We finally launched the website of our Architectural Guide Yangon. Herewith some notes on the production process and ideas behind it.
Coconuts Yangon wrote a very kind review of our site, which introduces most of its functions very neatly, saving me some time to do the same here. In a nutshell, we tried to follow the logic and structure of the book wherever possible, i.e. we’ve organized the content via township and the order in which you would encounter the buildings on a walk through the city.
As regards the technical side of things: We opted for a WordPress installation, and chose the “Uncode” Undsign template. Manu did most of the heavy lifting of building the site, and the layout is entirely his creation. He had worked with other content management systems before and seemed happy with this particular solution. I thought it required quite some technical aptitude and certainly went far and beyond what I am doing on this humble blog.
My friend Ollie was also with us along the way, helping in particular with performance issues. The hosting company is based out of Germany, and in the beginning we faced very long loading times, particularly from Asia. For this we installed a caching as well as a content delivery network app. The page now loads nice and fast from Yangon too, at least when I checked on local 3G (Telenor).
Resizing the images certainly helped too, as Manu did in a long and laborious session just ahead of the launch event. Other than that, the main work for us was to copy and paste the content from our manuscript into various text blocks into individual pages via the WordPress backend. This took a long time, especially given the formatting with intermittent photos as well as the information at the beginning of each page (architect, address, etc.).
The design we ended up with is very clean, focusses on readability and responsiveness. It looks great on any device, be it smartphone, tablet or desktop. The photos resize automatically and are really the main attraction. A map, comment section and random post generator at the bottom round off the experience.
But why did we make this website in the first place?
First off, we wanted to broaden access to the book, especially in Yangon, where it is in scarce supply and where the price tag is high not least due to shipping and a lack of international distribution channels. Thankfully, the Goethe-Institut has helped us provide the book to our readers in Myanmar, so that it is available from a few select vendors, primarily in Yangon. Nonetheless, we believe that more people would enjoy using the book, and the website will undoubtedly help.
We also believe that there is a business case: niche publications such as ours can increase their reach via search engine relevance. I am taking my inspiration from Craig Mod and Ashley Rawling’s Art Space Tokyo, whose website made available the eponymous book for free. Nonetheless, a premium publishing product, printed in high quality, ensured that people who became aware of the publication via the website wanted to own/gift the physical version of it, too.
DOM’s premium print and the more than 300 high quality photos will make at least some people prefer to have both: access to the website and a physical copy of our book. The more people who find us online, the more will eventually convert into buyers.
A third reason for creating the website is the “crowd-sourcing” of a potential second edition. We are reasonably confident that we’ll have a second edition of the book published over the next year(s). Getting the content up to date in the absence of a long on-site research stint will require tapping the wisdom of our readers. This has worked well with Facebook for our first edition already.
Last but not least, dicing up the book into more than 130 pages will give us plenty of content for our Facebook page. Here we plan to post a link to each individual building and township page over the next two years. This will undoubtedly increase our fanbase of now more than 11,000 users. Most of them are Myanmar nationals. Given that we’re also pondering a Burmese language edition of the site, this will only serve to further the reach of this project.
At the end of the day, we hope to contribute to a heightened sensitivity for the built environment of Yangon as well as help connect the history of the city with certain buildings.