IndianEye Version 3.0 - A Radical Change in Content, Code and Design

This article summarizes the important changes that have been made to version 3.0 of IndianEye.org, that also happens to be the first radical change since inception.
Arun N Nair - Author of the article

Regular readers of the blog will have seen the transition over the years; what started over as random ruminations on topics related to digital then became more focused in time. It has been over 7 years now, and it has been quite a journey. The blog not only helped me refine my own knowledge of digital (as is the case when you write and research on a topic), but made me a better digital professional. When you have been writing for so long, the inspiration to continue and strive to be better is driven largely by your subscriber base who leave valuable comments or interact with you. Some of my readers have becomes friends and acquaintances and have pushed me to make this a better blog.

Hence, the various iterations or improvements that I make to the blog are an extension of my own evolution as a digital professional and the feedback from my readers. Most of the iterations over the years have been incremental, often to improve the performance of the website, very rarely do I make a radical change to the website. This iteration to the blog is one such radical change and the biggest change since it's inception.

Why a radical change? and why not an incremental update? Like I mentioned earlier, the blog has been around since 2007 and it has evolved or been shaped by my own interests in digital. In time, my writing became more focused, consistent and aligned to the general interests of the reader. However, it was a gradual evolution and it was time that I gathered the most requested features and feedback and manifest it as a new website (almost entirely). The changes have been done at different levels of the website - the design, content and underlying code.

Design Changes As a regular reader of the website, you will notice this as the most obvious and visible aspect of the change. The new design philosophy follows a clean, seamless approach that makes it easy on the eye and improves the reading experience. For example, the standard font size is larger than before and has more spacing between line and words. The number of colors used in the website has been limited to 3 (base color, secondary and accent) to reduce distraction and keep the focus on the content.

I have changed the logo of the website to a more contemporary one. The logo now sports a two-tone look, a combination of electric blue and crimson red and the various design elements of the website use either shades of these two colors. I have also infused white pixels into the logo to signify the digital nature of the website; the varying levels of opacity in the logo represent the depth and variety of the content.

The other important element of the design is in the typography. This is an often overlooked but critical aspect of any website design. I spent a considerable amount of time deciding on the right typeface to be used, one that satisfied various criteria including readability, file size, relevance to the design. After flipping and testing between Lato, Roboto and Open Sans, I decided to stick with the Open Sans both as the heading and text font. I have been testing the font across devices and browsers and I'm happy with the results.

In the articles page, there is now the option to get a print friendly version of the article. This is helpful if you want to take a print out of the article without the accompanying "aside" or screen component of the article that isn't needed in print.

Coding Changes The blog is no longer on Wordpress and I will explain why. I have been using Wordpress as the CMS for the blog since it's inception and it's popularity meant that it was easy to find a theme or a plug-in for any occasion. It is so ubiquitous that it is the CMS of choice for anyone starting a blog. However, as with any CMS, granular level customizations that are very specific are not easy to achieve without tinkering with the kernel. Also, as others have pointed out, the code base of Wordpress is like digital spaghetti which can be frustrating when you want to make simple code changes.

The taxonomy of the MySQL database that is the repository of the blog content is so complex that you might end up doing multiple join queries on it just to retrieve multiple keys.

The biggest issue for me though is speed and security, let's start with security. Every other CMS is vulnerable to the occasional security flaw. However, WordPress has been frequently hit by security bugs and vulnerabilities, including dangerous exploits in the plugins. This is partly by design and partly because of it's popularity that makes it more vulnerable.

When it comes to speed, because of the very nature of the CMS and the inherent complexity, it tends to slow down the website. In a recent test that I did with a highly optimized implementation of Wordpress, the speed results were damning and gets worse with concurrent connections to the website. This affects the overall experience of the website. The alternative to Wordpress in this version of the blog is a homegrown implementation that is along the lines of Jekyll (a blog-aware, static site generator). This implementation is not only faster (thanks to a customized and optimized code base), secure (no plug-ins!) but also easier to maintain (since I've built the implementation from scratch to my requirements).

Also, for the first time, the blog uses Sass as the preprocessing language for CSS. Sass lets you use features that aren't available in CSS yet like variables, nesting, inheritance etc. It also makes the CSS code re-usable and easy to modify without the usual CSS code mess.

Content Features Perhaps the best change to the blog is the addition of content sections, resources and ready reckoners that will prove of great help to the readers. These content sections are a result of the feedback that I have gathered over the years and content that I believe have a longer shelf life in terms of utility. The sections are as follows ...

  • Quick Tips & Tricks Quick tips and tricks on digital that are a compilation of short, useful tips to simplify your digital life and make you more productive. Most of these tips are for popular tools that we use frequently like Gmail, Microsoft Excel, Google Docs, Microsoft Word.
  • Top Books on Digital A selection of books related to digital, internet and technology that are an essential read. This section has been put together after much deliberation, and includes book that I have benefited from personally. Along with the book there is also a link provided to buy the book.
  • India Internet Statistics This section contains a compilation of important, relevant data and statistics related to Internet in India. This includes data like Internet penetration, media spends, broadband usage etc. In the past, this existed as an article, but now that it is a section of the blog, the facts and figures will be updated regularly to reflect the times and trends.
  • Google Search Algorithm - a Timeline of Changes Google has evolved from a simple (relatively) annotation search engine to the ubiquitous Oracle of our times. Hence, the evolution of Google is very important to understand not just the progress but also the implications that subsequently affect website rankings across the world. This section offers a visual timeline that highlights important changes or milestones along different iterations of the algorithm update.
  • Different Ad Formats Display advertising is one of the most visible and distributed form of online advertising and relies on the power of visual (or audio) to communicate the message. This section is a useful and comprehensive compilation of various display ad formats used by advertisers.
  • Top Indian Blogs The Indian Blogosphere (term used to describe the Indian blogging community) is not just thriving, but amongst the best in the world. This is largely fuelled by some high quality blogs that have inspired others to tread a similar path. This sections showcases some of the best and the most interesting blogs in India, and was selected based on a variety of criteria.

Where did many of the older articles go? In the process of revamp, I have also removed a bulk of the older articles, many of which didn't align with the new philosophy or scope of the website. Also, many of the older articles were short or dated in content that has little value today. So does it mean that articles will be removed once they become dated? It is unlikely since this is the first radical change to the blog, and the new articles will be written keeping longevity of the content in mind. Content that becomes obsolete in time will be archived and will still retain its original URL.

In summary, this is an important leap for the blog in terms of content, code and design and has taken me some time to arrive at this new version. Like I've mentioned earlier, this evolution is a result of co-creation with the readers and other contributors, and it will continue to evolve in a similar vein. I hope you like the new edition of IndianEye.org and I look forward to your continued viewership/readership and feedback.