When it comes to modern media, the revolution will not be televised. It’s already happening on your computer screen.

That’s a fact we realized here at The Santa Barbara Independent years ago, right around the time that the rest of the newspapering world was scrambling to adapt to the wild ways of the World Wide Web.

Sure, we had a website up and running-and whoever snagged Independent.com way back when deserves a chest-plate of medals-but we realized that what we were offering was not enough. And if we wanted to survive into the deep future as Santa Barbara’s smartest, most trusted voice-as we’ve worked toward being in print for the past 20 years-we knew it was time for a change.

Then came the events of July 2006, when our town’s longtime daily began imploding in a still-unfolding employment crisis. The need to adjust and deliver a steady, online source of community news became more imperative than ever. So in August of last year, we started making moves, investigating different systems, scouring the web for good ideas, keeping our eyes open for bad ones, and reassigning portions of our staff to tackle this massive job.

We decided that in 2007, we’d make the switch to a brand new content management system, one that was designed by a community newspaper for community newspapers. (And yet is still only being used by a few but growing number of papers.) Starting in January 2007, our webmaster Robert LeBlanc took hold of this system and built our new website essentially from scratch. Because it’s cutting edge, there are no reference books to read and barely any instructional tools from which to learn. So the job was a long and arduous one for our small but dedicated staff and, honestly, it’s taken longer than we’d anticipated.

But we’re here now, and though the next few weeks and months will certainly be a time of working out kinks, enhancing our functions, and growing Independent.com into something extra special, we think you’re ready to see what we’ve been up to.

Which is to say, “Welcome to Independent.com. We think you’ll want to stick around.”

So how’s it work? Unlike our old website, where the Online Only content was the centerpiece and the printed paper’s content was found-or often not-on the sidebar, the new Independent.com integrates our great writing and reporting in the paper with the breaking news, extended features, and web-tech gizmos made possible only by the Internet.

As you’ve already figured out, we’ve got a homepage that ties together all aspects of the paper. Each day, we’ll have a new lead story-sometimes from the printed page, sometimes an online only feature-and three additional featured stories. These may be columns or concert reviews or important Q&As, but the important part is that they keep changing, so that we can constantly be showcasing our best stuff.

Thanks to our “Most Recent Stories” feed, those of you who crave the latest and greatest will merely have to click on our homepage to see what we’ve recently posted. These will range from the A&E Blog and lifestyle stories to hard news, S.B. Media Blog updates, and photo spreads from last night’s sold-out Bowl show.

Look to the right side of the page and find our new weather forecaster and, below that, a few interesting tabs that we’re still perfecting, including “Most Emailed,” “Most Comments,” and “Our Print Edition,” which will feature highlights from each Thursday’s newspaper.

If you scroll down a tad and look left, you’ll find a lengthy list of columns as well as top stories from each of our designated sections: News, Opinions, A&E, Community (mostly the Living section from the paper), Food & Drink, Sports, Travel, and Business. Each section also has its own homepage too, so if you click on the bar above the featured stories or on the tabs on the top bar of the website, you will be directed there. Like the old site, but hopefully with better stability, we are offering RSS feeds to all of our sections and even just for some columns too, so make sure to subscribe by clicking on the bar that says “Subscribe to Our Feeds.”

You’ll notice that we have three new sections that are not featured separately in the printed Independent. These are Business, Sports, and Travel. Though these are not designated tabs on the top bar, you can enter their section pages by clicking on the bar above the featured story on the bottom of the homepage. Or if you’re a fan of using the top bar, which appears on every page of Independent.com, you can enter by sliding your cursor over the right tab and letting a drop down menu appear. Travel and Sports are both located under the Community tab whereas Business can be found under News. (It’s good to explore those tabs and see what else we’ve got too.) Speaking of section pages, these are still under development as you read this, so prepare for changes over the next few weeks and always be ready for additional features-think polls, contests, quizzes, questionnaires, streaming media, citizen journalism, reader-submitted photos, and the like-for the years to come.

How about our seemingly endless supply of columnists? If you haven’t checked recently, we’re representing everything from Starshine, Healthspan, Montecito Montage, Eye on Isla Vista, and Barney to Opening Palms (palm reading), Sex, Love & Santa Barbara (dating and relationships), and Getting Education (Gevirtz School commentaries)-that’s just a short list! Lucky for you column/blog junkies, we’ve got an entire page dedicated to our columnists, so just click on the “Columns” bar and jump to the page where we display them all.

Perhaps most exciting is our new online Calendar. Every day of the week is now listed in a dynamic fashion, and we’re encouraging you-no, we’re demanding you-to begin posting your events into our system immediately. It’s entirely free (you just need to register onsite), it goes way into the future, and it basically functions the same way as The Week section of the printed Independent, so we’re hoping you adapt to this system quickly. It saves you time, it saves us time, and it makes for the most up-to-date and comprehensive what-to-do guide in town. In fact, we believe that Independent.com’s new Calendar will change the way Santa Barbarans find out what to do every day of the week. (If you’re slow to adapt, no worries, because we’ll continue accepting traditional Calendar/Event submissions as well.)

Speaking of changing your habits, the new Independent.com features Movie Times, TV Listings, and a complete guide to all of our region’s restaurants, bars, and clubs. So whenever it’s time to head out for dinner and a movie or order take-out for some cozy TV watching, head to Independent.com.

And lest we forget our brothers and sisters on the business side of the building, we’d be remiss not to mention that you can expect to see many of your favorite advertisers from the printed edition to start showing up on our new website. We’re also happy to announce that in May, we’ll be launching a brand new Personals system, one that’s already being used with much glee and success in markets across the country. And, as on our old site, don’t forget to use the Real Estate, Jobs, Cars, and other Classifieds listings that we offer for free online, complete with loads of cool enhancements (photos, links, etc.) that are also offered for no charge.

And for those fans of the old website, we’re keeping the open format for comments from readers. However, after much deliberation, we’ve decided that you’ll have to register with a valid email address to post anything on Independent.com. That is primarily a means for us to cut down on the literally thousands of spam comments we were getting each day on our old site. But don’t worry, we’re allowing you to stay anonymous, we’re just making sure you’re a real person. (Here’s a hint: if you’re that concerned about your identity, create an anonymous email account, which is about as easy as can be.) To register, go to http://independent.com/accounts/register/.

So there you have it, the new Independent.com. We appreciate your patience as we tweak the website to bring Independent.com up to the same high standard you’ve come to appreciate from 20 years of reading our printed newspaper. It’s a brave new world out there, and we’re happy to be the ones bringing you into it.


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