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Designing your website involves understanding the structure of the data within. Designing your data comes down to how you store it. At its base level, everything on your site is a post, but the way you handle the data WITHIN the posts is how you can plan for growth, adaption, adoption, and the future. Building a site today involves making sure the data is easily consumable by multiple formats, like AMP, JSON APIs, and Alexa Echo Skills. And it all starts with understanding the data you’re using. Even if that data is from TV.
Television is chewing gum for the eyes Television is chewing gum for the eyes
I love television. I love books, I’m always reading and writing, and I love radio. I like movies. But TV is something weird and wonderful. TV is escapism when a story brings you someplace new and amazing.
One of the reason I love tv is that I see myself reflected in media. I’m a Jewish lesbian. Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of me on TV. Any, really. If I think about it, the first Jewish Lesbian I can remember seeing is Willow Rosenberg from Buffy. Yeah. I was out of college by then.
Representation Matters Representation Matters
In the entirety of television, world wide, there are about 2000 queer females. Total. Yeah. 2000. That’s on about 600 shows. There are not a lot of them, and I know the numbers because I run, with Phillys very own Tracy, a site that uses WordPress to record all of them. That’s right, I have the data.
Data Driven Design Data Driven Design
This isn’t about themes. I can’t design themes. I don’t. I’m bad at it, I know that, sorry Tracy. And when we set about making this site, we had some lofty goals and ideas and we learned some lessons by prejudging the data. Originally we wanted to simply list shows and if you should watch them or not, and list the characters but…
Somewhere around 100 characters and fifty shows, it became clear that the datasets we’d defined were underestimated and over-complicated and over-simplified. We had to consider what made a show good or bad. We had to consider the situation. And we had to make changes.
When you build out any site, you have an idea of what you want. Maybe like us you make a massive list of everything you want to track and get dragged down into the weeds fast. Maybe you make a small list and have to go back and edit. In the end, the trick of it all is planning your site based on your data.
Even after you do all that planning, you’re going to find out you missed things. You’ll overestimate things. You’re going to underestimate others. People are going to use your data in unpredictable ways. This is just how the world works. So you have to design your code to adapt.
How to Design for Data How to Design for Data
This is about planning code. Designing your site for data comes down to how you store it. At its base level, everything on our site is a post. There are two types, shows and characters, and all posts have a bevy of ‘meta’ data for the various bits of information.
Shows: tropes, airdates, thumb score, why that score, tv stations, nations, genres, formats, gold star, trigger warnings, quality rating, screentime rating, realness rating, timeline, episodes, & ‘ships.
Characters: clichés, actor, sexuality, gender, date of death, tv show & role on show.
So all that is what we record. It’s grown and shrunk. We had urls in there and removed them because it was impossible to upkeep when fansites vanish. I removed and restored ‘ships, after figuring out how to store all of it in a searchable way. But with all that data, we started to see the big picture. And then … we realized how the data was stored mattered.
Understand What Your Data Is (And Isn’t) Understand What Your Data Is (And Isn’t)
Most of the data is simple. Ratings are a 1-5 option. Trigger warnings were check boxes for a binary on or off … Were. Sexuality and gender are dropdown lists, and so are tropes and cliches. Managing those is easy. Ish. We understand taxonomies, at least, being WordPess developers.
Most of the time, data is obvious. Again, I have items that are a binary. A yes or a no. And while I personally believe that sexuality and gender are a spectrum, TV hasn’t caught up there, so that can be stored as a one to one dropdown. You are what you are. The same goes for a character being on a TV show. It’s all one or the other.
Having said all that, let me introduce you to Sara Lance, as played by Caity Lotz. Schrödinger’s bisexual time traveling action hero.
The Complex Data: Sara Lance The Complex Data: Sara Lance
Schrödinger’s bisexual time traveling action hero assassin pirate captain.
Sara Lance has two actors. She’s been on three shows in three separate capacities; guest, recurring, and regular. She’s died and came back to life. Sara Lance exists to make me, as a developer, cry. Because for her I have to store all of that data in a searchable manner that plain-text post meta doesn’t make easy. She made me rethink all our data storage.
Nothing about Sara is simple. Nothing is straightforward. Not even the existing taxonomies and lists stayed the same. Both gender and Sexuality went from a simple dropdown to a taxonomy. We moved from gay, straight, or bi, to include pansexual and asexual and I’m just waiting for Sara to step into pansexuality, y’all.
Use WordPress First Use WordPress First
As much as possible, use WordPress. Taxonomies are heavily used for ‘lists’ like cliches and tropes and tv stations, because they come with built in sortables. I can easily list all shows on NBC or all characters who are parents, because those are taxonomies. Even short lists like sexuality and gender work well for that. For the rest, it’s all post meta.
Sara exists beyond taxonomies. Originally, we had death stored as a simple taxonomy item for character cliches. If you were dead, you got the cliche of dead. Sara came along and died. And came back. So suddenly we had to rethink if someone kept the tags if they died and came back. Pro tip? They don’t. That was a quick decision, though. Don’t worry, she made us make harder decisions.
Use Plugins Second Use Plugins Second
I mentioned everything that isn’t a taxonomy is post meta. Adding metadata to posts that aren’t taxonomies sucks. Yes, I said it. It sucks. Plugins like CMB2 or ACF will save your vegan bacon by making it easier to create a check box or a dropdown or a plain text field, like for actors.
Sara had two actors. While the field for actor is only plain text, and that’s relatively simple, we had to make it repeatable so we could add multiple actors. God help me, date of death had to be repeatable too. What if Sara dies again!? CMB2 has repeatable fields built in.
Use Third Party Add-Ons Third Use Third Party Add-Ons Third
The bigger the data got, the more important admin design became. The more tropes, the worse a dropdown or multi-check section was. By using a select2 addon, and some custom save code, I was able to convert taxonomies into an auto-complete, which is a lot easier to visualize. So are groups. By clumping related data together, the brain makes the right connextions. And when it’s repeatable, your page grows with the data is uses, not with the data total.
Sara has three TV shows. THREE!
Sara’s page is much bigger than anyone else’s because she has three shows, and each show section has a dropdown for character role and another for the show name. And I can’t guess if she’s going to show up on another, like Supergirl maybe. CMB2 does have a limit to repeatable fields and groups, though. I hope Sara doesn’t hit it…
Be Willing to Make Changes Fourth Be Willing to Make Changes Fourth
You will be wrong. I removed the list of ships, relationships, from shows. Tracy was sad. I added it back. My bad, totally, and my reasoning was that it was not easy to maintain and manage in a searchable way. It wasn’t. But it could be. And I made it. Be willing to be wrong, to make mistakes, and to recover from them.
Because … Sara is always changing. Alive, dead, new show, new actor… Sara is always changing and always adapting and always being more awesome. She’s anything but static, and that’s a good thing. Sara Lance made me throw my preconceived notions of data storage and organization out the window. And I’m better for it.