This is part of an ongoing series of features that looks back on the history of The Sonic Stadium. You can find out more about how this website changed the Sonic community, what it looked like back in the day, and even special images and update notes from the archive.
She’s Got The Look
The launch of The Sonic Stadium had a very good initial response – some thirty people or so were regularly visitng the website in just a few weeks since it’s opening, which is pretty admirable considering that it did so with no fanfare or anything. The first few months in 2001 would prove to be much tougher, as beginner’s luck would set in and the casually interested visitors would drop off and head to more interesting sites like The Sonic Foundation and Sonic HQ.
To combat this, towards the end of 2000 I began work on a new site design. One with a dark background, two sidebars and room for a lot of links to different pages. Still feeling my way around web design, I took a free template and fiddled with that to get the look I wanted. It wasn’t a very good idea at the time because I missed several updates because of this, but it taught me a lot about how to achieve certain things in a webpage.
While I was preparing this new design, I realised I needed more space than Angelfire’s 50Meg service provided. As a result of weeks of searching, The Sonic Stadium was moved onto a supposedly limitless, free host called Stas.net which included no ad-banners whatsoever. This became my undoing, as the bursting bubble of the dot com boom meant places like Stas ended up disappearing without so much as a ‘We’re closing down, bye’ message. There aren’t many images and backups of this design, as the only copies were on Stas. This meant I had to start from practically scratch. Even worse was I had my GCSE exams this year, so the revival would have to wait until several months later…
During my revision breaks I’d slowly update the work in progress and found a new free host in Topcities. The third design of The Sonic Stadium was a stark contrast to the black tones of its predecessor due to its lighter background – a throwback to the original look of the website. I had also dropped a navigation column in favour of a wider content area. The relaunch came on the 30th June 2001 (which happened to be my birthday) and the beginning of July saw the site’s 1000th visitor.
More design changes happened over the course of this year, with a change in background in September prompting a return of the right hand column on the home page. The rest of the pages remained relatively unaltered, making for a mish-mash between designs two and three. As time went on the design became more cluttered and graphics heavy; there was even a flash banner that was offered to me from SegaSonic15 that helped contribute to a slow-loading page. The website also looked unorganised because of the transparent background that was present in the basic bordered table.
By September, the design was revamped a further two times; both had a goal to make the content cleaner and easier to read, but I was torn between having one navigation column or two. Ultimately, a poll was initiated and the visitors chose which option to go for. The two-columned approach won, and it had the good fortune of remaining the standard layout for The Sonic Stadium until at least the end of the year. The fourth image above is of the two-columned design during TSS’ Christmas celebrations, the first time the website had found time to do a seasonal update.
What Didn’t Diddy Do?
Despite the fact that, as you can see in the design screenshot above, TSS had hit its 500th visitor in merely four months of being active, the lack of participation and slow drop in regular visitors began to worry me. Worse, nobody was visiting the forums I had set up to chat about Sonic the Hedgehog. I began to go back to basics at the beginning of the year and think about why people weren’t bothering with The Sonic Stadium. Then the obvious realisation hit; why would anyone visit a small website like mine, when they can find exactly the same information on a larger website that they trust more?
Based on this fact, I decided to create some new sections to The Sonic Stadium that would be completely unique, and would be a solid reason for people to regularly visit. The result was a revamp of the radio station, changing its name to SEGASonic Radio and having it hosted on the Zone Radio Network, and the creation of several new mainstays that would change the state of the community – and the status of TSS – forever.
One such initiative was The Sonic Fan Club. I had seen many Sonic fansites that took one aspect of fan creation and made a community of their own from it. A good example being Sonic Fan Games HQ, who specialises in fangames. There were artwork sites that had loads of fan doodles of Sonic and the gang, and numerous fiction websites. My concept was to create a function for a website that allowed and covered all types of fan creation, including comics and flash animations on top of the staple games, art and fiction.
Sadly The Sonic Fan Club was an idea ahead of its time, as my lack of knowledge in web coding meant that all submissions from visitors had to be added to HTML pages manually. The process was quite daunting and exhausting, considering the moderate success that the program had. The hoaxes section in particular drew the most response, and at times I was updating a person’s hoax profile more often than I was focusing on the other important elements of The Sonic Stadium.
The Sonic Site Awards
Perhaps the single greatest contribution of The Sonic Stadium in its opening years was the launch of a new kind of community awards ceremony. The idea was formed looking at the current awards system at TSSZ; in that a group of websites picked by the award organisers were put in a poll and given commendations for winning every year. The big winners would always be the larger websites; Sonic HQ, The Sonic Foundation, Green Hill Zone, TSSZ itself… there was no room for the little guy.
The Sonic Site Awards was created to be an awards ceremony for websites that weren’t able to get that many visitors. Webmasters who had just started that couldn’t find a way to break through Sonic HQ’s updates and be seen for its merits. The Sonic Stadium itself had that same problem, and in a strange twist of fate, this very event was the cure needed in which to propel this site from relative unknown to a somewhat major player.
Split into three ‘phases’, the Sonic Site Awards allowed the community to be involved in all major elements of the voting process. ‘Phase 1’ allowed users to submit their own, or their favourite websites to the awards administration. In the first year, the sites that got the most submissions would enter the nomination polls in Phase 2 (the general voting stage), but in later years it was changed so that administrators would look at each submission and consider their nomination on their merits.
Phase 3 was the announcement of the winners, staged in an online event that was almost its own. In this first year, the winners were to be announced by myself in a live radio broadcast, but technical difficulties arose and the results were posted on a dedicated chatroom instead. It made the reactions of the winners no less exciting to watch, and the success of the Sonic Site Awards propelled The Sonic Stadium upwards.
The Sonic Site Awards still take place year on year, continuing to abide by the simple premise that if a person has the dedication and drive to create something unique, they should be able to get the recognition they deserve. Over the years, the SSA has taken on board creative works as well as websites.
Other Notable Developments
- This year saw the website’s traffic grow considerably, hitting the landmark 500, 1000, 2000 and even 4000 visits during the course of this year.
- Blaze Hedgehog created and hosted the very first Sonic Amateur Games Expo (SAGE) online, and The Sonic Stadium was the only fansite that covered the event. Despite this, because of the transition of the designs earlier in the year, only a brief few roundup articles were written for the coverage.
- The website’s third design release originally included frames. The navigation menu on the left hand side was a separate page in order to make updating links easier to manage.
- A new Music Zone was created, offering downloads of various midi’s from talented fans. Unfortunately, the number of downloads meant that a separate Topcities account was used to hold all that The Sonic Stadium had to offer. In a crackdown, Topcities closed the extra account, claiming it broke their terms of service.
- The Sonic Stadium was to be merged with Shadow of a Hedgehog at one point in time. A brief, friendly joke between webmasters almost resulted in a serious collaboration project, with a page design even created, mixing the two’s layout styles. The pipe dream was called off by both parties in order to continue the success of their respective fansites.
- A new Message Board was created in November after many failed attempts to forge a community from The Sonic Stadium website. Perhaps due in part to the success of The Sonic Site Awards, and mostly due to a member called Sonic Guy 2000 that began posting over Christmas, this forum did not die out quite so easily. With added support from incoming members, it would grow to become the SSMB you know today.
Old Template Images
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