Welcome to the new BaseballAmerica.com! We like to give the site a fresh look every seven years or so, whether it needs it or not.
This redesign has been in the works for a long time, and needless to say we think it’s the most significant change since the birth of our Website in 1999. If you go back and look through the history of BaseballAmerica.com—which you can do through the magic of the Internet Wayback Machine or by checking out the gallery at the bottom of the page—you’ll find two major stages of our site’s life: the green/yellow stage, and the blue stage. And though we made significant improvements along the way, the basic structure of the site did not change.
You know the Winchester Mystery House in Northern California? Legend has it that Sarah Winchester, the widow who lived there, continually added on to the house to keep evil spirits at bay, so that it was perpetually under construction from 1884 until her death in 1922. She ended up with about 160 rooms, as well as doors and stairways that led nowhere.
Well, that’s sort of where we were with our old site. An amazing collection of content, but organized in a way that required you to take a flashlight and a map to find it all. We knew most of the paths, but not all of them. And we could certainly understand if readers couldn’t always follow us.
That all changes now.
It’s more than obvious that the site looks a lot different. It’s lighter, tighter and brighter, with wider pages and illustrations accompanying just about every story. I think good design just feels right, and visiting the site now gives me a feeling of peace, where visiting the old site gave me a feeling of anxiety. It is more pleasing to look at and move around in.
This Old House
But the more significant changes are in the architecture of the site. The crazy old house has been torn down, with a lovely new structure it in its place. All your favorite old stories have been moved over—all 21,000-plus of them—but they have new rooms and should be a lot easier to find. A lot of the changes have come on the back end of the site, things you’ll never see, but things that make those of us who manage the site so happy we could cry.
From your point of view, one of our main aims in the design of the new site is greatly simplified navigation. No longer will we have epic pulldown menus, no longer will we have incredibly complex category structures, and no longer will you have to find your way down labyrinthine rabbit holes to get to stories.
We have eight categories on the site: College, Draft, High School, International, Majors, Minors, Statistics, Viewpoint. And that’s it; no more categories than that. The former Prospects category has been integrated into Minors, but what we really realized is that the word “prospects” really applies to just about everything we write, so it was probably creating more confusion than anything else.
Another great step forward is that content can exist in more than one category. So when we write about Clint Frazier, you won’t have to guess whether it was a “high school” story or a “draft” story. It’s just a Clint Frazier story, and you can find it wherever it makes the most sense to you.
And we’re also taking it a step further, so that you can still go down rabbit holes, but they’ll be of your own making. The key to this process will be tags, which you’ll see on category pages and at the bottom of stories, preceded by hashtags. This will make stories much more customizable, and more importantly will allow you to define your own experience with the site.
So if we continue with our Clint Frazier example, at the bottom of that story you’ll be able to click on the #Clint Frazier tag that will show you all the stories we have written about Clint Frazier. Or you can click on the #2013 Draft tag to see all of our stories on this year’s draft. Or the #GA tag to see everything about high school prospects from Georgia.
And if you have tags that you’re particularly interested in, you can bookmark those pages and build your own version of our site, or you can even build you own custom RSS feed.
As people use the site, our content management system will also start to build “related stories” links at the bottom of each story, so you can click around and explore based on what you’ve shown you’re interested in.
Our site search has also been exponentially improved, so you will actually be able to search for a name or a subject and find all the stories on that subject: both subscriber and free.
Stories are much easier to share now, with a variety of tools for all the major social media sites as well as just about any other story sharing or saving service you have ever heard of. Even printing out or e-mailing stories is easier.
And our commenting system is completely new, powered by Disqus, which you may already familiar with. You can register with Disqus (or use a login you have already established with them) or you can just use your Facebook, Google or Twitter information. We hope it will lead to more discussion, while keeping things from degenerating into YouTube-level discourse.
Building On Past Success
So that’s just the beginning. To stretch the house analogy to its breaking point, we have just walked in the front door. We have boxes in every room that we are just beginning to unpack, and we will be moving in a lot more stuff in the coming weeks.
The new site is cool now, but there are certainly bugs and a few things that didn’t move over perfectly smoothly. So we’ll get those worked out, and everything we add to the site from here on will be crafted specifically for the new architecture. I would imagine that your experience of the site will be better a month from now than it is today, and that’s as it should be.
We think our new structure puts us on much better footing to grow and evolve, so that instead of adding on rooms and coming up with crazy workarounds as we go forward, we’ll just be able to adapt as technology changes and as we come up with new and better ideas.
For that we have a lot of people to thank. First of all, let’s go all the way back to the late 1990s, when Kevin Goldstein was a humble Web guru and helped us build the first version of BaseballAmerica.com. Actually, we originally called it Baseball America Online, until our friends at America Online had their lawyers write us a friendly letter telling us to cease and desist. Who’s laughing now, America Online? (By the way, I have been around so long that I wrote the welcome to that site too.)
Kevin, of course, is now working as coordinator of pro scouting for the Astros, and we still owe him a huge debt of gratitude for getting things started. In the intervening 14 years, numerous people have kept the ball rolling, most notably Tim Collins, Greg Levine and Brent Lewis, who is still with us and will help lead us into the next generation, on the back end, and James Bailey, Will Kimmey and current managing editor J.J. Cooper on the editorial end.
Linwood Webb led our initial foray into a major site redesign, beginning in 2011, but a funny thing happened on the way to that new site. Baseball America was purchased by Source Interlink Media at the end of 2011, which took us from a scrappy, independent upstart to being part of a large corporation. And as such, instead of having one person have to do all the heavy lifting, we now had a team of people who could help us make it happen.
We are part of Source’s GrindMedia division, a group of sports titles, and GrindMedia’s digital division has done an amazing job of building on Linwood’s original work and taking it to another level, with tools and manpower we simply didn’t have access to before.
Special thanks are due to Marc Bartell, senior product manager for GrindMedia, who had the unenviable job of making sense of the old site and translating 14 years of institutional memory, hopes and dreams into a coherent plan for a new design. He led an impressive Grind team that worked on the new site, including Ryan Anderson, Jared Greer, Jason Holmes, Jeff Kimmel, Derek Lee, Jeffrey Mayfield and Peter Tracy. They came up with a great design, a great architecture, and most impressive of all, moved everything from one place to the other with little more than a few broken dishes.
All that’s left now is for you to enjoy it. Come on in, click around, stay awhile. Most important, let us know what you think. We recognize that the way you find some of your favorite things may have changed, so help us figure out how to make the new site work best for you. Please e-mail me at [email protected] with your thoughts and suggestions.
We could not be more excited about this next stage in our development. Thanks to everyone who brought us to this point, and enjoy our new home.