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The way we were

The Way We Were…
(Part One)

(It seems like an age since we first launched this site five years ago. For those of you who have found us since then, here’s a retrospective. Part One, below, was originally written at the time of our first birthday on 1 April 2001…)

Wow, a year old already! It seems like much less – there’s been so much happening virtually every week. On the other hand, if you look at how the site’s evolved, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s been much longer.

Have a look at our first ever front page, for example. Be kind, and bear in mind that it was posted only two-and-a-half weeks after the idea of britishexpat.com was ever thought of. On the other hand, if you want a giggle, you might like to know that a friend (and yes, he still is a friend) described it at the time as “the skeleton”…

Our first ever preview page! Yes, you can see the bones poking through - but still recognisably britishexpat.com...

Things got better, though. We discovered how to draw vertical lines, got a bit more knowledge of how HTML works, ditched the animated GIFs (well, most of them) and came up with a more sophisticated navigation system. Well, we had to – we were adding several new pages every week. And we were quite pleased with how things were going; we’d go out to the pub on Saturday afternoons and race back, keen to see whether anyone had visited in the couple of hours we’d been away. It was a bit of a shock when a friendly psychologist gave our site the once-over and told us that it had something of a “military look”. Then again, he had a point – see for yourself:

Atten-SHUN! British Expat's military look

And, although we were chuffed to bits to be featured by a national Internet magazine, we were less than impressed to be told that we didn’t have enough eye-candy, we could do with more interactive features, we needed our own online radio station… After all, it isn’t every British expat that has a broadband connection. Still, Lee Calver of the Manchester Airport Unofficial Website [now sadly defunct] liked it enough to give us his Website of the Month award for August 2000.

Oh well, we thought, we can at least do something to lighten the atmosphere and make it a bit more friendly. Some warmer colours, shorter pages, a little bit more to help the navigation along, perhaps. And with a bit of friendly criticism (and two weeks of frantic work to totally redesign the site while concurrently learning Dreamweaver) we thought we were getting somewhere closer to where we wanted to be. A few people were starting to join the team, too – above all, Emma’s gossip column and Atoz’s Culture Vulture Schmulture became running features – so, having started out as a newsletter, the site now became a magazine.

Getting there - a few more friendly fonts, colours and buttons

So now we had a friendly look, at least – but maybe it was a bit amateurish. (People seemed to like it, though, as we won another “Website of the Month” award, this time from www.euroresidentes.com) We didn’t want to go down the “Frames ‘n’ Flash” route, bearing our readers’ connections in mind, but thought we could try to do something a bit glossier which might even help improve the download times. A friendly web designer stepped in with a few attractive ideas and useful concepts, bringing us up to this:

Our professionally designed front page, complete with "remote-control" channel changer

Glossy, but somehow it no longer felt like our own so we had to go for another DIY solution. The useful groundwork that had already been laid enabled us to come up with the new look quite quickly. It only took a few hours of learning how to manipulate graphics, a few more tweaks, and a couple more hours of uploading to get us to this!

The 2001 yellow-and-blue British Expat look! Lovely, innit?

And, on 31 March 2001, Tim Basham wrote to tell us we’d won www.sillyart.com‘s Award for Excellence! An excellent way to round off a really great year.

On to Part Two – What Happened Next?