On January 1, 2005, after several months of effort, I launched v16 of Off on a Tangent as the site entered its tenth calendar year on the web. Moving to v16 was a huge technological leap (shifting to a fully content-managed system), but I had never been completely satisfied with the visual design or the navigation structure. My goal then was simply to get it working. As I struggled with learning the new CMS (formerly known as Mambo), I spent little time fully utilizing the new system to make dynamic navigation, and even less making the site look great.

Incremental improvements over time—including the v16.1 revision in April—have made things better, but as you can see I’ve been saving the best for v17. With more than nine months of experience with the new CMS under my belt, I’ve been able to move the site in a visual and organizational direction that I’m really happy with. I hope you’ll be happy with it too! Read on for a list of changes. . . .

Stylistic Improvements:

  • Brighter; More Colorful—I have received several comments indicating that v16 was a bit on the drab side (this was much worse on Windows PCs, which have a lower default gamma setting than Macs). v17, while still using a similar blue-and-gray theme, is generally brighter and more colorful than v16 was. The base blue color is a few tones lighter, the images in the top-right area are in full color, and there are more red highlights.
  • Curvier—v16 was very rectangular, which was a major departure from previous designs. The reasons for this were largely related to my level of knowledge regarding the development of Mambo templates. In short, rectangles were easier. Now that I am more comfortable with template development, I was able to reintroduce the rounded rectangles I love so much. The v17 design was created by combining an evolution of the v16 color scheme with the curvy design cues of its v15 predecessor.
  • Visual Compression—I made a concerted effort in the design of v17 to tighten Off on a Tangent and minimize vertical scrolling as much as possible. Much of this was made possible by content and navigation changes (see below), but the design includes places for items (like the main menu, the search bar, etc.) that previously added to the height of the site in the sidebars.

Navigation & Structure Changes

  • Subject-based NavigationOff on a Tangent has previously been organized based solely on what a piece of content is—fiction, nonfiction, blog item, review, etc. Over time, these items got separated into three over-arching sections: Expressions, Chillin’ Stuff, and Scott & the Site. While this generally worked, related content would sometimes end up scattered into different sections. Now, content falls under one or more of seven top-level sections. The goal of this setup is to have content organized around context—for example, anything related to the news will appear under News & Reviews (including opinion pieces that may also appear in the Literature section and articles that may appear in the Blog). The search feature is relocated adjacent to the main menu for users who are seeking specific content items.
  • Contextual Submenus—Each of the seven top-level sections of Off on a Tangent has its own unique menu which only appears within that section.
  • Content Compression—By placing the main menu horizontally at the top and having only one short menu contextual to its section, more relevant information is visible ‘above the fold’ (without scrolling). Overview pages now generally show only three content items with introduction and ten additional items in a list, which also helps to minimize scrolling.

Oddities, Features Not Implemented (Yet), and Broken Things

  • General Potential for Wonkiness—Because the v17 navigation structure is so drastically different than the one that preceded it, there is a general potential for problems. I had to make a million little changes and adjustments to make v17 live, and I could have screwed any one (or any ten) of them up. If you notice anything that doesn’t seem to be working right, please let me know (contact information is in the ‘About’ section now).
  • Missing Context—Right now, the only contextual items (related to the new navigation structure) are the menus for the seven top-level sections. I intend to add other contextual sidebar items for each section, but those will be added over time.
  • Missing Links—Some may notice that the ‘Links’ section is missing. I intend to add a links function back into the site in the future, but it will be very different (tied to adding more contextual sidebar items). The previous links section wasn’t particularly popular anyway.
  • Reduction in Browser Support—Technological improvements to v17 have required two changes to Off on a Tangent’s level of browser support. Netscape support is now for version 7 and higher (was previously 6 and higher) and Konqueror is no longer supported at all (all versions). Most other modern browsers and platforms remain supported (list of supported browsers).
  • Differences Viewing in IE—Due to poor standards support, Microsoft Internet Explorer cannot properly display dotted lines as borders on links and blocks. Therefore, IE is specifically instructed by the site stylesheet to display dotted line styles as solid lines instead. This ensures the site will look acceptable for IE users. Regardless, I highly recommend using a standards compliant browser (like Firefox) instead.

I’ve spent a lot of time and effort on this site—from the design, to the code, to the new navigation, and to an endless stream of tweaks and adjustments—and hope that it’s something you all can really enjoy. In 1995, Off on a Tangent’s distant predecessor (Website 1.0!!!) was a couple of sparse, hand-coded HTML pages on a free hosting provider with an audience of only a few people. Today it is a complex, content managed site with over 1,500 individual pieces of content that averages more than 300 hits per day. Not bad for a spare-time hobby, eh?

Today’s launch of v17 marks a continued evolution of a site that has become a decade-long labor of love. It is a fitting way to continue my little celebration of the site’s ten-year anniversary, and to continue plowing ahead into the future. Thank you all for your continued support, and I’d love to hear your comments!