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History of BGB

Back in 1998 I decided it was time to learn more about the web publishing, but needed a topic... How about the birds in my garden, after all, I had earlier that year started the BTO Garden Birdwatch survey? The rest, as they say, is history, and the following is a potted history of the site's development.

I started learning about web or HTML publishing using Corel WordPerfect, producing pages in the word processor and publishing it in HTML format. The pages were never published on the internet - that was another hurdle - as I was rather unhappy with the appearance.

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I bought a book called "Teach Yourself HTML Publishing on the World Wide Web" by Mac Bride. This book is, I believe, now out of print but is one of the best "teach yourself" books I've ever read. As a control engineer, most of my working life is spent programming computer systems to control machinery, so I was happier when I could start building pages by typing the HTML code and so have complete control over layout, appearance, etc.

The next step was to figure out how to get the pages on to the internet - quite easy as it happens, upload to the web space provided by your internet service provider using an FTP client - all gobbledegook at the time! The web site had brief biographies of 44 species, and BirdGuides very kindly granted permission to use pictures from the videos on their CD-ROM. The site was launched on 14 February 1999.

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Dynamic content was the "in thing" and so I experimented with JavaScript; for example, the menu items changed appearance as you hovered over them. I also experimented with framesets, which continue to be used today for the LHS bird index. A guest book was added and also biographies for a couple more bird species. The web site used valid HTML 4 and the pages appeared correctly in most browsers. This was launched 16 January 2000 using freespace on virgin.net.

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The frameset became a more dominant feature after receiving favourable comments from the site's visitors, which totalled about 30 per week. I continued to experiment with various other techniques, such as style sheets, and different layouts, including key identification details for the species. The site was registered with Internet Content Rating Association so that parental controls would allow children to visit the site; a similar service rejected my registration because of certain birds' names! Information about feeding was added to the species' pages.

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I discovered animated GIF files and so a few of these appeared hear and there - for example, the Robin & Blue Tit logo made way for a waving Union Jack. The top menu items included graphics that were animated using JavaScript. The most significant change was the addition of sound clips, having obtained permission from Sittelle, and the number of species increased to 48. This was in August 2000.

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Increasing problems with virgin.net resulted in a move to BTInternet and a significant, inexplicable change in the appearance of the web site, though the Robin & Blue Tit returned. The web site used valid HTML 4.01 and most of the JavaScript disappeared so that pages appeared and worked correctly in most browsers. There were now 63 bird species, an identification quiz was added and breeding information was added for all species.

The biggest, long lasting change was the purchase of the domain name www.garden-birds.co.uk, which was used in conjunction with a web forwarding service that redirected people to the BTInternet web space, "www.btinternet.com/~david.gains". This was around December 2000.

The web site received a Golden Web Award from the International Association of Web Masters & Designers.

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The next revision in August 2001 was major and had taken several months; as the site grew in size it was taking more time to maintain and so it was overhauled to make better use of templates and style sheets. The frameset was simplified so that instead of there being 3 frames (top, left and right) there were just two (left and right). The logo and banner changed, again, and the JavaScript hover menu items were replaced with simple text.

The bird species pages were changed to present key information at a glance at the top of the page and with improved navigation in the page and between species. Distribution maps were added for the first time. There were now 77 species covered.

To increase the number of visitors, details were submitted to as many free search engines, such as Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos, etc., as possible.

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Still not happy with the appearance, so I tried a scheme based on green, which was quite easy to implement through using style sheets, and so in January 2002 the following appeared:

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Evidently, I was happy with green and I remember receiving an e-mail from someone praising the colour scheme, but also one from someone else complaining that it used all their green ink! I also spent a lot of time designing a new logo and navigation bar that provided links using a client-side image map.

There were now 94 species - I'd asked visitors to let me know of species they wanted adding. This was also the time (31 March 2002) that both the Discussion Board and Photo Album appeared.

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By now, I was reasonably happy with the appearance but chose to use a very pale green JPEG tile to improve contrast between words and background to make the text more readable. The number of bird species hit the magic 100 mark!

The web site was awarded a BTDesign Award for the high educational quality of both design and content, and was Website of the Month in BBC Gardeners' World magazine (April 2004). The following is a screenshot from 16 August 2003.

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The next incarnation improved accessibility around the site, by providing shortcut keys, and to information by reducing the number of pop-up windows. Standard link colours had been restored. The web site used valid XHTML 1.0 and a more extensive use of cascading style sheets (CSS).

Also, a survey in 2005 had solicited the opinions of visitors about the site appearance and content and any changes that they would welcome. Over the following months, these opinions were incorporated into the web site:

  • Bird pages included more photos and sound clips, and sections on movements and conservation.
  • The sidebar could be sorted by species, family or size.
  • The quiz was completely rewritten to provide greater variety in the type of questions, numbers of questions and possible answers. The quiz was written in server-side PHP script, whereas the original was client-side JavaScript.
  • Field trip lists were reduced in number and the remainder included more details about the reserves, etc.
  • Information pages were updated, removing some where information was available elsewhere.

Of course, perhaps the biggest change was the move from a shared hosting service to a virtual private server because of the site's popularity and increased bandwidth requirements.

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Frames and framesets ceased to be supported in 2014 and so the appearance and most of the functionality of the sidebar had to be replaced using cascading style sheets (CSS).

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