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SR! 13: Part 2

10 changes toward a better user experience

Some time back, Connie and I took a meeting with our server provider who advised us we were going to have to move off the current web platform Sound RIDER! was running on. Something wrong with that platform (which was ASP)? We'd been using it for 12 years. From the hosting company's side of things, it was riddled with security flaws. Once the hard drive had served its useful life, they would not replace it with the same operating system.

We looked at the various options and chose to move to the ASP.NET platform. I wrote the entire SR! website myself over 14 years including all its functions and am self-taught in the prior platform. Time to learn a new one, because the new platform is not an upgrade of the previous, rather a replacement. So what I'd done in 14 years was now going to get redone from the ground up in a few weeks time.

I met with a developer south of Seattle, and for a few months we discussed and tested various scenarios. Winter arrived and we threw ourselves into it for three weeks solid 12-15 hours a day. Every step of the way we looked at ways to make the site more user friendly.

  1. Used & Hot Deal Bikes lists - I put together the first layout of the new default page for these two categories and sent it off to Greg from the SR! collective. He insisted on thumbnail views which we never had before. I countered about getting 20 bikes on each page and was concerned about load time and extra work having to make separate thumbnail images. He'd have nothing to do with that and kept pushing me. So I made up such a page and it worked fast without the necessity to have separate thumbnail sized images for each bike. Sweet!
  2. Used & HDB details pages - The next step was to come up with what the details page might look like. Our little graphic re-do last December brought forth a clean site and I wanted to continue that look in the details pages. I think we did a good job of staying on that course.
  3. Calendar Rebuild - The calendar was ready for an overhaul. The old version could sort by riding style or by month, but not by both. The new platform allowed us the flexibility to do that. We've also added City and State fields so it's easy to see where the action is.
  4. Clubs & Orgs redo - In revamping the Clubs &n Orgs page, we introduced a way to sort it by not only style, but state, too. Looking for fun or to get involved locally? This is how you do it.
  5. Dealer Directory Expansion - The dealer directory has been expanded to include address and phone info for all dealers, not just sponsoring ones. Back in 2005, we built a mobile version of this directory aimed at helping people using PDAs (now replaced by smart phones) to find parts and service which was done the same way and it was very popular.
  6. New Communities Pages - Our communities pages have always been a snapshot of what's going on in the Pacific Northwest bringing together lists of clubs, events, dealers, used bikes, and editorial. Up to this point, some of that had been static, but now it's all dynamic. If we update the calendar, post a new club or delete a used bike that has sold, the communities pages automatically reflect it. And to add a little more community to it, I worked with a number of local riders to gather pictures for each page.
  7. Subscription Interface - Our newsletter subscription interface is critical to gathering information about our readers. Since November, the send command had been failing but we were getting the information. We kept the design about the same as before but coming up with the code to send the user to the thank you page, post the data to the server and send us an email with the data was some of the hardest figuring out Doug or I may have done. After all, you're asking the machine to perform three tasks simultaneously. That should be easy - right - not so.
  8. No games, just news - Several of us batted around the idea of videos, podcasts and photo games. I vetoed that down. I think it's important to keep readers focused on getting the news about motorcycling in the Northwest without all the distractions and dancing baby stuff.
  9. How does it look on a tablet or smart phone? Take yours out and have a look. The page design allows a reader to stretch out the editorial column making it very readable on a smart phone. And it downloads quickly! No need for a mobile app. Ditto for tablets.
  10. Pin it to your Start Screen - Users of Windows 8 get a little bonus when they pin the site to their start screen. We've incorporated the meta tags to provide you a slick little tile that features one of Turk's fine photos from Maryhill. Give it a try!

Just a little trivia. Anytime you see a dealer website hosted through PSN (look at the bottom of the page), know that that too is running on ASP. I know the pain the folks at PSN will have to go through when they upgrade to ASP.NET and wish them all the best. The outcome is most rewarding.

Finally, I want express my gratitude to my developer who has been a great person to work side by side with throughout. Our abilities complimented one another and I really enjoyed working together with him. I also want to thank Greg Maust for his continuous input along the way and I know I owe him a few rounds of Sushi. Barry Mercer of the VME was helpful with getting the look of the Communities pages together and inspired me to add a little local rider flair into them.

TM/Winter '12


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