Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
Ideas? Technical issues?
» Feedback to a-n
By: Richard technical@a-n
a-n is planning the next reincarnation of a-n.co.uk. This blog logs the process and seeks your advice and ideas. We will, a bit further down the line, run the new site as a beta version alongside the existing - an experimental playground that we can all explore.
# 1 [1 March 2012]
June will see the last printed a-n Magazine. For me this will be a particularly sad occasion as I set up the original 'Artists Newsletter' way back in 1980. It's also a breath of fresh air - a chance to relook and reconsider how a-n can best match what we do to the interests and concerns of artists in this dire financial environment.
Very recent @an_magazine Twitter discussions raise the hope that a-n will redirect the released resources rather than just save them. That's exactly what we are going to do.
And one of the beneficaries will be a revamped website - a fix of the things that don't work so well (quite a lot) and a chance to bring on lots of new things. Actually a new start with a new database and lots of new tools for artists to share and communicate and discover. And a massive simplification of the navigation structure.
# 2 [2 March 2012]
The current website is a-n's fourth. For historical interest I thought I'd show images of the previous three. But where can I find the images.
The earliest versions were static html pages - not driven by a database and those pages will be saved safe somewhere - probably on a zip disk (who remembers zip disks now?). But do we have a working zip drive with usb anywhere?
The version before the current website was dynamic - driven by a database - but that database doesn't exist any longer in its original form, and certainly not on any server anywhere.
Meanwhile a-n is handing over its paper-based history to Sunderland University as an accessible research archive.
There's irony in possibly having to resort to print to find any images of our past digital resources.
I will continue the hunt.
# 3 [3 March 2012]
Friday I went to a get-together for companies based at the Toffee Factory - a new space for creative businesses which will soon become the base for a-n's Newcastle office - a move that will save on the current rent and rates.
Someone (I have immediately forgotten the names of everyone I met - sorry) from Sumo, a design company based there, said that they used a-n.co.uk to research possible arts clients - an unexpected use of the a-n website.
I have also just discovered that Neil Armstrong, a current blogger on Artists Talking is also now based there.
But I'm avoiding the issue - the development of the website.
We don't have a comprehensive master plan or specification. We do have ideas - many from subscriber suggestions or wish lists - some of our own. Some more advanced than others.
We know the shortcomings with the current site and will try and redress them.
As we feel our way forward we will make each stage live and welcome feedback - a kind of parallel beta site will emerge - in the early stages essentially un-designed and raw.
The next post will describe where we are starting.
# 4 [4 March 2012]
'News', 'Blogs' and 'Reviews' are fast out of the starting gate with News a head ahead.
Enough of racing. The first thing we will be looking at is developing a visual arts news service. And then probably (as we are feeling our way forward our path may need to divert) blogs and reviews - taking on board as many of your wishes for new features that have been stated over the months on these pages.
The news service will provide 'news in brief' as well as more considered analysis and research. But this coming Tuesday we will be firming up our thinking and I will report back in more detail then.
# 5 [5 March 2012]
I have just been asked whether the new website will allow co-authoring of blogs. The simple answer is yes we intend to build this in.
We are thinking that one or more subscribers can adopt a shared profile under which the blog is published. But each person's post will be identified as having been written by them. And writer's will only be able to edit their own posts.
Some other things on our wish list for blogs - some of which probably won't make it to the final specification because of complexity or cost and others will have to be phased in:
- Ability to use larger images
- Ability to embed images within the text block
- The possibility of a gallery type presentation for a batch of images
- The possibility of using images from remote urls
- Ability to have both flat and threaded comments
- Ability for author to add tags to the blog
- Ability to search/filter blogs by tags
- Ability for user to have short/personalised/slug url
- Ability to import blogs from elsewhere via api: Blogger, Wordpress (not sure this is possible with wordpress).
- An api to embed an a-n blog in other sites
- Number of views
- Ability to 'like' a post
- Ability to embed links in the posts
- Ability to upload a new post by email
- A mobile app to post blogs (probably a long shot)
- Widgets to show various limited selections (editor's choice, most popular, most recent)
Please add your wish list (or things you don't want to see) in the comments below:
# 6 [6 March 2012]
Thanks to Eleonora for her comment pointing me to http://web.archive.org that takes snapshots of websites. A new one on me. So this is the previous site on 30 October 2007 at
# 7 [7 March 2012]
Occasional conundrum #1
Swiss army knife or chef's knife?
