In July of this year, the main Lotsofkids.com website turned 7 years old. To be persnickety, the site itself started early in March 2003, but it was a sole message board and I don’t truly feel it could be considered a website until our official grand opening 4 months later. Nevertheless, we are now in 2010. Though, if you looked at the front page before the site went down, you’d see that our last update was in early December 2009, a whopping 9 months ago.
“The days drag, the years fly…”
I have written extensively about my husband’s unemployment and our family struggles, so I won’t bore you again. The last 3 years have been hard, but the last year was particularly challenging. I struggle not only with financial woes, but a good deal of depression about Lotsofkids. My motivation to do significant work on the site was stymied by working long hours and barely having enough time to focus on my family. Still, I could never find it in my heart to abandon my online love. To a large degree, I feel this site is a ministry. Not necessarily religious in nature, but an important service to the large family community, providing an outlet and support for parents of 4 or more kids. Support that I couldn’t find myself years ago.
I knew I would have to get back on the horse eventually, but it was difficult. It’s like looking at the mountain of laundry. It’s too daunting to tackle, so you avoid it. Then it grows bigger and bigger, and before you know it the task is so overwhelming you can’t bear to think of it. Then comes the denial, then the guilt, and then the slow process of realizing you have to do it eventually, so why not now. Hence a bit of a fire in my belly a month ago as I planned the site’s relaunch…or perhaps rebirth?
Unless you do extensive web-work, there is really no way to convey the amount of effort and time it takes to overhaul a site as large as Lotsofkids.com. LOK was started in 2003, when content management systems (think Drupal or WordPress) were not widely used. It started as a dozen or so pages of simple HTML and grew over the years to hundreds of pages. In 2008, we undertook the task of converting the site from standard HTML to PHP pages–a web-based programming language that allows much more flexibility. That conversion was faster, but not really complete in the sense of upgrading us to current standards (not to mention a good 20% of the site was never updated at that time). Despite our efforts, after our last upgrade, we were still running on a model that was more 1998 than 2008.
This current update was truly a major overhaul of the site. We moved to a much more modern, familiar, and intuitive layout. We toyed with moving to a pre-packaged CMS and actually got a good deal of preliminary work done before abandoning the idea as we did not want to lose our high page rankings on Google. So, instead, while we are still running on static pages, they are far more advanced in coding and Jim built a new, more extensive content management system to help us manage the site. Over 400 pages were edited, one-by-one, to work with the CMS and fit into the new format. Links were checked and broken ones were removed. Several of our utilities were updated with enhanced features and/or graphics. A new system was incorporated into the site to allow adding of polls on all major sections. Our page comments were tweaked to allow easier “chatting.” We refined our navigation, to make maneuvering through the sections easier. Dozens and dozens of minor and major revisions.
And of course there is our new community section, which still needs a bit of pampering, but will be the backbone of continued growth of our community in the coming years.
Of course, there were many more changes made on the backend that our users will never see, and some we won’t even be using at this exact moment. But those additions will allow us to give our visitors better and faster access to our content and make visiting the site more dynamic. Fancy words, yes. But, in our current internet age, it’s important.
Aside from layout changes, there was much attention placed on our site graphics. One of the charms of the old site (and one many people were fearful would be lost) was the use of whimsical graphics on the pages. Today, graphic-heavy pages are obsolete, and many of the large “gaudy” graphics were outdated. A lot of care and consideration was taken when planning the re-design of the site, to incorporate enough elements of the old site to make it feel familiar, yet keeping in mind modern standards. So, while you may not see as much cute art as before, there will be enough to feel homey.
The bottom line is the last 3 weeks have been a re-working of 7 long years of site operation. Throw in a hacker attack (yes, we had one mid-conversion) and some serious and unexpected last-minute data loss issues, it was one stressful time. And, admittedly, while we made the decision to finally go live today, the conversion is still not yet complete. We are are continuing work on a few of the “less important” sections and have a goal of early October for re-opening of those areas. Aside from re-vamping those pages, there are other things we are working on that we just didn’t have time to get done in time and hope to premier, including a new updated utility in our homeschool section, several new articles, and an enhanced section with family graphics and smileys. As the site has been stagnant for the most part over the last year, there are dozens of articles and ideas I have had in that time that just need to be developed, so those will be moving to the forefront.
One area that has not been touched and will be the next immediate “project” is our blogs. Despite much inactivity, they are still a very popular extension of our website. They will be getting an overhaul, as we will regroup our current bloggers, add some new faces, and evaluate the blogs we have now to see if we can consolidate and/or downsize the number we have to a bit more manageable number. We hope to get things moving there again, since blogs truly are the current wave. Though, we haven’t given up on the website model just yet.
So, there you have it. A site “mostly” done, but still a huge accomplishment. With the fresh new paint and new look, the one thing I am the most happy about is how it has renewed my spirit and revitalized my ambition with respect to the site. As with the world now, as many tighten their belts and trim the fat to survive the economic crisis, I have endeavored to do the same with LOK. My dreams of creating a huge network of site and real-life chapters has been re-thought and mostly retired. Some of the extension sites have already been closed and many others will be closing. The main Lotsofkids site has always been my main love and I am refocusing fully on that. Some of the other companion sites will remain. Mostly the ones that can stand alone well without major babysitting. However, with the opening of our new community here at LOK, Large Family Network will be closing for good.
I do thank everyone for their great support during the conversion process. I was so worried that people would be angry at the downtime, but the messages of encouragement, excitement, and support truly warmed my heart.
I would love if everyone could take a moment to leave a short comment on this entry and let us know how you like the new site design. It’s been such a colossal effort, it’s always nice to get some feedback.
There is certainly more to come in the upcoming weeks, so be sure to check back. Or, better yet, join this blog’s RSS feed or our mailing list. Both are the best way to get the most current news about LOK quickly.