Web site redesign efforts are important for any organization if you want your www presence to remain fresh, creative, and functional. This past August, we launched a new web site for the Luria Library at Santa Barbara City College. We don’t have a large staff to create, implement, and manage the library web infrastructure. In fact, all the work has typically been my initiative and been my responsibility. Probably because of our size, on our campus we have relative autonomy in what we do with the web as long as we follow some basic guidelines established by the College.
In 2006, when I put the last redesign in place, we took the big bold step of implementing a blog-based web site. Out went the traditional web and in came something unique and different. At the time, both Moveable Type and WordPress were viable options for backend software. We decided on Moveable Type. In the following four years we innovated with using Twitter, GetSatisfaction, Flickr, Meebo, and ultimately settling on LibraryH3lp (a chat service). In hindsight, these were good years for our web presence. It brought us attention both locally and nationally. We had fun and we felt creative. But times change.
In the fall of 2009 it was becoming more clear that the Luria Library web site needed another redesign. It was feeling cluttered, static, and the fixes we had made along the way needed to become incorporated better into the site. Further, WordPress had become the dominent player in backend blog software and I had a great desire to move off Moveable Type and onto WordPress. The updating, plugins, and user interface were all better with WordPress. We were also running out of room on our virtual machine and if we needed to migrate servers then we might as well migrate more.
A plan was developed to (1) create the new server environment, (2) hire a designer to create the custom WordPress theme, (3) migrate the data (entries and comments), and (4) launch the site in August before the fall semester began. In communicating with campus IT, I arranged for them to build the new server space and to assist in migrating our exiting resources (proxy, libstats, mediawiki) in the spring of 2010. I then built the WordPress environment in early summer. I also wanted to refocus our site on the resources and away from the blog. I didn’t want to get rid of the blog piece, just provide a different focus.
Because we are in an academic environment, there are very few windows of time in which to make big changes. It was decided to make the switch between summer and fall terms. In late spring, I wrote to a couple of key department chairs to let them know a change would be coming and that I would be in touch during the summer. I started working with a designer on what the site should look like and what the key needs were for us. Wireframes were created and a site mockup was done by the end of June. Approval was given to code the theme and have it ready by the end of July for me to start using. I sent another email to a few key players with a screenshot of what we were working on for the site.
I needed to have the site ready at least a couple weeks before the semester began, on August 23, so faculty could have a chance to poke around before the semester began. The theme was ready and applied to our WordPress installation. I used the import tool in WordPress to import all our previous blog entries in Moveable Type. Since all our comments were hosted on Disqus, I only needed to setup 301 redirects and let Disqus know to recrawl the site to build the comment connections.
Though I had never used 301 redirects, I discovered it wasn’t very difficult. Working in a spreadsheet, I created a map of the location of all pages on the previous site to the new locations on the new server. This was required because the permalinks used by Moveable Type are different than those used by WordPress. Loading all this information into the .htaccess file on the new server establishes the redirects.
Just about everything went smoothly. The biggest hiccup was the comment migration, but that didn’t feel critical so I let that slide until after the launch. The site launched. The blog entries and comments appeared (after a bit of tweaking with Disqus). I sent an announcement out to the campus community. Some work continues on the site, but we are 90% operational. The students seem to have an easier time finding the resources and the site feels fresh, creative, and functional.
It’s a lot of work for one person, but I had a great designer (Neu Design) and awesome support from Brandon Lovelace in campus IT (he did the bulk of the server migration). I couldn’t have done it without these two! The other librarians provided key feedback to the design when we were working on that part. The support team at Disqus was super fast and helpful.
On the down side, one thing that could have been done better was my communication about the impending migration. I had made some assumptions about communication channels that I’ve learned from for the future. Rather than focusing on just a few key players, I should have included more people in the community. Further, because some faculty provide handouts with specific navigation instructions and/or images, the redesign required those materials to be modified in a short time frame. Perhaps the only way around this issue would be to sit on the redesign for a few months before launching. What have others done to get around that?
Still to do: I want to migrate our wiki material into the WordPress environment. Also, we need to create more content for some of the sections.
Finally, WordPress now natively supports multiple blogs on a single installation (previously known as WPMU). A few weeks after launching the site, I turned this feature on with our install. It’s working now, but not without some significant hair pulling. I’ll leave that story for another time.