Site Rebuild Update

The brain trust who is guiding me through finding a web designer/developer (and I can not thank them enough for dealing with my surly self and doing all this) has provided me with an update that I asked them to write to share with you all:

Hi John,

A quick status update on the website for you and for everyone at Balloon Juice:

We all know that Balloon Juice isn’t the typical website that might have a blog as a small part of the website. The BJ blog is the website, along with some niceties like the lexicon, access to the BJ store, etc. You know, all the stuff that makes it feel like home. As we look for the right fit with potential developers, we are ruling out the ones who have the kind of cookie cutter approach to web development that might work quite well for individuals or companies selling widgets or services, but isn’t at all what we need for Balloon Juice.

We have made it clear that we’re not looking for a redesign or a new look for the current blog; we are looking for a rebuild of the site from the ground up with the same functionality we have, or used to have. With the balloon man banner, of course! Once the site has been rebuilt, all comments from the beginning of time will be imported into the rebuilt site. There will be a big focus on testing before rollout. And site security.

The goal is a reliable site with a reliable commenting system that works consistently and well—on both mobile devices and desktops—and is also speedy, responsive, and aesthetically pleasing, with the features that are important for the commenters. It’s our understanding from John that there will be ads, but not the show-stopping, “the site is so slow that it makes you want to blow your brains out” variety.

At least for this round, the site will focus on speed, functionality and stability, not bells and whistles. Those can be added later, as needed. We will return to nym and email address permanence, and we hope to include the ability to preview comments before posting.

Earlier this week, we had a very productive conversation with a potential developer who clearly understands what Balloon Juice is, supports the goals of the rebuild, and seems to check all the boxes in terms of expertise. We are quite excited about possibilities there!

We are awaiting an estimate from him, and we have calls scheduled with two more developers this week. By the end of next week, we hope to have rough estimates from anyone else who appears to be a good fit on all fronts.

The rebuild won’t be cheap—nearly every developer we spoke with thought the project would take about 80-100 hours. It should be worth it, though.

We wonder if there might be interest in a special thread—maybe a live Q & A related to the new website? (Not intended as a “tell us what features you want for the site” thread, as the plan for the initial rebuild is pretty well set at this point.) Sunday afternoon seems to work well for the author chats, so if there is interest, we could do that from 1:00–3:00 Eastern on Sunday, Jan 27.

WateGirl, Steeplejack and Bella Q

This is not as easy as you think because people are super experienced at building websites for small businesses, but not blogs for a bunch of blowhards like us.






72 replies
  1. 1
    The Midnight Lurker says:

    “The brain trust.” Heh.

    P.S. – It made me laugh because I use the same term to describe my ‘computer experts’, NOT as a disparaging remark aimed out our heroic website specialists.

    Nothing but love guys.

  2. 2
    Ohio Mom says:

    What is the difference between “previewing comments before posting” and what we have now? I am previewing as I type. I can scroll up and see both the post and the comment before mine.

    It all sounds good, Godspeed to you all!

  3. 3
    debit says:

    @Ohio Mom: I would guess if you were linking or embedding something, you’d get to see how it looked before hitting post.

  4. 4
    joel hanes says:

    80-100 hours

    They must be wizards, then

    Maybe modern languages and toolkits have changed everything,
    and FSM knows that the kids these days are scary bright and skilled.

    But.
    The old defensive rule for making management committments to completion milestones was:
    – take the programmer’s estimate for time required
    – double it
    – change the units to the next larger

    100 hours is 2.5 work-weeks.
    So the twice-burned experienced manager would promise completion at the end of five months.
    If they finish early, that’s gravy, but a surprising number of software projects still miss the deadline.

    The first 20% of the work gives you 80% of the function.
    Unfortunately, the remaining 20% of the function requires 80% of the work.

  5. 5
    Baud says:

    we had a very productive conversation with a potential developer who clearly understands what Balloon Juice is, 

    He’s lying. No one understands that.

  6. 6
    zhena gogolia says:

    @Baud:

    That’s the beauty of it!

  7. 7
    JanieM says:

    @Ohio Mom: @debit: Besides seeing links, it makes it easier to see if you’ve forgotten to close any tags (bold, italics, quotations). I also hang out at Obsidian Wings, where there’s a preview function, and I miss it over here.

