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Overview of the Improvements in Newport (Pacific NW Portal Version 5.0)

After many years of development, Pacific NW Portal Version 5.0 (Newport) is finally ready for your browsing pleasure. The following post constitutes our official changelog for Version 5.0; it describes the changes we made to the Portal and our reasons for doing so. Please feel free to leave questions, suggestions for future versions, or other thoughts on Newport in the comment thread.

Thanks and enjoy!

Overall Site Improvements

  • Speedier loading. Newport is easily the fastest version of Pacific NW Portal ever. The site has been re-engineered from the ground up for quicker initial loading and faster refreshes. We no longer use JavaScript to display feeds (or any content, for that matter). Our server does the heavy lifting of processing and rendering feeds, instead of your browser. Users of older browsers and platforms, in particular, should see an improvement in page loading times.
  • Better accessibility; minimal use of JavaScript. As mentioned, the amount of JavaScript used on Pacific NW Portal has been vastly reduced. We’ve taken a progressive enhancement approach as far as JavaScript goes: having it enabled adds a little extra magic, but it isn’t required to make things work. This allows users who choose to have JavaScript disabled to still make nearly complete use of the Portal. It also allows users on older devices that do not support JavaScript to begin with to use the Portal.
  • Reliability improved…again. Pacific NW Portal’s new Cache Service keeps a copy of all feeds crawled by our aggregator until the next successful crawl, instead of reading feeds on the fly. The Cache Service virtually eliminates lag and helps ensure reliable page loads, so you don’t see error messages or empty space where feeds should be.
  • Optimized for wider screens. The Portal’s dimensions onscreen have changed. The site is now designed for screens with a resolution of at least 1024 by 768 pixels. Pretty much every flat screen monitor out there has a native resolution of 1024 by 768 or higher (this is also true of tablet screens!) Those still using CRT monitors have the ability to boost their resolution to 1024 by 768 without any image degradation, so nobody should be seeing horizontal scrollbars as a result of this change.
  • Edgy facelift. A beautiful new set of graphics for page titles and headings have been rolled out, featuring imagery from across the Pacific Northwest (most of it from NPI’s photo library). The last traces of Garamond are gone; Book Antiqua and Trebuchet MS are now the only fonts in use.
  • Intelligent troubleshooting. If for some reason a feed won’t load, Pacific NW Portal will display a friendly error message explaining that there was a problem and suggest troubleshooting steps.
  • Easier feed reading. Individual items are now generally displayed site-wide as lists, with bullets denoting each item. Hyperlinks are also often emphasized in boldface. We hope this makes browsing the Portal easier.
  • Valid HTML5. All of Pacific NW Portal’s pages now use the HTML5 doctype and validate as HTML5 – which means the Portal should render smoothly in any modern, standards-compliant web browser.

Front Page

  • New design. The front page has undergone a major redesign. It’s more  colorful than it used to be, while managing to be cleaner at the same time. Borders, on-focus highlighting, and gradients have been added to help organize the content and make it more readable.
  • Welcome carousel. At the top of the front page, under the navigation, is a new slider, or carousel, which explains what Pacific NW Portal is and offers tips on how to use the site. One of the slides contains a mini-video which demonstrates how to make use of the new What’s this? tooltips.
  • Stronger emphasis on NPI’s work. Three new sections underneath the nameplate and welcome carousel allow readers to keep up with all of NPI’s projects and publications. In Depth offers the latest commentary and analysis from The Advocate, In Focus presents announcements and updates from NPI projects like Permanent Defense, and In Brief contains news and links curated by NPI’s staff, board, and contributors.
  • Stories organized by scope. The front page now presents news organized by level – Federal, State, and Local. Each level has its own column. The Federal column primarily features stories about national politics, the State column primarily features stories about regional politics, and the Local column has stories about city, county, and community politics. Indexed sources include newspapers, blogs, television networks, and radio stations committed to traditional journalism or progressive advocacy journalism.
  • Context is just a click away. The front page is admittedly pretty packed with feeds, and can feel to overwhelming to a new user. So we’ve added some really nifty What’s this? tooltips to provide a description for each feed. Simply click on the heading for any feed on the front page, and a tooltip will pop up with an explanation of what that feed is. Note that this is an advanced feature and requires JavaScript to be enabled to work.
  • Say hello to Campaign Buzz, Occupy Radar and the PNW Topic Hotlist. At the bottom of the front page are three new columns. One tracks the latest posts from Democratic campaign blogs. The second compiles updates from the Occupy movement in all major Pacific Northwest cities. And the third shows blog entries sorted by noteworthy current events, as curated by the PNW Topic Hotlist.

New pages

  • Introducing Breaking Now. The Highlights and Regional Wire pages have been completely replaced by Breaking Now, which takes over the job of providing unfiltered updates from the Portal’s broad array of sources in reverse chronological order. Breaking Now is divided into two categories, Breaking Locally and Breaking Nationally. Each category is further subdivided into two feeds: one comprising progressive media outlets and one comprising conventional media outlets. These feeds collectively show the latest eighty posts from all of the sources that we index.
  • Say hello to NW Life. NW Life replaces what used to be called the Toolkit. It tracks business, local nonprofit, and labor headlines, weather reports, and traffic conditions. All weather data, including the forecasts and radar imagery, are now provided directly by the National Weather Service instead of a for-profit intermediary like AccuWeather.
  • A real Toolkit for users in need of assistance. Although NW Life has replaced what used to be called the Toolkit, the Portal now has a proper Toolkit, which exists to help users troubleshoot any problems they may be experiencing with the Portal. The Toolkit also contains bookmarking utilities and an explanation of technical terms.

