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Shaping a new

By: Richard technical@a-n

a-n is planning the next reincarnation of 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.

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# 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.

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Have I missed something? I can't see on this blog the rationale for this? Why are we suddenly becoming a website and no longer a magazine? Cost? I shall be very sad. I read the magazine in bed, on the train, in the car- stolen minutes out of a busy life. Then it goes to the arts forum I run and someone else will pick it up and take it home to read it. What a shame. Subscribing to a website doesn't feel the same. A simpler navigation system will be good though!

posted on 2012-03-08 by Franny Swann

I send more condolences from another reader that knows that he won't 'read' the magazine online, and CERTAINLY not on twitter. Please please please continue to publish a-n once a month - and I mean even the online version. Please do not allow the website to be updated as and when people upload articles and posts. I truly hope this is temporary measure and that we can look forward to the magazine dropping through our letter boxes and being in bookshops, art centres, libraries and our studios again soon. I share the same sentiments as Carolyn, Clare and Sophie. You will be missed old friend!

posted on 2012-03-08 by Stuart Mayes

Just wondered what this means for your grant funding and whether you'll be investing properly in a website? I note that subscriptions continue at the same cost. As a national portfolio organisation, a-n The Artists Information Company has been offered 211,321 in 2012/2013, 216,393 in 2013/2014 and 222,019 in 2014/2015. This is subject to a funding agreement being agreed.

posted on 2012-03-08 by Ivan Pope

I just won't read it on line ... I know it. It has to be paper for me. A very sad day.

posted on 2012-03-02 by Carolyn Shepherd

I agree here, I understand the need to update but because my other job is based on a computer for hours it's been blissful to my eyes to read a paper copy of AN at leisure.

posted on 2012-03-02 by Clare Maynard

I was very sad this morning to read that a-n will no longer be a 'hard copy' magazine - particularly because I often read it at times when I feel 'computered out' - and most commonly in the bath as it is the only chance I get to read anything. With a high computer demand household I imagine I will now be reading less than ever before but I do hope not and luddite though it is - I still prefer traditional paper when it comes to reading.

posted on 2012-03-01 by Sophie Cullinan

# 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.

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Thanks Eleonora - that's a new one on me - spies everywhere (not you but the WayBackMachine). I have now posted on image of the previous version. But we are older than wayBackMachine's memory - so still need to delve into our zip archives. Zip drives/disks where essentially extended floppy disk technology pushing storage capacity from 1.4Mb to a massive 100Mb and then, by then USB equipped, to 250Mb, and finally to an astounding 750Mb before they quietly gave way to cds.

posted on 2012-03-06 by Richard technical@a-n

What an interesting reflection on archiving and documentation in the digital age. A quicker solution than unearthing zip-disks (what are zip disks?) may be to try the WayBackMachine, it looks like they have snapshots of the a-n website since its inception!*/

posted on 2012-03-06 by Eleonora Schinella

Comment removed by the writer [7 July 2012]

posted on 2012-03-05 by David Riley

I don't think I said that we had lost any data - sorry if I implied it. All the data is backed up in a number of ways and has been transfered from one version of the website to the next. This will also be the case in the forthcoming version. What we haven't done is to keep old websites live and still able to be run as a website and therefore have to rely on screen grabs taken at the time to show what they looked like - they exist but need tracking down.

posted on 2012-03-05 by Richard technical@a-n

Hello Richard and David; what about this then? If you had loads and loads of money would you put it all in one bank? or would you spread things over a range of banks, property or financial products? Is this the same, spread the format away from one digital source and use digital publishing site ISSUU for example, pdf forms on other publishing sites, hard copy, typed manuscripts, printed photos etc. So when lightning strikes not all is lost. Is artwork the same and switching around using digital and permant mediums alike? or is it getting silly now? This is our business as I think DOCUMENTATION...might also be the role of the artist as well as the publisher.

