Redesigning the Commons Homepage

0_blueprint-2nd floor

Over the past few months, the development team has been busy working on the backend of this site, trying to integrate its various tools into a single, seamless usability experience. Now that those efforts have begun to bear fruit, we can start to turn our attention to other pressing development needs.

One of the items that has been at the top of our to-do list for a long time now reads “Redesign the Home Page to take better advantage of feeds.” If you don’t know what an RSS feed is, check out RSS Feeds in plain English. Basically, RSS feeds are streams of data that an be incorporated into webpages so that those pages present constantly updated information. Examples of RSS feeds include the listing of “Recent blog posts” on our current home page and the “Site-Wide Activity” feed on the News page.

Right now, the top half of our home page is almost completely static. As we redesign it, we’ll want to use RSS feeds to showcase more of the activity going on across our site. One suggestion that came out of last Friday’s CUNY WordCampEd meetings is that the Commons can aggregate not only activity on the Commons, but also activity on other WordPress installs on various CUNY campuses. That would allow the Commons to be a true hub for the CUNY community.

We’re throwing around various ideas among ourselves, but this website is premised on the assumption that it will adapt to the needs and desires of its community. So: what would YOU like to see on the new homepage? What feeds should be there? What feeds do you want to see elsewhere (on pages other than the home page) on the site? How can the Commons best showcase the work, energy, and enthusiasm of its communities? Please let us know in the comments below.

Image by Kurtphoto

4 thoughts on “Redesigning the Commons Homepage”

  1. One thing to keep in mind as we redesign is that not all static is bad; some is stability. Yes, we want to see the site as alive and growing; but we don’t want a thicket or something wholly protean (and hence ungraspable). I hope we don’t lose a consistent navigation system across the top of the Commons, for example, which will help us all to keep track of how the various subcomponents interrelate.

    The question is what to use as an organizing principle for such a nav-bar. The current configuration isn’t bad at all – though there’s some inconsistency in terms of how we refer to some of the main content areas. “Groups” or “communities”? “People” or “members”? Are “blogs” all that different from “news”? (Presumably “news” only applies to news that affects the whole site, but I can imagine it also meaning news about a group or person, which would probably look like a blog post.)

    A momentary amusement: three main areas, called Stop (site-wide news), Collaborate (wikis/forums), and Listen (group/individual blogs). ; )

  2. Trying to get back to the main Commons page to look at this reminds me of one potential snag in this navigation concept: each individual blog (including this one, dev.commons.gc.cuny.edu) currently has its own header. This is usually, of course, a good thing: it\’s what allows the customizability that makes WPmu so great. But it also makes it a lot harder to get back home, or to navigate between the blogs of groups you belong to.

    Wait… as I write this, I realize that there is a thin gray toolbar above the header that can take us Home, or to the various BuddyPress Account features, or to Visit a random site, etc. So maybe what I\’m suggesting is that this bar also have one drop-down menu for whatever the major site content areas turn out to be?

  3. Thanks for your suggestions, Ben. I\’m in complete agreement with you that we need to find a balance between stability and flow. I\’ve seen some WPMu sites that look like a mass of feeds, and I\’m anxious to avoid that here.

    We\’ll take your points about the naming conventions on the main nav bar (blogs/people/groups/news) into consideration, and I agree that it might be helpful to have those main content areas reproduced on the sitewide nav bar at the top of the screen.

    Thanks very much for your suggestions, both here and on the wiki. Please keep them coming!

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