A Few Words About the New Site Design

Hello friends!  Heidi here.

When I started Free Fun in Austin back in 2010, I set it up like a personal blog, on the blogging platform Blogger.  Blogger is user-friendly, reliable, and free – I love it. It is great for churning out content with minimal effort, which I did with gusto!  In the early days, I was writing 8 to 11 new posts a day. Then, I added the calendars and things got really interesting.

The City of Austin has temporarily banned public gatherings. Please stay home. The Free Fun in Austin calendar is only for live digital events at this time.

Free Fun in Austin continued to grow by leaps and bounds, and over the years I have gladly welcomed help from anyone who offered. Bringing on calendar managers, contributing writers, photographers, graphic designers…. Free Fun in Austin gradually transformed from a peronal blog to a community effort, which was incredible. I was blown away by the number of people who wanted to pitch in and share their favorite Austin adventures.

The unexpected side effect of having so many contributors posting on a site set up like a personal blog is that readers found the site completely unsearchable. I received email after email saying, “I remember you wrote about this, but I can’t find it anywhere.”

Five years and 9,000 posts later, I found myself at a crossroads.  I loved the cozy look and feel of my little Blogger blog, but the functionality we needed from a website just wasn’t there. We encountered problems daily, created work-arounds, and carried on, until the blog seemed to be held together with duct tape and love. The site and calendars didn’t work well on mobile (the number one request from readers), contributing authors couldn’t find their old posts to update them, and search engines were directing traffic to outdated posts instead of the most recent versions.  But still I resisted change. I know what a shock it can be when a site you’ve been visiting for years completely changes its appearance, so I chose to dig in my heels and stay the course.

Here’s what eventually changed my mind. 1. More than half of our daily traffic is from first-time visitors. When a new reader discovers Free Fun in Austin, I want them to be able to easily locate reviews of local fun. And for long-time readers, I want you to be able to track down old favorites in a snap.  2. Nearly half of our readers view the site on a mobile device. I want mobile readers to be able to access the entire site, not just the last five blog posts. In short, I want the entire site to be accessible, and easy to navigate, for all.

And so, with the help of the wonderful Micah Murray, we made the leap and migrated the entire site to a more versatile platform – five years of blog posts and 1500+ calendar events. It did not go as seamlessly as I’d hoped. Moving that much data caused more problems than we expected. Links didn’t redirect, photos and formatting in old posts went wonky, our email newsletter put up its hands and said, “I quit!” I found myself at yet another crossroads: cry or run away. I chose to run away.

Balcones District Park - a great place to run away to!

Balcones District Park – a great place to run away to!

Now I’m back, shoulders squared, and ready to get to work. There are links to be redirected, an email newsletter to cajole, old photos to be replaced. Emily, our magnificent (long-suffering) calendar gal, has more than a thousand calendar events to tweak. Believe me when I tell you I miss those cute little owls more than ever right now. But! I’m still glad we’re forging ahead with the new design. Here are a few reasons why:

  • We can now list posts by category. Head up to the “Anytime Fun” menu at the top of Free Fun in Austin and select your category of interest.  Want to see all the posts we’ve written reviewing local parks and playgrounds? They’re all in one place!
  • New blog posts are easy to scan through from the Home or Blog pages.  You no longer have to read through every single post to find one you’re interested in.
  • The search bar at the top of the site actually works!  It also searches through calendar event listings. It even works in mobile!
  • Each calendar event now lives on its own page, which makes it easy to share events with your friends.
  • Event pages have hyperlinks, which will take you directly to the event host’s website where you can verify details for yourself and get more information.
  • If you have an event you’d like to add to the calendar, our new Submit an Event page lets you upload an event flyer to be featured on your event’s page.
  • Each calendar event listing now features a Google map, which is something I have always wanted.

I hope you’ll stick with us as we work through this transition. Rest assured, we are chugging away behind the scenes, fixing problems and making improvements, trying to make Free Fun in Austin the very best it can be. I am very grateful for your patience and continued support.  Here’s to the next five years!



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