CoastalPoint.com 2.0 unveiled


Welcome to CoastalPoint.com 2.0! If you’ve visited our Web site in the last few weeks, you’ll already have noticed the appearance of the first phase of months of behind-the-scenes work by our staff on The Point’s Web presence.

We’re pleased to officially launch the 2.0 version of our Web site this week, with a new look, an array of new features, interactivity, customizations and cutting-edge technology.

The goal of our makeover is simple: With the information that can only be provided by a newspaper dedicated to local coverage and complete service to our readers — both local and visitors — we want CoastalPoint.com to be the first place you think of when you want to know about what’s happening in the area from the Indian River Inlet to Fenwick Island, from Bethany Beach to Selbyville and Dagsboro. I call it our “portal” initiative.

We’ll continue to offer all of our many local staff-written stories from our print edition, covering everything from local government to upcoming events and information on our local businesses, as well as stories from our new monthly Go Green and To Your Health sections.

But as you explore the Web site in the coming months you’ll also begin to discover new features designed to make your life easier when you’re looking for information about what’s going on in the area — places to go, people to see, things to do and the news of which you need to keep abreast.

Search our site

The first new feature we’re offering is that the Web site and our archived content is now fully searchable. Even if you don’t remember when your town council held meetings on a particular issue or what the result of particular votes were, now you will still be able to find our coverage of those events on the Coastal Point’s Web site.

Just enter your search terms into the prominently located search box on the left side of our site, and you’ll be given a list of stories that match. In the background, behind the easy-to-use search system is a new database of the Coastal Point’s archived materials, dating back to the first issue of the paper in February 2004.

This isn’t your usual Google site search, which can be a bit hit-or-miss. Thanks to the internal database system, from headline to writer to the contents of every paragraph, each portion of the story — and all of our associated photos — will be indexed for your search.

So, if you’re looking for a mention of a student athlete’s performance, you’ll find not only a record of the games in which they excelled but any photos our photographers took of them on the field or the court and even their name on the academic achievement list.

We’ve been looking forward to having an advanced Web site search function since the birth of the Coastal Point, and we’re really pleased to be offering it to you now. It follows all of the traditional rules of database searches, with Boolean syntax in use to provide you the best and most accurate results.

The only caveat to our excitement about the search function is that, as of this week, we are still in the midst of populating that database with all of the last four years of archived stories, photos and information. This is a massive amount of data and a time-intensive task, and we ask you to bear with us in the coming weeks as we complete it with all hands on deck.

If you don’t find the story you’re looking for right now, it is likely still in our queue of things to be indexed. But never fear, because we have retained our existing chronological archive at http://www.coastalpoint.com/old/archives/index.html, so you can flip through all of our past stories and photos while we finish up the database entry process over the coming weeks. At that point, all of our archived content will be available through the search function, as well as one of our favorite new elements of the Web site: content tags.

Tags — you’re it!

If you are familiar with today’s Web logs, or “blogs” as they are most commonly called, you’ll recognize the tagging system we’ve implemented with CoastalPoint.com 2.0. Each item in our database has been tagged with the various subjects or categories that it addresses.

All Bethany Beach stories, for instance, will show up with the tag “Bethany Beach” below the headline and on the right side of the page. These tags are clickable, and clicking a tag will take you to a chronological list of stories and other features that also have that tag.

If you’re looking to catch up with what’s been happening around your second home at the beach while you’ve been away for the winter, tags are a great way to narrow your focus to news from your town without having to create a detailed search that might give you more, or fewer, results than you’d like.

For instance, our recent story on a proposed beach smoking ban in Bethany Beach has also been tagged as a South Bethany-related story, since that neighboring town has also been discussing plans to follow in Bethany’s footsteps with a ban of its own. It’s also tagged with our “Health” tag, since health is one of the key aspects of this issue. Also, many of our development-related stories from our towns have also been tagged with the tags “Business” and “Real Estate.”

We look at the tags as a great way to help you find the news that’s important to you, even if you’d generally only read coverage of meetings in your own town or area of interest.

RSS to the rescue

Tags also provide us another great feature, and a personal favorite for me: RSS feeds. For those who don’t know what RSS or feeds are, we’ve provided a concise but informative basic tutorial on what they are and how you can use them, right on the Web site, on the page-top tab marked RSS.

Briefly, feeds allow Internet users to have all of their favorite news and blog content brought right to them in their Web browser or news reader program, without having to visit individual sites on a regular basis. Updated headlines and content from subscribed “feeds” is brought in automatically according to the user’s preferences, and they can read it at their leisure.

