Changes, Changes

We have been in the process of redesigning and upgrading the Quillcards site, and we finally carried out the changeover yesterday.

We have been designing and tweaking the site on a development server (we used Heroku) so that we could test the changes without interfering with the day-to-day running of the ‘live’ site.

Additionally, the development site is password protected and we (Tamara and I) have been going in and tweaking bits of it and changing the text, the colors, and the layout.

I like the new look and the new navigation and improvements – and that’s saying a lot because my sense of how much I like our designs usually goes through rapid peaks and troughs.

If you have a website – maybe a site here on WordPress.com – then I am sure you know what I mean about the temptation to keep changing the look of things.

Overhead Walkway - Get From One Side To The Other

Other People’s Sites

Often I will go to a WordPress site that I follow, and find that the look of the site has changed completely.

The funny thing is that I can always find things to like in other people’s sites: And I can always find things to dislike in my own site.

And it is the same for the way I see Quillcards – and it is usually not very long before I want to rip up the design and start all over again.

But now the die is cast – at least for the medium term – and we have moved the code from the development server to the production server and ‘gone live’.

I was somewhat on tenterhooks because the new code has got to pick up and marry with the existing data. In fact it all went together very well, with just a couple of small snags that were easily dealt with.

From Cars To Code

It reminds me of the time (the only time) I and some friends changed the engine on our car. Everything worked except that the clutch wouldn’t engage. Then I tightened the connecting wire that ran under the car and suddenly – Bingo! – it worked.

I knew, of course, that cars parts are built on production lines to close tolerances – but nonetheless the fact that we could swap out a whole engine and that it worked. Amazing!

Perhaps even more surprising was that the changeover worked even though the car was very old. It was so old that the chassis under our feet had worn very thin.

It was so thin that every time we went through a puddle at speed, a fine misty spray filled the inside of the car.

So with code, the fact that the new code actually married up and captured all the existing data – and works with it – is amazing to me too.

That may surprise you. After all, it is digital code, so everything is built of discrete parts that are an exact fit. Nothing is built to close tolerances – it either passes through the digital gate or it doesn’t.

But, and this is the big ‘but’ it’s not just a few lines of code – there are many lines of code in lots of files that all go together to make up the site.

Ruby On Rails

Quillcards is written in Ruby – which is a fairly new programming language built on an equally fairly new framework named Rails. Ruby On Rails (ROR) is becoming more popular all the time. In fact Twitter was originally built on it although I didn’t know it was at the time we chose the language as the way we would build our site.

[Twitter subsequently moved away from ROR because of scaling problems. What that means is that Twitter gets so many requests per second that they needed to change to another framework that would handle them, but that’s another story.]

Lots of other sites are built on ROR including Basecamp, Hulu, Zendesk, Github, GetSatisfaction, and CrazyEgg, to name just a few.

I Met A Man

But on the subject of making changes to code and having everything still work, I met someone the year before who was working in Germany on mid-level smartphones for a big company.

He told me how the development team had inherited some of the code they used in the phones they were working on from another company that had originally designed them.

He said that his team worried about changing even one bit of one line of the legacy code they had inherited.

That was because no-one could say with certainty exactly how those millions of lines of code might interact with the change in all kinds of unforeseen ways.

Interactive Sites

In common with many sites (and with smartphones), Quillcards is interactive – meaning that their is interaction between the user and the site- as opposed to a static site where the visitor would just be able to read what is there on the page.

That means that there is always the input from the user to consider. Luckily though we don’t have any legacy code.

For our part, we test and we test and we try to do everything in as many possible combinations as possible, including in unusual ways that no-one would do.

Test And Test Again

Testing – even for small sites – is guaranteed to make you go cross-eyed as you hop from one part of the site to another and do all the things the site is supposed to allow you to do.

That’s because all the time we have to have your eyes peeled for changes that we might otherwise fail to see.

For example, it is ever so easy to fail to notice that a line of explanatory text has disappeared.

