ReelViews 2.1

January 20, 2009
A thought by James Berardinelli

A good way to honor ReelViews' anniversary (January 26) is to provide a site upgrade. Hopefully, this one will be less traumatic than last June's, which caused untold anguish in some circles. This one is designed to sharpen the look of the site and doesn't include the kind of behind-the-scenes reworking that the previous upgrade provided. A reader accustomed to the current look of the site will not receive a shock to the system, since this has been applied as the basic template for something better designed (provided in part by a professional designer who has asked that his name be withheld). So what I'm calling ReelViews 2.1 is a hybrid of his work and mine.

Infrequent visitors might not notice that things have changed. The site will look better but many of the changes are subtle. Regular visitors will immediately notice the differences, however. The biggest visual alterations are associated with the Searches page, which will now look like more than a bunch of random boxes and tables thrown together without much rhyme or reason. For those who have a problem with green… Sorry, it's still green. I happen to like green. My wife complains about the color, so those of you Kermit-haters have an advocate in her. But the green stays. (I tried blue, but didn't like the results. And purple… Yikes!)

Reader suggestions were taken into consideration and some of the most frequently noted issues were addressed. In particular, the "ReelViews" logo is now clickable. The tabbed menu bar has been re-worked to pinpoint the current location. Reviews can now be printed without including the advertisements on the print-out. The poster logo has been placed in a more prominent position. And the so-called "quick archives" have returned. Those are the clickable lists of first letters for titles that bring up alphabetized results. (A, B, C, D, etc.) I never knew how popular a feature this was from the old site until several hundred e-mails arrived bemoaning its exclusion from 2.0. So now it's back on every page and it works exactly like it used to. No need to type in letters - just click and the list will appear. It's restricted to what's currently in the database, however, and I'm still populating that, so some titles from the old site will be missing until they are ported over.

If ReelViews 2.1 is primarily about aesthetics, then a future 2.5 upgrade will be about adding a Comments section. I'm in the early stages of looking into this and progress will be slow as I devote time I might otherwise spend on this to reviews of older movies, but I have become convinced that the site's future livelihood will necessitate some sort of forum in which readers can debate my ratings and air their feelings. I have resisted this for some time but the need to evolve the site demands a level of social interaction. In terms of potentially negative comments (spamming, profanity, flame wars, etc.), some details have to be worked out. I'm actually less concerned about this than I am about the possibility of developing the forum and having no one contribute to it. I can't provide a timetable for this since it depends on how fast I work. It could be in a few weeks or it could be a year away. Numerous factors are in play.

As far as advertising is concerned, I'm continuing to work with the agencies to limit annoying things like the un-muted ads that slip through the filters from time-to-time. Overall, I'm comfortable with the ad-to-content balance, so there are no plans to add (or remove) anything. Some "Buy at" buttons will start appearing on the VideoViews page once I turn my attention more toward increasing the content there. Finally, for those who asked about a "donate" button , one will only show up if/when I am forced to turn to ReelViews for my livelihood. Right now, the only way to "pay" me is by clicking on ads. To me, a "donate" button is a desperation option - a last-ditch attempt to keep the site alive when all other avenues have failed. Hope you never see it - it's not a good thing (although it is better than immediately shutting down the site).

Comments on 2.1 will be welcome when it goes live. I expect fewer negatives than with 2.0 because, even though it isn't perfect, it should be an improvement in every way.