FROM MODEST BEGINNINGS, the resilient network of closely connected Survivors web sites of which this site is an integral part was built and developed over the course of two decades. When managing such a sizeable web presence, just keeping up with developing web technologies can be a challenge. This latest overhaul of the Survivors: A World Away site is part of a continuing commitment to keep this content accessible and meaningful for enthusiasts for Terry Nation's peerless post-apocalyptic TV series.
"The original Survivors: Mad Dog web site that I started with back in 2002 was pretty basic," explains web editor Rich Cross. "It was only the second site that I'd ever built by that point, and it started with a very specific and limited purpose - which was to support the Mad Dog 2003 location trip that I was in the process of organising."
"Pretty quickly, it moved far beyond that to evolve into the Survivors: Mad Dog site, which became a comprehensive reference to the making of that episode, and to other TV productions that used the same Derbyshire Peak District locations."
"One of the obvious appeals of the site was the detailed, illustrated guide it provided to all of the Mad Dog filming locations," he suggests. "It was only ever going to be something of niche interest, but those that shared that enthusiasm - either for Survivors or for real-world TV locations from that era - got a lot from the information on the site."
It was gratifying to see that the Walkthrough Guides to the locations being downloaded and used
"In particular, it was gratifying to see that the Walkthrough Guides to the locations at Ilam and Monsal Dale, and on the Severn Valley Railway were being downloaded and used by those visiting those sites."
Within a year of launching the site, it became clear that an expansion of operations was called for. "During 2003 and into 2004, I was writing and publishing a great deal more about Survivors. I became involved in supporting the release of the first two series of the show on DVD, taking part in the studio day recording sessions for the special features of the DVD boxsets."
Writing and publishing
"I had more and more material about the series which did not 'fit' in the setting of a single episode web site," he explains. "So in 2004, I launched the Survivors: A World Away web site. This allowed me a platform to share Survivors content across the full range of the show's three series and all 38 episodes."
"This new site expanded rapidly, and in 2005 the release of the third series on DVD and the publication of The End of The World?: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Survivors added additional momentum to the growth of the site."
In the years that followed, things continued to develop. "I was publishing new interviews with cast and crew members and more behind-the-scenes information about different aspects of the making of Survivors," he adds. "It remained a dynamic and growing platform, even as other Survivors web sites began to taper off or disappear from the web entirely."
The next big impetus to expand the Survivors web presence came with the news in 2006 that the BBC would be making a new version of the show, which eventually came to air to 2008. "I knew immediately that I wanted to cover this development in the story of Survivors in depth," Rich recalls.
It became a major undertaking just to keep on top of the coverage that was out there
"So, in addition to writing a guidebook to the series, which was published in 2010, I set up a new blog to track the progress of the new series from the earliest days of production to transmission on BBC One. I knew that fans of the original Survivors would be divided between those who were enthused about the 'reimagining' and those who had no interest in it - or loathed it once they watched it."
"For that reason, a new and separate - but still connected - web site seemed the best way to go. I set up the Survivors: BBC TV blog during 2008 and followed the progress of the series. There was a huge amount of press interest in the remake, and over the course of the next two years it became a major undertaking just to keep on top of the coverage that was out there, in print and online," he recalls.
Ten thousand hits
"On the day that the first episode was shown, the site received more than 10k hits - which was vastly above any traffic level that my coverage of the original series had ever attracted in a 24-hour period!"
"The internet was itself fast evolving during this time, and one of the advantages that the new Survivors: BBC TV blog platform brought with it was a compatibility with mobile devices," he explains. "A growing percentage of web traffic was coming from tablets, smartphone and other mobile kit, and web sites that were designed for desktop viewing often rendered poorly on these devices."
Plans to rebuild the Survivors: Mad Dog and Survivors: A World Away web sites to be more 'mobile complaint' were overtaken by the announcement from Big Finish in July 2013 that the genre audio drama specialists would be releasing a series of original Survivors audio adventures, set in the time and place of the original 1970s' series.
"I again knew that I wanted to cover this exciting evolution in the Survivors story in depth, right the way through," says Rich. "Although, at that time, few people would have anticipated the the audios would run to nine series and an audio-book!"
"Again mindful that not every Survivors fan would be interested in the new audio incarnation, I opted to set up a standalone mini-site - which, over time, became less and less 'mini' as it expanded with each new series' release."
"The Survivors: Big Finish site was built on a 'mobile-first' basis from the outset, so that the content it offered could be accessed just as well on any mobile device as on any desktop."
A lot of great content on the original Survivors: A World Away site was less easily accessible
At about the same time, the new and mobile-friendly Survivors: A World Away blog was launched. "My Survivors sites now had a bit more of a presence on social media, and I wanted a way to publish news updates about the show and push these out through Facebook and Twitter in particular."
"The idea was that the Survivors: A World Away site would provide the more substantial content - things like interviews, reviews, features and guides and the related blog would support a 'news stream', offering brief time-sensitive updates about appearances, conventions and cast updates."
"That has all worked out fine," Rich says. "But it has meant that there was a lot of great content on the original Survivors: A World Away site that was less-and-less easily accessible because it was held in what was now a legacy format."
"So, I've been working on a project on-and-off over the last couple of years to upgrade the Survivors: A World Away site to bring it back in line with current web standards," he explains.
"It's proved to be quite a complex process - certainly a lot more intricate than simply copying-and-pasting old HTML - but worth it, I think.
The process has involved a host of related enhancements, including the:
- Move to a secure https based site
- Migration to a database-driven site (replacing static web pages)
- Shift to flexible Bootstrap-based page design
- Inclusion of a range of dynamic components (such as 'On this day...' and selective search)
- Bringing of the separate Survivors sites into closer alignment
"The first phase of the project - moving the existing content to the new Survivors: A World Away platform - is now largely complete," he adds. "But in the months to come, there's every prospect of adding a lot of new content to both the main site and to the blog."
"There are some never-before-seen interviews with Survivors cast and crew members that will be published for the first time," he pledges, "and a range of other new and original Survivors content."
There is one further migration project outstanding. "Amongst this network of Survivors sites, the original Survivors: Mad Dog site is yet to be optimised for mobile viewing," Rich concedes. "That shortcoming will be addressed at some point in the not-too-distant future."
"It would be a good project to finish up before the end of next year," he concludes. "2022 will mark twenty years since I launched my first Survivors web site, so it would be great to get that last site upgrade completed in time for that anniversary."
Cite this web page
Cross, R. (2021). ''I needed a centre of operations...',' [online] Survivors: A World Away, 31 January. Available at: https://survivors-mad-dog.org.uk/a-world-away/centre_of_operations.php. Accessed on: 08 May 2021.
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