posted on 2012-03-05 by Rob Turner

Comment removed by the writer [7 July 2012]

posted on 2012-03-05 by David Riley

Hi Richard Technical, great name. That is a truly amazing piece of information. Imagine having to travel to a library to get something photocopied, that used to be downloadable only several years ago? Digital archiving, Sounds like exactly the same issues as micro film sheets and slides etc, all out moded technologies. So already out of date. Is this true or a made up blog? I have had to wear white gloves in library or records offices in hushed rooms with special access to maps and that drawn in 1720 or something, and I can feel sort of justified traveling to get that info. But something that was downloadedable recently? That is amazing. So much artwork on cloud sites now and one day.....a buy out....or contract change and poof ....gone. Fragile. Better work in stone.

posted on 2012-03-02 by Rob Turner

# 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 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.


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hi Richard - i was at the Toffee Factory do but had to leave early so must have missed you. I think you will find the TF is a really nice environment - so good luck for the future and hope to meet everyone soon. As regards the demise of print - I have to say I often read the printed version of AN at breakfast or in bed and don't much relish reading articles on my laptop :( Having said that, I realise the cost of print must be a limiting factor so hope this turns out to be a positive in disguise once you get all the new functionality sorted! I am starting a new project blog shortly and like the fact that once I start - it gives me added incentive to be reasonably regular with updates. Hope this section is super easy to find in the new version!

posted on 2012-03-04 by Neil Armstrong

# 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:

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Hi Rob Yes a slide show - this is on the wish list. There are several tools for achieving this. We would need a mechanism for the blogger to be able to group images into an ordered set so that they are identified for this treatment whilst other images are excluded.

posted on 2012-03-19 by Richard technical@a-n

Hello Richard, I am sorry to arrive rather late to this party, I hope not to late. On the wish list I saw .........'a gallery type presentation for a batch of images'........does this mean a slide show? flickr or photobucket provide html code you can bring to your blog and run a slide show. Not a link to another site. I think this is a really powerfull display medium. And viewers can see a series of related images in sequence. Is this something you tech guys can include? Many Thanks

posted on 2012-03-16 by Rob Turner

Hi Stuart - yes this is just the wish list for blogs - one step at a time.

posted on 2012-03-08 by Richard technical@a-n

Is this a blog specific wish list? I hope that it's not as I am wishing for a down loadable version of the magazine for us die-hard paper fanatics. For me it could be text only as I'll be printing it in 'grayscale' of course (and referring to the website for images). Is there an assumption that artists are enthralled with technology, and that they have constant access to it?

posted on 2012-03-08 by Stuart Mayes

I have just come across oEmbed - a protocol for easy embedding of videos, sounds, images and other resources. The service provider and the consumer (the website the resources is shown on) have to be set up for oEmbed. Providers include: YouTube | Vimeo | Flickr | Twitter | Soundcloud | Wordpress (apparantly there's a plugin) - Definately worth looking at - and perhaps we could make blogs available via oEmbed. I'll ask our developers to check this out.

posted on 2012-03-07 by Richard technical@a-n

Thanks David, Elena - I'll add those to the list. Elena - all existing posts will be carried across to, and fully incorporated in, the new site which will need to be backwards compatible. I'm not sure we want to handle sound directly from our servers but we are looking at being able to link to one or more sound serving sites.

posted on 2012-03-07 by Richard technical@a-n

Comment removed by the writer [7 July 2012]

posted on 2012-03-05 by David Riley

... soundcloud maybe?

posted on 2012-03-05 by Elena Thomas

I'd love to be able to post a sound file without having to construct a youtube or similar video for it please? All the above suggested improvements look great. will our previous posts sit within the new structure?

posted on 2012-03-05 by Elena Thomas 30 October 2007

[enlarge] 30 October 2007

# 6 [6 March 2012]

Thanks to Eleonora for her comment pointing me to that takes snapshots of websites.  A new one on me. So this is the previous site on 30 October 2007 at

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Just wondering how this affects your grant funding? As a national portfolio organisation, a-n The Artists Information Company has been offered 211,321 in 2012/2013, 216,393 in 2013/2014 and 222,019 in 2014/2015. This is subject to a funding agreement being agreed.

posted on 2012-03-08 by Ivan Pope

'Swiss Army Knife - Crap at 100 Things'. "They’re shit. But somehow have become a metaphor for usefulness."    - From Nick Donnelly's site:    - An interesting site about website and app useability.