Regional Blogs Directory

  • Blogs now organized by city. Blogs listed in Pacific NW Portal’s Regional Blogs Directory are now organized by city of publication, with cities listed in alphabetical order. Seattle, Portland, and Boise naturally have more blogs compared to other cities in their respective states, because they are the region’s biggest population centers.
  • Major directory update. Since the directory was last checked for accuracy from top to bottom, many local progressive blogs have sadly gone dormant or disappeared altogether. We have removed the dead blogs so that only active ones are listed, and added all of the new ones submitted to us. In 2012, we hope to launch an online archive of the deleted blogs so that their authors’ works can remain accessible and available.

State pages

  • Idaho finally has its own page! Idahoans, rejoice. We now have three state pages… including one for the Gem State. The Idaho Digest, which has been a planned addition for a very long time, has joined the Washington Outlook and Oregon Bulletin, with all the same features.
  • Syndicated blogs moved to state pages. All syndicated blogs may now be found on our state pages. Eight progressive blogs are now syndicated for each state, for a total of twenty-four. New posts from syndicated blogs also appear in chronological order with posts from other progressive and traditional media sources on Breaking Now and the front page.
  • Expanded newswires. Next to the syndicated blogs on each state page is the Newswire for that state, which presents the latest stories about state-level politics published by traditional media sources, including newspapers, radio stations, and television networks. Sophisticated filters ensure that the Newswires only contain political stories.
  • More and better local newsfeeds. State pages now have a total of seven local newsfeeds each. The ten most recent stories indexed are shown for each state’s largest city (Seattle, Portland, Boise) while four stories are shown for the other cities. Stories from all twenty-one cities also appear on the front page under the Local column.

Recommended browsers

Pacific NW Portal is best experienced using a modern browser. We have thoroughly tested the new Portal in all of the latest versions of the leading major browsers:

  • Firefox 9 (Firefox is, in our opinion, still the best browser out there, despite strong competition. We highly recommend both the desktop version for Windows, Mac, and GNU/Linux, as well as Firefox Mobile for Android).
  • Internet Explorer 9 (The Portal also works in Internet Explorer 8, but unfortunately IE 8 is missing support for some of the site’s more advanced features. Those will degrade gracefully if you’re using IE 8).
  • Chromium 18 (Note that we recommend against using Google Chrome for privacy reasons. Chrome = Chromium + proprietary Google software designed to track user behavior. To enjoy Chrome without being spied on, use a non-Google build of Chromium like ChromePlus).
  • Opera 11.60 (Desktop only, please note that Pacific NW Portal 5 looks very broken in Opera Mini. We advise sticking to your native browser if you are an iPhone, Windows Phone 7+, or BlackBerry OS 6.0+ user. If you are an Android user, we recommend Firefox for Mobile).
  • Safari 5 (Note that some features do not work optimally in Safari; however, there are no showstopping bugs you need to worry about).

Although we did minimally test Newport for compatibility with Internet Explorer 6 and 7, we cannot guarantee that any of Newport’s advanced features will work. If you’re fond of Internet Explorer, please upgrade to IE 8, or ideally, IE 9 (unfortunately IE 9 is only available to users of Windows Vista or Windows 7).

Alternatively, switch to Firefox. The latest version of Firefox works on Windows XP. (Amazingly, it also works on Windows 2000, which is more than a decade old).

In addition to testing Newport on all the major desktop browsers and smartphone platforms, we also tested it extensively on tablets, including Apple’s iPad, RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Newport was built on your ideas

Many of the new features or changes we’re unveiling today were suggested by readers like you who have loyally supported Pacific NW Portal for many years. For example, the Cache Service was proposed by our good friend Kari Chisholm, the idea to create NW Life came from Rowan Wolf, and the improved navigation bar (which is consistent on every page) was suggested by Daniel Kirkdorffer.

If you have an idea for the next incarnation of the Portal, please share it with us. Chances are pretty good that it could be included!

2 Comments

  1. Posted December 25th, 2011 at 9:52 PM | Permalink

    Like most non-profit Board Presidents, I know how much work is done behind the scenes by people like Andrew and his team of dedicated NPI volunteer staff. So I’m giving a shout-out to NPI for the Version 5.0 Pacific NW Portal. Even if you don’t want to read Andrew’s comprehensive explanation of the launch, think of it this way: Users Rule the Online Airwaves! All the qualities you expect and more – content sourcing, search agility, visual displays, and private navigating power -come through Pacific NW Portal to you. You’re building it. Let your friends know they, too, can be part of the online news aggregating-sharing revolution.
    Gael Tarleton
    NPI Board President

  2. Posted December 27th, 2011 at 11:05 PM | Permalink

    The new Portal is organized, succinct and completely packed with progressive information at every level. I’m impressed, great job folks, well done.