NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

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!

Adjacent posts

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2 Comments

  1. 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

    # by Gael Tarleton :: December 25th, 2011 at 9:52 PM
  2. The new Por­tal is orga­nized, suc­cinct and com­plete­ly packed with pro­gres­sive infor­ma­tion at every lev­el. I’m impressed, great job folks, well done.

    # by stephen s :: December 27th, 2011 at 11:05 PM