December 4, 2014

Probing the Mysteries of Episcopal Café

Episcopal Café logo
As many readers surely know, Episcopal Café has been redesigned. There were several reasons for updating the collection of Episcopal blogs, but the most pressing was probably that the software underlying the site was no longer being supported.

The new site is more attractive than the old, but, like any newly designed Web site, it has its teething problems that will take some time to work out. The first problem that I noticed, for example, was that “Café” had lost the acute accent on the “e.” (See logo above. I am told this problem is being fixed.) Other issues are more problematic. Additionally, the site is organized differently, and that organization can be confusing if you don’t understand it.

The most serious problem is one of performance. It can take a long time for a story to appear. This may be related to the animation that serves up one story at a time. This animation is cute, but the price paid for it may be too high. Anyway, when one clicks on a link—on a Continue link, say—to see a complete story, it may take a long time for the story to appear. I did this on a story last night, and, by morning, the story had still not shown up. Sometimes the story seems to appear and disappear in an instant. Sometimes a mouse click can reproduce this behavior. I tried viewing “Right Now Jesus Can’t Breathe” and clicked my mouse in a space that should have contained the story. To my amazement, a picture showed up. It was a picture in the (invisible) story, suggesting that the story was there but not there. (Can you say Schrödinger’s cat?) Anyway, I discovered that, if you are waiting for a story to appear, scrolling down a few lines can make it visible. This behavior is a serious bug, but knowing the workaround makes the site at least usable.

The old Episcopal Café presented as a collection of blogs. To the casual observer, the new site seems to have the same organization, with several blogs having been collected in something called “The Magazine.” If you were to think the new organization a minor variation of the old, however, you would be wrong. The old blogs have actually disappeared. All stories are now organized into categories (e.g., The Lead) and further characterized with tags (e.g., News reports or legal).

Even if you understand the use of categories and tags, navigation can be confusing. Clicking on “The Lead” in the banner or the sidebar (under “Categories”) will bring up only stories in that category. Scrolling down makes more and more stories appear until, at the bottom of the page, you can select the next page of older stories or go to the last page. The good news here is that all the stories from the old site are still available. (But see below.)

What is confusing is this: At the bottom of each story are arrows to take the reader to the previous or next story. What is not immediately obvious, however, is that clicking on one of these arrows may take you to a story in a different category. What would be helpful would be up and down arrows to take you to the next and previous stories in the same category.

Finally, there is the problem of finding a story if you only know the title or the old URL. There is no search function provided for the site, so searching by title is impossible. Eventually, Google will, no doubt, fully index the site, but this is unhelpful now. A Google search may yield an old URL, but, alas, the new page addresses are different. If you know the title (or something close to the title) but can’t remember whether it was in The Lead or Daily Episcopalian, good luck! Actually, if you can find the old URL through Google, you can narrow your search.

I am the principal editor of the news blog Pittsburgh Update, which summaries Anglican news of particular interest to people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Update has frequently linked to stories at the Café, usually stories in The Lead. Many of these links are now broken.

What I have discovered is that, if you have a link to the old site, it may actually work, or you may be able to figure out what the new link is. For example, here is an old link:


The title of the story is “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” On the new site, the blog name and the tag (in this case, “lead/anglican_communion/” are dropped. Also, the “.html” at the end gets stripped off. This actual URL is


but the old one works, too! I don’t know why some pages are redirected but others are not. In any case, the part of the old URL that derives from the story title is usually pretty similar, but often not identical, to the corresponding part of the new URL. Consider the story “Clergy call out Ft. Lauderdale mayor on false feeding site claims,” whose old URL is


Both this URL and the URL found by removing the blog, tag, and HTML suffix give a page-not-found error. The proper new URL is


Go figure.

One strategy that can be used to find a page is to filter by tag. From the old URL, we know that our Fort Lauderdale story has the tag “news reports.” This tag can be found under “Tags” in the sidebar, where individual tags are links. Clicking on “News reports” takes the reader to


which displays stories with that tag. Without a date, however, the reader may have to embark on a long linear search.Good luck with that.

Most of the problems of finding old stories could be solved by including a search box on the site. This would not be the most convenient way to find an old story from a title or URL, but it would work in a pinch.

I hope this has helped people navigate the new Episcopal Café. Stay tuned; I’m sure things will get better.

5 comments:

  1. The new Episcopal Café is all design. The content isn't discernible at a glance, and L. Deimel has done better than I at digging it out. Cute but too complicated covers it.

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  2. If you use the scroll bar the story will appear -- just run it up and down. Change is difficult --

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    Replies
    1. And Yikes, the (rhymes with) Schmemily Schmindsor-Shragg problem just grew more hysterical (and, as often happens among those suffering pathological paranoia, conspiratorial). With those posts that moderators permitted, I kept WANTING to reply "TAKE YOUR MEDS, and then you can be part of the conversation!"

      ...but thought that would probably not be helpful ("Don't engage. Remember, don't engage.")

      Has someone like her ever showed up before at the old Cafe? (Or make that Cafe', just for you, Lionel ;-/). One can always speculate whether Good Ol' Internet Trolls have some degree of mental illness, but they usually seem pretty conscious of their trolling. With someone who's unconscious of it, it's less annoying than heartbreaking (though still annoying!)

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    2. JCF: Not responding is wise! (but hard to do) Some comments get through automated moderation; please flag any that you see that don't get caught!

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    3. Yes, the site is usable if not intuitive. My husband has found that clicking on the RSS icon (I didn't know what RSS is) gives a list of articles so you can avoid the flashy flipping tiles. Maybe the emphasis will return to content. In the old Café, the headlines and stories were just there. After a few days, the stories were truncated, but still easy to scan.

      Change is difficult? This change is difficult. Did it have to be? The old platform may have been broken, but the reader interface was just fine.

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