A web and app developer we were talking to the other day raised this question as to which you would use to make a great meal.
We were discussing the balance between feature rich and simplicity when approaching a new project. His view was that the single purpose, the clearly-defined, simple but perfect for the job - the chef's knife - would give the best results.
But I have a liking for the Swiss army knife - the many-featured, multi-functional something that might help you survive in variable, less than perfect environment.
And of course the chef requires the use of several perfectly formed tools to survive Master Chef, not just the knife.
But changing the analogy I thought it would be rather sad and unproductive if iced-in ducks on a frozen pond were unable to socialise.
But the serious point and a dilemma here. The really good and successful apps and websites tend to have a single clear objective - Twitter for example. But the new a-n site has several different functions to perform, it will need to be a mixed bag - and to work as a mixed bag. It will need the parts to join up - the ducks to socialise - the blades to be connected.
Does this mean an inevitable loss of quality in each individual part - the Swiss army knife? Or can we have simple, great and joined up?
# 8 [8 March 2012]
As promised here's a brief outline of the first section of the new website to be developed - News.
As a new feature it allows us to experiment a little bit with the basic structure, design and user interface without affecting anything already existing. We can use it to start building the foundations - the new database and templates.
It will run stories, news briefs and longer analysis covering arts and cultural politics, key events and activities in this country and internationally. And as you'd expect of a-n it will give good coverage of artist-led and independent-organiser activities without neglecting the bricks and mortar side of the industry.
And again as you'd expect from a-n - using news contributors from across the country and further afield - we will try to ensure there's neither a London-centric nor a regional bias.
It will carry sound and video as well as images and text.
We want to be able to group stories around a festival or event - a focus that can subvert the normal flow of stories for a day or two.
The news service will be freely available - not behind the subscriber/membership login-in - but subscriber/members will be able to opt for daily or weekly e-alerts of new news. We are also planning a monthly digest - the exact format, or formats, of which we are still exploring to ensure that it is accessible outside of web-pages.
# 9 [12 March 2012]
Tomorrow we will be discussing with AIR how a revamp of the website can help with AIR's advocacy and representation roles as well as general communications with and between AIR members.
Whilst AIR and a-n are inextricably linked they have different focuses and the website will need to reflect both the distinctions and the homogenouity.
What developments can a-n and AIR share to maximise the cost effectiveness and timeline priorities? What features will be unique to either?
Initial thinking is that the site is conceptually split into 4 sections. Public - outward facing - sections for both AIR and a-n - which will be accessible to all and a members section for both AIR and a-n which will be behind the login.
| | |
| AIR | a-n |
| Public | Public |
| | |
| | |
| | |
| AIR | a-n |
| members | members |
| | |
| | |
Inevitably a number of things won't want to fix into those boxes, will want to be in more than one box or simply won't recognise any boxes at all.
The news service will fit into the a-n public section. The blogs will want to straddle a-n public and members sections. The login system will need to be in both the a-n and AIR members sections.
I foresee a planning session with flip charts and postit notes.
# 10 [19 March 2012]
Reporting back from a very constructive meeting with representatives from AIR.
1. AIR to have its own public facing pages under the www.air-artists.org domain
2. a-n to similarly have its own public facing pages under the www.a-n.co.uk domain.
4. These to have mutual links to each other as sister sites.
5. A set of logos needed to reflect the inextricable but semi-autonomous relationship between AIR and a-n activities.
6. All material on the public-facing sites will be freely accessible.
7. The AIR site to focus on the public presentation of its representation and campaigning activities
8. The a-n site to focus around four themes - visual arts news service, blogs, reviews and research
9. Wherever possible sites to shared the same functions/tools to minimise development costs.
10. All sites to have a shared Login and Membership subscription functions.
12. On logging in the user is taken directly to the user's personalised dashboard in a cross AIR, a-n members area.
13. The members area to allow (optional) the logged-in user to fine tune their dashboard to reflect their particular interests but this will not prevent or hide away access to the complete set of resources.
14. The members area will contain a mix of resources, with personal and group profiling, tools for locating and communicating with other members, information resources with personal filtering and bookmarking, professional development tools, polling and campaigning, and event tools.
15. Members will be able to control at will the breadth and depth of their visibility within the community - all profiling data will be optional and members will be able to decide who can see what.
This is a very broad outline that will guide future more detailed planning.
I'm building a-n's new website - shaping requirements and wish lists, commissioning designers and programmers and checking functions, features and the user interface.