Great Castles Logo and Château de Chinon

The Evolution of the Web Site

Great Castles has changed over the years, evolving into the site you are visiting today. On this page you can see the humble beginnings from January 15th, 2000, when the domain name was first registered, up to the current layout.

2001 layout

Prior to 2000, I had a small castle site on the Internet where I just posted pictures of castles I visited while I was living in England. I did not have a domain name and just used the free disk space that happened to be included in my AOL account and some free angelfire.com web space to store some of the pictures. But both quickly ran out since space allotments were a lot lower back then: 10 MB total.

To the left is my first attempt at a real site after registering a domain name and using a real web hosting company, Dreamhost, who I still use to host the site.

I would rotate the paintings by Nitschke each month or so. You can see even back then I had some of the same menu links. This format lasted about a year until the summer of 2001.

2002 layout

To the right is the second version of the site. I did away with the Nitsche painting images and started using a graphics software package that came with my system for some of the graphics on the site. It took me a month to get the "Great-Castles" word just right which is why it takes up so much space on the page.

I switched to a horizontal menu bar for this one and added the profiles section to the site. As you can see, I used to love horizontal break lines back then. Not much changed on the top level page back then, so my visitors never knew if I had anything new or not without drilling down through the menu.

This layout lasted until the beginning of 2003.

2003 layout

The third version of the site, to the left, saw the title move to the top of the page. You can also see the beginning of the drop shadows on the pictures. This time I decided to start including updates about recent additions to the site so visitors could tell what had been added.

For a site about castles, though, I still only had one picture on the page and too much blank space. Along the bottom I started adding a counter, guestbook, and a search box from 7search.com. They used to pay me seven cents a click, but no one ever used the search box so it came off the site eventually.

I have never been a fan of web pages with dark colored backgrounds. A white background is the one constant on every version of my site.

2004 layout

The third version did not last long and by the summer of 2003 I decided to start from scratch and build a whole new site. This time I wanted more color, more pictures, and more information. /

So for the fourth version, I went with a blue background for the menu bar but stuck with classic white for the main background. During this version, I also started using style sheets and some JavaScript for pop-up pictures of castles on the profile pages that would automatically close after 10 seconds.

I also shrunk the title down so the header took up less space on the site. I switched to Photoshop Essentials during this rebuild for the graphics and the castle of the month feature started with this version as well. The site also won its first web site awards for this layout.

2006 layout

After about a year, I decided to make some changes but stick with the basic layout for the fifth version. I did away with the circular shapes around the menu and decided to go with a forest green for the menu color.

Other than that, it is basically the same site with just the graphics changes to give it a squarer look instead of circles. I did shrink the space between menu items and add more links to the menu bar.

The site had come along way at this point, but there were a bunch of little things I wanted to redo. The green seemed too dark and the page seemed too busy. So, in September of 2005 I decided to once again start completely from scratch and build the site from the ground up.

2006 layout

So we arrive at the sixth version of the site. Given all the email and feedback, the heart of the site has always been the pictures. So it was back to basics this time. A lighter feel with some blue again. I made a real logo for the site as well. It is based on the keep at Brough Castle in England, hand drawn a pixel at a time. I'm also proud of the mouse-over effect shields. The blue shield is our family crest without the three lions since the shields are so small.

Continuing with the "more pictures" theme, I decided to put a panoramic picture of Leeds Castle in the tag line. No more pop-up pictures that go away. Now you just click and they come up in the same window like a new page would. At long last a Castle Picture section has been added for those visitors that just want to see pictures.

2006 layout using stylesheets

The site was once again redesigned redesigned and version seven utilizes cascading style sheets to control the style and color schemes on the site. All html errors have been fixed and the code is significantly smaller. I tried to keep the same look and feel for the most part, just a bit faster loading site now. The guestbook was removed due to the large number of spam entries.

After rebuilding the site seven times, one thing became clear, each time I redesigned the site I would have to rebuild all the sub-pages.

2009 layout using stylesheets

So on to version eight. This time the web site was designed with the help of my friend Mike, who built some Perl scripts for me. Now each sub-page is created dynamically when a visitor clicks the link. This means all sub-pages are rebuilt on the fly from the master template so I can focus on more content. The content is also being rewritten to include more information. All pictures are now clickable and display even larger sizes than before.

Other enhancements were made including some small tweaks were made to the logo and the color scheme changed with the seasons. Google-ads and a larger shop selection were also added to help offset some of the costs associated with running a site.

2010 new logo

The web site turned 10 years old in 2010 so what better way to celebrate than with a new look and feel. Welcome to version number nine!!! This time we hired The Logo Company to design a new Great Castles logo for the site. In the past the logo had the dash in between great and castles. This time we left the dash out since the site has multiple domains, with and without the dash (great-castles.com, greatcastles.org, etc). The site is significantly simpler and cleaner now under the hood. Instead of typing the code by hand we now use Adobe's Creative Suite 4, and Dreamweaver to develop the pages and the full blown Photoshop for photo editing. The pages are no longer created dynamically, but we are relying more on cascading style sheets and server-side includes allowing us to update all pages on the fly by editing just 3-4 global templates. The site also uses strict html and are formatted as php files allowing us to add dynamic content down the road without a whole new redesign. So although the site looks simpler than before, the code underneath is now more advanced and modular and ready for the 21st century.

We have added a facebook page allowing visitors to interact more with the site. We also have a Chief editor who ensures the content is cleaner with better grammar, spelling and flow.