The secret to creating great and enduring websites, I'm pretty sure, is to have the nerve to launch stuff that's totally not ready. This is something I've always been good at.
If you've hung around Litkicks for any amount of time, you know I've been trying to launch a new version of our long-running Action Poetry space for over a year now. I've also solicited your ideas along the way. One idea arrived that seemed to make a lot of sense to me, and this idea finally spurred me to, well, action. After a furious month of development and testing, I'm ready to show a beta today.
The big idea that got me moving? Integration with other social networks, especially Facebook. When I originally launched Action Poetry on these sites now defunct Jive message boards in 2001, the poetry community that grew around the boards existed in Internet isolation, and this isolation always felt to me like a dead end. I designed rudimentary member profiles for contributing poets, but I never wanted Literary Kicks to be in the business of social networking. Litkicks is about the content, the words -- I want my site to hook into social networks, but I don't want my site to be a social network.
With an all-new website called Action Poetry, launching in a primitive beta version today, I am ready to test this idea and see if it works. I hope that people will share their poetry on this site, will enjoy and respond to poetry contributed to others -- and I hope they will use other social networks (Facebook is the first one to be integrated, but Twitter and others will follow) to spread the word and share the love.
As I mentioned last week, the technical task of integrating Facebook login functionality turned out to be more challenging than I expected. The Facebook API is simple and tends to deliver the requested functionality with little effort -- but that's where the difficulty begins. Suddenly you have a site with multi-dimensional user scenarios -- Facebook-connected users, native log-in users (the site will not require a Facebook login, of course), anonymous users. How do the scenarios all work together? What happens when a user logs out of one connection and opens another? How many browsers does the developer need to install to test all the possible combinations? (Let's just say I've got Chrome, Firefox, IE8, Opera and Safari all blazing away on my test environment right now, and I could use a few more).
On top of that, I also decided to push my technical envelope by making the new Action Poetry site responsive to multiple screens and devices. This is pretty much a required feature for any website in 2013, but many current websites don't actually manage to handle multiple screens and devices well, and Action Poetry is my first attempt to follow a single responsive methodology (based on Bootstrap) for an entire site.
I also did my best to restore the large Action Poetry archive, and have so far managed to restore all poems dating back to 2004. The earlier poems between 2001 and 2004 are stored in a different format, and I will need more time to upload these. Still, I think many Litkicks poets will be glad to have the 2004-2013 archives back. In the midst of the technological fog that blearily surrounds me as I write these words and take a much-needed break, let me just say this: I think many of these poems are really, really great.
So, why do I say the site is not ready? Well, as a professional techie, I am painfully aware of several problems with the visual design and the responsive layout. I have strong doubts that the Facebook login feature will work correctly for all users. I would love to have more time to whip the archives into shape. I know the search engine is highly imperfect -- to give one pathetic example, all results from the search engine will currently have the title "Poem" instead of displaying the actual title of each poem. Slick, right?
But, like I said, the secret to launching great and enduring websites is to just launch sites as soon as remotely possible, as soon as they are barely able to function. Otherwise, a developer can work forever and never launch anything. I want your feedback and your bug reports -- feel free to post your findings as comments here, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most importantly, if you have contributed to Action Poetry before, I would love to hook up your old poems with your new login (whether you choose to login with Facebook or create a new native user on the site). The only way to do this, for those who have shared their poetry here before, is to email me with the name of your new and old username/email address. I'll be happy to manually resolve the new username with the old one for you.
As a proud technologist, it really pains me to launch a beta site with as many flaws as this one currently has. But, then, isn't that the spirit of Action Poetry, to just get it out there, and see how people like it? I think it is.
Thanks for checking out the new site, which is here: http://actionpoetry.net.