    @joel hanes: Seconded. Back in the dark ages when I was still a programmer, I used to double my first estimate, then triple that. Your rule is even closer to reality!

  8. 8
    jeffreyw says:

    @Ohio Mom: The preview will let you see if links that you provide work/are correctly formatted, that the blockquote you wanted displays like it should, it strips out the html so you see what the post will look like to everyone after you hit submit.

  9. 9
    mvr says:

    Thanks for you work!

  10. 10
    Ruckus says:

    @joel hanes:
    Your math is valid for all kinds of business. As a person who used to quote amounts and times for jobs in an entirely different business, for some reasonably large sums of effort and money, and of course be locked to completion time, I’ve used your maths on many occasions.
    The first job I bid on, I was 17 and blind sided by a customer. Fortunately I had been paying some attention to the process and it was similar to other work we normally did so when I got done figuring hours, I added 25% to both time and quote. Walked away with a deposit check and we made money in the end. Life lesson learned without damage. That’s one at least.

  11. 11
    jeffreyw says:

    @debit:
    This is why I don’t post too often. By the time I’ve dotted all of the “i”s and proof read it twice there will have been six other replies that are not only more concise but, often, funnier.

  12. 12
    Baud says:

    @jeffreyw:

    By the time I’ve dotted all of the “i”s and proof read it twice

    You’re Balloon Juicing wrong.

  13. 13
    Nicole says:

    WateGirl, Steeplejack and Bella Q, thank you for putting in all the effort and for giving us the update! Also, for taking your time. I think often of the saying, “There is quick, there is cheap, and there is good. You can have two out of the three.”

  14. 14
    A Ghost To Most says:

    I won’t speak to the presentation layers, but I am curious as to the underlying database used to store everything. That is something I know a metric shit ton about. If anyone needs to bounce an idea, or such, I am at your service.

  15. 15

    I think some jackals stopped commenting because it was too difficult from whatever device they were using. I’d love to see some people come back.

  16. 16
    2liberal says:

    Please also provide a better pie filter, one where it just blocks out the annoyances and we don’t have to read anything about pie to know it’s blocked.

  17. 17
    jeffreyw says:

    @Baud:

    You’re Balloon Juicing wrong.

    You misspelled “rong”.
    //

  18. 18
    different-church-lady says:

    the site will focus on speed, functionality and stability

    If only all of the web would take this approach.

  19. 19
    jeffreyw says:

    I like a juicy, warm from the oven, blueberry pie. Accept no less.

  20. 20
    jeffreyw says:

    @different-church-lady:
    “There is quick, there is functional, and there is stable. You can have two out of the three.”

    h/t Nicole

  21. 21

    @joel hanes:

    The first 20% of the work gives you 80% of the function.
    Unfortunately, the remaining 20% of the function requires 80% of the work.

    I always heard “The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”

  22. 22
    Doug R says:

    About those ads. I only turned on adblocker on my phone when that ungodly rack of taboola click bait garbage showed up. I don’t mind the occasional ad if I know it brings in the $, but I don’t like accidentally clicking on misinformative bait farms.
    Each taboola link makes the world just a tiny bit sh*ttier.

  23. 23

    @Doug R:

    I only turned on adblocker on my phone when that ungodly rack of taboola click bait garbage showed up.

    Me too!

    @A Ghost To Most: right now it’s WordPress MySQL, so it would be hard to make it worse without switching to mongo.

  24. 24
    Mary G says:

    Let us know if you need more money, and thanks to WaterGirl, Steeplejack, and Bella Q for helping.

  25. 25
    Nicole says:

    @jeffreyw: Ha! I like your modification and am adding it to my lexicon.

  26. 26
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @2liberal:

    Please also provide a better pie filter, one where it just blocks out the annoyances and we don’t have to read anything about pie to know it’s blocked.

    +1

  27. 27

    I realize you’re looking at a back-end rebuild rather than a redesign/new look; that said, I’m a professional user experience design with 20+ years of experience, and I’m happy to provide advice/feedback if any UI issues come up.

