A few years ago, we proudly launched a new web site that was so souped up, we couldn't figure out how to run it. The cultists who guided its development couldn't either. MVtimes.com visitors were bitter about their new experience. They liked the comfortably familiar, simple, and comprehensible old site. The new edition was unfamiliar, complicated, and beyond comprehension. It had so many moving parts that, during its brief, expensive life, we never got all of them functioning correctly at once.
We knew that we were stepping out ahead of the crowd with that Flash-filled, new-concept site, but we figured we'd lead the way, and our visitors would follow along, anxious to upgrade their web experiences. We were wrong.
I knew we were wrong because of all the e-mailed feedback. The nice ones asked for advice about how to navigate the site. The grumpier ones wanted to know why we'd taken down a serviceable site and replaced it with a full-feature, Flash-y, sci-fi monster. They said we might be leading the way, tech miles ahead of everyone else, but - here's the news, they said - nobody's following. There were hundreds of e-mails of both sorts. I, or someone else at the newspaper, answered them personally. It was a chastening experience.
Well, good news. We are nearly three months into our collective - I mean to include all of you - experience with the latest version of mvtimes.com, and questions, complaints, and criticisms have been few. Whew. As many as 30,000 visitors a week can't be wrong. We're declaring victory. But, only in a limited way. No photo-ops on the decks of warships. We know there's more to be done.
Web editor Amy Simcik Williams, web maestro Rick Mello, and now web advertising representative Rick Wiley are hard at work fine tuning mvtimes.com. They are designing, building, and adding new features almost weekly. And, most important, the new features work. We are beginning to speak with advertisers about how we can help them help themselves on the web, with features that will be attractive and useful to visitors.
But, for the moment, never mind what may be ahead, among the most immediately gratifying parts of the new site are the Reader Forums. One hundred thirty-six visitors - most of them Islanders, we think - are registered forum posters. (None, by the way, have posted photos of themselves en flagrante.) Altogether, they've posted 307 comments and replies on subjects that interest them. They attract an audience. For instance, 1,041 visitors have looked in on the conversation among posters about what they have called the "My Space Flap." Seven hundred ninety-three have had a peek at the discussion of police and court issues; 499 have been interested in SSA business; 1,468 have found something to interest them in a conversation called "Racist Martha's Vineyard ????."
The Monster Shark Tournament, polls on affordable housing, the airport commission and permitting alcohol sales in Tisbury have drawn crowds. (By the way, poll participants want Tisbury wet.)
Folks discuss restaurants they like and don't, health, movies, and sports. There is also a forum for seafarers, but most of them have been lost at sea, I suppose, at least temporarily, so participation has been scant. Only two posts so far. There's even an invitation to tell us what you'd like to discuss, something we haven't thought of. If it seems worthwhile, we'll set up a forum for it.
Posters are mostly anonymous, so they could say whatever they like, but our posters are mostly polite and reasonable. We monitor the posts continually, but we've only had to remove two, maybe three, that missed the PG rating standard.
It may sound strange, but after the wounding experience with the old web site that rubbed so many visitors the wrong way, it has been a relief to respond to posters who merely castigate the newspaper for something we've published, rather than pummel us - as they did years ago with that earlier, and thankfully, forgotten edition of the site - for some online "facility" (that's what the techno practitioners of their black arts call it) that doesn't work and can't be made to work, although it worked just fine in development. Or, it works with this browser but not that browser. Or, I just have dial-up and the site takes a half-hour to load. Or, well, never mind.