Spider’s Web started in 2008 as a pretty casual blog about Apple and the ecosystem.
After years of evolution, it became a powerful, independent online platform hiring dozens of authors, writing about tech, moto, lifestyle, entertainment, and more, reaching over 8 million users monthly, which is making it the most popular website and took the first place in the Tech category of Megapanel (the main study of online reaches in Poland).
For me being part of Spider’s Web means facing neverending challenges – some of them could have been avoided, but most of them were the result of growth, constant development as well as adapting to an extremely dynamic online universe.
My approach? User Design Thinking? Yeah, sure!
When I started working on this project almost 10 years ago in 2010, it didn’t even cross my mind to design anything with the end-user in mind. It was all about my taste and my preferences and even clients were in second place.
After all these years my approach has changed, User Experience (UX) has become everything to me.
Today I like to think of myself as being for Spider’s Web what Johny Ive was for Apple – a design mastermind behind a product.
Yeah, I know how this sounds, so just apply some proportions to this slightly exaggerated comparison.
Coming back to Spider’s Web, years passed, visitors grew in numbers and so did our craving for success.
It was 2010 when a personal blog called “przemekspider.com.pl“ began its evolution with changing its name to Spider’s Web.
When people dreaded the Aztec-foretold supposed world’s end, we got our another great business deal. Team of creators expanded and the situation got more serious but still it was all about simple and interesting blogging. There were some UI design issues of course, yet nothing too fancy.
Then BOOM! The time of desktop ends…
Is it exaggeration? Yes – only a little one though. The mobile revolution began, somewhere in 2016.
People started to spend more time reading blogs and such on “smart things”.
We had to move forward quickly. At first we went for responsive web design, which was a big step for us. It meant creating one version of a website, which would adapt when opened at smartphones etc. As it turned out RWD stayed with us forever.
While people were becoming more “glued” to mobile devices by a day, we did a total makeover of Spider’s Web. Believe me or not, but I looked at tiles in the kitchen and I found them weirdly inspiring.
We switched from displaying content in the form of a stream to tiles, and these were divided into special sections
In this way, it was much easier for us to adapt Spider’s Web to mobile devices.
Those days we started cooperating with more and more business partners and as a result we produced tons of amazing, highly professional content.
We had to find a way to present content in a way that would seem natural and not overwhelming at all. That’s why I’ve decided to introduce blocks.
The more valuable content we had, the bigger the problem became, how to promote it all? How to make people see it without “shoving” it rudely in front of them?
After hours of brainstorming in our team I had something of a breakthrough. I introduced widgets to Spider’s Web. One of the most critical changes in project history.
Before that blogging came down to unleashing a constant stream of articles, one after another. Spider’s Web pioneering system of special widgets slicing this stream of content and it was really game changing for us. And not only for us, as many competitors decided to accidently borrow the idea…
This unique way of promoting articles on the homepage pleased our current and potential business partners. Companies like Volvo, Nokia, Microsoft, Sony easily accepted ours offers and joined us in really amazing content projects.
I was right in implementing widgets as a key component of Spider’s Web UI design and even more right, because our readers loved it too.
Two years passed and the online world went even further with “smartphone obsession”. It was only natural that it had happened when you think about how popular, even common mobile devices became.
They outweighed desktops. If you look at traffic statistics from 3 years ago, 70% of visitors checked Spider’s Web out on smartphones and such.
From this moment we have focused very strongly on mobile
And we had to think more and more about mobile as our priority content distribution channel.
We faced new challenges, including that two the most important. How to keep the user on the site longer?
And how to make users explore more content?
First we got the idea from social media, an idea that seemed too simple to be useful but we discovered that viewers tried to scroll down Spider’s Web articles like posts on Instagram or Facebook.
So we provided such an option. A new article concerning similar interests unfolded below the one finished. Users didn’t need to commit to the next article by clicking at it, just a glance at another line of text became all you needed.
Secondly, remember when I said we intoduced blocks – after a few months we improve that feature a lot but adding there a horizontal scroll.
This way Spider’s Web became responsive not only vertically but horizontally as well.
Effects? We got over a 60% increase in the number of views per month and viewers clearly got better access to desired content.
Spider’s Web went through many, many changes over the years.
Some of them (more than I would like to admit) were implemented in a kind of experimental, even “yolo” way. As a consequence we created something of “Frankenstein’s Monster” who couldn’t jump without scratching the left side of its chin so to speak.
During many changes we kept adding new features, plugins, our WordPress was becoming an overgrown tool. We had over 70 plugins, over a dozen versions of headers in use, and a lot of other elements whose purpose none of us remembered anymore.
We have a huge technical debt…
As a result it turned out that editing the simplest of things became overly complicated for editors. On the other hand users stated in the comments that our website had been unreadable. Why? Because it was completely overloaded.
I knew changes were necessary, also at the same time, we noticed that the number of page views was too small in relation to the number of users and that was an even bigger problem.
After all, we decided to simplify everything that could have been simplified because we created a monster!
We reached a point where there was no other solution. We had to completely refresh the project. We had a huge traffic, a growing team and constantly new technology requirements.
But… Upgrading Spider’s Web with users’ needs in mind didn’t happen with a touch of a magic wand. We had to start thinking about “wordpress blog” in terms of a serious product.
We had some of the most important challenges that we had to face:
- We used up huge resources;
- The site was large and took a long time to download;
- We had problems with the website’s speed;
- and we had to improve the monetization of the service.
First of all Gutenberg was going our way and we decided to look into the future and go with the flow almost immediately. Instead of stalling, we welcomed Gutenberg with its “block-building” philosophy.
Since 2018 I’ve been upgrading our website with this new WordPress editor and changed the way I thought about our website. Terms like “homepage” “post” “article page” became kind of obsolete to me.
Instead I perceived our portal as a combination of various components, blocks so to speak.
Spider’s Web of 2020 is something amazing. It’s more than a website.
During a two-year project of which I was leading, we unified desktop and mobile versions and so our website took a form of Digital Publishing Tool.
In order to provide our users with a smooth and comfortable experience we also decided to split our WordPress back-end and front-end. From this moment we have different apps for users and editors.
We baldly went for Next.js, the react framework and that completely change the way the data is displayed and this significantly improved UX in general by enormous improvements in performance.
Despite huge concerns, mainly related to SEO optimization, we did everything in our power to achieve the best possible result, and the result surpassed our expectations when only 4 months after implementation the website achieved its best result ever.
Now Spider’s Web it’s a home, a harbour for work of dozens of people.
It’s one hub to rule (or rather display) them all. It’s a platform capable of displaying content from various sources – other websites of our media group.
It means we are ready for the future regardless of what new fascinating topic it brings – we always have means of displaying new articles etc. in one place.
What began as a pretty casual web design job became a journey that has lasted for 8 years and the end’s not near at all. What was just a mere blog, which nobody had heard about became a huge online media center consisting of more than a few thematically different websites (tech; cars; business; law; entertainment – you name it).
And what is even more important our users don’t have to curse us for too long loading times, because we focused on making Spider’s Web fast.
During this time I’ve observed the evolution of the Internet. I’ve understood that it’s the end user expectations that matter the most and that value of responding to them (and even the snarkiest of comments) with honest work should never be underestimated.
My tastes and preferences, which used to be the most important things ever, gave place to understanding the significance of designing with user experience in mind.
Working on Spider’s Web media group, having this philosophy in mind, provides me with not only decades worth of experience but with a sense of job well done. Especially while looking at the beautiful numbers that my work generates each day.