I’ve been meaning to write this for some time now, but kept putting it off because all the other interesting stuff that’s always happening here.
As someone who has a background in in graphic & web design as well as coding and (more recently) programming, I have to say that LGF is one of the best sites I’ve ever used. And I don’t mean one of the best sites of its kind, I mean one of the best sites period.
Good design isn’t about making things “pretty” it’s about visually communicating information in a way that’s virtually transparent to the end user. In other words, truly good design gets out of your way and makes a web site eminently usable.
LGF is damned good design for several reasons that I’d like to point out:
1.) Overall Design - LGF uses very few graphics, and the ones that exist are quite small. This, along with the cleanly written HTML code, helps the pages load more quickly.
The gray banner & logo at the top of the page that spans the full browser window prevents the main content from looking like an island floating aimlessly in a sea of white on widescreen monitors.
In addition, the layout is designed so that even on older/smaller monitors with a resolution of 800x600, the most important content (left & center) is still completely visible. Ditto for the main headlines remaining above the fold.
2.) Visual Hierarchy & Color/Contrast - Not only is it clear which articles are most important based on their location and the size of the text/headings, there are also color cues such as the pinkish box at the top of the page for announcements, and the prominent yet unobtrusive buttons (for LGF Pages, log-in, etc.)
These same color cues help when reading through threads; you can always spot your own comments because of the green headers, and Charles’ are easy to find with his signature blue.
Also note how all of the colors are muted and have just the right amount of contrast, making them easy on the eyes—very important for a site that is 95% text and where comments commonly run into the hundreds.
3.) Functionality - Oh, the widgets! I love all the cool little Ajax widgets on LGF, especially those collapsible ones in the sidebar on the left under the featured music CD. And the entertaining little quotes above & below the links to the Pages in the sidebar on the right.
I’ve only seen comment spam here once, which is pretty amazing. I have no idea how Charles manages to keep the spammers (whom I positively loathe) at bay.
How about these pages? He’s made it easy for us to contribute, which not only helps him with fresh content but also helps us—those who link to their own blogs get traffic that they otherwise wouldn’t, and the rest of us get to express opinions on topics that we might otherwise not find here. Plus, I’ve had some of my most interesting & fruitful conversations on the pages.
And how about the ease with which we can add photos & videos? Or the way we can click on comments to follow threads, or click on a nic to contact someone, or click on their avatar to see their profile? The Spy is really useful too, especially if you’re trying to follow more than one thread.
The list just goes on and on (search capabilities, adding favorites, etc.) Heck, I’m still discovering stuff that is new to me, like highlighting what I typed and then pressing Crtl+B or Crtl+I to make my text bold or italic (which I did as a reflex last week, not realizing until then that it would actually work).
4.) Clean, Semantic Code - The site’s HTML code is clean, well organized and semantic—a thing of great beauty to anyone who loves to code. Not only is it pleasing to look at from a geek perspective, but it also helps search engines properly understand the content and makes it much easier for Charles to update the look & feel of the site in the future.
So that addresses the visual aspects and front-end code & functionality, but what about the back-end server side stuff & programming that drives everything?
I don’t know if Charles built this site from scratch or if it was built on an existing framework and then highly customized, nor do I know if he had help with the design aspect, but however he did it it’s a pretty amazing feat for a one-man show. There’s an ENORMOUS amount of work involved in a site like this, most of which is completely invisible to the end user—all we Lizards know is that it works and we like it.
Think about this: Not only does Charles have to police the threads for squabbles & trolls, he has to keep an eye on server bottlenecks (which could involve any number of things) and server security issues, be mindful of the security of his code & database (especially since there are people who would love nothing better than to hack this site), keep up with his advertisers & affiliates, monitor statistics, stay on the lookout for sock puppet registrations, deal with nasty emails, AND write articles. That’s the short list. And he’s continually adding new stuff. Somewhere in there he’s also supposed to try to have a life.
BTW, the expenses involved in maintaining dedicated servers that can handle the amount of traffic a site like LGF gets isn’t insignificant, so please remember to donate when you can, even if it’s just a couple of dollars. Speaking of, it’s high time I ordered a cookbook…
Anyway, I know you Lizards all appreciate the site, but I just wanted to give the non-geeks out there a little bit of an idea of what goes into its upkeep, and at the same time give Charles a shout out for all his hard work. Kudos to you, Charles—your efforts are noted and highly appreciated.
P.S. I’d be very interested in hearing more about how this site was built, what kinds of technical problems were encountered, and how they were overcome. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one day Charles will write about it.