Saturday, May 18, 2024

Financial contributions have allowed software improvements to Cambridge Day.

A sincere thank you to everyone in the community who has contributed financially to Cambridge Day, including some who have decided to give on a recurring basis – and others who don’t want to give online and have gone to the trouble to write checks and send them through the U.S. Postal Service. Since we’re already well into 2021, it’s past time for an update on what’s happening.

You may have already guessed, since some of what you’re paying for is visible as you read this: an improved online presence in terms of stability and, ideally, legibility.

Cambridge Day began as a news site with bad, off-the-shelf software that was modified occasionally along the way, changing its look and feel and piling on features as they seemed necessary – some from online marketplaces, some from software developers of varying quality and skill. An aging, already weak foundation was getting more piled onto it, and becoming shakier at every step.

Soon it seemed like any features that got added to the site broke an older one. Then things just started breaking on their own.

Cambridge Day already had new software developers hired when the code controlling the site’s look and feel on phones stopped working. It was deeply humiliating: Anyone who looked at the site’s homepage on anything smaller than a tablet would see the problem – and at any given time that’s up to two-thirds of readers. Unfortunately, it took the team a while to roll out the replacement to that broken function.

Now readers will see a small-mobile homepage that’s under control and makes sense – unfailingly showing the most recent news first – and is in no danger of breaking as the old version did.

A couple of other changes are visible at this point too, including an updated, simplified menu bar. The typography of the site has been changed, in the hopes it will be easier to read.

But all of these things happened during only the first step of a process, to tackle the highest-priority corrections and shore up the site against those ever-threatening breakdowns. (Some of the visual changes were just incidental to the first step, thrown in if only because it seemed crazy to make a perfect copy of things we knew to be wrong.) The next step will bring more features and community services, as well as a homepage redesign for people who read from a tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

When the next round of improvements is done, it’ll be time to assess the next priority for the money entrusted by readers to Cambridge Day. That might be more to do with the software, if new priorities present themselves, or it could be enough to start getting more paid writing onto the site. Though the doors are open already for community partners, for some people the work is feasible only with compensation; it would be a dream to reach the point of paying writers, photographers and artists for their work, and paying them well.

Cambridge Day should, ideally, be the work of a broad coalition of people representative of the entire city, and ultimately it will either be handed off as a functioning, enduring institution or shut down and risk being lost as a community resource and archive. The goal now is to get it into shape for that handoff, as a news source worthy of maintaining under local control.

In the meantime, even the most casual reader is invited to make contact to give good, constructive insights on the website’s design and functionality and what improvements to prioritize: Does a specific article format seem poorly structured, for instance? Are the photo captions hard to read? But if you’re contributing financially to the site, you should feel even more empowered to express your opinions on the improvements so far and what you’d like to see next.

Thanks again to everyone who’s contributed. We promised to use your money to maintain, expand and improve Cambridge Day – and though it’s still a work in progress, it’s only in progress because of you.