Sherlockian.net | Kalib Watson's Portfolio

Sherlockian.net Project

Situation

The Sherlockian.net directory was created by Chris Redmond as a web resource for all Sherlock Holmes fans. When Chris found that the directory had become so large that he could no longer keep up with it, he entrusted it to the Writing, Information, and Digital Experience research center (WIDE) at Michigan State University. After acquiring the well-known Sherlockian resource, the WIDE team recognized that the site needed updating and organization.

The original Sherlockian.net homepage, which has two navigation bars.

The WIDE team decided to move the directory to a Wordpress site for a few reasons:

  1. WordPress is a common CMS that many students, faculty, and content creators know how to operate.
  2. The team planned to reorganize and update the site, and then hand it back to the Sherlockian community to add, update, and remove content as is necessary.
  3. WordPress has a large library of plugins, which makes it adaptable for the curators and the WIDE team.

Process

I joined the WIDE team just after they had acquired the site and had discovered that the site contained over 300 broken links. My first job was to go through the list of links that the team had generated, and to either repair them or mark them as lost.

The inventory of broken links from the original Sherlockian.net site.

This was a very manual process, but it also allowed me to see and understand a lot of the site content. This was important, because the original site had around 500 pages, and most of the content had not been explored by our team. This became a useful investment when beginning to reorganize the site.

While our research team gathered information about our audience, our information architect and I went through the pages together and began organizing content based upon how we expected users to interact with it. When we started thinking about displaying information, we also involved our project lead to understand what information was most important, and what information we could exclude. From here, it was my job to create the layouts for the pages based on the type of content we wanted to display.

An example of a template; one of the Sherlock Holmes story pages on the redesigned Sherlockian.net site.

We had many different kinds of content, but they typically fell into a few categories:

  • Directory pages with lists of related content
  • Category pages which list specific content pages
  • Specific pages with in-depth written and image content
  • Response pages to specific content, which were nearly always only text

Each of these pages received a template, and some of the specific content pages had templates designed for them as well, because the content required standard layouts. Creating templates also required thinking about how other team members, and eventually our content curators, would use the layouts, and their comfort levels with technology. For this reason, I chose to us a page builder that had good instructions, a decent help page, and which allowed users to create and save templates ( Beaver BuilderOpens link in new tab). After a quick explanation of the page builder and its resources, I’ve found that most users have a very small learning curve.

After creating templates and moving the content from one site to the other, the WIDE team began altering the design and branding of the site. I worked together with the team’s web designer to understand what user needs they were addressing, and to brainstorm solutions if they hadn’t thought of one.

After creating a standard design, page layouts, and editing all of the site content, the team has begun bringing on content curators from the Sherlockian community, and has launched the updated site. Since, my job has become mostly running interference for problems that our curators, editors, and designers run into, and updating templates, changing programming logic, or updating users credentials to keep things running smoothly.

I’ve also had a hand in understanding the technology needs of the project, such as understanding and selecting plug-ins, such as our security plug-in, WordFence. We chose to use WordFence because it allows us to see the attacks against our site, which countries they’ve come from, and automatically works to help block these attacks. It also has a threat defense feed, which keeps our site up to date with the latest web security information, and allows us to recover our site content in case of an attack.

Currently, the site is live at www.sherlockian.net Opens link in new tab and is accepting user feedback to update or add content that users would like to see. We would love to hear what you have to say about the site, and will be sure to consider it when completing the next redesign or feature.

Takeaways

The WIDE team took just over one year to audit, organize, redesign, and launch a transformation of a 15 year-old website, making it welcoming, user friendly, and more direct than its predecessor. My role in this process included creating page templates, helping to organize content, selecting tools with users in mind, and updating PHP programming logic to fit the needs of the WIDE team and our content curators.

Throughout this project, I’ve learned a lot about the way that WordPress functions, about WordPress plugins, templating, page builders, and post data. I’ve also learned that I love working in small teams, I’ve challenged my PHP knowledge, and I’ve helped build a huge site with a community I’m proud to have become a part of.