Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Progress Report: Page Thumbnails and Sensitive Tags

As anyone reading this blog through the Blogspot website knows, visual design is not one of my strengths. One of the challenges that users have with FromThePage is navigation. It's not apparent from the single-page screen that clicking on a work title will show you a list of pages. It's even less obvious from the multi-page work reading screen that the page images are accessible at all on the website.

Last week, I implemented a suggestion I'd received from my friend Dave McClinton. The work reading screen now includes a thumbnail image of each manuscript page beside the transcription of that page. The thumbnail is a clickable link to the full screen view of the page and its transcription. This should certainly improve the site's navigability, and I think it also increases FromThePage's visual appeal.

I tried a different approach to processing the images from the one I'd used before. For transcribable page images, I modified the images offline through a batch process, then transferred them to the application, which serves them statically. The only dynamic image processing the FromThePage software did for end-users was involved in zoom. This time, I added a hook to the image link code, so that if a thumbnail was requested by the browser, the application would generate it on the fly. This turned out to be no harder to code than a batch process, and the deployment was far easier. I haven't seen a single broken thumbnail image yet, so it looks like it's fairly robust, too.

The other new feature I added last week was support for sensitive tags. The support is still fairly primitive -- enclose text with and it will only be desplayed to users authorized to transcribe the work -- but it gets the job done and solves some issues that had come up with Julia Brumfield's 1919 diary. Happily, this took less than 10 minutes to implement.

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