An Update for The Buddhist Centre OnlineOn Wed, 10 July, 2013 - 20:51
You may have noticed today that some things about the site have changed. If we were an App on your computer or phone (which isn’t a bad way to think about it) this would be version 1.5 or thereabouts! The Buddhist Centre Online has been up and running in what we consider its basic form (version 1.0) for just over a year, and we’ve had a proper home page for six months now. So it was time to take stock and continue our work at building on first versions of things. Here’s what we’ve been up to and a sense of what’s changed. If you can give some time to helping us polish and test the next phase of changes, we have a new private user group for that work. support [at] thebuddhistcentre.com (subject: Changes%20to%20the%20site) (Please get in touch) about that or any other questions you have - and let us know what you think in comments here.
We had five key areas of feedback when we took soundings earlier this year, and have been working to address the main concerns we picked up (all of which we shared and will be working to improve iteratively). It’s slower than we’d like with a very reduced budget overall this year (which we also have to use to do bug fixes, manage the Coding Kula, and help get people set up to use the site) but we’ve made some good progress. The five areas are:
Navigation, Usability, Content, Finding Information, Making Projects & Groups Simpler
We’ve got initial solutions in place (and tested) for all of these except ‘finding information’, which we’re working on now. We’ve gone live live with our first set of changes today, with some further additions in the next couple of weeks and another set later in summer.
We’ve sharpened up areas of the visual design for higher contrast and reorganized and re-emphasized some of the elements (eg. removing backgrounds, moving sharing buttons). This is a work in progress and we’ve more to do, but the site should look and feel cleaner and a little sharper.
‘Top-down’ curated content
You’ll see that we now have our new ‘Highlights’ section on the home page and on the main Community page, alongside Triratna News. We also have up-to date spaces for each of these on the five main social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Tumblr, and Pinterest - try clicking their icons on the home page).
We’ll be adding a new ‘Features’ section to both the home page and the main community pages next week. This will be a stream of the ‘top stories’ we’ve featured on the home page in the large panel on the right, and will be the new space for original content (like Triratna America, Buddhafield Week, etc.). That means we’ll now have three integrated ‘top-down’ new Dharma content spaces, which we’ll also feature in our monthly newsletter (goes out to 3000+ people, including former subscribers to Triratna News):
- Triratna News (we also have plans to extend this with the ECA Development Team)
- Highlights (the best of the site from people’s postings in Projects & Groups, as well as some original new content from elsewhere that we want to draw attention to (eg. a series of talks by Subhuti on Free Buddhist Audio) and the best of what goes on from Triratna Centre/Institution spaces on other social networks (Facebook, Soundcloud, etc.)
- Features (the things that make the main stories panel on the home page, original content by us, live coverage of events).
On our to do list for summer is the technically tricky job of fully integrating Triratna News and Triratna Links (both of which pre-date the full version of the site) into our system, so you can ‘subscribe to’ the News as a separate space, and search for links that aren’t listed as part of Projects and Groups. If you want more details on the issues with this, feel free to ask.
Navigation/Usability/Making Projects and Groups simpler
We got a lot of conflicting information about this but it’s clear that in developing the site we need to make sure things are as explicit as possible for users. Perhaps that’s what the Buddha meant by saying that explicit dharmas are better than implicit dharmas!
- Anyway, a first key change is that in tying together the three ‘top-down new content’ spaces (above), we’ve also re-emphasized the main ‘Community’ page (‘The Great Stream of Practice’) as the ‘root space’ for these areas of the site, as well as for those that are more to do with newly generated content that doesn’t come from the team (ie. from anyone else posting to the site - eg. you!).
So in tandem with this focussing on the ‘top-down’ spaces we curate, we’ve also re-thought and re-designed Projects and Groups. They now use a much simpler ‘breadcrumbs’ navigation system that makes the spaces easier to engage with and links them back at all times to the main Community space, so you can see at a glance what the relationship is and - most importantly - where you are on the site. We hope it’ll make their function as distinct but related Dharma content spaces clearer, and mean they are easier to use.
Have a look at a project to see what this looks like
- You’ll notice we’ve re-designed the content menus for Projects, Groups and Courses (under the big pictures), simplifying the initial menu and adding a nice ‘filter posts’ button that lets users sift through long feeds more obviously by content type. We’ve also changed the default landing page (depending on your membership or non-membership of a space) to mean the first information you see on any space is the most relevant to you as a particular user.
- We’ve re-designed the posting button for spaces where you have posting permission. We’ll be looking at developing other ways to post and comment (in any space you have posting rights to) over the rest of the year, extending the paradigm to embrace more of the ‘instant post’ model favoured by some social networks (alongside the more ‘traditional’ blogging model we currently employ).
- We’ve also re-worked the ‘Projects & Groups’ area so it’s more intuitive and displays the information in a more immediately useful way, including a default listing of Projects & Groups you belong to (you can also still get to these via your account page as before).
We’ll be working, in the short and longer term, to make sure it’s easy to find information.
- We’ll integrate the Triratna Links system completely (currently it’s available as a site section here but isn’t fully searchable for technical reasons).
NB. If your own Centre/Institution website doesn’t use this link system, please encourage them to get in touch and we’ll show them how! It’s the only one that’s up to date and helps keep our collective Triratna search rankings high if we all use it.
- We’ll improve the (still quite basic) design and functionality of general searches and specific tag searches (ie. when you click on any tag in any post to see related content), so the results display in a way that’s coherent with the rest of the site, using our new paradigm for Projects and Groups as a basis. This should make it much easier to conduct, filter and refine searches.
- We’ll continue our explorations with the Coding Kula towards developing a native search engine (ie. one we write ourselves based on an open source base) which will allow for ‘deeper’ search (eg. within documents uploaded to the space) and also in-context search (ie. searching within a particular Project/Group or section of the site).
- We’ve starting discussions with Munisha (with initial designs) towards doing a second phase of the basic information sections on Buddhism, Meditation and Triratna. The idea is to integrate video and audio more and to make the spaces more dynamic, self-updating, and varied. Like the rest of the project, a work in progress…