Monday, 10 May 2010

The future of the website.

It is strange to think that I have now spent over 850 days of my life on what I call my 'official' walks - i.e. ones that I put up on my website afterwards. My reasons for starting the website now seem naive - I had just recovered from a serious operation on my ankle and wanted to walk the Pennine Way. I gave myself a year to do it, and decided to log my walks to judge the progress of my recovery. Since I was working on web-enabled devices, it seemed natural to put those logs on the web. There was no grand plan, no great idea, and certainly no revenue stream. Then, as now, it was a labour of love. I had no idea of the monster that the website would eventually become.

I completed the Pennine Way slightly behind schedule - I started in August, fifteen months after the operation. In the process the walking bug well and truly caught me. The Pennine Way marked the start of my love of walking and, what is more, the dawning knowledge that I could walk.

Naturally enough the Pennine Way went onto my website, as did many other walks afterwards. When I walked around the coast I spent many hours typing notes into my tiny Psion 5 before putting them onto my PC and sending them to a friend for uploading. Now, just eight years later, it would be much easier to update the 'site from the road, and many hikers blog as they walk.

It is hard to conceive how many hours I have spent not just walking, but also writing those walks up afterwards; annotating my notes and photographs, writing the scripts that create the pages and replying to the many emails that I receive. For every ten hours that I walk, I would reckon that I need to spend five on the website. It is a heavy workload, but one that I find hard to drop.

Unfortunately the wonderful world of the web has moved on. is about as Web 1.0 as you can get; it is not interactive, has no forum and is stylistically dated (although a competent programmer, I am certainly not a web designer). Over the years I have squeezed more and more information onto the pages; walk profiles, distances, some panoramas, and now, finally, Google Earth Maps. One thing became clear as I added the maps: the current page layout is broken and cluttered.

Additionally, the scripts that generate the pages are increasingly obese and obtuse and are in desperate need of a good rewrite. A small amount of work can pay dividends. Yesterday morning I sped up one particularly slow script: before it took ten or eleven minutes to run; afterwards it took a little over a minute. That script is run several times whenever I regenerate the website, so the savings are considerable.

For these reasons I have started a redesign of the website. I am happy enough with the main index page, which seems to do its job in an unfussy manner. All walk pages will gain a map of the route (if not as recorded at the time with my GPS, as recreated afterwards), and will be laid out in a more user-friendly manner. The 'site will not become Web 2.0 (an awful phrase that covers a multitude of sins), but will hopefully become more user-friendly.

This is easier to say than do. I am fairly happy with the HTML, PHP and Javascript coding that would be required, but the page layout is a different matter. I am looking at various other websites, looking for ideas and concepts that I can steal^h^h^h^h^h borrow for my site. Essentially this will alter the look-and-feel of the site. In the meantime there may be some oddities. These things are not easy, especially when there are near to a thousand pages to be altered.

I can only hope that people get as much joy from reading as I got from doing the walks.


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