'Swiss Army Knife - Crap at 100 Things'. "They’re shit. But somehow have become a metaphor for usefulness."    - From Nick Donnelly's site:    - An interesting site about website and app useability.

# 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?

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Hi Elena - yes I think the problem still exists whatever the analogy. An example of the dilemma: it would be good on a what's on listing to be able to click a link to post a review of the show. This would join the show, the venue and the review - a feature that would enrich each of the three listings. Whilst this is a comparatively simple example, multiply this several fold throughout the site and layers of complexity are added. Deciding which enriching features to go for and which to leave out is something we will need to decide - and here advice from users will be an important component.

posted on 2012-03-08 by Richard technical@a-n

I advise caution with expecting one website to satisfy all your demands. A website is a machine, a very complex one but a machine all the same, and a machine works best when it has one clear objective. I worked in the "internet bubble" at the turn of the century (! 1999/2000) and remember well the collapse of one-stop news, information, shopping, socialising websites such as The website I worked for started with grand ambitions (and truck loads of 'venture capital') to revolutionise the art world, today it sells a few limited editions, prints and deals in the secondary market - no more editorial content, no blogs, no events, no projects ... no revolution but great memories of a couple of exciting years

posted on 2012-03-08 by Stuart Mayes

Surely we can think of a more useful analogy? Ant hill? bee hive? Or maybe a very long freight train made up of different wagons and coaches? I'm quite convinced a change in analogy will make all the difference! Perhaps not.

posted on 2012-03-07 by Elena Thomas

# 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 domain

2. a-n to similarly have its own public facing pages under the 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.


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Hello Susan and Richard, thank you for your comments. I would be very interested if there is a way that us 'offliners' could download printer friendly versions of (bits of) the new a-n. For me this could just be the more 'editorial' items (ie. not 'jobs and opps'). I admit that I have no technical knowledge and I might be suggesting something that is not easy, if so I apologise! I also admit that I have always been a bit confused about the AIR/ a-n relationship and casually assumed it was just a neat way of separating the readership into practicing artists and people who are not (ie art historians, managers, etc and those who do not need the benefits of AIR!) . Thanks again.

posted on 2012-04-17 by Stuart Mayes

Stuart AIR and a-n won't exactly be separate websites - they will be part of the same set up (server, database, etc). There will be a fluid inter-connection between them - as if different sections of the same site. But AIR wants/needs its own public identity semi-autonomously from a-n. AIR has a different role than a-n - we've perhaps not been as clear about this in the past as we could have been, and we want the structure of the new website to rectify this.

posted on 2012-04-12 by Richard technical@a-n

This is a note from the Publisher - we're listening hard to comments and ideas about how to achieve our mission in the years to come, and whilst so many of the structures - publishing and otherwise - around and about are changing. This is in part due to the economic and social environment and in part because there are better ways now to do some informational things than there was. And yes, we know from the surveys and consultations that there is a need for some kind of 'physical', lean back reading - we all need to do this. But it's a question of how to make this viable to produce, so we're researching the partnerships to make this happen. The viability of print is something that much bigger companies such as The Guardian are also wrestling with!

posted on 2012-04-12 by Susan Jones

I do not understand the need for separate AIR and a-n sites and domain names - apart from a (very) slight shift in focus (points 7 and 8) they sound like the same thing. Is it significant that editorial content, letters, interviews, commissioned articles and features are not mentioned? I feel that the days are numbered for those of us that value time offline.

posted on 2012-04-09 by Stuart Mayes

I'm afraid I am still not convinced - however it is put - I will not read it as I did the magazine. Is there any hope of any 'physical version' of the magazine - or am I wasting my time even asking about it? Could there be a middle ground solution for all the luddites out here?

posted on 2012-03-19 by Sophie Cullinan

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Richard technical@a-n

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.