Over the past few weeks, I’ve been diligently working on rewriting the software that powers my photography site. Today, the new version has officially launched! This rewrite is mostly a bunch of back-end changes to make my life a lot easier, but it also includes some front-end changes as well. Here’s what’s new from a technical perspective:
The site is now served over SSL thanks to DreamHost and the Let’s Encrypt program. Security boost for the win!
Collections have been replaced with Tags. I’m in the process of tagging things more carefully than they were previously.
The site now uses HTML 5.
The site is now powered by Python instead of PHP. I’m using the Django framework, which I’ve really come to enjoy. As a result, the number of lines of code have been drastically reduced (the project is nearly 50% smaller!).
As is typical when I launch stuff like this, there are still a few known issues:
The site doesn’t yet render like I want it to on mobile devices
Swipe support for navigation isn’t yet in place
The RSS feed doesn’t work (I simply forgot to implement it) This has been fixed!
I’m sure there are probably bugs lurking here and there. Let me know if you encounter any.
I’ve just posted a new photo album of a recent trip to Reynolda House in Winston-Salem. This estate, former home to R.J. Reynolds (founder of the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company), is truly astounding. If you’re ever in the area, I recommend it as a day trip.
I have also finally gotten around to rolling out some minor improvements at my photo site. Tall images should be scaled to fit the view-port now, though it’s not perfect (there are still some bugs lurking in the code). I hope to eventually improve this portion of the site, but for now it should prevent having to scroll around to see the whole image. (I’ve backed this change out since I’m not 100% happy with it).
I’ve finally gotten around to improving the mobile browsing experience for my photos. There are still a few nits I might try to improve (I hide EXIF information on screens smaller than 1024 pixels in width, collection previews don’t scale on the smallest screen sizes, etc), but it should be a much better experience than before. This should also hopefully help those of you who don’t have very wide screens.
Let me know if you spot any problems or have suggestions for improvement.
I’ve rolled out some improvements to the software powering my photos website. Visitors can now navigate through all of my favorite photos without having to use the back button in the browser (favorites are essentially their own album now). I’ve been wanting to fix this problem for some time, and it feels good to finally get it resolved!
I also stamped out a few bugs that crept in when I last updated the site. If you spot any problems with the photos site, or have suggestions for improvement, I’m all ears!
I have just posted new photos from Dismal Swamp State Park. This album also introduces my new photos-only sub-domain: photos.borngeek.com. The site utilizes a brand new design, larger album previews, and, beginning with this photo album, larger photos. There are a still a few items I have not yet implemented:
I want a better way to browse through favorite images Fixed!
Images should ideally not wrap off of the page (i.e. they should fit the viewport) This has been fixed, at least in the horizontal case
There should be some sort of “About” page since the site now stands alone Fixed!
None of these features seemed important enough to hold back opening it up to visitors, so that’s why I’m unveiling it today. I will be going back through my posts here and updating all the various links to point to the new URL (old URLs should hopefully redirect correctly). If you spot any bugs with the new site, please let me know. I tested with the latest versions of Firefox and Chrome, as well as Internet Explorer 8. I’d also love to hear your comments on the new site.
At some point last year, I noticed that the Google snippets for search results pointing to my photo section at this site were incorrect. Instead of listing helpful content, they instead showed page navigation information. Here’s an example:
Note how in this example, the snippet lists the links that appear in the navigation section of my site. That’s clearly unhelpful to users who find my content through search engines. As a result, I’m trying to fix this issue. Today, I made a change to include appropriate meta description tags on each page. The tags are as follows:
All “static” pages (list of albums, list of collections, and favorites) now use a suitable static page description
Album pages use the album description itself for the meta tag contents
Image pages use the image’s alt-text for the page description
I’m not sure if duplicating the content (in the case of the album description) is a wise decision or not, but I don’t know what else to put there. I suppose I could truncate the data to maybe 150 characters, but that might seem strange on a Google search result page. Do you have any suggestions for how search results of this type should appear? Any ideas would be welcome.
