Astroengine Data Gathering


Astroengine needs a new look

Every few months, I think it’s healthy to reassess the design of Astroengine and develop it where necessary. In response to recent user feedback, I’m finding that the biggest weak spots of the site are firstly its speed and secondly its cross-browser compatibility.

Unfortunately visitors to the site that run Internet Explorer 6 see a mashed-up, messed-up Astroengine. It turns out that many of IE6 users are not using this out-of-date browser out of choice, it appears to be the staple of office computers the world over (system administrators really should think about updating their software once and a while).

In fact, I even had the chance to see Astroengine through IE6’s eyes a week ago, and I felt a little light-headed – It. Was. Nasty! Although I will always test sites that I build with a variety of browsers, I can’t test my site on old browsers (and therein lies the problem). The number of IE6 users are quite small, the numbers are significant according to my stats, so I’ve decided to act…

As Astroengine is rapidly expanding (with nearly 500 articles so far, and my goal is to edge that toward 1000 by December 2009), speed is also becoming an issue. I’m a big gadget freak and I am willing to test out anything new that will help Astroengine visitors get the most from the site.

As the current design was implemented before the huge surge in social media applications, I find myself hacking the WordPress code more and more (amplifying the incompatibility problems), in turn slowing down the site. I want Astroengine to be as much about visitor interaction with me and my contributors as about the content we are trying to deliver without sacrificing speed. As I always say, the biggest strength of any blog is the feedback from its visitors (after all, most of my article leads are provided by Astroengine’s wonderful regular readers).

So, in short, I am looking for a new design. Astroengine is driven by WordPress, so I want to find a theme with the following qualities:

  • It must be bright – A similar colour scheme to what I have now will be fine – white, blue hues and black text (good readability).
  • It must be minimalistic – A cleaner interface would improve content delivery and navigation. “Minimalistic” doesn’t mean I will be cutting back on the content or graphics, I just want to remove the unnecessary guff that gets in the way of the science Astroengine is trying to deliver.
  • It must be social – This is key (@Avinio will be very proud of me!). I want to focus on community aspects of Astroengine (primarily Twitter, Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect), delivering highly interactive features to these communities. By doing this, it is hoped the site will be enriched with quality user feedback. I will also be developing my own ideas for interactive content (some of which will be unique to Astroengine, so get excited).
  • It must be fast – This ties in with the minimalistic aspect of the theme, but to keep the same level of graphics/images I currently depend upon, the theme will need to make as few database calls as possible without sacrificing function. This will be helped by me upgrading the server so server-side functionality can be sped up, but to ensure everyone can interact with the site I’ll need a theme that will be reasonably fast no matter what the connection speed.

Astroengine needs your help!

Having built WordPress themes in the past, I know how long it would take to create the “ideal” template with all the qualities listed above and even then I’ll be playing for months trying to iron out bugs. So, this is where you can help with the future of Astroengine.

If you know of any good WordPress themes (preferably free, but I will consider buying a theme/expertise if warranted), drop me a message in the comment boxes with a link. Naturally, anything I use will be fully attributed to you and the creator.

This doesn’t stop at the design of Astroengine either. If you have any suggestions as to what functionality this site should have (apart from optimizing the social media aspects), please do not hesitate in leaving your views. Also, if you have any suggestions for topics Astroengine should be looking at, leave those suggestions too.

I’ll look forward to hearing your opinions, views and suggestions! 2009 promised to be a huge year for Astroengine, and I’ll be setting out some goals for the future in a forthcoming article.


9 thoughts on “Astroengine Data Gathering”

  1. What about my new layout; hahaha! And yes, I agree with the slow down. This story took about 15 seconds to load from start to finish and I’m on a University Network which is over 100 times faster than most home installations. However, I do like your general design, theme, and layout; so what about some kind of backend code clean-up? If not, then good luck as it’s going to be a no-too-small-a task me thinks… 😉

  2. Hey Ian,

    I would not recommend any free WP themes, mostly because they are filled with link spam in the footers (yes, its a sad affair I tell you).

    I would however recommend you check out Elegant Themese ( which only costs $20/year for 22 gorgeous themes.

    I use on a few of my WP sites (yeah, I’m experimenting with WordPress, although I still have a few issues with it before I’ll switch from Blogger) and have found the support there to be excellent (the creator will help you out–its part of the licensing deal).



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