Building the new ChicagoNow


ChicagoNow home page, circa 2009

It's been nearly two years since we launched ChicagoNow and we're ready for a facelift. Actually, we're getting more than a facelift. We're pretty much getting a whole new body.

Over the next 3 months we are going to rebuild ChicagoNow from the ground up with our sights set on launching the new site in mid-June. We're going to be moving away from our current blogging platform, Movable Type, and will build a customized platform using Wordpress.

We have 3 main goals with this redesign:

  • Create a platform that gives a voice to every Chicagoan who has something to say.
  • Make it easier for users to find ChicagoNow blogs they're interested in
  • Break down walls between ChicagoNow blogs so content can be more easily shared between blogs.

The new platform is being built by the Chicago Tribune News Apps Team that recently built TribLocal, among their many other projects, which was also in Wordpress. We are in very, very good hands.

So why Wordpress? There are many reasons, including because many of our astute bloggers have been asking for it since we launched. Wordpress is a highly-regarded and easily adaptable platform that's growing in prominence throughout the blogging industry.

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We've decided to make the project an open book, which is what this blog is all about. It'll be the primary way we share information with our bloggers as well as our readers. We're going to share mock-ups, our development schedule, planned features, pretty much everything you can imagine.

We are also going to want feedback, that's perhaps the most critical part of the project. With that in mind, we're going to hold periodic live chats with myself and members of the development team.

In addition, I've asked two ChicagoNow bloggers -- Doug "Chicago Bulls Confidential" Thonus and Ramon "Chicago Garden" Gonzales -- to participate in Iteration review sessions so we'll be getting direct feedback from two veterans.

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A few weeks ago I asked the ChicagoNow bloggers to send me ways to improve the site and I got back dozens and dozens of thoughtful, smart and passionate responses. Many of the ideas have been incorporated into our blueprint.

Among the many features we're planning:

- Readers will be able to register, login and comment using their Facebook accounts.
- Instant analytics for all bloggers via their dashboard
- A "Follow" system so users can find their favorite blogs when returning to ChicagoNow
- Blog-specific content search
- Bloggers will be able to add contributors on their own
- Bloggers will be able to customize their right rails and nav bars on their own
- Ability to "reblog" ChicagoNow posts to other ChicagoNow blogs
- Ability to read, comment and post from mobile devices
- Readers can write their own blog posts

There's a lot more but these are some of the biggies. We'll be rolling these features out over several months so what you see in June will not be the final product.

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A major part of this project will be converting all the existing blogs into the new system. Our plan now is to bring over all your archives. We're still working on the design, how the banners will look, etc. so I don't have anything to show you at the moment.

One thing that's certain is all our bloggers will need to learn the new system. The OnBoarding process will begin, at a minimum, several weeks before our re-launch so don't be concerned that you won't be ready. You will be ready, I'll see to that.

That's it for now. I'll have an announcement soon about our first live chat about the redesign. In the meantime, leave any comments you want here or you can always email me at

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  • Sounds great

  • Implement a persistent navigation bar that highlights about 10 or so "sections" or topics covered by ChicagoNow.

  • In reply to LucidRealty:

    We've been grappling with just how to present "sections" or "topics". The problem with 4 sections as we have now is that we could have 100-150 blogs or more under each one. So 10 seemed right to us as well.

    But then when you expand from 4 to 10 we found it didn't work. Sports can't expand to just 1 or 2 more, it has to be "Baseball", "Basketball", "Football", etc. So right now we're looking at 25-35 categories where readers can find individual blogs.

    The categories will not be set in stone, so if we find it necessary to add or remove one it will be a simple and easy change.

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    Hey, as long as Real Estate is right up on top in plain view :)

  • In reply to LucidRealty:

    Very exciting! And thank you for the shift to WordPress. I think the Facebook login/comment will really help us engage with readers even more. Good stuff.

  • In reply to LucidRealty:

    a technical niggle: it is possible to hook up movable type commenting to facebook connect -- we've done it for one of our own developments ( that said, it's not easy, but it is possible. just in case any of the remaining movable type folks need to know.

  • In reply to patricking:

    That isn't part of our plan. We will make the transition seamless for all our current registered users. It will involve a completely new commenting system unrelated to Movable Type.

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