Let’s break down the creation of the new itmeJP website and the upcoming community. It’s been a long process but that’s to be expected when you’re running a small team of developers to get a project going. In this article I’ll go over the design process as well as some of the decisions about moving away from Reddit, from a business perspective.
For the longest time we’ve been planning to get a new website and it’s even gone through two mock-ups before this version was finally done. One of the hardest things that we had in front of us (and mostly me) was finding the right person for the job. Since I’m limited in both HTML/CSS and even more so limited in JavaSript/PHP etc. We had to find someone that could tackle that side of things while I stayed on as the lead designer.
What we needed to find was someone that could handle the PHP/mySQL for the main website, since it would be running on top of WordPress as our CMS. The reasoning behind staying with WordPress is that it’s something that we’ve been using for a long time and something that we’re used to using. We can also add in more people that can handle/update the schedule.
As mentioned the website went through a few mock-ups before we landed on creating something more to the point. For the the very first version, way way way back, we wanted to create a schedule with something new but that fell through on the merit of getting back quotes from local (to me) companies. The reason why we wanted to local was so I could work more closely with them during the day instead of having a few hours of latency.
We we’re able to find the right person from the Netherlands (same timezone as me) named Tim Brugman. He’s well versed WordPress and web developer so it was a obvious choice to get the project rolling as quick as possible. Since we already had a website mock-up made we could pretty much hit the road running on finding the right choices for the final website.
I landed on that I wanted to keep the schedule as close to the one we’ve been using already but using a few back-end things that would make it easier for us to update it. Instead of having to add the show every time I wanted there to be away to add a show and after that add an event for that. Meaning that the show is already in the database and can be linked to the upcoming event. That would also allow us to link the show to the same YouTube playlist. While at the same time be able to link the event to a VOD (after airing of the show) both on YouTube and Twitch.
Another thing that we knew that we wanted to do was to be able to set timezone by the user. It’s something that our audience have wanted for a long time but something that I haven’t been able to do but when you have a web developer in front you there’s so much more of that creativeness that can come out. Right now we’re sporting a handful of timezones and UTC (to make it easier for user to convert the time).
Besides that Tim also created a link between the new community so that the website can pull from the community API. That way we can populate the main site with information but it’s not a must go see unless you’re a first time visitor as a gateway into seeing the content on the community before actually visiting the community.
Working with the itmeJP brand
If you’ve read my article on how I created the itmeJP branding guidelines you know that branding guidelines are there so you can quicker design new things or if you need to extend the guidelines you know where you can go and where you shouldn’t go. Sure you can argue that I know the guidelines since I created them, but what if someone else comes on board after me? Or the fact that I work with at least 3-4 clients and can’t always keep every rule I’ve created in my head.
Using these guidelines allowed me to easily design the assets and knowing what colors would work the best together, without running too far away from the rest of the visual brand. With all of that in mind I could focus more on the usability of the site instead of having to worry about things like colors, button styles or headings since all of that is already in the branding guidelines.
Why move away from Reddit and why discourse?
Reddit was never supposed to be used as anything official and a forum (vBulletin) was even created before I was involved. I never wanted to create a forum when Reddit can suffice as a solid substitute. However building more features would never be possible with Reddit as we don’t control the back-end. That dosen’t mean censorship but rather the ability to build more and better features specifically for the RollPlay and itmeJP audience. discourse is the perfect, modern, choice as we move forward and opening up the ability for both us and you to develop tools.[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]While on the surface it might look like a step back, that step back is to be able to take two step forward at a later date.[/mks_pullquote]
One thing that we have to take into account is the loss of some users. Whenever you do certain moves, like the one away from StarCraft and towards roleplaying that itmeJP did, aren’t always welcomed and might end up with a dip but it’s done so that in the future you can build that up. This is very much such a decision, and it’s a bet on that we can develop a better product for the viewers. While on the surface it might look like a step back, that step back is to be able to take two step forward at a later date.
The design of the community was, yet again, easy to execute due to having created strong branding guidelines and assets for itmeJP already. It was only a matter of looking at the guidelines and piecing things together. From the design of buttons, the height of horizontal lines, typefaces, colors and more. Of course I also take the key colors of the different RollPlay shows into consideration with the colors of the community discussion sections.
discourse allows for future development
When you have control over the back end we can have a lot more control over the different things we can create. That means we can pull from the Twitch API to award long time posters, subscribers, viewers, emote users etc. In short we can do things that Reddit have no inclination or reason to add that will further allow the viewers of itmeJP’s regular stream or shows to get more out of them. As we move forward in developing things like dynamic overlays for RollPlay we can at the same time pull from the API from our discourse platform.
The point of discourse is of course not to mimic Reddit in any way. discourse isn’t PHP or anything like that but instead it’s Ruby and it’s dynamic. It’s built as a modern community and not as a stale forum. I wouldn’t even use the term forum when talking about discourse but rather it’s about making the conversation better and more dynamic. With discourse we can also provide an API and webhooks specific for that community. Meaning that anyone that wants access can be granted such to develop tools that yet again can further aid themselves or other viewers. What if you can pull in live threads to a viewing party (instead of chat) where you can post links and images instead of only text? Or create a webb app that pulls in from the schedule (it has it’s own API) but also from the community API to provide more context?
At the moment there’s a great focus on community when it comes to Twitch, and that push comes from Twitch themselves. Therefore we want to aid that process and that’s not something that’s possible with something as limited as Reddit.
This is out a bit late due to me falling asleep right before posting it. Other than that I have another case study for you on Thursday so you know there’s a lot of projects going on right now and next week will be even more of that stuff after a weekend of RollPlay content.
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