Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The new Society for Psychical Research website

As of 5 September 2016 the Society for Psychical Research has a spanking new website, though sharing a number of similarities with the old one.  It has the news section; listings for forthcoming Society events (still irritatingly termed ‘upcoming’); information on the SPR’s publications; abstracts of the Journal’s articles; information on research; details of books recently published in the field; and links to the online library (holding the complete contents of the Journal, Proceedings and the magazine Paranormal Review).  You can learn about the organisation and how to join it, and report a personal experience.  All the basics from before are present, but there is more.  New additions include provision for blogs and articles, greatly increasing the amount of content.  The Society’s Twitter feed, which I run, now appears on the front page.  The appearance too has undergone a radical makeover.  More colour has been introduced – a fetching lavender-based design, with links to some areas represented by pictures.  There is improved optimisation for mobile devices.  The result is a more attractive and flexible offering than before.

The old website had served the SPR well for nine years but it was generally regarded as dated, so this is a welcome refresh.  In fact, looking at versions as preserved by the ‘Wayback Machine’, it is remarkable to see how the site has evolved since its first archiving in 2001.  In 2007 extensive revisions were instituted under the direction of Dr Zofia Weaver.  The SPR’s Electronic Communications Committee worked hard to expand the content in order to make the site a major source of information about the subject and the Society, though we never achieved the ‘website of websites’ I had envisaged; perhaps that ambition was unrealistic.  We did lose the bright orange colour the original website had sported, adopting instead a more restrained palette.

The most important change in the latest incarnation is the addition of the much-anticipated online encyclopaedia, funded from the exceedingly generous Buckmaster bequest.  There have been complaints for a long time that Wikipedia’s treatment of those areas covered by the term psychical research is unsatisfactory, indeed biased to the point of being misleading and heavily slanted to cast the entire subject in a negative light.  The SPR’s encyclopaedia works on a different model, consisting of invited articles solicited from experts on a wide range of topics.  This project is still growing, and is not expected to be complete for several years, but from the start it should prove to an invaluable – and hopefully reliable – source of information.

One slight personal hitch has arisen with the new website.  I had added a large amount of material to the old one, mostly book reviews plus some news items.  My reviews have been transferred but the URLs have changed, which means that it is no longer possible to access them in their new locations directly from the bibliography in my blog by clicking the links.  I may add them to my book blog in due course, but there are a lot so it would be quite a task.  In the meantime they can be found by going to the SPR website and using the search box within the new publications area, putting in either publication title or author.  Inserting my name will bring up all the books I have reviewed.  (At present there is no general search box for the entire website.)

Such minor issues aside, a lot of work has gone into the new venture under the supervision of Robert McLuhan.  In its expansion it has more closely approached the idea of the ‘website of websites’ I had envisaged the last time we undertook a major revision.  I am sure that the revamp will generate a great deal of interest, and in so doing be a major vehicle for the SPR to promote itself, and stimulate interest in psychical research.