And then not only does the site have to work – it has to work in various browsers and at various resolutions – and now on tablets and smartphones as well.

I marvel at people who write code all day and make things work in a stable way.

Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow

One of the things that can slow down a site is images. They have to be a certain quality or they won’t look good. But better quality means larger file sizes – which, potentially, makes sites slow.

So together with changing the design of the site we have also pushed all our images out to the ‘Cloud’ on Amazon’s S3 multiple servers. Because they are located worldwide, it makes the process of serving them up to visitors much quicker.

Actually, thanks to our code, we have been pretty fast anyway, even before using S3.

We employ a coder who makes very efficient code. I periodically test to see how the code is running and am always impressed with how it stacks up against other sites.

Spot The Unexpected

On the subject of noticing changes, have you seen this?

17 thoughts on “Changes, Changes

  1. reb

    Gee…I didn’t see the gorilla the first time?! What’s the matter with me?! LOL
    I like to change … right now I’m down to two themes in WP that I like; Ari and Adventure Travel.

    I have a great deal of admiration of code writers, that make it work. I know very little, but enough to appreciate it. Last night, I bought domain mapping for my blog. Two times it went down.

    I realized I’ll never get colderweather.COM, so I decided to go for mapping of the .NET that I already had.

    Going to have a look at the re-designed Quillcards now 🙂

    Like

    1. It’s a fantastic illustration of ‘blindness’ isn’t it. I saw it on TV the first time and completely missed the gorilla.

      I’m not with you on the domain mapping? What did you buy and from whom?

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      1. reb

        LOL For more than a year I’ve been wanting colderweather.COM. It’s taken. I already owned colderweather.NET but had it over at Blogger. So, in WordPress, I signed up for what they call ‘domain mapping’. I moved the .NET over to WordPress, so my Fluffy Flurries is now colderweather.net. And for that, they charge me $12 a year.

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    1. I didn’t know that (about Posterous being built on ROR). I think it is a good move for Twitter to buy it – they need a better visual presence. And for Posterous, I think it was falling behind against Tumblr, so a good move for them too.

      Facebook buying Instagram on the other hand – grrr. 😉

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      1. reb

        I think the ‘fans’ of Posterous lost it a little, with all the changes … «spaces» and whatnot…and then, of course, Tumblr.

        As a BlackBerry owner, I guess I can nothing but smile at the Instagram issue — first it was released to Android users, which apparently was a let-down for the iPhone community. Funny…how these ‘communities’ form really, amongst grown-ups :D.

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        1. reb

          Me etiher, even though I don’t know Instagram ‘personally’. Wondering what they’re going to do with it –*remembering FriendFeed*

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        2. reb

          On the other hand — there was hardly a word in the media about Twitter acquiring Posterous either, and I can’t figure out what they will do with it…

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        3. I can see Posterous being useful for Twitter because I can see the day when people would think Twitter was too restrictive visually.

          If Twitter could show images in the stream and stick with 140 characters, I think that would be enough to maintain interest in Twitter for a while – an images could be the route into enabling advertisers to make an impression on Twitter – and a way for Twitter to make money from advertising.

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        4. reb

          Yes, that’s a good point. It’s rather amazing that they’re [Twitter] still kickin’ after all these years. Six years is a long time in this age..

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        5. I think the next big thing will be when we can do a kind of Escher/Mobius strip and be simultaneously in our own spaces and other spaces – in our own blogs and in Twitter and Facebook and etc. – all at the same time. A kind of three-dimensional hologram space on the computer – like a visualisation of having a face-to-face conversation. And I think it will be Google that introduces it. Maybe not this decade, though 😉

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        6. reb

          I’ve been thinking something along these lines for some time. I feel bad for Google, somehow. Everyone was excited when Wave was about to be released — the hype was immense, it was going to replace email [still you needed an email to sign up?!], then the Buzz flop. Now we have Plus, which I find being a really good product, but a little late..

          There’s something about the ‘feel’ of Google that seems to have changed — maybe it’s just in my head 🙂

          Like

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