Upgrade Update

May 26, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

So I have nearly reached the end of what has been a longer road than I initially envisioned. To remake the site required that I add CSS, PHP, and MySQL to my arsenal of web tools (which previously contained HTML and some Java). I won't claim to be an expert in any of these, but I have enough of a working knowledge that I was able to do what I wanted to do with the site without having to bring in much in the way of outside help. I'm not much of a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to landscaping and home expansion projects, but with my website, I'm more flexible. So, for better or for worse, I'm pretty much responsible for everything except the logo for the new site. (Credit for that goes to Gary Seiler, my longtime graphics designer. This is actually an older design that I elected not to use at the time. However, it fits the streamlined look of the site nicely.) I would also be remiss not to thank those who have engaged in e-mail discussions with me over the past few months. How much time have I devoted to this project? I haven't been keeping count, but it's around 200 hours to this point, and it's far from over. There have been times when I have felt overwhelmed.

This week, as I put the old site to bed, I'll add new ReelThoughts columns today, Wednesday (the video update, focusing on a Rambo-related topic), and Friday (the theatrical openings update, focusing on a Sex and the City-related topic). New reviews will be added on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The last update to this version of the site will occur Friday afternoon. The transition, which should be painless, will occur as close to midnight on Saturday as I can manage. (In the event that I fall asleep early Saturday evening, it will take place Sunday morning.) All old bookmarks should work. The main areas of the site will be re-directed to the new pages as necessary.

What will be there on June 1? The main sections of the site - new reviews, ReelThoughts, and VideoViews - will be shifted intact. There will also be a greatly expanded search engine that will allow flexibility in what it can look for and find. At this point, however, it is unforgiving. Things have to be spelled correctly for the proper retrieval to take place. But there are ways beyond title and text searches to find things. There are enough options on the search page that it should be possible to find almost anything - if it's on the site. The search area in the upper right segment of every page is a text search. It will scan the entire site - reviews and ReelThoughts - for whatever expression you request.

About 1000 of 3600 archived reviews will be in the database at the outset, with more being added on a regular basis going forward. Most of the 300+ ReelThoughts entries will also be present. The bottom of the search page will keep a running track of how much has been converted. There will also be a link back to the old site in case there's an unconverted review you want to read. The old site won't go away completely until the transition is 100% complete. Old "commentary" entries and film festival reports will eventually be added as ReelThoughts, but they'll be among the last things I move.

The ads are still there. I'm curious to see whether I'll have more success with the new design than I have recently been having with the old one. One of the most difficult things is to find a balance between keeping the ads relatively unobtrusive and placing them where they will attract interest and attention. Going too far in the former direction results in too few clicks to make the site viable. Going too far in the latter direction can result in mass defections.

I am braced for an upsurge in e-mail (positive, negative, and mixed). I welcome all input on the new site, although I will probably not be responding to many comments. If you send it, I will read it but, until the volume diminishes, replies will be few and far between. The most important thing I need to know about are bugs, but I welcome general impressions as well. I expect to get quite a few screams of horror - that's the way it always goes with redesigns. People become comfortable with the way things look and feel. Every time I have redesigned in the past, I have gotten e-mails bemoaning how I have ruined the site. I anticipate more of the same, especially since this change is much bigger than anything I have previously attempted.

Now, like any parent, I await the reception of my child.