This provides a great alternative to keep up to date with Web sites where you might have previously subscribed to an e-mail newsletter or received new content daily in your e-mail inbox, because your e-mail isn’t filled with reading material and you don’t even have to give out your e-mail address at all.

Instead, just click on one or more of the feeds listed on our RSS tab and subscribe to them in your favorite feed reader (most Web browsers have them built-in now) and customize your automatic update schedule.

You can also subscribe to feeds for any of our tags. Just click on the tag, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the little orange RSS feed button and subscribe. It’s that easy to get the Internet to come right to you.

RSS is also a boon to the increasingly mobile demand for content, because RSS’s simplified postings and “teasers” for more extensive content mean less to download to our mobile phones, PDAs and laptops. As I’ve mentioned previously in our technology columns, RSS has been a saving grace to me personally in keeping me up to date with technology reporting and discussion, as well as statewide and nationwide news, even when I can’t sit down at a computer and browse the Web.

We’ve also created a mobile-friendly version of the Web site’s front page for people who want to access the Web site from their mobile phones. If you have a Blackberry, Palm, iPhone or Windows Mobile phone, you’ll be able to use the extra-quick, compact version of our site to save on time and data costs. Any other phones equipped with mobile Web access can also easily use the new mobile version of our site.

With the revamped Coastal Point Web site, we’re pleased to lead the way in providing even more user-friendly ways to access local news, since we can now be fully accessible to mobile users, and since each and every one of our new tags can be subscribed to as a feed in your RSS reader.

That means you can get news on the go or subscribe to the Coastal Point’s front-page stories feed and get headlines delivered to you each Thursday as we update our Web site with that week’s content, or in between as we update with breaking news. The same goes for any of our town tags, county news or even breaking news that affects the local real estate community.

The latest breaking news

Breaking news is something else we’re making a major focus for the newspaper with the updates we’ve made to the Web site, since that provides the greatest opportunity for you to hear the latest about what happened that day, instead of several days ago.

Two weeks ago, early subscribers to our front-page or “breaking news” feeds received instant notification upon refreshing their feed that Bethany council members had voted to pursue their proposed beach smoking ban.

Last week, they found out that winds had toppled the awning at Bethany Beach’s Valero gas station, within minutes of our photographer returning from the site with pictures of the aftermath and our reporter confirming the facts behind the incident.

Subscribers to our Fenwick Island feed heard in short order late last week that the town’s Board of Adjustments had denied variance requests for a project planned at the site of the former Libby’s restaurant.

This was a hot-button issue for many in the town, and it’s these kinds of situations in which we’re committing ourselves to provide quick updates for anyone who wasn’t at an important event or meeting, so you can check the Coastal Point’s Web site or update your RSS feed hours after it happens and find out more.

We’ll follow up in each week’s print edition with all the details on breaking stories, and that expanded information will then appear in our online edition later in the week.

Get the PointMail

While I’ve personally chosen to make heavy use of RSS feeds, one of our favorite cutting-edge features of the Coastal Point’s Web presence in the last year is definitely sticking around as another option to help you keep updated with each week’s news.

For just over a year now, our PointMail “e-mail blast” has been sending out weekly headlines and teasers for all of our top stories each week, just as soon as they’re posted online each Thursday and customized to readers’ preferences by town and topic. Subscriptions to the PointMail feature have increased dramatically in that time, to more than five times the number of subscribers we had when we started.

Together with the Coastal Point’s print edition, our Web site edition, mobile option and the new RSS feeds, we think PointMail provides tremendous flexibility in how you get your information from the Coastal Point and helps you keep up-to-date more easily than ever.

Your local portal

The Coastal Point was founded on the notion that a truly local newspaper could do a superior job in providing local news to local residents, non-resident property owners and visitors alike. And that local focus has been our touchstone as we’ve provided the news to you over the last four years: local news, local reporters, local photography and a local point of view.

While our tags, individualized RSS feeds and PointMail provide even more local customization for our online readers, one of the major elements of our Web 2.0 redesign is on functioning as a total local portal.

To start with, that means we’ve gathered all of the basic information for each of the municipalities in our coverage area and placed it on individual pages of the site, so that you can find the phone numbers to call town hall, the names of your town council members, election information and even things like the schedule for your trash pick-ups.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be incorporating our localized headlines so you’ll have one-stop reading for the news that pertains to you.

