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Part Two: Changing Connections

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(Sorry this took so long to post, work and family made for a crazy week)

Changing Connections

2106 was the year to focus on planning for longevity, with hours of research and debates about the best ways to expand The Castle’s site and it’s capabilities. The first step was creating our own VPN server and moving off the old shared server with other sites. This was done virtually behind the scenes and there was very little seen by the public. But I can assure you there were a lot of hours put into this hidden change.

Once that was complete we began the process of searching for a web designer that could meet most of our expectations. We also started a campaign to help fund it. This campaign went into full swing in April and May of 2017. The funding campaign was a huge success and we cannot thank the donors enough. With the the funding secure we contracted a designer and began the process of creating the new site.  We did lots of surveys and started lots of conversations about what people wanted. Everyone had different expectations and we committed to ourselves to try and do as much as possible to meet those expectations. The Volunteers that run the day to day, behind the scenes stuff, spent hours learning the new sites features as it was being developed.

Once again at the end of 2016 the Volunteers celebrated a 15% growth over the previous year. During that we also updated the email newsletter and began subtle changes to the website and forums to prepare for the eventual change to a whole new site. The entire process was slow and agonizing and yes the Admin team had quite a few arguments in trying to decide the best ways to incorporate features and ideas. We laugh now and say to each other, “If we made it through that and still can talk to each other, we can handle anything.” The new design was completed towards the middle of June, 2017. Now began the process of the conversion. A process  that made the planning and design phase seem like a walk in the park. Here we were reminded of the Great Prussian General Helmuth von Moltke’s quote “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”

The new website launched on October 2, 2017. Most of most of the year leading up to that was spent working with the design team, hashing out the smallest details far into the nights and then of course manually moving each story, chapter by chapter to the new site. All while maintaining the old site. Most of this was again done behind the scenes and the authors and readers were not affected. Thousands of hours of Volunteer time went into this and the Castle owes a huge debt of gratitude to the volunteers, lead by Mary McNeil. Each chapter had to be copied from the old website all formatting removed and pasted into the new website after the author, story and genre pages were created and linked, plus stories still not complete had to have feature images created and ready to go. After the stories were entered a formating team went through each one and tried to correct the smallest of errors. While this was all happening we still held our annual halloween contests and other special events. We also launched new resident authors and new stories. After the new site went live the rest of the year was spent fixing errors and bugs and getting used to the new site.  New process had to be created for posting chapters and launching new authors. Even through all the changes The Castle  had its biggest year yet over 115,000 individual visitors, more than the population of Boulder, Colorado, USA. With 2.5 million totals views and a 26% growth rate.

The Beginning of 2018 was spent continuing to address bugs and errors in the new site and work out problems with the processes created. We are still working on some bugs but the list is getting shorter. The easier functions of the new site have allowed us to work on other projects we had envisioned and the Admin team has begun to shift its focus from the transition back to growth.

In the very beginning of 2018 we launched the “Critic’s Corner” program. This concept takes works hosted on The Castle and does reviews on them by one or two “Critics” (They hate this term). It also includes an email interview between the author and the Program Coordinator,  William King. The critics are very autonomous and the Admin team has no say in the Stories selected to be interviewed or the posting of the reviews and interviews. We read them with you when they go live on the forum. We are told the story selected ahead of time as we then have to prepare to feature it on the homepage of the website. This program has been very well received and the data from the website shows an increase in visitors reading the reviewed stories.  We have also launched quite a few new authors and are planning some great things for future. 

(Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments)

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