What is wrong with this site?

Robert Khoo

at 1:56 in New Hire: Part 2
Season 1, Episode 13
Penny Arcade: The Series

I can honestly say that, until I watched New Hire: Part 2, the large blue question to the left had never crossed my mind – which is rather strange considering I've been a regular reader of Penny Arcade since 2004, a professional web designer since 2003 and a serial critical analyzer of websites since I first started using the web back in the mid-90's.

Maybe it's because I didn't feel it was my place to be critical – after all, the jpegs continue to arrive on time and completely free of charge – or that penny-arcade.com has always functioned just fine as a vehicle for text and imagery. More than anything else, however, I just didn't think it was something I should especially worry about; Penny Arcade seemed to be doing just fine without my input thus far so my energies were directed towards other things.

But, like a cymothoa exigua taking residence in the mouth of a spotted rose snapper, Robert's seemingly innocent question had worked it's way into my brain and was beginning to transform my thrice-weekly visits to Penny Arcade from the mere acquisition and consumption of entertainment into a quest for the ever-elusive 'wrong'.

Over the course of the next couple of months, I thought a lot about what I would change on the site if I had an opportunity to redesign it. Here's what I thought needed to be fixed:

  1. The tagging engine: It should include support for both single and multi-word tags as well as display each comic's tags alongside / near / underneath wherever it appears.
  2. The news page: A comic should be available on the same page as it's corresponding news post without being obtrusive.
  3. The tag cloud: Users should be able to quickly sort / filter tags based on relevant criteria like amount, recently used tags and popularity.
  4. Make sharing easier: Create a painless, unobtrusive way of sharing comics on popular social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit and Digg.
  5. More nimble/quick/bandwidth efficient: Transform the process of moving through Penny Arcade's vast archive from the current snail's-pace-single-pageload-per-each-comic into a nimble, thumbnail-glancing, tag-associated experience.

I took the lead from Penny Arcade's existing tag cloud and added the ability to instantly sort or filter tags based on various criteria (amount/recently used tags/popularity). I also thought it'd be great if the comics associated with the tag in question would be instantly available without having to wait for an entire other page to load. In addition to making the browsing experience more responsive it cuts down on bandwidth usage (by only loading portions of a page as opposed to an entirely new one) which, from my understanding, Penny Arcade tears through in spades.

In addition to the archive re-work I thought it'd be great to have the option of reading a comic on the same page as it's corresponding news post (for the same reasons mentioned in the last paragraph) as well as a quick and painless way of sharing comics on popular social networking sites.

At first I just picked up the existing aesthetic of penny-arcade.com but figured it'd be fun to take the look in an entirely new direction.

On the off-chance someone from Penny Arcade is checking this out:

  1. I love what you guys are doing, keep up the great work!
  2. I'm flattered you're here! What do you think? If you have any suggestions, tweaks, feature requests or feedback in general I'd love to hear it!
  3. If you're interested in a tour of the back-end of this site let me know and we can set up a screen-cast.
  4. I have an idea for a PAX-specific website, can I pitch it to you?

Thanks for reading!
Jonathan Ellenberger