We’ve also created a database of local businesses, organized alphabetically and by category, so that you can find a local businessperson to help you with most every need you could have. Their contact information is included with each entry in the business directory, so no need to grab the phonebook anymore. It’s all right at CoastalPoint.com.

We’re also in the ongoing process of linking the listings for many of our local businesses in the directory to their own Web sites, so you can learn more about each business and even place online orders directly from some of them.

This is something we consider a great value-added feature both for our readers and our advertisers, as it brings you all together with as little trouble as possible, all in one place, no matter where each of you happens to be at the time.

Join in the discussion

And speaking of bringing people together… The new Coastal Point Web site also has some great interactive features, not the least of which is the ability for you to comment on our stories.

If you read something on our Web site or in our print edition that you’d like to make a public comment on, but you don’t want to write a letter to the editor, this is your chance. Registered users of the site can make comments on any of our stories, with the ability to interact with others who live in the area and visitors from other locales.

Registration is simple. It just requires a working e-mail address and a minute or two of your time, and then you can also set a default signature for all your comments for people to learn more about you.

Comments are moderated by our staff, so there won’t be any annoying spam messages cluttering up an important discussion or personal attacks taking away from the core of the issue. We’re asking our readers simply to keep on-topic and to use good common sense, decorum and respect for each other in what they post. Other than that, go at it!

This gives us a great chance to encourage discussion of many important local issues — and perhaps some not so important — in the public forum, and we’re glad to make it available to you. We’re also looking forward to adding to the discussions with pertinent information that may not have come out in our original coverage and additional resources for information when you need it.

As always, you can also contact our staff through the Web site, whether you’d like to submit a letter to the editor, send us a news tip or let us known how we’re doing. We’ve even added a touch of the traditional Coastal Point hominess with a full “About Us” section telling you all a little about each of our staff members.

Our calendar is your calendar

Once you’ve hashed out your differences with the guy down the road and gotten updated on what happened at last week’s council meeting, CoastalPoint.com also now provides a service we hope everyone in the area will come to rely upon – and participate in — over the months and years to come: online calendar information.

In addition to online versions of The Agenda, which we feature every week in our print edition to let our readers know when local government is meeting and what they’re considering, we’re also including information from our weekly Calendar of Events, which includes all those social events, non-profit group meetings and public gatherings that don’t fall into the “governmental” category.

Additionally, we’ve incorporated much of our calendar information into a series of interactive calendars on the Google Calendar service. That means you’ll be able to see a customized display of meetings and other events happening in the area, with the ability to select a custom view for your home town, county or state, or for the area’s general social events. And you can see their locations mapped and get directions with Google Maps, at the click of a button.

Further, if you use the Google Calendar service yourself or if you start using it in the future, you can now add our public calendars to your own personal calendar (http://calendar.google.com/). That will mean your town meetings or local events will automatically show up on your multi-calendar view when you’re signed in to your Google calendar and will be updated as the Coastal Point becomes aware of any changes, additions and new details of these events.

Since Google Calendar is available on any computer or mobile device that can access the Internet, including many mobile phones, and can be synchronized with many popular computer calendars and PDAs, we’re looking forward to having you check your calendar while on the beach or standing in line at the grocery store and be reminded of that important committee meeting you wanted to attend.

We also continue to encourage you to submit your events to us for our print and online editions. You can send them to us via e-mail, fax, mail or in person, and they’ll make their way online as well, to help all your potential club members, guests and customers find out about the special things you have planned.

The future’s so bright…

I want to emphasize that this is only the beginning of the plans we have for our Web site in the near and distant future.

In the near term, look for a full array of our spectacular and popular photographs arranged in galleries so that you can find that shot of your neighbor at the annual Blues Ball or the photo of your granddaughter triumphing on the softball field.

Already, you can contact us to order prints of any of our photographs, but we’ll be adding online ordering features as the galleries get up and running.

Our portal aspect will be expanding further in the future as well, with even more information about our local towns, resources, events and offerings.

And we have even more up our sleeves that we’re keeping under wraps for the time being. We’ll be keeping you updated as we unveil new features and reach full capacity with the ones we’re introducing today.

As always, we welcome your feedback and input on how we’re doing, online and on the page. We hope you’ll find CoastalPoint.com 2.0 to be as user-friendly, useful and exciting as we do. We aim to grow from the local newspaper you trust to your definitive source for all things useful for your life in Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, Frankford, Dagsboro, Selbyville, Millville, Ocean View, Roxana, Clarksville, North Bethany and everywhere in between.