All of you 220,000 RSS subscribers to COOL TOOLS should detect little difference, but all of you 450,000 unique visitors to the website should notice a redesign. This new layout tweak piggybacks on an upgrade to the Movable Type blogging software undergirding this site. Because of this upgrade we now have user comments available for each cool tool. Click on the blue COMMENTS button at the bottom of each review to see the comments so far, or to add yours. Yes, please add yours. We’ll be moderating comments closely to be sure they are constructive. This is your chance to add your own experience, positive or negative, to the usual COOL TOOLS rave.
The new design also makes it easier to access the 5 year’s worth of previous reviews on the site. We’ve devised a visual grid which should allow you to browse the back list quickly and smartly. Clicking on a category on the left hand list (in gray) will bring you to the grid.
If you prefer to see more of them in abbreviated form, click on the LIST view in the upper right. Or if you want to systematically study the archives in full-review mode, as one long scroll, click on the FULL view. (Currently, not all the thumbnails of past items have been upgraded and imported into the new design. That should happen soon. In the meantime they are rendered as gray boxes.) You can also choose to view the archives chronologically. The monthly pages permit the same three views: GRID, LIST and FULL.
COOL TOOLS’ new design was created by Thomas Marban. Thomas is the genius behind Popurls, which, for the past two years, has been and continues to be the first website I visit each morning. In a previous review I raved about Popurl’s fantastic dashboard for blogosphere. It is a meta-aggregator; it aggregates the blog aggregators. On one big page you can skim over what the major blogs are saying, and dip deeper with a mouse-over, or click on it for the actual story. It is much much faster than any RSS reader. You can scan the major blogs in about 5 minutes. Marban’s Popurls was the inspiration for many imitators, including Guy Kawasaki’s AllTop, but Popurls is much more useful because it remains a well-design one page. So well-designed in fact that I asked Thomas to re-design COOL TOOLS. Besides the two improvements I mentioned, there are others sprinkled through the site. Like any redesign there are some implementation bugs; if you find one, let me know. Marban is now innovating other cool tools, which are worth inspecting.
Putting Marban’s design into code was the job of MT-master Wayne Bremser. It’s not easy overhauling a ship while it is still cruising, but that is what upgrading and redesigning a large 5-year-old blog site with no down time is like. Wayne is an ace programmer and designer himself. I recommend him highly.
Finally, we encountered some security issues in our site during the upgrade. There was a weird hack that was scary because even after inspecting the logs we had no idea how the leeches got in. It was very subtle. No one would see anything amiss in COOL TOOLS unless you googled a few common spam words. Then you’d see a parasitic page on our site that was pirating our Google-juice. We had deep parasites and we didn’t even know it. Anyway, turns out when you have this kind of disease you need a specialist. Tony Hansmann is a UNIX security expert, who came, looked, saw, and made a few very select, very deliberate moves and sealed the holes. It was like watching a judo black belt make the exact minimal essential stroke. Or a doctor diagnosing the site’s health. He can do a lot of other esoteric high-end cures, but Hansmann is basically a website doctor. Also highly recommended.
All the while Camille Cloutier made sure each day’s review was up and in good order. I am constantly amazed at the amount of energy required to keep an active blog site going. It’s like tending a zoo or garden. Not a day goes by that something falters, breaks, needs an upgrade, or tweaking, or some kind of attention. Doing nothing is not an option because the world moves around us. New versions of browsers, no versions of readers, new gadgets, new features all require us to keep working on the site. Let us know how we can make it better.