I have pushed out the changes I recently discussed to my photo album software. Album preview images now utilize the new 16:9 size, making it easier for me to select nice looking previews. Several album preview images have been changed as a result. The collection preview images have also been modified. I plan on doing some more work on collection previews in the near future, to allow for varying image collage templates.
Please let me know if you spot something broken. I made a lot of changes on the back end in the midst of doing this upgrade; hopefully I squashed any bugs that got introduced.
Over the past few months, I have been intermittently working on a few modifications to my photo album software here at the site. The only change I have pushed out to the site so far is moving my favorites to their own dedicated tab. Another change that I’m still pondering is a modification to the aspect ratio for photo album previews. Here’s an example of the change I’m thinking about making:
The example on the left shows an album preview block as it appears on the site today, while the example on the right shows how I plan to make the preview image larger (please ignore the color differences). Today, each album’s preview image is a 16-to-6.4 ratio image (250 x 100). This tight ratio makes finding a usable preview image harder than it should be. I’m thinking about changing the preview to a 16-to-9 ratio (roughly 250 x 140). Using this alternate ratio, should help make preview photos stand out a bit more, and will make it easier to select nice looking images. The down side to this change, however, is that is will push content farther down the page (not to mention the slightly longer load times for the larger images).
I have just updated Monkey Album yet again, this time adding support for displaying high-res versions of individual images. This feature will typically be used to link to large panoramic photos that I take. Previously, I had to do this by hand, linking to an image manually in the caption. The old way was rife with problems; this new implementation is much better (and more portable!).
All of my previous panoramic photo entries have been updated to use this new feature. You’ll note a new link area just above these pictures now. Simply click it to view the high-resolution version of that image. I’m hoping this implementation is clear enough to the lay-user. If you have suggestions for improvement let me know. You’ll also probably need to refresh your cached stylesheet if you’ve visited my photos page recently (otherwise the new style won’t show up properly).
Here’s a listing of the current images now using this feature:
I have just rolled out a brand new version of my Monkey Album software, which powers the photo albums here at this site. There are a number of great improvements in this release:
Photo Album Collections are a new way to browse my photos. Related photo albums are now grouped, allowing visitors to easily view albums with similar content. Note that not all photo albums are a part of a collection, so the raw album listing is still the default view.
Individual photo albums can now be navigated with the keyboard. The right arrow key will take you to the next photo, while the left arrow key will take you back to the previous photo.
Photo album thumbnails are no longer paged. Each photo album now appears on a single page.
The comment form has been turned off for now, as has the comments RSS feed. This was a feature not being used, so I’ve disabled it. It may or may not return in the future.
The styles for Monkey Album have changed, so be sure to force a refresh in your browser (Ctrl + F5) if things look broken to you. If you spot a legitimate problem, or if you have a general comment or suggestion, please let me know by leaving a comment here.
I’ve recently been thinking about ways to improve the organizational hierarchy of my photos. Specifically, I’d like to change the way photo albums are organized. A number of my albums fall into certain categories: state parks, festivals, zoos & museums, etc. As such, a categorical hierarchy could be very useful. One of my personal goals is to photograph every state park in North Carolina, and having a way of grouping those photo albums together would be terrific.
Two potential implementations for this occur to me. First, and most obviously, I could have a list of categories into which I assign each photo album (similar to the way blog posts are categorized in WordPress). Second is a “tagging” idea, where I simply add the appropriate tags to each photo album, then provide a mechanism to see albums with a given tag. Other solutions undoubtedly exist, and if you have an idea, let me know.
Changing the organization would most likely result in a rewrite of the main photography page. If I go with categories, I may have a page where the newest X photo albums would be shown, along with a few favorite images (that feature would stay), followed by the listing of available categories, rather than a listing of older albums. Perhaps a secondary page would allow you to view all old albums together.
