At some point, you’ve got to ship. And after nearly three months of plinking and plonking at my keyboard—almost twice as long as it took me last time—I’m deploying the new SixPrizes. Ready or not, here it is.1
Some Background: It’s been a curious past two-plus years here at 6P. Attentive readers will remember that not long ago I stepped down from my longtime role as chief editor and manager of the site to take a backseat advisory position. I was burnt out from years of what felt like the same old same old and hopeful that fresh management would rekindle the ethos of the site. By early January this year, it was just me again, and we hit a nadir in April: our lowest subscriber count since April 2011, the very first year of Underground. I do not mince my words when I say these were uncertain times. Not many people know this, but over the winter, I considered shuttering SixPrizes. Vitals (i.e., pageviews, revenue) were continually dipping and I was convinced that there was no righting ship. 6P had a good ride, but video content had won out. The market is flooded. Nobody reads anymore. The competitive scene is down. So I began shopping the site around (to no avail) and looking for other work with the intention of starting a new chapter of my life minus SixPrizes entirely. I blasted my résumé out and trialed full-time as a WordPress.com VIP Happiness Engineer (i.e., tech support wizard) for six intense weeks, May through June. I failed my penultimate evaluation, and was let go a week and a half short of being offered a full-time position.
Well, a funny thing happened: During the job trial, while I somehow juggled giving that commitment my earnest go and maintaining our (at times unpredictable) publishing schedule (while working out of public libraries and coffee shops because I don’t have an internet connection at home), 6P started doing better. After the near all-time low in April we rebounded to a two-year high sub count in August. This was unforeseen. I anticipated at best throttling the downfall during this time, but here we were, relevant and rising again.2 Coming up short in the trial was an absolute bummer, but the experience stoked my drive to make 6P awesome again, and after a few days of postmortem sulking I was already starting to code a new site design. Which, after roughly three drawn-out months of development (somehow—I did not anticipate it taking this long), I’m excited to unveil today.
My most general philosophy is SixPrizes needs to be fast. The reason why written content is still relevant in the world of video is because it’s faster to consume. It’s more efficient to skim an article for pertinent information than a video. The average person can read faster than they listen or watch. Some people learn better through audio or video, and that’s fine, but others do better with written content, and I want to make sure our content as approachable as possible for them.
With alacrity in mind, I reassessed everything about the previous design and attempted to make it better.
To be upfront, I don’t know if I’ve achieved “fast” with this iteration. I may have made the design worse. I am still fond of SixPrizes 6.0—”the menagerie of quirks”—and I found it difficult to improve upon that design. The typography there was carefully chosen, a categorical distinction and strength, and we’re now on default system fonts, like everybody else. (Same? Same.) I have a feeling that I’ve made things less legible by homogenizing the typography, but we’ll try this new configuration for a while, see if we get used to it, and go from there. I want to keep improving the design, to make it faster and easier to use, though I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns and need to work on something non-design related for a while so I can see what I’m looking at again.
But, despite those doubts, I do think there are areas where I’ve made strides!
When 6P first launched in 2009, phones generally didn’t go on the internet. They flipped open, had horrid ringtones, and buzzed. The first iPhone had already been released by then, yes, but few readers had one, and it took some time (but not much) before mobile web browsing became common. I’ve been admittedly slow accommodating 6P for mobile,3 but at this point, in 2019, mobile users make up more than 60% of our traffic, which means the mobile design is more important than the desktop design. It’s a weird shift for me as far as my development process goes. I’ve always worked on the desktop design first because I work from a desktop computer, but really the mobile design should take priority. I worked on the desktop design first, again, for SixPrizes 7, but with every new element I added I thought “Okay, how is this going to translate to mobile?” So I was more deliberate this time around about the mobile design, and hopefully that’s an area of noticeable improvement.
Moving forward (and backward, eventually) I will be tagging content to make information easier to find. Since the genesis of 6P, there have only been a handful of labels I’ve used to organize content. The old designs listed some of these labels in the navigation bar (more recent designs omitted them), but I ran the numbers and 83% of all articles have been filed under the broad terms (A) “Deck Analysis,” (B) “Tournament Report,” (C) “Underground, and/or (D) “Other.” (Yeah—not that helpful.)
