Ideas for

, 2008-02-26 (first published: ) has been around for nearly 6 years, actually 6 years in March 2007 for those of you that are counting. In that time we've grown to be what I consider the largest SQL Server education site on the web, bringing you articles, answering questions, etc., etc., yada, yada, you get my drift. I'm bragging a bit, but I'm proud of the site.

Over the years we've tried to evolve the site in response to what people tell us, comment on, suggest, etc. And I think we've done an OK job since you continue to support us and visit the site.

On the other hand, in many cases not much has changed. Our home page is only slightly different than it was 6 years ago, the articles look the same, and we've been fairly stagnant in many ways. We'd like to change that and I'm looking to you for some help.

Look and Feel

When we started this site, there was no left menu bar. So every article was full width and I liked that. Over the years that and a few other things have changed slightly, but overall the look and feel is the same.

Recently some of you participated in a survey on usability. We got way more responses than we expected and I really appreciate the information you sent us, especially the comments. There were a few unexpected things and we're working to clean up and nicely present some of the results now. Actually someone else is doing that, so when I get it, I'll send it on. The raw data is hard to look at.

I'm getting to the point, so stick with me.

We're embarking upon two projects right now. One is to rebuild the architecture of the site. As you probably guessed, myself, Andy, and Brian were never top notch programmers. We can hack with the best of them, but we're really data guys. So we've cobbled the site together with some help from other programmers (a big thanks to Chris Rock!). Since Red Gate employs some very skilled programmers (they've got quite the PhD to normal programmer ratio), we've decided to let those guys rebuild the underpinnings of the site.

For the second, we have a usability expert and a designer working on the look and feel to make things more, ah, well....beautiful? I don't have a good word. Maybe smoother? Can you tell I'm not a designer?

As an aside, at home I do the heavy lifting. My wife picks out the tiles, the colors and sizes, and I get them glued to the floor. I don't mess with her choices and she doesn't tell me how to attach part A to part B.

At some point, those two things should come together for a new site for you. Likely the first will get completed, nothing much will look different and then the look will change.

I don't have a great timeline, as we're just getting started now.

Your Help

So this is the point and this is where you come in. I'm soliciting some ideas for changes, mostly look and feel, for what you'd like to see.

As another aside, we've debated changes for years. Since the site has been popular and people liked things, I've always been the stick in the mud wanting to keep things the same that work. I dislike big changes and embrace familiarity. Those sites that update their look and feel dramatically every year are annoying and I forget where things are.

So, in addition to suggestions, I'd like to know what sites you like. Our goal is to get you SQL Server information and allow you to easily post, answer, and find questions in the forums. As a start, here's a few of the sites I look at:

Sites I Like Sites I Don't - Byte's fonts are a little small, but it's a fairly clean layout. - 15Seconds has too much junk and advertising in addition to small fonts. - I like 4Guys with a couple paras of each article shown, I like their multi-part article format, and a decent menu. - I can't find anything on Junkies, way too much happening. - Popular woodworking has a clean layout. Not quite fitting our model, but not bad. - As much as I like ESPN, it's too busy and hard to find anything other than the headlines for my eyes. - Slashdot is more of a news service, bit they have a nice layout. - Bill Pentz's dust information is invaluable if you work with wood, but the layout is a mess. - I like the new articles on CNet and then various sections below. - ComputerWorld is just too busy and everything runs together. - Popular science is busy, but it's a fairly easy to navigate menu. - ByteandSwitch is too busy.

Also a few ground rules:

  • Advertising - Don't ask it be all gone. It doesn't make sense and I don't like it. The header banner and at least one ad will remain in the newsletter. After that let me know. I'm trying to get more advertisers on the site because it's a useful tool and it can be good information.
  • News - Database Daily is our news counterpart. I'd like to keep that separate. I can see a section on our page with news, but I'd like to refer you over there. That's what it's there for. And if you like it, tell your other sites to pick it up. If you disagree, let me know that as well.
  • Personalization - We'd like to let you personalize a bit, but we don't want to end up fragmenting things so much that we have areas that no one sees. Plus I think it's good that you see different types of articles. You might not use Service Broker, but if you see an article on it, you might find a place to use it or pick up a bit of knowledge that helps you in your next job.

Other than that, I'd love to know what you like, what you recommend, what you think.

Or what you'd like to see removed.

Some areas we're thinking of including on the home page are:

  • Editorials - I'm biased, but I think people like seeing this.
  • Member of the month - recognizing people for their contributions
  • Second Look - rerunning some articles or threads from the last couple days that got a lot of attention.

So let us know what you think and what you want to see on

Steve Jones


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