Short Clips

February 16, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Three topics dominated the mailbag this week: site redesign, advertising versus donations, and HD-DVD. I'm also amassing a nice collection of hate mail, some of which I plan to share in the near future. The irregular "hate mail" features of this column are popular, but I don't get enough really juicy material to present them more than a few times per year. (In order to qualify, the mail has to be brilliant in some way or another - either in its eloquence or its stupidity. A mere "You Suck!" doesn't qualify. Yes, it's hate mail. No, it's not memorable or worthy of a wider audience.)

First, the site redesign. After further consideration and a lot of advice, I have decided to abandon a contest. What's more, I'm moving forward with the graphical portion of the redesign myself. Currently, I have Photoshop mock-ups of what the main page and review pages will look like (tentatively, that is). Functionally, they're similar to the current site. Visually, not so much. The next step is, of course, to transform the purely visual representations into real pages. To do that, I have to brush up on CSS but that shouldn't take too long. Then will come the real challenge - deciding whether to port all 3600 reviews into a database. This is a likely development, but it forces me to learn PHP and mySQL. I know there are tools that make a lot of this stuff transparent but I'm a hands-on person. I have never used Dreamweaver or Front Page, preferring to code my html by hand. At any rate, the database learning/work will take a while - well into the summer, I suspect. (I can't use a script to automate the conversion because there are tweaks that have to be applied to about 80% of the reviews.) After that chore is done, I have to tackle ReelThoughts, which will probably go to a page-per-entry rather than the current monthly scroll. Then there are all sorts of miscellaneous pages that have to be converted or discarded, as appropriate. My best guess is that the new ReelViews will debut in August. Along the way, I will solicit input from a select core of users. A few of you have already volunteered specific help and I will almost certainly not turn away offers.

One of the primary purposes of the redesign is to better integrate advertisements into the fabric of the site. I mentioned a week or two ago a growing dissatisfaction with Kontera, the company that provides the in-context (blue highlighted) ads. My issue is that there's no apparent correlation between what's highlighted and what the link is for. I sent this complaint to Kontera and was greeted with silence. In fact, I have never had a reply to any e-mail sent in their direction. My growing dissatisfaction with their lack of professionalism has brought me to the point of an ultimatum. Either they start responding to my issues by the end of the month or they will be removed from the site. As I have previously stated, I think the idea behind contextual advertising is a good one. It brings people and relevant products together. But Kontera isn't doing it right. If anyone was to approach me regarding a recommendation about the company, I would advise them to steer clear. My experience has been largely negative.

A number of readers have urged me to put up a "donation" link because they have blocked ads and therefore don't have means of providing revenue via normal ad-related means (such as clicking on links). As I have indicated in the past, I don't feel comfortable about asking for donations as long as the site is commercially sponsored. I'm appreciative of those who don't participate in the commercial aspects of the site wanting to support it but, for the time being, my position on donations remains the same. I will solicit them if the online ad market collapses. Until then, my preference is that readers do what they can via the site as it is currently constituted (and will be constituted in the future). If economic hardships force a change to that policy, those reading this column will be the first to know. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that I have capped the ads, meaning what you see is what you get. No additional space will be devoted to them, either with this site or with the re-design. The "proliferation," as one reader eloquently put it, has stopped. So the goal is to maximize revenue with what's here, not by adding anything more. (Actually, with Kontera on the bubble, the ad base for the site might decrease, which makes production from the other ads more important.)

Finally, HD-DVD. I don't want to write much about this today because I plan to address it at greater length in an upcoming column. (Probably on Thursday. I'm planning to discuss - sort of - the end of the WGA strike on Monday.) However, it does appear that HD-DVD is on its last legs. We haven't yet reached Appomattox Court House, but the day can't be far away. Wal-Mart's decision to discontinue support is a mortal blow. If Toshiba is considering stopping production of HD-DVD players, then it would be fiscally foolish for Universal and Paramount not to jump on the Blue Ray bandwagon as quickly as possible. (That's what would signal the final, irrevocable end to the format war.) We're in that gray area where everyone recognizes the war is about to end (including the participants). Now, it just a matter of negotiating terms so that, on the corporate level, no one looks too bad. Unfortunately, as always, the consumers end up being screwed. Those who took a chance and went with Toshiba are now stuck with a white elephant that will soon have no new software being produced for it. Time to start scavenging the bargain bins to beef up the HD-DVD library.