Instead, to facilitate discovery of information, moving forward I’ll be tagging content in a more specified manner with:
- deck names (e.g., ReshiZard),
- Pokémon or card names (e.g., Jessie & James), and
- tournament formats (e.g., UPR–HIF).4
This should make it easier for you to find content that’s relevant in your circumstances. For example, if you’re planning to attend one of the upcoming events Atlantic City, Cologne , or São Paulo next weekend, check out the articles tagged UPR–HIF! They’ll contain our most recent UPR-on coverage to help you prepare for those specific events. The idea is to make it more obvious what topics we’re covering so that you can hone in on the info you need.
One thing I’m able to do with the tagging system is extend it into a trending topics feature. What this shows is the tags that have gotten the most pageviews in the past month, which should depict at least a partial pulse of the current competitive scene. If nothing else, it will give you a better notion of and way to navigate our recent coverage, which is also helpful.
The trending feature may end up being unrepresentative of what’s actually popular at the moment, but I can tweak the algorithm as we go along.
I’m coming full circle and reverting to the original, first-party commenting system used on 6P back at launch in 2009. I’ve tried to keep up with the latest and greatest discussion software over the years, hosting our comments on platforms ranging from Disqus, vBulletin, XenForo, and (until now) Discourse, but what I’ve come to realize is that all of these third-party options eventually become lame. In the short-term, they are attractive and can generate more discussion than we would see otherwise. But for posterity, they are dubious. They generally don’t do well at preserving discussions long-term, viz., I can’t guarantee you that any comments left through Discourse will still be here two years from now. The forums are mostly dead and it may make sense to close them down. However, any content that flows directly through WordPress will most likely be here two, three, or even ten years out. That means something. We’ve used WordPress from Day 1, and it’s proven to be a sustainable platform.
Maybe I should continue to value immediacy when it comes to discussion and explore vogue options. (Discord, for example, would probably be the next logical platform for comments if moving away from Discourse.) I’m unsure what’s correct, but I’m willing to try the most conservative option (native, no-frills WordPress comments) once again.
To Do, Still / Looking Forward
There’s always an infinite amount to still work on. Here’s my Wish List (i.e., items that I’ve been too goo-brained to consider implementing yet but still managed to scrawl down). Notably, as mentioned, I don’t think the typography of SixPrizes 7 is quite right, and I don’t love the new archive displays. There’s more scrolling required to reach content than I think there should be, so I need to figure out how to condense everything.
Otherwise, I’m hoping to ramp up content production after this new design has stabilized. Our publishing schedule is going to be different through LAIC and I anticipate it taking a few more months until we hit our stride.
It feels surreal to be launching this latest iteration of SixPrizes. I don’t feel ready, but I can’t keep delaying it. Uncertainty has been eating at me and I need to put my efforts out there.
Thanks to my girlfriend Taylor (hi, Taylor) for being supportive of and patient with me these past three months and giving me input on the design. Many repugnant blue links were removed because of her. Thanks to our writers for killing it the past several months. #BustedStaff. Thanks to everyone who subscribed over the summer and over the years and helped make this possible. Thanks thanks thanks.
If you notice any bugs, please contact me. I’ll try to fix them. I’m anticipating having overlooked something nontrivial. And thanks to you, too.
1 For the record: I am not at all feeling “ready” about this launch and have been in full-on internalized Panic Mode for the past 24 hours (meaning externally I may appear stoic, but inside I’m experiencing a major case of the fantods). I’ve already encountered half a dozen bugs since activating the new code (while the site was in maintenance mode, prior to publishing this), design issues which were previously imperceptible to me are now glaring, and I’m trying to high-level function off of a 1-1/2-ounce snack bag of Party Mix I obtained from the library vending machine which I ate for breakfast today. (The Party Mix, not the vending machine.) It is now 2:21 PM and 13 seconds. I will be ejecting from my computer soon to “chill out” and pick up with fixing everything later, throughout the coming weeks.
2 All credit for this shifting of tides goes to our writers—Alex, Pablo, Xander, Peter, Gabriel, Rahul, Jon, Travis, Kenny, Chris, and Connor—for putting out spirited content leading up to NAIC. Thanks for sticking with me through those dodgy times and being exceptional people.
3 And myself: I didn’t own a smart phone until 2016.
4 I had originally planned to tag articles with tournament locations (e.g., Atlantic City, Cologne, São Paulo, etc.) but as I started tagging with this approach on the live site, I noticed redundancy. I think tagging with formats is a more concise way to go about classifying the content, but I’ll reevaluate as we go along.