to the reader who did most of the CSS work and some of the XHTML work for the new site. I would mention him by name but he has asked to remain anonymous and I will honor that request.

ReelViews 2.5 is closer to reality than I had thought it would be when I mentioned it last week. It's the inertia thing again. I started working on it as soon as I finished 2.1 and, once I started, things snowballed. There's only one major change to 2.5: forums. I will also be adding select "Buy at amazon.com" links to various titles, both on the individual review pages and on the main video page. These will be included gradually. They're generally unobtrusive but hard to miss if you're looking for them. If you want to see what one looks like, there's currently an active sample at The Dark Knight.

I considered two diverse approaches for making ReelViews interactive. The first is the one I went with: forums. The second would have been a comments section on the same page as the review, but that seemed to be more cumbersome and less flexible. So, in the future, there will be a link at the bottom of every review and ReelThoughts entry that will provide a direct jump to the forum discussion for that subject. It will also be possible to enter the forums at a top level from a tab on the navigation menu. The forums will work like 95% of the other forums on the Net. Registration is required for posting but guests can read any and all comments.

The forums will be moderated, and I will be searching for about a half-dozen individuals to help me and my wife with those duties. At the start, posts will not have to be reviewed before appearing, but if problems develop, I will implement an approval process. I'd rather not have to do that because it creates delays and bottlenecks but I'll have to see whether the eventual tone of the forum is intelligent and friendly or prone to flame wars.

Design on the forums is mostly complete and they are available on-line (albeit in a sneaky, hidden location). I will be starting beta testing within a week. If you'd like to participate in the beta testing phase, drop me an e-mail. I'll add about the first 20 respondents I get to a list and they can start using the forums immediately. (A topic will be opened to allow for on-line feedback.) Once the beta test period (of about two weeks) is over, assuming no major problems are uncovered, the forums will go live for the world. The most likely date for that to happen will be either Valentine's Day or the weekend after. One final note to prospective beta testers: I would prefer that those who volunteer take this seriously and post frequently. At this point, I'm not looking for lurkers who will stop by, read a few comments, and move on. The goals are to uncover problems, provide suggestions for improvement, and allow me to get used to my duties as an administrator and moderator. If you're chosen as a beta tester, you can register as soon as you receive a return e-mail. Expect that within the next 2-5 days.

So, on ReelViews' 13th birthday, those are some thoughts about the site - past, present, and future. Teenagers can be troublesome, and I'm sure this site will be no different. Hopefully, economic realities will not force me to skimp on its future development. And hopefully the studios will continue to make at least a few movies worth seeing, writing about, and discussing. Because, when all is said, that's the purpose of this site: exploring a mutual love of cinema. I wouldn't be running ReelViews and none of you would be reading this if it wasn't for that shared passion.


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