Widgets Magazine

Bradford’s Brain Balloons Column #0002 – Time to clean up the Site

Logo for Bradford's Brain Balloons stating Time to Clean Up The Site, with a thought bubble of "Who left this data laying around?"
As you look around the new AVNation website you probably see various changes, some of them are apparent from the appearance, but many are not. Also for regular listeners or viewers to the AVNation shows you have heard Tim talk about the update to the website for a while. We decided to start the update in November of 2016, so it has been a while. There are various reasons for the amount of time it took, some of which have applications in the AV Industry.

The number one challenge was the data changes since the start of AVNation. These were not readily apparent until I migrated the live site to a testing site. Many of these differences caused problems as we were starting with a brand new clean install of WordPress. WordPress is an open source platform, most people know it as a blog tool, which has many different plugins, themes, and modifications that can be applied. Since July of 2011, various items were implemented and then removed. This fact resulted in the database of content being in different states and defined differently.

None of these things happened maliciously. The challenge was that there was no one having an overarching plan and approach to the solutions. Many times if something became a problem, the approach was to find a plugin or add-on to address a quick fix and then apply it. The result of this method results in fixes on top of workarounds. This situation is not limited to AVNation, we all have projects that occur in this process. There is a big event coming up, the Stanley Cup Finals, Easter, Monster Truck Racing…, etc., do what is needed to make the system work. How often do we as AV people go back and make a permanent more elegant fix? That is what happened to the website as well.

Some of these issues could be avoided through training, however many of the original team were learning as they went. There was no knowledge of other options. The example I use is people who don’t know about the ability of a High Pass Filter helping reduce rumble for table top or lectern microphones. It is not that they are not smart it is that they don’t have the experience. As a result, some of the approaches and solutions applied to the AVNation website were functioning but were wreaking havoc on the database validity. I can explain which plugins were causing problems and how they were leaving artifacts throughout the database, but that isn’t the point of this column. Giving someone a great tool and not training them is a huge problem. The approach was to make things easier for all, which is the right decision.

There had not been a plan put together for how to make a cohesive site and what the goal of the website would be. (There hasn’t been a plan put together for what the conference room needs to support, and as such there was not a definition of the goal.) It simply was a lack of experience with the medium; it is similar to how people want a voice system in stereo. They just did not have the experience or defined the goal for this issue. Also, the expectations of a website and media interaction have changed in the almost six years since AVNation started.
In a future column, I will talk more in depth about metadata and how it is being used on the site. For now, I want to mention that part of the process was defining words and what they mean. For example, let us look at a word like “InfoComm.” What does that word represent? Is it the trade show? Is it the organization? Is it the CTS certification program? So I sat down and started making edicts and definitions. The new AVNation site has more InfoComm tags to help better delineate between each of the uses of the word. For those that are curious; “InfoComm International” is the organization, and “InfoComm 2016” is referring to the US Tradeshow.

Let me bring that back to our industry, how we use the words and what they mean become necessary to define as everyone has a different understanding of the intent. It is connotation versus annotation. More importantly, it is how processes and terms are defined so that everyone knows what is meant by a term. Yes, AVNation is writing down what the phrases mean and placing them in an internal wiki to have the documentation available. If you notice on the two pages I referenced above; the definition displayed at the top of the page is AVNation’s connotation of the phrase.

The time-saving process though is that the displayed page for InfoComm International is populated dynamically. None of us had to go in and create a page specifically for the topic. There are times we still will go in and do that. The fact that we all agreed on the same terms means that we can present information grouped more logically for you. If you want to try it out, click the tag or category at the end of this post.

Also in case you are curious, we started with over 2,400 terms and 75 categories. It is currently at 1,547 tags and dropping and 55 categories. There is still the search tool in the sidebar if you are looking for something in particular.

I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to read my thoughts.
Bradford
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Bradford Benn

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