Welcome To Our New Website

By news@sofawolf.com, 01/15/2018 - 09:04
The Sofawolves, Zeena (left) and Gypsy (right), Winter 2018

After too many years in development, we are happy to announce that we have finally launched our new website! You’re looking at it right now! We’re relieved to have reached this stage. It may not be nearly as complete or custom-designed as we’d have liked, but we hope that you find it functional and adequate for your online browsing and shopping needs.

What’s New?

The main improvement for you, our customers, is that we’ve finally moved to a responsive design, providing a much better mobile experience than before. It still has some rough edges, but it’s a whole lot more usable on mobile devices than before. You’ll also find that our commerce tools have modernized, especially when it comes to how we handle payments. And our catalog is now much more interactive, with improvements in both keyword search and drill-down filtering options.

We’ve combined product pages for publications with multiple print editions, so there is no more need for links to “Click here to view the HARDCOVER edition!” for example. You’ll also find that we have done away with the scary “ADULT CONTENT!” warning pages. That was bad for SEO (search engine optimization) and made it difficult for content creators to point fans to their publications, so instead we have de-emphasized this distinction. (Plus, the web pages themselves contain no adult content, and thus have nothing to hide.) Now adult content is just one of many attributes you can use to filter and search our catalog.

For our return customers, you may also find that we have added a NEW customer loyalty level! Some of you have purchased enough items from our website, that you’re well beyond the original 2.5%, 5% and 7.5% discount levels. So, as a thank-you to our most dedicated customers, we now have a 10% customer loyalty discount! The original discounts remain, renamed to bronze, silver and gold, and they retain their original breakpoints of $50, $75 and $100 in total purchases. The new platinum level is achieve after spending over $250 in prior purchases (total of products purchased, excluding taxes and shipping).

What's The Same?

To this new site we have migrated over all the original products, customers, and orders from our old website. The product page layouts are new, but the images and text should look familiar. We hope to freshen up the product pages over time! The product migration included many attributes that proved quite useful with our new catalog search capabilities.

But the really important part was migrating all our previous customers (who go all the way back to 2005!) along with their orders, preserving their purchase history, which was critical for our loyalty program. We did NOT migrate passwords, so you will have to use the password set/recovery process the first time you log into the new site. This is for everyone's security.

What’s Missing?

We did not carry over the reviews from our previous system. We had grown to loathe our previous website’s reviews system, and we let it fall into disuse. We appreciate those who took the time to submit reviews on our site! But it’s just not something we wanted to deal with migrating or maintaining. We encourage our readers to post reviews to places like Goodreads instead. In time, we hope to pull such reviews in dynamically to our site via plugins or APIs. We also hope that such websites retain their original focus on providing fans with objective book review platforms and don't succumb to the profit-driven motives of their corporate owners. (We're looking at you, Goodreads!)

Returning customers will also notice that we’ve finally done away with the two-login problem. Since everything is now handled by a single content management system, we no longer have a need for a secondary “social” login for things like reviews! The accounts on this new site are all from the “commerce” side of our old site: the login link that used to appear in the upper right. We have NOT migrated accounts from the “social” side of the old site (the login on the upper left of the page on the old site) because there is no content associated with those accounts that we brought over to the new site, and because this avoided dealing with any duplicate account import issues.

So, Why Did It Take So Long?

We began this journey to a new website several years ago. Our old site was a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster of the WebGUI content management system grafted onto the osCommerce e-commerce platform. It did what we needed, but each system had its own separate user account system, which led to confusion. And ultimately both had grown old and long in the tooth. It was distinctly not mobile friendly. Our webmaster, Dale, had begun the transition from WebGUI to Drupal in his day job, and so we decided to piggy-back on his experience there to guide our own transition to Drupal Commerce.

Little did we realize just how much of a learning curve this would end up being! Drupal, and the Drupal way of doing things is quite different from WebGUI, requiring a lot of re-learning of basics. In some ways, WebGUI’s object-oriented Perl framework was more advanced than Drupal’s functional PHP, with its weird Drupal-specific hooks; only now, in version 8, is Drupal gaining the cleanliness and structure of OOP that WebGUI enjoyed a decade ago. Drupal 8 also brings in a templating system (Twig), which separates presentation from logic, and which is much closer to WebGUI’s HTML::template and Template:Toolkit templating systems. It is a welcome change!

But we’re not even on Drupal 8 yet! When we started on this journey, Drupal 8 was still under heavy development, and it has been only in the last year or so that Commerce in Drupal 8 added basic functionality that we need on our site (specific payment modules, shipping, etc.). We started building in Drupal 7, and we’re launching in Drupal 7. We’ll turn to Drupal 8 for the next iteration of our website, but in the meantime we already have plans for improvements to the current D7 version before we seriously consider D8.

In order to speed up development (we thought) we built this site using the Commerce Kickstart Drupal distribution, along with its basic theme. We’ve tweaked it here and there to make it work for our needs, but even that ended up requiring a pretty deep dive into learning Drupal’s theming system. We hope in the next iteration of this website to give it a more proper personalized look and feel.

And then there’s Drupal Commerce, an unwieldy, poorly documented behemoth that often made us ask “Why are we doing this to ourselves?” Things like rules-based price calculations made implementing sale prices and customer loyalty discounts a major headache and delay in the development process. But we persevered and made it work!

Finally, there's the non-technical side to building a commerce website. Migrating this website, especially with our goal of preserving as much of the old sales data and reward systems as we could, was mentally taxing. Many days it was hard just to turn away from the distractions of the internet and make progress on the site. Technical roadblocks and delays were depressing. On top of that, we had the business to run, including multiple Kickstarter campaigns and other projects that helped keep the business afloat, but which drained time and energy from the website project. And the longer our focus was turned away from building the website, the harder it was to pick up where we left off and resume making progress.

Although there is still plenty of work to be done, we are greatly relieved that the launch of this website marks the end of a challenging era in our lives. There are many things we've set aside "until after the new website is launched," and now we can finally start to return to them without with less guilt!

What Does The Future Hold?

Assuming that we survive the roll-out of this new site, we’ll start looking at what improvements to add to the current site while also learning more about Commerce in Drupal 8 and planning the major overhaul. Significant layout and design changes will wait for Drupal 8, but in the meantime, some things we hope to implement here on this site include:

  • Tagging each work with the authors, illustrators, editors, and other creative people involved in its creation, making it easy for you to find other works by the same person.
  • Encourage greater exploration of our catalog by adding more information about related titles on product pages, using both product categories as well as "customers who purchased this also bought..." logic.
  • A history section documenting publications and non-book products that we no longer offer for sale. Perhaps we'll even a section on “collectibles” such as misprints that escaped into the wild!
  • More blog content by our creative team. We hope to eventually migrate in blog posts from our old site, as well, to preserve that bit of our history, too.

So thank you for stopping by! We hope you enjoy the new website experience, and that you continue to enjoy our publications, new and old.

—The Sofawolf Press Team

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