How does that sound? Are there other ways that occur to you for organizing albums? How do you organize your personal collections? Sound off in the comments … I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I have updated the look and feel of the albums view in Monkey Album. Note that you may have to force a hard-refresh to get the new style sheet (Ctrl + F5 usually does it). The most recent photo album is now given a more prominent position on the page, appearing in the top left corner. To the right of the most recent album is the new favorites preview block, now showing only 4 favorites (instead of the old 7). Other album previews follow, allowing access to my “archived” photo albums. In addition, the page now shows 19 albums per page, as opposed to the 9 shown previously. I may bump this number up, or forgo multiple pages altogether (and just use one long page). We’ll see how it goes.
One other change has also been made. All thumbnail images now link to the #content portion of their respective pages. So, you’ll no longer have to scroll down to view the image when you follow a thumbnail’s link.
What do you think of these changes? Should I stick with them, or were things better previously? Are there any browsers where the look and feel appears broken? Your comments and suggestions are appreciated!
I’ve been doing some thinking recently about the pagination of my photo albums in Monkey Album. As of this writing, I have 34 photo albums posted, and they are broken across 4 pages (9 albums per page). My main problem with the current layout is that discovering that there are additional pages isn’t as easy or prominent as it probably should be. Here’s a screenshot of the current layout, with the pagination hints and elements highlighted:
My goal is to let the user know that there are more than 9 total albums. The first hint I provide is highlighted at the top of the screenshot, showing that the user is viewing albums X to Y of Z total albums (in the screenshot, we’re viewing albums 1 to 9 of 34 total). This is a helpful hint, but it sort of gets buried in the page. Perhaps the font face and color doesn’t help in this regard (in fact, I discovered last night that the font looks terrible when not using ClearType anti-aliasing). Does this hint feel buried to anyone else?
Page navigation buttons reside at the bottom of the page (the lower highlighted section in the screenshot). As a result of displaying 9 albums per page, and as it appears on my laptop with a screen resolution of 1400 x 1050, the navigation buttons are below the fold (to borrow a newspaper term). In other words, the user has to scroll down to see them. When the buttons do come into view, their small size doesn’t particularly help matters in discovery. In addition, having the “Favorite Photos” section directly beneath them also contributes to their getting lost.
With all that said, however, I’m not certain I know of a way of making my older photo albums, which appear on subsequent pages, more discoverable. Does anyone have any ideas or recommendations on how the current pagination scheme could be improved? I could display all my albums on one long page, but (a) the page becomes quite long, and (b) the Favorite Photos section gets pushed way down the page, losing prominence.
If you have a suggestion or idea for improvement, let me know in the comments!
I’ve made a slight update to image navigation in Monkey Album (thanks to a suggestion from Dustin). When browsing through an album, the image navigation will now automatically scroll you down the page, placing the image closer to the top. This helps the viewer see more of the image at once, reducing the need to scroll.
Comments or suggestions on how things could be improved further? Let me know!
I have made a few updates to Monkey Album. The first and most obvious update is that it now matches the new theme used here at Year of the Code Monkey. Not only are the styles different, but some of the underlying markup has been improved as well. The second big change is a clever implementation of image navigation. I got this idea via a nice implementation demo. Using purely CSS, the user now has a nice means of browsing through full-size album images.
One final change is that Monkey Album no longer supports Internet Explorer 6. Seeing as other big sites are dropping support, I am glad to do so as well. IE 6 visitors will be shown a notice, rather than the photo albums, and must upgrade to view my photos. For those of you who still use IE 6, please get with the times. Even IE 7 is a major step up (and IE 8 is now out).
I may drop IE 6 support on this website altogether, but I’m holding off on that for now. The new theme looks horrible in IE 6; (I tested it out this morning). I probably won’t put any serious effort into fixing those issues at this time.
I have turned on an option in Monkey Album that should help silence some of the harshest critics out there. Viewers of my photos may now click the photo itself to proceed to the next one. In the future, I’d like to implement a more elegant navigation approach, but this should suffice for now.
