After a while...
Any review undertaken at this time has to address the so-called Elephant in the Room. When the doors of the new site were flung open to the general public back in early Spring, this dreaded virus was just about looming on the horizon, messing mostly with folk in China but, to our horror, there’d even been a couple of cases in Britain. However, none of us foresaw a nationwide lockdown, a more-or-less complete cessation of business as we know it, and three months of being stuck at home with our “loved ones”.
That huge change in society has, obviously, had an impact on how the site has been used and on its readership. I don’t have the power to monitor precisely who is visiting the site (and I really don’t want that level of intrusiveness, on this site or any other!) but judging from the calls that come in, the emails, the messages on Twitter, and the posts to the Brew Cabin, I’d hazard a guess that there has been a significant rise in the number of DIYers relying on the site for their personal ‘Furlough Projects’. Some of the enquiries have been very basic (“How d’yer make cement?”), and there has been a lot of responses along the lines of “Please see this page ….”, but there have also been some amazing photies sent in of completed projects that are a real credit to what are, let’s face it, civilians.
There has also been a bit of a surge in the number of ‘concerned emails’ winging in from homeowners who have had a ‘builder’ laying their paving or constructing their landscape, a ‘builder’ that has been furloughed by one of the big construction companies and has decided to avail themselves of the Home Improvement Industry to supplement their furlough pay and to fill their day. Some have been brickies with at least some mortar skills, but there have been roofers, chippies, plasterers, glaziers, and no end of labourers, and far too many have few, if any, genuine groundwork skills. In 22 years of running the website, I cannot recall any other time when so many abso-bloody-lutely flat-as-a-pancake patios have been reported. Why is Fall such an alien concept to so many other trades?
There have been plenty of paving installers and landscapers using the lay-off to brush-up on their skills, and there have been some highly stimulating discussions about materials and techniques in various parts of the nations. Some have gone away thinking I’m a self-opinionated arsehole while others have realised that the reasons, say, spot bedding is wrong, are actually valid and they have learned something.
Similarly with garden designers and landscape architects. There has been a modest increase in interest which I assume stems partly from their lack of other things to do, but at least some of that interest must come from the increased prominence and easier accessibility of the new site. homepage And what of that site? Despite the best efforts of the incredible people and developers at joom.team (I really can’t compliment them too highly – amazing work!) the site is still not perfect, and I know there is still a huge amount of work to do.
Too many of the images hail from the old site and have the old idiosyncratic background, or are too small, too low-res, too old. I’m working on updating them at almost every available moment. I did get some new content in place before the Great Lockdown - a page loking at the intriguing SBRA rubber/gravel surfacing from DCM Surfacing and a page about a new form of resin binder for non-vehicualr areas from Vuba Resins, both folmed before social distancing and travel restrictions came into force, I hasten to add!
Again, blame the virus – at least half-a-dozen big sponsorship projects covering key new materials from stone suppliers, porcelain importers, decking specialists, sealant suppliers, jointing producers and mortar manufacturers have all been put on hold due to problems finding appropriate sites to use as case studies. Most, if not all *will* appear, at some point, but I have to admit to being disappointed I couldn’t deliver more.
And the same applies to the News section, which, much to my dismay, has all but dried up. Very few brochures were submitted for review during Spring and then the cancellation of every trade show has left me with nothing to pontificate upon. I thought about publishing a few ‘comment’ pieces, more like a conventional blog, but there’s not a lot to say that either hasn’t already been said, and said much better, by someone else, or is politically, socially, economically or ethically out-of-step with the aim of the website which is, still, all about promoting best methods and materials in the paving, hard-landscaping and drainage industry. I published one, then seemed to run out of steam!
Little would delight me more than to have something to write about…..but there’s so little out there!
The functionality of the site is, apparently, well-received. Yes: there are niggles, but by-and-large, over 80% of feedback is positive. The odd comment regrets the loss of the old site, misses its quirky look and feel, but they are in the minority. There have been some problems with the ever-popular calculators regarding their functionality on iPhones, and the Question form was initially plagued with spammers. I had the developers introduce a Captcha yoke on the Question form which has dramatically cut the number of dodgy offers coming in, but also seems to have cut the quantity of genuine enquiries, too. More and more queries are now coming in at the generic site email address, which often results in key information being missed – asking where a silver sand might be obtained is much easier to answer if I know where the enquirer is based!
The navigation generally, and the tags used to generate the “Related Pages” feature at the foot of each page in particular, still need work. Both the Web Devs and myself knew that the sheer scale of the site, marshalling the vast number of pages and organising the quantity of content was always going to be the biggest challenge, and despite the hundreds of hours (no kidding – I have to pay the bill!) so far spent trying every conceivable set-up, it’s an ongoing battle. To help site users, I’ve asked for the [Search] facility to be re-introduced (which is not as easy as you might think!) and hopefully we’ll see that in the next few weeks.
One significant change for me has been the increased presence of <spit> adverts, a necessary evil, I’m afraid. All this re-building work has been ridiculously expensive, almost twice as much as I’d originally budgeted, and those costs have to be recouped. I’m still playing about with the adverts: on some pages I’ve restricted where they can appear to cut down on the intrusiveness, but most pages are still ‘managed’ by the Evil Empire who claim to place the most appropriate ads in the most appropriate places. Mmm….not so sure about that!
I still refuse to allow ads for porn, pharma, gambling, loan sharks and other dubious financial parasites, which eats into the potential earnings of the site, but a man has to have some principles, I believe. If you see any objectionable ads, please do let me know. I barely tolerate advertising at the best of times, and little annoys me more than inappropriate or distasteful promotions.
So: enough of my thoughts - what about you? Is there anything you think would make the site better, more accessible, easier to use? Is there any specific content you’d love to see? How about those ads: too much? Just about right? Hadn’t really noticed?
From the first incarnation of pavingexpert (or Cormaic’s Paving Pages, as it was back in 1997), I’ve been driven by what the users want to see and read. What information they require, how to explain the key concepts of pavement construction and engineering, and how to keep people entertained. It’s kept me sane through some periods of poor health, but without the feedback from the users, I would be genuinely lost. I rely on that invaluable input, so please….please, let me know what you think of the site and how you’d like to see it improve.
Thanks for reading this far!