Welcome to bit-tech 2010

Written by Alex Watson

April 19, 2010 | 10:33

Tags: #redesign

Companies: #bit-tech

Five years is a long time. Wars are fought and finished in that time. Huge buildings are constructed in that time. Children grow from tiny babies to annoying kids in that time. The Stone Roses even made a second album in that time. On the internet, five years is an eternity. Empires rise and fall in that time.

Back in 2005, there was no Twitter and Facebook was still for university students. There was no iPhone and people still referred to Windows Vista as Longhorn. Yet if you checked bit-tech in 2005, it looked largely as it does today. Here's ex-editor Wil's piece on the last redesign.

Over the years, we've made a few changes - adding a blog and a podcast, some links to Dennis sites - but essentially, the site looked the same. While the site has carried on, a lot has changed, both in terms of what we cover and what happens behind the scenes. We're now writing a much wider variety of article types, so while we do still have massive reviews of motherboards and graphics cards, we've upped the amount of games coverage we run, and of course, there are shorter and more opinionated pieces on the blog.

In fact, we're writing more in general, and the fact the old bit-tech front page couldn't show any more than ten main articles was quite frustrating. Then there's the fact that web advertising has moved on; five years ago, skyscraper ads were great. These days, MPUs and site takeovers are the norm, and the old site didn't support them that well.

Behind the scenes, things have changed, too - in 2008, bit-tech was bought by Dennis, and we spent much of 2009 figuring out how bit-tech and Custom PC could work well together. We feel like we've cracked it now, and 2009 was great for us in terms of business, meaning we could hire staff and explore new projects such as Rich moving to the Far East to be our man in Taiwan.

All this meant now was the ideal time to redesign. The team had been looking at a redesign in 2008, but the Dennis buyout meant it shifted to the backburner. We started with those designs, and Jamie, bit-tech's developer - yes, this site is built and maintained by one man - got a new beta working remarkably quickly. We then started inviting readers to test it, and ended up with over 100 people helping out. We took in their feedback and refined the site over the past three weeks, and today it's finally ready to launch.

So what's with the new look?

First up, all the templates have changed, so the site has a new look. It's wider than before, and uses three columns on the index pages, and two on the article pages. This means we can shift the MPU adverts into the outer column, so they no longer interrupt the flow of the article text.

On the old site, we had no editorial control of where articles appeared - the site simply put the newest stuff at the top. While this worked really well if you were on bit-tech every hour of every day, if you weren't, and we started writing too many new articles, content disappeared from the indexes too quickly - so people didn't see it. We've introduced a featured articles grid at the top of all the index pages (home page, hardware, gaming etc) which is editorially controlled and it means we can spotlight the best stuff on the site - so you can get to it faster. Any article type - review, blog, news post - can be featured.

Even better, the featured articles are different on each index page. One thing we've noticed is that as the site grows, and we have more staff and wider interests, no everything we write is of interest to every reader - and that's cool, but on the old site, you ended up seeing everything anyway. Not anymore. If you don't care about gaming, then just head straight to the Hardware page; it's just as good looking, well designed and packed with content as the front page, and totally focussed on Hardware. It's the same with Gaming and Modding.

There's even a new logo - we've dropped the .net from it, because after all, bit-tech is the most important part of the name, not the .net!
Check out the new background to the site too - it's actually the current image from the special subscriber edition of Custom PC.

While we've changed how the site looks, I hope you'll agree that it's an update not a complete re-working - to our eyes, the site still looks and feels like bit-tech.

What about these new features?

It's not just a visual refresh though. You can now browse articles by company - so if you're an Nvidia fanboy or an ATI obsessive, you can easily keep up to date. We're even highlighting notable companies at the top of the page - it's Intel and Microsoft right now, but that will change regularly.

We've got tags too. Basically, these allow you to explore areas of interest, a bit like an area in a library where all the books on one topic are. Again, we've got a couple at the top of the page - Fermi and Overclocking to start with - and these will change so that you can get straight to the hot stories.

Tags also appear in articles, in the right hand column. If you're reading about Light Peak, Intel's rival to USB 3, one click will take you to articles tagged with USB 3, so it's an easy way to learn more about something.

Then we've added easy links to related articles and popular articles (inspired by the BBC site), and What We're Reading, a list of links to other sites and articles the staff like, is easier to find. Basically, you're never going to be bored or without something to read ever again!

The search feature is better, now as you can filter by article type (so you can look for only reviews if you want), and information on Custom PC is better integrated into the site - it's now much easier to find out what the latest issue looks like, what's inside and when it's due out. Podcasts and buyer's guides are easier to find, too.

The about page finally now reflects the fact between bit-tech online and Custom PC in print we have one editorial team - and speaking of Wil Harris, you can find a mention of him and other ex-editor Tim on the new Staff page too.

The forums share the same skin and background as the new site, although they're keeping the same look and functions as before. You may have noticed that the default forum is now fixed width. If you would rather switch to variable width you have the option to change your preferences in your user options (at the very bottom).

There's a few other minor tweaks but that rounds up most of the changes. The aim was to evolve the design of the site so that it keeps its familiar feel, but that's easier to explore, and which allows you to find more of our articles to read. The new site gives us more space and creative control to expand and improve our coverage going forward, and will help the site remain useful and interesting to you.

I'd like to say thanks to everyone who helped beta test the site and took the time to give us constructive criticism, to the staff (past and present) who contributed their ideas and input, and to Jamie, who developed all our crazy, half-baked ideas into a site which looks great and works brilliantly. As the saying goes, our aim was to have nothing that we do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and of course, if you find any bugs!
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