I’ve just rolled out a new version of the software that powers my photo albums. The only external change is a modification of the breadcrumbs when viewing an individual image. Instead of the image file name, you will now see a ‘X of Y’ progress indicator. This should make it a little clearer where you are in the album, and removes unimportant information from the breadcrumb list. Page titles for individual image pages have likewise been updated, making back history a little clearer.
One of the largest back end changes in this release is the ability to reorder album images. Previously, album images relied on their file name for sorting purposes. Albums now default to this when uploading, but the order can be changed after the fact. I plan on making some changes to at least one of my old albums using this new functionality.
I hope to offer a behind-the-scenes look at my photo album software in the coming days. Lots of updates have been made to the admin panel, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned. Stay tuned!
Late last night, I rolled out a new version of my photo album software. The largest new feature in this release is the Favorite Photos section. As I explain in that section of my photo gallery:
These images are my personal favorites from among all of my posted photographs, chosen either because I really liked the photo’s composition, or because the subject means a lot to me.
Here are some of the details about this new feature:
When browsing through the available photo albums, you’ll notice a ‘Favorite Photos’ section at the bottom of the page. This section will show 7 random images from the collection, and provides a link to browse all the favorites.
When browsing an album’s thumbnails, any favorites will be styled slightly differently (with a different background color) than their non-favorite counterparts. I tossed around using a ‘badge’ overlay with the thumbnails, and even implemented said feature, but I’m using the simpler styling for now (it presents a few less complications). I may switch to the badge at some point in the future.
Favorite images are also identifiable on their respective image pages (for those who browse albums by viewing all the images).
A few other minor features and fixes made it into this release. First, page titles now indicate where you are while browsing images. This is a big improvement over the previous “same title for every page” implementation. Second, page styles have been tweaked a bit. Colors have been improved in several areas, and text size has been decreased in the breadcrumb area. Finally, you’ll now note that my list of photo albums is now broken across multiple pages (I currently show 9 albums per page). This was a surprisingly difficult decision to make. Moving older albums off of the first page makes it more likely they won’t be viewed by new visitors to this site. At the same time, with the number of photo albums I have here, keeping them all on one page would push the new favorites feature to the bottom of a fairly tall page. In the end, I feel the new favorites feature is more interesting to new visitors than a listing of older albums.
I was hoping to have a new photo album to roll out with this update, but sadly I haven’t taken any serious photos in a while (my last album was quite honestly a halfhearted attempt). Since its inception, the number of photo albums I’ve posted per year has decreased dramatically (11 in 2006, 9 in 2007, and 5 in 2008). I intend to fix that this year.
Let me know what you think about the new features, and please report any bugs you spot. Thanks, and enjoy!
Over the past few months, I have been hard at work on a new version of Monkey Album, the software I use to display my photography at this site. The new version is now live, and includes the following changes:
This is a feature I’ve wanted to do since day 1. Visitors to this site may now leave comments on each picture, via a handy WordPress-style comment form. Akismet is being used for anti-spam purposes (it will be interesting to see how well it works), and several built-in WordPress functions are being used for sanitization purposes. I’m a little nervous about turning this feature on, but I will gauge how well it works over time and adjust as necessary. Thanks to the magic of cookies, you only need to enter your author information one time.
Better Album Previews
The previous album selection page was sorely in need of an update; it wasted too much screen space and generally looked bad. No more! Album previews are now handled in a much more professional manner, and I’m proud of the results. I really like the wide-screen style preview image, and I hope you do too.
Two feeds are now available for my photo album: a feed following new albums, and one following new comments. The latter is probably not as interesting to you as the former, but I’m making both available.
The overall presentation of my photos should be a little cleaner now. Vertical space has been improved, color schemes now match my primary site theme, and other minor tweaks have been made here and there.
In addition to these changes, a number of administrative changes have been made, all of which will make my life much easier. As always, if you find a bug, please let me know. So much has changed in this new release, that I’m sure a few things fell between the cracks; letting me know about them will help get them fixed quickly.