Touring the New Site

April 26, 2015
A thought by James Berardinelli


When I started to figure out what I wanted the revamped ReelViews to be like, I considered four factors: ease of use for the reader, ease of use for the publisher (me), visual appeal, and smoother integration of advertising elements. On three of the four issues, I believe I have succeeded.

Ad revenue is dramatically down in large part because the click-through rate for Google ads has plummeted. The upside to moving ads to unobtrusive places is that the site looks less cluttered. The downside is they're easily ignored. This creates a dilemma that may have to be addressed by moving the ads to a more prominent position. I hope not but another week or two should tell whether revenue returns to where it was. (The TribalFusion ads, which are the top and side banner as well as one of the boxes, are impressions-driven, so there's no problem there. The three Google boxes, however, are heavily dependent on click-throughs, and that's where the drop-off is noticeable.) I'm wondering whether I need to hire an ad agent who can bring in individual campaigns.

Visually, the site is crisper. The ability to use larger posters and incorporate photographs gives it more flair. Some readers won't care about these things but they serve a purpose. I hand-select all the pictures (from those provided by the studio) with the intention of providing a representative feel of the movie. Even if I don't like it, it deserves that much. For those who skim the review, the photographs become an important "draw." There's nothing fancy here. The heart of the site is still the text. But text alone no longer cuts it.

There have been complaints about usability but I believe many are due to a lack of familiarity. Clunky as it may have been, the old site was like a well-worn pair of slippers. New sites, like new shoes, need to be broken in. I believe everything that could be found in the previous iteration of ReelViews is here, although some features may require an additional click. The organization is better and the search features are improved. There are also places for me to bring in features from the "deep archives" (material that hasn't been generally available since 2008). How many people have asked for the "Top 10 of the 1990s" feature since it disappeared? It's there now (in "Specials"), reformatted to fit the new site but with the original text reproduced. The "All-Time Top 100" and "Top 10 of the 2000s" are there as well, and there are more things to come.

As a publisher, putting up a review has been a laborious process. The new interface greatly reduces the busy-work. I no longer have to hand-code anything. I must pick the pictures, but that's not a difficult task. For the most part, all I have to do is write the review, edit it, and then cut and paste it into the interface. Will this result in more reviews? Doubtful. But it will result in reviews being available earlier (at least insofar as studio embargo rules allow me to make them available earlier). How about Avengers: Age of Ultron a full day earlier than it would have been available on the old site.

Now for a quick tour, hitting the high points…

The "Home" or landing page offers a quick view of the latest additions. In addition to providing information and links for the ten most recent reviews (with the latest entries at the top), there are lists of the newest ReelThoughts and Video Views. Short stories and other Last Whisper of the Gods content is also highlighted there. About a third of the way down the page is a Coming Soon "poster board." This lists the next six expected reviews. The menu bar at the top of the page allows navigation to all areas of the site.



"VideoViews" is much as it was but it will be updated more regularly (some of the update features have now been automated). It presents reviews of the latest releases to home video.  It will also highlight any new reviews I write of older movies. The filters and sorting options at the top of the page allow for some customization but, for this page, they apply only to the (roughly) 30 titles catalogued in VideoViews.  Those titles will change regularly.  The "Starts with" pulldown menu accesses the much-loved alphabetical list.



"ReelThoughts" is straightforward. They are presented chronologically, with the latest first. If you are so motivated, you can page through the entire history of ReelThoughts via the page controls at the bottom. The filters/sorting options here apply only to ReelThoughts.



"Currently in Cinema" is a simple page that pulls up a list of all available reviews of films currently in theaters. These are presented alphabetically and on a single page. There are no sorting or filtering options.



"ReelViews Library" is the archives. Here, you have access to any movie in the current database (nearly 3000). The filters options allow the page to select by year, by star rating, or alphabetically by first letter. The sorting option allows organization of the results alphabetically, by star rating (ascending or descending), or by date. There's also a "Search ReelViews" box if you know the title or part of the title of a particular film.



"FORUM" is a link to the old (but still active) ReelViews Forums.

"My Books" opens a page that provides links to all the The Last Whisper of the Gods short stories and sample chapters. The background is temporary - new (professional) artwork will eventually replace the "big map". Consider this page to be under development but the links work. The content pages (stories, chapters) are "clean" (no ads, no background image). Information about where/how to buy the books will be here when it is announced later this year.



"Specials" is a catch-all for larger projects. Currently, there are a few "Top X" lists here. More are coming. Also targeted are some of the projects I have done in the past (like the still-unfinished Oscar Winners series). Two upcoming series will be included here. Starting in June 2015, I will be taking new looks at the Star Wars movies (one per month, starting with The Phantom Menace). Each film will receive a new review (with a revised assessment of the star rating) and an associated ReelThought. The original reviews will remain available alongside the "Special Editions." Starting in 2016, I will acknowledge Star Trek's 50th anniversary by doing the same thing for the 12 previous Star Trek features. January 2016 will be Star Trek: The Motion Picture. February: The Wrath of Khan & The Search for Spock. March: The Voyage Home and The Final Frontier. April: The Undiscovered Country. May: Star Trek 2009. June: Star Trek into Darkness. July: break (since this is when the new movie is expected to be released). August: Generations. September: First Contact. October: Insurrection. November: Nemesis.


Finally, there's the top search bar which allows access to the whole site. As for the names above the search bar - these were supposed to represent the most frequently searched terms, but that's not what's happening. I'll ask the developers either to fix this or remove them. 

Hope the tour proves helpful.  The site will continue to evolve as I add new material and upgrade existing content. Please be patient and happy surfing.