22 October 2016

On this Makeover (revised)

When I originally laid out this website, in the mid-1990s, nearly everybody who used the web viewed it on a computer monitor of at least SVGA (800x600 pixel) size and 12" screen, so I tried to make pages that looked OK and read well on such screens.  The original design of HTML was to provide simple automatic formatting of mainly textual web pages (with included illustrations); the notion was that your browser would adapt the HTML markup to whatever size screen the user had.  As the web found more and more commercial use, web page designers emerged from the people who had been using desktop publishing packages; they wanted to lay out carefully and elaborately formatted web pages, and HTML was extended (I thought "tarted up") to enable more control of the layout of web pages, and pretty soon many, maybe most, pages were laid out for a fixed page width in pixels, giving the page's designer more control.  As monitors got bigger with higher resolutions, the extra page size was wasted on sites formatted by 800x600 or 1024x768 monitors and with higher resolution print often seemed to get too small.  On sites like wb270.com line widths became too long for the eye to follow with a full screen browser window, but views easily fixed this by shrinking their window.

Recently, however,  many people have largely given up their desktop and laptop computers with their big, high resolution screens, and are primarily using "smart phones" and tablets to do their e-mail and most of whatever other uses they make of the web.   The phones may even have Hi-def (1920 x 1020 pixel) resolution, but are tiny, usually 6 inches or less.   And all these phones are much taller than they are wide, while computer monitors are the reverse, wider than they are tall.  Most importantly, with a phone, you are using a touch screen, not a mouse or touch-pad to scrole the screen and select links.  Even if you can read the tiny print on the screen, it can be very hard to select the desired link on a page that is perfectly usable when accessed with a mouse  on a computer monitor. 

This did not immediately become a problem for me, because I used my phone only to make phone calls, and my computer (with a 27" screen) for nearly all web access.  But I started to get annoyed that women seemed to have stopped checking this site for themselves.  I would get a e-mail messages from a woman saying, something like, "One of my clients told me that you had posted my trip to McMurdo Sound and South Georgia Island incorrectly, is that true?  Can you fix it?" 

I would think, "Why the hell can't she check for herself?  If she can e-mail me she has Internet access doesn't she?"  After a while it dawned on me that the root of the problem was that she had stopped using a computer, and maybe didn't even have one now, and certainly didn't travel with one.  She kept her address book, her calender, and did her e-mail on her iPhone or Android phone or a tablet.  So also it probably was with some of the dumb questions I get from men, that could easily be answered by looking at wb270.com.  But wb270.com just wasn't very iPhone friendly.

Big commercial sites now get around this by either generating different versions of their website for computers and for smart phones or by having dedicated apps for mobile devices.  That isn't practical for me.  My basic HTML website is archaic, but functional.  I've spent a lot of time organizing it so people can find things on it, archaic or not.  At this stage of my life, I'm not about to embrace every new "mobile responsive" fad.

But in 2012 I started thinking about how I could make wb270.com more mobile usable with the old fashioned HTML web technology I understand.  The result is the current makeover, an ongoing project which  I think makes the site significantly more usable on smart phones and tablets.  Basically I'm gradually reducing the amount of formatting with frames and columns, so that everything will display as one column, and I'm spacing out links so that it's easier to select them by touch with your finger, while adding more navigation links.  I think that the result is a little uglier than the previous version when viewed on a big computer, but still reasonably usable. If the line length becomes to long for legibility, just make your browser window narrower.  Not elegant, but that's OK, wb270.com was never a thing of beauty.  And I believe that it's now considerably more usable for the small touchscreens of smart phones.

This is a continually ongoing project - I update the format of pages in the old format when I need to .  The problem is more acute for the women than the men, who often seem more interested in computers than women are, perhaps because many are spending a lot of time looking a pictures and videos of women that look much better on the larger screens of their computers. 

The conversion is slow.  I am reformatting the profiles, and it will take years, to get all of them reformatted to the new template, or some may never get updated if there is no other reason to update the page.  Whenever I need to update a profile still in the old format, I also convert it to the new format.  If you have suggestions about how to further improve smart phone usability let me know.  I have only tested this on my Nexus 7 tablet and Nexsus 6p phone, where it seems OK..

One of the limitations of my website is that it is not database driven, that is I don't generate web pages from some database, I do it by writing or revising HTML.  This makes some updates and changes labor intensive for me, but gives me a great deal of freedom to customize how I say specific things for specific people that might be hard to shoehorn into the structure of a particular database design.  In the end I can't sustain this forever - I'm an old man.  I need to think about succession planning, or eventually shutting the site down.  As a free, noncommercial resource for both the men and women involved in session wrestling, I think it has helped shape what is now a burgeoning industry and helped to make new business models practical for man session providers.  But there are now other excellent wrestling session websites, notably sessiongirls


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