Earlier this year, my brain decided that sometime during 2019 it would rebuild the LKL website from the ground up. The rest of me didn’t have a choice in the matter. The decision was made.
Then the brain took over completely and started work. I could not control it. Most of the day, and often at night, it was churning away at how to recreate what was present in 2018 (version 5), but better. Churning away at how to unravel those logical tangles that arise when you copy bits of code from random internet forums without fully understanding what you’re doing. And on 8 March, just over 13 years after LKL v1 went live, v6 was released.
The 2018 design had been stable for nine years, without significant change. I liked the way it looked, at least on my desktop machine. So, why the need for change?
- The site looked rubbish on my iPad, all bunched up to one side of the screen rather than filling it up. And I was visiting the site on my iPad rather a lot;
- The mobile phone version was a completely different design from the desktop and iPad version;
- Consequently the web server had to deliver different content to the visitor, depending on whether she was on a mobile or desktop/tablet;
- I was dependent on the inflexible and hard-to-hack Jetpack mobile theme for the mobile phone version;
- I was dependent on DIYThemes, the developer of the main desktop theme, Thesis v1.8, who no longer support it because they have moved on to the next generation theme which, like WordPress itself, is getting more and more complicated;
- The desktop theme was very flexible in some ways, but a beast to hack in other;
- I was having to duplicate certain items of metadata because Thesis was built before some of the more recent WordPress functionality was dreamed of;
- I was uncertain whether Thesis was compatible with the latest version (v5) of WordPress which no-one seemed to want but is having to use anyway.
The choice I had to make in terms of theme selection was this: should I
- try to use an alternative established theme framework with a strong following or
- build something myself?
I chose the latter, using the bare bones _s (Underscores) starter theme, and to build up from there. That way I wouldn’t end up with a similar dependency to the one I had with Thesis.
Consequently my site now shows exactly the same content, whether you visit on mobile or desktop:
And it uses the bare minimum of code because it’s not built to support the varying needs of multiple users: the only code behind the scenes is the code I need. It will be therefore easier to maintain and tweak (I hope). And because the starter theme is provided by the WordPress team, it should be broadly compliant with the latest web and WordPress standards
While the new version looks pretty much the same on desktop as it did last year I’ve made some minor enchancements, as follows:
- The main navigation menu is much more concise. The old one had around 150 items – pretty comprehensive but also pretty unwieldy, and as the main user of the site I found I wasn’t using all those items, so I could bet that no other visitor would be either. The new version has around 20 items. Simplify, simplify.
- The content of the main navigation menu is also now consistent between mobile and desktop versions.
- The main navigation menu is now context-sensitive: for example, if you’re browsing an archive of book reviews, you’ll be served a navigation menu that has additional book-related items.
- For smaller screens (less than 800 pixels wide) the navigation menu turns into one of those ubiquitous hamburgers rather than having the top-level items spread across the page.
- The post byline now includes an estimated reading time (thanks to Books and Bao for the idea).
- The post byline includes only the top-level rather than the detailed category in which the post is filed (eg it displays “Books”, rather than “Korean Literature in Translation”). Coding that functionality (including the filtering out of duplicates where the article is filed both under “Korean Literature in Translation” and “Book Reviews”, both of which are subcategories of “Books”) was a time-consuming challenge.
- The Google search box is now in the menu bar, extremely visible whatever version of the site you’re on, rather than in the sidebar. It was a complete devil to do the css styling, but I got there in the end.
- In the archive of event notices, the event date is now highlighted prominently (along with the usual date of posting).
- As a bit of fun, the images on the front page do a little zoom when you hover over them in the desktop version, showing you that they link to something.
- I tweaked where the JetPack sharing and related posts sections are displayed to fit with what I wanted, rather than with what the JetPack developers thought most users might want.
- Other than that, I kept all the event-related customisations that I built a year or two ago that have really proved popular with readers – particularly the dynamically updated Upcoming Events page, the most frequently visited page on the site.
Credits, over the years, go to
- The Microsoft developers for the web template they provided in an ancient version of Publisher (the only remnant of LKL v1 is the Arial Black font used in the site header, though only displayed in its full glory on the desktop version because mobile OSs don’t support the font)
- Robert Koehler, the granddaddy of the Korean blogosphere, whose template selections I tended to follow when I switched from Publisher to WordPress:
- Tania Rascia who provided much of the code for the hamburger menu on v6;
- An unnamed coder at TechBrij who provided the breakthrough to get my google search box working the way I wanted;
- The various plugin developers for providing the additional functionality I have needed over the years:
- Hiroaki Miyashita for the Custom Field Template which supports all my event metadata. Others have been built since, but this does the job just fine for me.
- David Artiss for Footnotes Made Easy and Simon Elvery who built the original WP Footnotes plugin
- Yannick Lefebvre for the Link Library plugin that manages my Blogroll
- Joost de Valk for Yoast Simple Taxonomies – now discontinued but I have adopted it, and without it I could not organise all the keywords which add to the richness of this site.
- Daniel Schick for his PulsSterne plugin, which serves up the stars for my reviews
- And of course the team at WordPress and the developers who built all the necessary backup, security, admin and other plugins that operate behind the scenes.
For the archives, here are a few snapshots of how the site has looked over the years:
So far v6 hasn’t proved problematic, and it seems to work with WordPress v5, so here’s hoping it will see me through the next few years.