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The big “Explore Perl” button, where is it?

How can we make Perl more "explorable?" That’s the question I’ve been wrestling with since my last post about "Getting to the root of Perl’s perception problems." (By the way, thanks for all of the feedback — very helpful).

As I continued to think through the different audiences that Perl needs to speak to and the challenge of helping them find the information they’re looking for, I kept coming back to one idea: we need a Sherpa.

A Sherpa for Perl

No, not a real Sherpa, or some virtual recreation. But a wayfinding system that will help people find their way to the top of Perl’s Mount Everest. So I started investigating what design patterns are out there in the wild for wayfinding across a network of sites, and recorded these specimens as inspiration (click on the photo for the full-size version):

BBC Explore navigation

My favourite by far (because I use it all the time) is the BBC’s "Explore" button. It’s always there, across all of their sites, and never fails me. (You can see it in action, and try it, here.)

Virb bar

I also like the Virb bar, as it provides some other useful buttons: Take the tour, Search, and Help. Interesting ideas to think about in relation to the enormous Perl online ecosystem.

Sidebar network banner

On the simpler end of things is the network banner for Sidebar creative; just links to each of their various sites. Again, always there, easy to find your way around.

Wayfinding through the Perl universe

The challenge for the Perl community — and I would argue it’s as much of a challenge for the BBC (or probably more) — is the vast, sprawling, universe of Perl sites. And, as discussed before, they are all over the place. Each has a different navigation system, a different look and feel, and no common set of links to other Perl sites.

This is not a challenge that is going to be solved quickly, or easily — though I’m glad to read that the TPF and EPO have taken up the cause directly — and I suspect that the Perl community will need to live with a ad-hoc collection of sites for some time to come. So, with that in mind, I set myself to sketching out some ideas for an "’Explore Perl’ persistent navigation bar" that could be implemented easily, and quickly, and across several of the key Perl online properties.

(Like the example design patterns shown above, I think there’s a lot of room for creative interpretation here — should it be dark, light, and so on — so, to avoid the taste debate, I simply present some ideas for the information concerns of such an intervention.)

Explore Perl persistent banner mock-up

(Click for full size image)

Here we have a simple, persistent, bar with a big "Explore" button that opens into a "Mega Nav" with logical menu groups for the major audiences described in my last post. It’s simple, and effective: providing a minimal-looking bar that opens into a very useful way of navigating the Perl ecosystem.

Just for those who aren’t huge fans of the "Mega Nav" approach, here’s another version with the groupings rolled up into simple buttons in the bar:

Perl ecosystem persistent bar mock-up

Hopefully this presents the idea clearly. Again, if you haven’t experienced how this would work, go try the BBC "Explore" button over here — then, come back, and let me know what you think.

Finally, feedback on the grouping and the contents of each grouping, would also be helpful. Clearly, I’ve left out some obvious things — like CPAN — and I’ve done that because I’m grappling with where they conceptually fit. Suggestions welcome.

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  1. #1 Theory 20 Aug 09

    BBC Explore Button

    I likes the BBC ’Explore’ button, and the Mega Nav interface you've mocked up, assuming that it drops down on a click like the BBC's and can be loaded by all the sites from a central site.

  2. #2 phillip_at_newint 21 Aug 09

    @Theory ’ assuming that it drops down on a click like the BBC's and can be loaded by all the sites from a central site.’

    That's the assumption, indeed. Either some kind of an include file that those sites pull down regularly, or a Javascript include that does the pulling automagically.

    Either way, you've got the general idea. :-)


  3. #3 26 Aug 09

    Yes - A Great Idea

    I think that this is a great idea. I saw this on and came here from there. Let's do it!

  4. #4 David Cantrell 27 Aug 09

    I approve of your explore button and wish to subscribe to your newsletter^W^W^W^Wadd it to my site

    I'd be happy to add an ’explore button’ to CPANdeps, if someone else tells me how, and promises to maintain it. I'd also welcome any help that anyone can give me with the design.

    CPANdeps, like most other things in the perl community, was originally written because I had an itch that needed scratching. I stopped when it worked, but since then have added features and made some minor tweaks when people suggested them. If someone who knows how to write HTML has any suggestions (preferably in the form of a patch that I can apply to the publicly available templates) then I'd be delighted to apply it. The only constraints I'll impose on any contributed design are that functionality, compactness, and ease of use are more important than prettiness.

  5. #5 Adam K 28 Aug 09

    Nice ecosystem bar!

    I have taken the initiative of being the first site to roll out the new Perl nav/ecosystem bar! :)

    [a href=’’]

  6. #6 phillip_at_newint 28 Aug 09

    @Adam ’I have taken the initiative of being the first site to roll out the new Perl nav/ecosystem bar! :)’

    Hilarious. That gives me some incentive to come up with the *real* version, and not just a mock-up, I guess. ;-)

  7. #7 Adam K 30 Aug 09

    Tempted to take it too far


    I'm actually almost tempted to build a reusable .js file with an image map to make all of the buttons point at the right place, just for the practice.

    But that might be taking the joke just a little too bar :)

  8. #8 phillip_at_newint 31 Aug 09

    @Adam ’I'm actually almost tempted to build a reusable .js file with an image map to make all of the buttons point at the right place, just for the practice.’

    How about a collaboration. I'll commit to make the bar ’pretty’ -- standards-based HTML and CSS -- and let you have the practice of turning it into a re-usable .js file. ;-)

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