    And I second Joel Hayes thoughts about what’s a more realistic time estimate.

  28. 28
    Another Scott says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Not RedBrick?

    I love RedBrick, it’s the only database I’ve met that can consistently give different results for:

    Select count(*) from table
    versus
    Select count(*) from table where 1=1

    :-/

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  29. 29

    @Another Scott: MySQL itself isn’t monumentally terrible, but the WP data structure is.

  30. 30
    WaterGirl says:

    I haven’t seen any mention yet of the possible website-related Q & A for next Sunday. Maybe that means there’s no interest? Not trying to push it, but we are happy to do it if there is interest.

  31. 31
    Haroldo says:

    I’d be interested in the Q&A session. This will require I remember it, of course.

    Further, please let me/us know if more moolah is needed.

  32. 32
    Another Scott says:

    @WaterGirl: I’d read it, if it happens. But your letter above answered most of my previous questions. My impression is that most questions would be about UI improvements and new features – stuff that isn’t on the agenda (as I understand it).

    I agree with the time estimates – the 80-100 hours seems far, far too optimistic, given the (greatly appreciated!!) way Alain and M^4 struggled to keep the ship here afloat.

    Thanks.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  33. 33
    Luthe says:

    @Major Major Major Major: You are not making me optimistic about my quest to learn SQL.

    @Doug R: My personal bugaboo are the autoplay ads. Fuck Larry King, Jesse Ventura, and Ora.TV.

  34. 34
    HeleninEire says:

    Hey, Cole I know ZERO about building a web site, but could you keep us apprised about the cost and how much you’ve collected? I’ve already contributed but I’ll give more if you’re short.

  35. 35
    WaterGirl says:

    Was it Cleek or The Other Chuck who wrote the pie filter? I’m thinking it was Cleek, and the Other Chuck helped us through some other rough patch?

  36. 36

    @Luthe: SQL is great, I love SQL!

    @WaterGirl: cleek.

  37. 37

    @Ohio Mom:

    What is the difference between “previewing comments before posting” and what we have now?

    What you see now is the markup for your post. A proper preview would show you how it will appear on-screen, i.e. with formatting links, etc. in place. It would be very helpful to prevent the regular screw-ups where people mess up the formatting of their posts by leaving out closing tags and the like.

  38. 38
    HeleninEire says:

    @Baud: This. Not me, not you. Describe it to someone. Start with the naked mopping. Move onto the Subaru in the field. Then talk about the forgotten pants. Damn I could do this all night!

  39. 39
    Another Scott says:

    @WaterGirl: My understanding of the chronology is:

    Cleek wrote and frequently updated his Pie filter add-on through changes in Balloon-Juice’s code base over time. He worked with M^4 to incorporate a new Pie filter directly into the current B-J code.

    The Other Chuck had a couple of other Pie-filter like add-ons (Troll-B-Gone, etc.) that worked slightly differently, but he got frustrated with code changes here breaking his scripts.

    Corrections welcome.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  40. 40
    SRW1 says:

    @Ohio Mom:

    WYSIWYG coming to this here blog!?

  41. 41
    joel hanes says:

    sorry for the double comment: the site would not display the first one in four refresh attempts, so I redid it.

    so now, on the seventh re-visit of the thread,
    it shows up.

  42. 42
  43. 43
    Another Scott says:

    @SRW1: I want “What you see is what I meant” (WYSIWIM), myself.

    Please?

    It’s just a little AI problem, isn’t it? Nothing to it!!

    ;-)

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  44. 44

    @Another Scott:
    I rather like the commenting system at TPM. They side-by-side boxes. The one on the left shows the markup and the one on the right shows the formatted version. It gives a nice compromise between the power of controlling the markup and the convenience of seeing the final version as you type.

  45. 45
    Daniel'sBob says:

    @HeleninEire: Second everything you said. Heck, I would even pay a modest subscription fee if that ever became necessary to keep this blog going. Thanks to everyone here who share their knowledge, stories, humor, sympathy, and photos.

  46. 46
    joel hanes says:

    @HeleninEire:

    Start with the naked mopping.

    Start with Cole as a boo-yah Republican warblogger, and his road-to-Damascus moment arount Terry Schiavo and Katrina.

