Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Performance and cocktails - What we're changing on the Sidepodcast homepage and why

Published by Mr. C

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the Sidepodcast homepage is undergoing some changes right now. Although a considerable amount of discussion has been ongoing in the comments, it's probably worth summarising what's being altered and why.

Sidepodcast image

Those with long memories will recall a post back in November 2008 asking for improvement suggestions for version three of the website. We received a fantastic response which highlighted flaws in existing pages, and pointed us in the right direction for the future. Later that same month, we rather optimistically claimed updates might be forthcoming by January 2009.

We might have missed that deadline.

The start of the season rolled around, and although we managed to push through a major update to the live commenting dashboard in the summer, we made heavy work of achieving anything of note, beyond the always-in-beta playground. Donington's pathetic attempts at construction this year have nothing on Sidepodcast.

Hurry up and wait

We vastly underestimated the effort required, and we cannot emphasise enough the frustration we've experienced having to work with the outdated structure for such an extended period, but we absolutely had no intention of finishing the season with the same site with which we started.

So last week, both Christine and I put in some overtime and managed to release the skeleton framework that adorns the homepage right now. It's not perfect, it's not even 50% finished, but it's still a vast improvement.

Efforts have focused almost exclusively on performance, and there's a significant improvement in the speed that new pages load, especially on mobile devices. This has the additional advantage of reducing load on the web server, which in time should reduce our monthly hosting costs.

I've done a number of ad-hoc comparisons today, and our homepage load time compares very favourably to other F1 blogs. Earlier, content was refreshing faster even than the traditionally super-quick Autosport site. Your mileage may vary though, and we're keen to learn how you're finding the experience.

I'm just looking

Something that hasn't been picked up by anyone in the comments thus far, is the distinct lack of advertising to be found on new pages. It could be because so many people run ad-blocking software these days, that no-one's noticed, or maybe because the old adverts were subtle enough that no-one's spotted they are now absent. Either way, Google ads have temporarily been removed. In place we've included a number of PayPal buttons that allow people to easily donate, to help with the cost of running Sidepodcast.

We'll delve into this in more detail in a future post, but we're going to see if a combination of reducing hosting expenses coupled with very kind donations from listeners, will enable us to break even with this project, and at the same time remove the need to run unsolicited advertising. Things may not work out like that, and if so we'll happily bring the ads back. The site looks better without them, so if they can be avoided then all the better.

All of the recent updates haven't just improved the outward facing site, internally we now have a lot less work to do in order to keep the site updated.

In the past, following every podcast, Christine would manually update the archive page, the seasons page and any relevant podcast feeds. It used to be the case that once a show was finished, the real work began, but thankfully now we've eradicated much of the repetitive work, hopefully freeing us to get on with more creative endeavours. With any luck next year will be a lot easier than this one.

Maybe tomorrow

Clearly there's more work to do with the remainder of the site, and we'll continue to progress as soon as possible. Releasing the changes at the time we did, allowed us to monitor the site under race weekend conditions. That kind of situation is hard to repeat during a quiet off-season, so we're very glad we did what did, when we did it. To the unwary, right now navigation probably feels a little disconcerting and we can only apologise.

Going forward, there are even more exciting enhancements in the pipeline, but please don't encourage us to set another deadline we'll fail to hit.

It goes without saying that we're incredibly grateful for all the feedback we've received relating to the redesign, it wouldn't be half as good if we were left to our own devices. Thank you.