Friday, January 25, 2008

The Design

When I first began this project, the amount of content (ever-changing content at that) was a bit overwhelming. My initial instinct was to go simple, concise, and clear to mimic similar sites (news, sports, etc). This somewhat restricted my design, and Nate could tell. He wanted to see more of me in it; something a lot more custom and unique to other sites with similar content.

So I went to my sketchbook and got busy. I ended up doing a couple finished drawings that I was able to incorporate into the interface to give it more of a “high-action” feel. I thought that by creating a lot of movement, I could capture the essence of the site; live content constantly being updated.

It was a challenge to do something that was dynamic and interesting enough to pull people in, but still made sense for the amount of content that needed to be displayed. It was definitely fun to work on, though. Design is always most fun for me when I get to incorporate some other fine art, like drawing, into my digital work.

Nate had a vision to set HLN apart, and he saw it through. I enjoyed the process, and I’m glad to have been a big part of it.

-Ben Long

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tech. Stuff and Design

What Derek has done with our website is truly amazing. While I don’t try to understand all of the technical details, I can tell you that our site is compatible with just about every single type of browser / computer. Our biggest complaint from a year ago was that we were not Macintosh compatible. This was a grave mistake on our part, but was due to the platform setup by CSTV.

Compatibility is not the only area in which Derek’s setup has allowed us to grow. The ability to edit the different parts of the website was essential to HLN’s vision. Everyday, usually multiple times, I enter the administrative portion of the site to alter its content. This assures the HLN viewership of fresh content and something new nearly everyday.

Also, the way he created the different aspects of the site as widgets allows for a lot of possibilities as the product evolves. We plan on taking these items outside of HLN and place them on other sites that will help drive more interested viewers to HLN. A Facebook widget is one of many potential areas where fans of HLN can expect to see content in the near future.

Another area of the website that I saw as vital to setting apart HLN was the design. After looking at several different sports-based streaming offerings, I came to the conclusion that we would have to go outside of the box to develop our design.

This is an area that Mediasauce helped greatly. Ben Long, the company’s senior graphic designer, came to the rescue here with his unique style. While I don’t know many details about Ben’s artwork, I can tell you one thing, it’s awesome!

So, with a description of the design, its concept and inspiration, is Ben…


Thursday, January 17, 2008

HLN Tech. Stuff

Greetings and salutations to the users of the Horizon League Network! Let me start by stating that even though I have followed blogging from its inception to what it is today, I have not really put forth much effort into blogging myself.

I typically spend most of my time actually coding something instead of talking about what I do or how I do it. I am really excited to be blogging with some top notch individuals who really care about the user experience and who pay attention to not only new technologies, but to the people who use their website. Every day I speak to Nate Flannery who runs the website and discuss ways to make the website better in terms of functionality and usability. It is a privilege to be able to work with people who listens to the user community and quickly acts on their needs.

With regard to the HLN technology, I guess I can really start at the beginning. First, I must give credit to MediaSauce
who created a really engaging design for the website. It’s been a blast working with them and they are very good at website designs, 3D, and also interactive motion via Flash.

For the technology side, as always, I try to do something a little new that I have never done in the past. With HLN, the website is really just a collection of pieces of information that are basically widgets. So instead of taking the route of developing a dynamic database driven website of a typical CMS, I broke up each information section into its own class that can be run independently by itself or dependant on information being passed into a widget.

If you take the live events section for example, this widget could really be run outside of the website if needed or when embedded into the website, it takes the page’s properties and will display the relevant upcoming live event information pertaining to a school.

What this means is that each widget has great flexibility in how it is used or where it can be placed within the website. A widget can be duplicated multiple times on a page such as the advertisements and each widget will still be unique.

I would say the difference between a typical CMS and this approach is that the widgets are not dependent on a fixed layout, but rather the position of the X and Y coordinates. That means when the HLN website needs a new design, we can change out the design and re-position each widget very easy so the current content does not have to be re-written. The design can then be anything that is imagined - hopefully.

My feeling is that a few years ago this would not have been possible due to non-standard browsers, but as browsers adopt unified standards, this type of flexibility is now possible.

My passion is usability for a website and I believe that this underlying core of code will allow me to continue to easily modify the website to really suit its users based on their needs and how they interact with it.

I think that is it for now. I can continue to ramble on with my thoughts on other aspects of the technology, but I think I’ll save that for another day. If anyone has questions on the technology, I would be more than happy to answer them in my next blog. Just use the feedback link in the website to ask those questions.


Derek Swanson

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Horizon League Network launches… a while ago

Now that the new HLN has launched and we’re nearly three months into the product, I’ve finally found a little time to tell the world about some of the details of our product. This isn’t something that 99.999% of the world will care about, but for you 0.001%, this is for you.

The Horizon League Network, in short, is an online version of the Big Ten Network. Since the conference doesn’t have similar resources it was forced to look beyond television to publicize its product. Three years ago, the Horizon League decided to take its TV budget and reallocate it for webstreaming. Doing this has allowed the League to broadcast hundreds of games each year worldwide, rather than a select few games on a regional TV network.

After two fairly successful years, the League made a substantial step by partnering with Mediasauce (a company in Indianapolis) for its webstreaming platform. The partnership has allowed HLN to grow into a completely unique product in collegiate sports streaming.

As we progress through the remainder of this academic year, this blog will serve as the place that the people most involved in the Horizon League Network discuss the product. With that said, I introduce to you Derek Swanson… The man behind the code that makes it all work.