    And, of course, one must not omit Tunch.

  47. 47

    @Nicole: seconded, and that axiom is the project managers iron rule.

  48. 48
    WaterGirl says:

    @Another Scott: I can imagine people might have a lot of questions, like will there be a pie filter and will there be threaded comments (no) and will the comment numbers be searchable and so on.

    My partners in crime may shoot me for saying this, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a “If I could ask for just one thing, it would be this”. Between the questions and that, it could be a good way to make sure we haven’t missed anything important. For instance, I just noticed the trackback/ping back thing this week, and that wasn’t in our specs. (Still not sure if that should be included or not. M^4 do you know exactly how that works now? Would love a description, if so.)

  49. 49
    WaterGirl says:

    If you guys are even a little bit right about time estimates, then yes, we will definitely need more money. Let’s see how the estimates come in this week and Cole will get back to us about money.

  50. 50
    Amir Khalid says:

    @2liberal:

    Please also provide a better pie filter, one where it just blocks out the annoyances and we don’t have to read anything about pie to know it’s blocked.

    -1.

  51. 51
    J R in WV says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    @joel hanes:

    The first 20% of the work gives you 80% of the function.
    Unfortunately, the remaining 20% of the function requires 80% of the work.

    I always heard “The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”

    I’m with you, Major^4 — there’s two sets of 90% in every estimate.

    Once I was asked to lead a small project to convert a system from using VSAM files to using DB2. I worked really hard on my estimate, turned it over to my manager, who took a brief look and said, “that’s too long, cut some time out.”

    So I did, we had some trouble with one developer who had a really strange idea about how to accept data, update that data and display the new data to the input user. Anyway, TL;DR — that project ran over by exactly the time I cut from my first estimate. I was proud of that, it was my first multiple developer estimate, came out great as far as I was concerned. Didn’t need the extra 90%!!!!

  52. 52
    J R in WV says:

    @jeffreyw:

    @different-church-lady:
    “There is quick, there is functional, and there is stable. You can have two out of the three.”

    h/t Nicole

    I always heard in this line of estimating that you could have either fast, good, or cheap, pick two.

    I guess that’s what Nicole said, actually.

  53. 53
    joel hanes says:

    @J R in WV:

    My 80/20 formulation is just one instance of the well-known Pareto rule :
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle

    20% of the customers make 80% of the complaints.
    20% of the students require 80% of the teacher’s attention.
    etc.

  54. 54
    Yarrow says:

    @WaterGirl: I think having a thread for website Q & A would be a good idea. Maybe list things you’ve thought of or are planning to include or not include and let people go from there. Sometimes people don’t know what they want until they see a list and realize X isn’t on the list. Or someone else brings it up and all of a sudden you think, oh yeah that feature we have/don’t have is really great.

  55. 55
    Ruckus says:

    @Doug R:
    Each taboola link makes the world just a tiny huge bit sh*ttier.
    Improved it for you

  56. 56
    Steeplejack says:

    @J R in WV:

    Left you a comment downstairs about your sound problem.

  57. 57
    JanieM says:

    @2liberal:

    Please also provide a better pie filter, one where it just blocks out the annoyances and we don’t have to read anything about pie to know it’s blocked.

    I’ll +1 this, since people seem to be “voting.” I’d rather see something like “XXX” that will give me an immediate visual clue to skip right past the comment. Actual sentences are a time-waster, because it’s not always immediately clear that it’s pie.

  58. 58
    WaterGirl says:

    @Yarrow: I didn’t mean to confuse the issue. For this round, we seriously cannot handle a “tell us everything you want” kind of thing. And group specs probably isn’t practical, either. But as I said, if people wanted to share their #1 thing, I think that could work.

    We’re not really looking to add to the specs, but if a whole bunch of people had the same #1 thing, for instance, we could surely see if it was practical to add that, and if not, it would give us a heads up for the future.

  59. 59
    WaterGirl says:

    I will ask Cole or another front-pager to set up the Q & A thread for next Sunday, 1/27 at 1pm ET. We’ll answer any questions and take “my #1 thing is” from anybody who shows up.

