Wine-ing on the Web

I posted the following entry last June on my company’s blog:

Early last year, I pointed to the excellent Cellar Tracker web site, where the hardcore wine geek (or aficionado, if you please) could keep track of everything in her cellar and even connect with a community to share tasting notes. Despite the overall thoroughness and wealth of features, though, the design is a bit spare, and the site is clearly aimed at people with large cellars.

Now, along come not one but two new sites offering to bring the benefits of online cellar management to the masses. Both WineLog and Cork’d have launched recently, and are in a desperate battle to sign up new users who will share their wine tasting notes and recommendations. I’m happy to see that these sites make use of some newer web technology like tagging to make classifying (and more importantly, finding) wines easier and more intuitive.

Though both sites are evolving rapidly, I’d have to give the edge at the moment to Cork’d, whose playful graphic design really invites users to jump right in. I also like the community features (though calling it “Drinking Buddies” might strike the wrong note with some people) and look forward to using this as a resource in the months to come.

But I won’t be abandoning Cellar Tracker, whose powerful features are just too useful. If we could just get them talking to the folks at Cork’d…

I have to admit that since then, the underdog WineLog seems to have closed the gap considerably, and maybe even pushed ahead. While Cork’d attracted a lot of the web design/blog crowd who enjoyed the work of designers/programmers Dan Cederholm and Dan Benjamin, there seem to be fewer, well, wine people there, and I find the site harder to actually use, especially when searching for wines. I still think the biggest challenge involved in making sites like these useful is formatting the information consistently and weeding out redundancies. Which is why I still generally use Cellar Tracker over the upstarts. But it’s fun to keep track of how these projects are developing.

My New Year’s Resolution

I hate the idea of New Year’s resolutions. And yet, I think I have to make one.

I rarely (if ever) talk about work on this blog. And that’s by design. But I want to talk about what I do rather than just where I work. For years, I’ve hidden behind the adage that I’m a “generalist” as far as working the web goes. In fact, I’m pretty much a generalist at everything. I’m curious about everything and very easily distracted. I have a million hobbies and interests, and my spare time is very easily filled up.

But this year, I want to focus a bit more on my work as a web designer. I’m not a designer, or a programmer. I often just call myself a “web guy” and that’s true. But the truth is that most web guys know much more about the web than I do. I recently read Jeff Croft’s entry on being a professional web designer and it really struck home. I’m one of those guys who learned HTML in the 90s. I’ve kept up, barely, with most new developments as far as markup (ie. not programming) and the general “zeitgeist” of the web. I know the right buzzwords, and am genuinely interested in where the web is headed. But my technical skills and knowledge have lagged.

My current job started in 2003 when I had to build a site from the ground up for a wine-importing agency. It’s gone through a few cosmetic changes since then, but nothing serious, and it is crying out for a proper database back end and a CMS. These are at present beyond the scope of my abililities. I’ve bought the right books, and bookmarked the right sites. But my current responsibilities have gradually expanded to the point where I can’t immerse myself enough to learn how to do these things.

Each year I come back from SXSW inspired and motivated to make the necessary changes, and each year, I fail to make them. I’m frustrated. Part of the problem is the fact that I do much more than just maintain the web site now. And part of it is just inertia. No one complains about the site, but I know what’s wrong with it. As the only web guy in a small company, I’m also very isolated from the web design community. Though I know several people and get together pretty regularly for drinks with them, I’ve assumed they’re too busy to help with my questions. I’ve wanted to get more involved in the local web design community, but have lost the confidence that I’ll be able to contribute anything of worth to the discussion. Same goes for SXSW, where I hang out with bloggers and journalists and other “content” types instead of trying to learn from people whose work I admire online.

It may be true that in the long run, I’ll always be more comfortable as a content guy. My real passion is for writing and for using the web in innovative ways. But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of learning a few new tricks. In 2007, I’m going to try very hard to make space for that to happen.