Website Update: September 2020

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Submitted by Andrew Simard on 2020-Oct-05 Mon 17:18
4 minutes

Ongoing Maintenance

More cleanup and general performance improvements this month. Google has many tools for gauging how well a site is performing. Things like Google PageSpeed Insights,Google Search Console, Google AdSense among others. Firefox and Chrome also include tools for troubleshooting problems and behind-the-scenes issues that impact performance but that might not be visible to visitors. While this is very much a diminishing returns effort, much progress has been made in terms of meeting or exceeding targets set (often arbitrarily) by these tools. Always on the lookout for other ways to make the site faster, more secure or easier to use, so while this may not be at the top of the priorities list, it will continue to be an item of interest.


Last month, Digests were introduced as a way for site visitors (with accounts) to signup to receive daily or weekly digests of new content posted to the 500 Foods website. This month, Subscriptions are also available, which differ slightly in that they are individual notifications sent out whenever content is added, as it is added, rather than on a daily or weekly schedule. This might be more desirable for some who are perhaps interested in more timely updates. It also completes the set of tools that have been made available to connect with our stakeholders. Social media accounts, RSS Feeds, Digests and Subscriptions all serve the same function - letting people know what is on the site that might be of interest to them. With the ability for them to be as generic or specific as they like, integrating with the the tools that they use in their own environments. Open to suggestions for setting up more options, so if you have a scenario where these don't work particularly well, let us know in the comments below.


And speaking of comments, the comment system has been upgraded and is now available throughout the site. Must have an account to comment, but once setup, the interface is very simple to use and should be familiar to anyone who regularly posts on social media. The ability for visitors to subscribe to comments made against a blog posting or news story will also be brought online shortly. This will include a feature that will allow anonymous users to subsribe to comment threads as well.


Why crosswords?? Well, it was an easy thing to add, and they can be a fun distraction. The idea was to incorporate the site content into something that might give visitors a reason to come back from time to time. Crosswords are generated using site content. For the weekly crosswords, for example, all the words used in posts that week are used as the wordlist for the crossword. Usually some other basic words are added to help complete the puzzle, but less so on the larger puzzles. This helps make the puzzles a little more relevant to those visiting the site and mabye even a tiny little bit educational as well.

More Icons

The News From Elsewhere section has recently been updated with icons corresponding to the first tag attached to the story. This gives a bit more of an interesting presentation on the main page. We use Font Awesome for the icons, which is a huge collection. But not everything really makes sense as an icon, so lots of "tag" icons remain. Overall, it gives the look that was sought after and hopefuly everyone likes what they see. Feedback on the site overall has been positive, with the expected comments about fonts being generally too small everywhere. So a few more icons and a little tweak on the font sizes here and there help make things just that much nicer to use.

More Content

While it hasn't been a huge bump up, the number of stories being posted each day is rising. Maybe 15-20 stories per day now versus 10-12 last month. As we add stories, we're also adding sources of stories, broadening the base from which to draw out more content. Several Google News searches (vertical farming, for example) are now included in the underlying stream that we filter. There are more than 50 sources now, and roughly 500 stories a day that we sift through to pick out just those we think might be most interesting or relevant to our visitors. We'll be hitting the 1,000 news stories target sometime this week, a bit of a small milestone in terms of content.

On Deck

While all these efforts will continue, these are now all "built" in terms of website design and won't take up much in the way of development resources. Those resources will instead be directed at some upcoming features. The commerce portion of the site will be sorted out. A search function that also encompassess the Canvas site will be added. The support form will be enabled. New functionality for accessing our windows-based applications through a web interface will be added. And some marketing materials for these applications will slowly start to become available.

Should be a busy month!