Swimmers Guide went online in late May, 1996, since that time, the number of pools in the database has nearly quintupled, but the interface you have seen and the way the information was created and stored on the server have gone virtually unchanged. We decided that with the resources we had available we could devote our time to creating content or we could devote our time to creating a visually pleasing site, but we could not do both – so we opted for content.
Although we’re convinced that our decision to choose substance over style was correct at the time, the Internet has changed and the “back of the house” software we had been using all along couldn’t support some of the innovations and improvements we want to implement. So, after 16 years, we hired a programmer to bring Swimmers Guide into the 21st Century.
What has changed?
In the listings, aside from the obvious - narrowing the screen, changing colors and layout, putting the advertisements that pay for the site on both sides of the listings - we’ve also eliminated the “mailto” links that used email messages for you to send us updated information about the listings’ web links, telephone numbers, prices, map links, and your reviews. Now, there’s an “Edit” button on the right side of every data point in a listing; click on the Edit button and a screen will come up prompting you for input that, when completed, will allow us to review, accept or edit what you’ve sent, and to add it to the listing in real time!
Do you want to tell us about a team or club that trains at the facility? On the old site, we could fit only two or three clubs of each type into a listing; now, we can accept an almost unlimited number of swimming, diving, water polo, and synchronized swim teams for each listing - and we've added several more types: triathlon, life saving, fin-swimming, underwater hockey and rugby teams, and SCUBA diving clubs.
On the old site we had a 500-character database field-size limitation for reviews and comments; that limitation is now a thing of the past. The site will allow as many reviews of as we want to have, and, with the field-size limitation gone, we’ll be able to begin adding the date received to each review. In about a year, we’re going to delete all the undated reviews – some go back ten or more years – but we’ll leave them for a while because we think that most of them do have value.
The “Add A Pool” tool on the old site hadn’t worked for years, and the work-around of asking you to copy a questionnaire from a page on the site to an email message, then type answers to a multitude of questions, then email it to us has finally been replaced! The new “Add A Swimming Pool” tool that you can access from the home page is much easier to deal with from your point of view and ours. Fill in answers to the questions and hit the “Submit” button - the information will be instantly available to us. We’ll be able to see what you sent and, if the facility meets our listing criteria, we’ll be able to add it to the site in real time. No more waiting until the weekly site upload, everything can be done in a matter of minutes.
Have you ever wondered how many listings we have – or how many we have in a particular country? Check out the “Site Statistics” page. The information on that page is updated in real time – every time a pool is added to or removed from the database, the information on that page will be automatically updated.
Although the site is still less smart phone-friendly than we’d like, we’ve added a small tool above the scrolling (or drop-down) lists of countries, states, counties, and cities, to allow you to type in the first few letters of the name of the place you’re interested in and the list will automatically scroll down to the places you typed, hit the “Select” button, and the next list (or the listing) you’re looking for will come right up. If you’re using a tablet computer or a desktop computer, this tool works on them, too!
We’ve changed the set-up of the “Pools in [city name]” so that all the listings in a city are shown on a single page, as opposed to multiple pages with no more than 15 listings per page. And the new list, which comes sorted by postal code by default, can now be sorted in ascending or descending order by name, neighborhood, primary pool length, postal code, accessibility by the general public, accessibility by hotel guests, and whether or not the facility has club or team contact information.
More important than all the changes we’ve written about above, the ones you can see, are the ones you can’t see. The site is now permanently installed in an SQL Server database using asp.net programming. The change from Cold Fusion/MS Access to asp.net/SQL Server, not only allowed all of the can-see changes, but will enable us to implement a tremendous number of site enhancements. We can now develop a truly smart-phone friendly site. We’ll be able to implement some controlled database searches that depend on variables other than just geographical situation: How many 50m pools are there in Nassau County, NY? Where can I find a 50m, outdoor pool in Germany? What listings in New York City have Masters swim clubs? We haven’t begun that work yet, but now it’s doable. When we finish geocoding the site, we’ll do a map-based graphical user interface that will render artificial, political boundaries irrelevant in a search. If you’re in or going to an area close to a national, state, or county boundary, you’ll be able to tell if there’s a pool on the other side of the border that’s close – without doing another “Find A Pool” search! (We’re at 62% geocoded as of March 4, 2013, 23 months into the project, so that’s only a year or so down the road.)
What hasn’t changed?
Behind the hardware, software, and data, itself, the individual who created the site hasn’t gone anywhere. He now works full-time to keep the site as current and useful as he possibly can. He will continue to do the same work, simply using a better tool.