Sunday 31 October 2010

Word from our webmaster

Written by Cha's webmaster JJ, this post was originally posted on 16th September, 2009.

Readers of this blog might already be familiar with Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, co-edited by Tammy and Jeff. I’m the webmaster of Cha, and Tammy asked me to write a few words about it so here goes.

As might be obvious from the site, I’m not a professional web designer. In fact, I had to learn how to do it on the fly. Luckily today it’s not just writing HTML with Notepad but there exists a fine selection of (free) content management systems out there that do most of the work. I chose Joomla as the system to use and plagiarized pre-existing templates shamelessly, which wasn’t as hard as you might think. The gist of it is that all the poems, stories and whatnot are stored in a database and edited with a web UI, and the webmaster just needs to define what it looks like with a single css file and sit back and watch. But reality is not that simple.

First problem is, that there are a million little things that throw off the layout and look of the site just slightly. Paragraph breaks for example: a single line break looks different than using a tag, so if you’re not careful the stories are going to be wildly inconsistent, so I need to review every entry manually just to be sure. Another issue is browser compatibility, because Internet Explorer still doesn’t work the same way as Firefox, and figuring out workarounds to get something working in another browser at worst means doing the same formatting twice in two different ways. If I didn’t have an obsessive compulsive disorder there is no way I’d manage.

Another big issue, and probably more interesting, is that the website can never be really static. It’s our goal to introduce something new in terms of the website functionality for each issue (although next February is looking a bit bleak in that regard). The second issue introduced better photo browsing and search, third issue had archive, fourth issue little navigation tips on top of each page and so on. But these features require time to implement, and as a somewhat lazy person this is a big hurdle. The additions should be done in a way that doesn’t introduce more work for every issue because if we were to make every issue harder and harder to add the whole thing would crumble eventually. In this category my lack of professionalism is also the most obvious, and that is why the archived issues look like crap.

The most immediate concerns right now in terms of the website is to fix the archives to look nicer and be easier to navigate. I don’t know how Tammy does it, but she seems to attract quite a high caliber of contributions to the journal and it’s only fair that I ought to do my best to make the site work smoothly enough that people want to read them. In the future, it’s obvious that static websites will give room to more dynamic “social networking communities” or whatever it is that kids call it these days, so it might be that next year this time Cha also has more means for its readers to comment, rate, or otherwise contribute to the site. If I can get off my lazy butt, that is.

One Response “Word from our webmaster” →

January 16, 2009
Nice hearing from a lit mag editor who uses Joomla. I don’t know much about that platform.

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