Politics & The City is a multi-blog WordPress MU based site where a large number of contributors have created an online news system aimed at the female market. The site needed to be implemented in a short period of time, with no room for delays due to the already planned and paid for publicity campaign.
For a change, a site where didn’t carry out the visual design ourselves. Instead we were supplied mock-ups and a basic design brief from Black & Ginger, which we then turned into a living, breathing, news website using our WordPress skills to help make a dynamic site easy to manage even for staff who were new to content managed websites.
Key problems solved in the creation of Politics & The City can easily be listed:
- Performance – the site will be expected to receive large spikes in traffic
- Ease of expansion
- Ease of use and content management
- High standards of presentation
- Ease of control over the site’s features
- Highly demanding implementation schedule (three weeks!)
- Analytics to allow monitoring of traffic and to see which features are most popular
It quickly became apparent that the best way forward would be a WordPress MU site, with a custom portal theme and then other themes with shared elements to be used elsewhere in the site. Cost was an issue as it was the first significant online project for June Sarpong MBE, the lady behind the site.
The first major issue to deal with was the unusual server requirements. The clients had already made a deal with SUN (with their Startup Essentials package) prior to approaching Interconnect IT. As a consequence, the WordPress MU install had to be on a Solaris AMP stack, rather than the more usual Linux based stack we deal with. However, apart from a couple of initial hiccups, we quickly solved the problems and moved on to the install.
Rapid Yet Sophisticated Development
At the same time, development was moving quickly. We built and created a range of themes all of which added functionality. The portal itself was largely widget driven, and the different sites had writing options that allowed the user to specify whether the content should appear on the front page or not. If so, the theme would create suitably sized image variants for the front page, and then apply a suitable mask. Easy and simple for the writers to understand.
With deadlines so short, we had to rely on our accumulated IP, which helped us create something more than most rivals could manage. Being WordPress specialists helped hugely. In the end, we crafted the basis for a major site. And when the site was linked to from simply everywhere on the first day, the software performed admirably – only troubled by slow DNS propagation and caching issues which are typical problems when a site is given a big launch just hours after going live.
Key Learning Points
- The actual hosting for the site was probably overspecified for the requirements, but we weren’t involved in this decision. We would say that for the traffic experienced by the site a typical commodity based dedicated server, perhaps with a front-end cache, is perfectly adequate. Our own server attracts approximately the same amount of traffic but is a relatively basic machine in comparison. However, the SUN based solution does allow for a great deal of future traffic. Our own view is that for single sites, server migrations are relatively straightforward and most sites could do with saving money on their serving solutions.
- The designs were supplied as Adobe Illustrator files, but as high resolution 300dpi files. Screens run at much lower resolutions (typically 72dpi-105dpi) and consequently all the graphics had to be recreated by us, so adding considerably to our workload. Designers should try to work with Adobe Fireworks or, failing that, Photoshop or Illustrator in pixel modes.
- Three weeks is not quite enough time for a project with this much custom work and required 14hr working days, seven days a week, in order to provide the results as requested.
- For most smaller projects a lot of time and money can be saved by using ready-prepared dedicated servers from companies such as Namesco, as opposed to bare-box solutions from high-end companies. Bare box solutions, whilst flexible and easy to work with for experts, require high quality systems administration and this is a service we do not provide. Consequently, the need to recruit a systems administrator with specific skills can sometimes be expensive.
- Developers don’t always get any of the credit…but they’re tucked away in the CSS files, if you know where to find them!