I spent most of my time working on Telescope, which means I don’t often get the chance to work with Telescope.

When you’re caught up trying to develop a product, it’s easy to lose focus and forget that what really matters is the end user experience. And if you never experience it yourself, then how are you supposed to improve it?

For that reason, I try to make sure I don’t go too long without using Telescope myself for an actual, real-world project. And this is how I ended up spending the past week working on a new project: Screenings, a site that curates the best design videos from around the web.

“TED for Design”

Screenings is an idea I’ve had for a while. Sidebar has gotten very popular as a curated newsletter of links to design articles and resources, but I felt it was never the best platform for sharing videos.

So I always thought it would be cool to have a dedicated site for this, with a layout designed specifically for watching videos. Kind of like a TED for design (So just “D”, I guess!).

Screenings homepage.

Introducing Template Debug Mode

As often happens when you try to dogfood your own products, I started bumping into countless little issues and annoyances with Telescope.

Mostly, it felt like theming Telescope should be easier. Sure, replacing a template was easy enough: just create a new template with the same name as the template you want to replace, except prefixed with custom_.

But how would you even know that name in the first place? Apart from going through Telescope’s codebase, there wasn’t any obvious way.

This is how I ended up creating the new template debug mode.

Template debug mode

Starting with the next release of Telescope (or right now on the devel branch), you’ll be able to press the “`” key to bring up an overlay highlighting all the templates in your app (in red), as well as Telescope’s own special module zones (in blue).

Open-Sourcing Screenings

That’s not all though: I also decided to open-source the Screenings theme itself and make it available freely to all Telescope users.

Note that many things in the theme are currently still hard-coded for Screenings, but I’m planning on working to make it more adaptable to any use case via simple configuration options.

Screenings Step-By-Step Screencast

And finally, a lot of people have asked for an in-depth, step-by-step guide to customizing Telescope.

In the past, I’ve been hesitant to invest the time necessary in producing this because Telescope’s APIs were still changing frequently. But now that Telescope has stabilized, I think the time is right, and Screenings is the perfect candidate for a customization guide.

So in the next few weeks, I’ll record a series of in-depth screencasts that will walk you through going from a vanilla Telescope install all the way to the Screenings theme.

Hopefully, they’ll teach you everything you need to know to adapt Telescope to your needs!

Screenings single video page.

Next Steps

I won’t lie, open-source can be tough work: without the external validation you get from things like revenue or funding, it can sometimes be hard to know if you’re moving in the right direction.

But working on Screenings made me feel pretty good about Telescope: after all I was able to build a completely custom community in less than a week… and most of that time was spent working on that new template debugging system!

And while a good coder might be able to replicate many of Screening’s major features in a week, there’s also a lot under the surface: out of the box Telescope gives you an API, RSS feeds, post moderation, an auto-generated newsletter, a mobile version, and more.

So I’m hoping this little experiment turns out well. And if you want to help out and support Telescope, a tweet will be much appreciated!