Enhancing the browsing functionality.
I mean really — what was I smoking when I implemented that portion of the site?
In all honestly I think it just boiled down to wanting to get the thing done and pushed live to the world. The current browse system was intended to evolve into an intelligent browsing system that would progressively show you maps based on your click-path through the thousands of potentials in the database.
So much for grand ideas.
Funny thing though — being able to browse the entire database of maps is probably one of the most crucial features of the site, if not for one reason:
It gives search engine spiders access to every map in the database.
And why is this such a wonderful thing? Because it helps improve the site's ranking in search results, which results in more traffic to Mapraider and potentially more users, more ratings and more map submissions.
So, keeping this importance in mind, how do we make it so that it doesn't suck for users on the site? Great question!
Back in the days of the first internet boom, I had the privilege of working with one of those huge dot-com agencies (now defunct) where I really got my feet wet in interface design and usability. It was fun at the time, but most of what we did back then was so "90's web style" that I had put a lot of it out of mind since then.
It dawned on me when I first started attacking the browsing feature that one of the things we worked on years ago — a dynamic, "intelligent" resturant finder where you filtered results without feeling like you were laboriously searching — was a perfect solution to my map browsing delimma.
Essentially, it works by simply providing a list of categorical links that, when clicked, filter the list of maps into more finely grained buckets. It's nothing more than a progressively disclosed, hierarchical tree structure — though in my implementation, it's not purely a forced linear experience like you might expect.
Not only would it provide simple, clickable, faster and meaningful filtering through all of Mapraider.com's maps, but it would also push the names of the game systems that we host maps for, which are important search engine keywords, into more prominence on the site. Right now, the only place these game systems are listed is in the game system pull-down of the search toolbar.
I also discovered that this structure became an awesome foundation for the site, providing automatic, direct access points to each gaming system and their associated maps. It allowed me to simplify the site's navigation, provided logical locations for featuring other content such as RSS feeds, and almost eliminates the need for manual text searching (don't panic ... search is not going away).
It may not seem like much, but this dramatically new approach to the site's organization is probably one of the most exciting changes in the site, and I simply cannot wait to launch it.