Gnome Stew

http://www.gnomestew.com

 

When the owner of Gnomestew.com wanted to do some upgrades to the blog, I volunteered to install them and do some testing. We decided to go through with a full site redesign to update the older site look, and we wanted it done before voting began for a major gaming industry award. After retooling the color scheme, getting artists to work up some new images, and reworking a lot of the internal structure, we came up with the new site and won a gold Ennie for best blog. Since then, the site has won the Best Website award and many Best Blog awards in silver and gold.

 

While I did the site design for Gnome Stew, I am also one of the contributing authors for the site. This connection would prove to become an ideal model for the way I work with clients. It showed me how much more can be achieved when you take a personal interest in your work. I’ve applied that to all my future work and have helped many clients by helping them get the most out of their projects.


Features

  • Multiple Authors
  • Integrated Mobile Site
  • Multiple Authors
  • Archives of Content from Previous Site
  • Spam Registration and Comment Blocking
  • Caching Software for Speedy Loading
  • Custom Theme
  • WordPress Framework

Focus On The Content

As A Blog...

The most important element is the content. But a great design can help showcase that. We developed the entire site around this concept and wanted to make sure that every visual choice put the content front and center. Built on a preexisting wordpress architecture, we gave different designs to the most recent article while retaining front page relevance for other current articles. Archive pages were presented in a different way, but showcased the strength of older articles while being easy to navigate.

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

Design Supports Content

We knew we were working with a diverse group of content authors each with unique styles, but we wanted to ensure that all of the site’s articles looked dynamic and were supported by images. I implemented a system with custom coding that pulled images from a list linked to categories if, and only if, the author didn’t provide an image inside the article. This made it easy for the authors to focus on the writing. If they had included images, the code grabbed those and put them front and center, if not it pulled relevant images from a pool that we hired artists to create.

The Right Graphics For The Site’s Tone

Great Artists

Great artists make getting the right look easy. We hired an artist we had worked with before, Andrew Mcintosh, to create graphic elements that fit the tone of the gaming site. Slightly irreverent and funny, the site’s graphics needed to show off some of the humor as well as visually represent what the categories and articles would be about. Drawing crazed gnomes to fill the space on large monitors, icons that fit the themes of the categories, and comment icons that would dynamically change based on the number of comments on an article, Andrew delivered and the impact of the graphics made a huge difference.

 

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(if you need a great artist, check out Andrew’s Site)

 

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Coding And UI To Support Content

Coding For Success

The readers of Gnome Stew all have different needs, so we created code structures that supported them. Just a few of the behind the scenes operations are listed here:

  • Random Article Links
  • Printer Friendly Styling without Design
  • Mobile Site Styling
  • Spam And IP Address Blocking Against Known Lists and Heuristics
  • Social Media Logins
  • Structured RSS Feeds with Images
  • Comment Subscription And Notification
  • Integrated Advertisements Relevant To Site Content

Solving Other Problems

My work with Gnome Stew didn’t end at creating a great site design and working with talented people to update the look. Martin, the site’s owner continued to utilize me as a technical support structure. Martin had 2 major issues that I helped him solve.

Cleaning Up The Spam And Securing Against Issues

The site had lived in a fairly unsecured state until I took over. Because of its popularity and large traffic (over 100 gigs of bandwidth used some months), the site had been targeted by spammers. When the site was unsecured, a lot of spam signups had been created in the database. This caused an issue, because alongside the 3,000 or so regular commenters were an equal or greater number of spam bot controlled accounts trying to create spam comments. Martin asked for my help in securing the site. I took a multi-step approach. Some of it was done through programs on the server, some of it was done through changes to file and access tables. Some of the steps I took were:

  • Place stronger restrictions on signups
  • Created coding and database structures to clear out the spam bots.
  • Notify and alert users through social media presence and structures they could verify their accounts through.
  • Check all logins against known spam ip lists.
  • Modify login structures to prevent spam bots from finding the site.
  • Block bad IPs at the server level.
  • Search for heuristic patterns common with spam bots and viruses.

The end result was a success and the site ran more smoothly with stronger protections. Eventually, Martin had me take over all site duties and secure it on a new server optimized for this level of site. This was fortunate, as a few years after the security was upgraded, old spam bots tried to target the site and flood it with a denial of service attack. The server I had secured for him stood up against it and we were able to log all of the ip addresses that attempted to hack the site. Nothing got through, but in the previous unsecured state the site would have been down for a week if not destroyed completely.

 

 

Click image to enlarge

 

Click image to enlarge

 

Migrating Content

Previous to Gnome Stew, Martin had run another site called Treasure Tables. He had maintained the archives long after starting and switching to Gnome Stew with a group of other authors, but wanted to move the content into the stew’s database. I worked out a structure and way to export the old content and import it into a new category on the site, maintaining the dates, comments, and most of the structures of the old articles.

We took it a step further and created custom styling that would show up on the Treasure Tables section, providing visual cues to the archive nature of the other articles. We then worked out some DNS change so that anyone clicking on a link to www.treasuretables.org or any link that pointed to the orginal site would be sent to the appropriate article on Gnome Stew. This preserved old links on other sites and showcased content to the new site.