  60. 60

    Any way we could have the preview tell you if your comment is going to ‘moderation hell’ before you post it?

  61. 61
    Alternative Fax, a hip hop artist from Idaho says:

    @WaterGirl:

    For this round, we seriously cannot handle a “tell us everything you want” kind of thing. And group specs probably isn’t practical, either. But as I said, if people wanted to share their #1 thing, I think that could work.

    We’re not really looking to add to the specs, but if a whole bunch of people had the same #1 thing, for instance, we could surely see if it was practical to add that, and if not, it would give us a heads up for the future.

    This is key, and apologies if it wasn’t clear from what we wrote at the top. We were trying to be informative, and fell a bit short.

  62. 62
    Yarrow says:

    @WaterGirl: @Alternative Fax, a hip hop artist from Idaho: Sorry for misunderstanding the comment further down the thread.

    If changes aren’t going to be made then it seems like the thread could be more trouble that it’s worth.

  63. 63
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Major Major Major Major: I was thinking more about the DB design. Is the design built to handle the most common queries, are the proper indexes in place, are the physical and logical tablespaces layed out for efficiency? Do you have any visibility into the new disk layout, or is it off in an amorphous cloud?

  64. 64
    WaterGirl says:

    @Yarrow: I am sorry I was not clear!

    We’re not saying that no changes will be made; but we’re definitely not throwing the whole thing wide open.

    I think questions could identify something that we missed as we put together the specs, and if a bunch of people had the same #1 thing, and adding that wouldn’t dramatically change the specs or the scope, that could potentially be added.

    Maybe someone will want to know more about the timeframe or the process, or you might offer to be involved in testing, or the more tech-y people might want to know if there will be a test server, or whatever.

    We just thought folks might have questions and it occurred to me today that people might welcome the chance to say “hey, if I could have just one new thing, this is what it would be”.

    For anyone who’s interested, we’ll see you next week!

  65. 65
    WaterGirl says:

    @A Ghost To Most: I hope you will show up with your questions next Sunday!

    Also, if you want to let Adam know that he can share your email address with me, we’d be glad to have you as a resource for any database related questions.

  66. 66
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @WaterGirl:
    Yes, that is fine. I had been designing and building dbs forever. I don’t want to get in anyone’s way, but perhaps may have a relevant thought or two, especially in laying out dbs for performance.

  67. 67
    WaterGirl says:

    @A Ghost To Most: Great! Just let Adam know, and then I’ll send you a test message to make sure the address is good. thanks.

  68. 68
    JGabriel says:

    @joel hanes:

    The old defensive rule for making management committments to completion milestones was:
    – take the programmer’s estimate for time required
    – double it
    – change the units to the next larger

    Yep. As soon as I saw the estimate I thought, “Okay, now multiply that 2.5: 200 – 250 hours.”

    It’s not cynicism. It’s just that every project requires getting up to speed on the client’s needs, learning all the little infrastructure quirks that the clients built into their system over the years and and forgot about but now need to be accounted for in the new system, mistakes, delays, trouble-shooting, and so on.

  69. 69
    Bard the Grim says:

    I would love to be able to pay $20 a year (ok, probably $50) if it would mean I never had to look at ads. Sites like wunderground.com (weather) do that–no idea how hard it would be to set up, though.

  70. 70
    Ruckus says:

    @Bard the Grim:
    Don’t think it’s hard to set up particularly but think about how many people really wouldn’t feel comfortable/within their budget. Sort of the point of BJ is, I think from being here for a number of years, open communications between people of all walks of life with a similar political stance.
    ETA I’ve been, at times in the last 12 yrs in that position, $20-50 just wasn’t available.

  71. 71
    Ruckus says:

    @Bard the Grim:
    Also, nothing is stopping you now from giving John $20-50 or more a year and getting an ad blocker. No adds and you are paying to read BJ. Win/Win

  72. 72
    Just Chuck says:

    @Another Scott: I didn’t get frustrated with the changes so much as being online in general, especially on news and politics sites. I still have to limit my exposure to them lest I sink back into despair and depression — I can’t even watch the Daily Show most of the time. I’d be game for redoing the filter on the new site, but I’d rather see the built-in filter evolve a nicer UI instead.

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