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Website development, design, and more by Michael Duck. Operating from Bethlehem, in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.
My newest project.
You are no longer a web designer. You are now a mouse cursor inside a graphics program which the client can control by speaking, emailing, and instant messaging.— The Oatmeal, “How A Web Design Goes Straight to Hell”
Crunchable looked something like this when it ran on Ruby on Rails.
I believe this is an actual vintage screenshot I took in November 2005; it ended up being preserved as a background layer in a Photoshop file I used during my first redesign of the site while I was transitioning in as editor. I think the fonts look pixelated because I was working on an ancient computer that did not have the now-ubiquitous Georgia font installed, and it substituted a crummy version of Times instead.
Still, you can see the classy, dark, book-esque, minimalist look Chris Klimas was going. It was a radical departure from what came before, obviously. Totally new layout, totally new color scheme, totally new visual language.
Unlike the last time Chris changed the content management system, this time he didn’t bother copying over the entire archives into the new system. Instead, there’s a tiny link labeled “old” in the upper right that took you to the WordPress version of the site.
I knew almost nothing about designing a website in 2005. But if I had known anything, I would have been hearing a lot about Ruby on Rails.
I still know nearly nothing about it, except that it’s a Web application framework for the Ruby programming language. In short, it was a way to build dynamic websites — like Crunchable.
Chris Klimas described the experience like this:
The whole Ruby on Rails thing was ill-advised but I didn’t know it. I had been reading a lot of buzz online about it and got what was one of the first books about it. There were a ton of great concepts in it that I still use at work every day. […]
I was eager to do a project with RoR and it worked pretty well — on my own laptop. When it went live, it crashed and burned.
Dreamhost [Crunchable’s Web hosting provider at the time] was just not really equipped to run a RoR app — their bread and butter was PHP, so they didn’t put much time into supporting it.
If you didn’t fiddle with the config, it ran insanely slow… like 45 seconds to serve a basic request that hit the database like twice.
This means an average page on Crunchable would take the better part of a minute to load, leaving readers staring at blank screens for a looooong time.
The joke I then heard online was Ruby on Snails.
There were directions on how to make RoR faster on Dreamhost that worked ok, but there were tons of mysterious crashes. I think it was also that RoR was fairly immature itself at that point, too.
I again admit my ignorance here, but if Wikipedia is correct, the first fully-set version of Ruby on Rails was only a few months old when Chris was working with it.
Doing the RoR version was a way for me to try crazy ideas out that wouldn’t have flown at work. It wasn’t really a good move for Crunchable. […]
I think at that point my desire to do Crunchable was pretty much gone.
And that’s where I came in.
He’d been trying to push out updates at least once a week for four years. Less than a year earlier, he (and Crunchable’s writers) had re-thought the whole model of how and when Crunchable would publish stuff, and he’d redesigned the whole site in a way that would accommodate that model. (In other words, he’d brought Crunchable to WordPress and away from its file-folder-method of content management.)
But it didn’t work. After a brief bump, submissions went back to being as scarce as ever. So Chris decided to try something new — two somethings, actually:
- Another new publication schedule, now featuring monthly issues
- Another redesign of the site, this time using another new content management system
(After I later took over the site, I found myself repeatedly employing very similar methods to deal with the same problem as Chris. More on that later.)
On July 1, 2005, Chris posted an intensely personal and brilliantly interactive/clickable essay describing why he started Crunchable, what it had meant to him, and the struggles it was facing. And then he converted the site to run on the latest, up-and-coming framework for Web design: Ruby on Rails.
Spoiler alert: The monthly issue format stuck around. Ruby on Rails did not.
Its visual similarities to its predecessor themes — Wintergleam and Sidewalk — are pretty obvious; it even shares Sidewalk’s basic color scheme. Under the hood, it’s also very similar to Sidewalk in how the template files are set up. The main difference is that the graphical elements are a little fancier: Note the gradients (i.e., how the color fades from light to dark) on the title bar and background, in addition to the shadow on the right; it’s a nice anticipation of some of the Web 2.0 design trends that were about to flourish.
Also like its predecessors, it took very few changes to the templates to make them functional again. Like the other “historical” WordPress screenshots, I took this one over the summer.
Sidewalk was so named because I was going for a walk one evening and I really thought the colors around me were nice; I doubt it really measured up to what I imagined.
Maybe not, but I still think it holds up pretty well.
Visually it’s very similar to Chris’s Wintergleam theme, with a few colors traded out; no longer do we have the orange-and-blue scheme that echoes Crunchable’s original design. There’s also now some depth to the page with that drop shadow on the right side.
Under the hood, it’s worlds apart from Wintergleam. Where the old template had a single index.php file to handle all of its pages, Sidewalk has splintered that into the more current WordPress templating scheme of separate files for the header (header.php), the footer (footer.php), the index and archive pages (index.php), the single-article pages (single.php), and so on.
Also like Wintergleam, it took just a little bit of modding to get the old template functional again.