Published Friday 01 January 2016
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Virtual Swanage

20 years of Virtual Swanage promoting our town and local area at www.virtual-swanage.co.uk

In 1996 we first launched our local tourist information website for our home town of Swanage. The first version of the website was written and uploaded using our Amiga 1200 computer and we made the site to experiment with building webpages as a hobby which went on to become a full time job in 1998 and continues to be the core part of our business.

The first version of the Virtual Swanage website was hosted on free web space with our internet service provider, Demon Internet and had just five pages:

  • Home page intro
  • Small photo gallery
  • Cycle routes page
  • Police speed trap locations
  • Business listing page which had 2 businesses who also had websites in the area.

The first few years saw a lot of changes to the Virtual Swanage website and the site gradually grew with the addition of photo galleries, education information for schools covering coastal erosion, an interactive map (pre google maps), downloads section with desktop wallpapers and events sections.

On the 21st July 1999 we registered our www.virtual-swanage.co.uk domain name and used this to replace the previous domain which was supplied via our ISP on their free webspace and the Virtual Swanage website was moved to a dedicated server which hosted the other websites we had been developing and hosting for our new web design clients.

We later added the towns first webcam to the website and this was hosted in the window of Rutherford Photographic in the High Street and uploaded a new image every minute for several years until the shop moved to the Purbeck Press premises in Station Road. The addition of the webcam soon resulted in a visit from the town clerk who threatened us with legal action for having an “unofficial tourism website” and we were told that private businesses could not promote the town! 

The local council later launched their own “tourism website” and the first version ironically used the same database structure and admin system as and older version of the Virtual Swanage website as I was sub-contracting to another local web design agency at the time who won the contract to build the councils website and I saved time during the new build by reusing my own code!

The 2000-2001 redesign saw the addition of separate accommodation sections for hotels, bed and breakfast, guest houses, camping and caravan sites to list the growing list of local accommodation businesses who advertised with us and many of the original advertisers are continuing to promote their accommodation with us today.

You can click on the screen shots below to view larger versions

The 2005 redesign added a new trip planner, photo prints shop selling prints by local photographers, virtual postcards and users could have their own email address with a third party email host allowing users to have their own @virtual-swanage.co.uk email address. The email provider closed after a couple of years and so we had to remove this service.

The 2008 redesign saw the look of the website change from the previous top navigation to a left menu design and a new bolder colour scheme but we found that website visitors viewed fewer pages with this new layout and so we worked on a new layout for the website.

The 2009 redesign resolved the navigation issues on the 2008 version with the return of a top menu navigation and this used drop down menus to allow easier access to the site sections and content.

We had also designed Apple IOS and Android mobile apps which contained live data feeds for accommodation, events, business listings and local tourism information and the apps were initially popular but as more and more mobile users started to browse the website on their mobile browsers we found that the app users dropped quickly as they could get all the sites information straight from the browser.

Over the following years we added a lot more content and sections to the website including a popular walking and cycling section and we have ridden and walked all of the routes ourselves to record the GPS route files. We added a new history section with a scrolling timeline with historic events from 8000BC to present listed.

We also hosted a popular community forum for several years but with the arrival of Facebook many of the forum users moved to there to discuss local issues.

We soon found that the top menu navigation couldn’t cope with the huge increase in website content and pages and so in 2013-2014 we launched a new version of the website which used the previous top menu style navigation but added sub links on the side of each section to allow easy access to all the pages and information available. The new layout was fully mobile responsive which makes it much easier for mobile and tablet users to browse the website and allowed us to remove the previous mobile apps which didn’t work fully on the latest iPhones due to changes in the OS.

Andrew and myself would like to thank all the local businesses who have supported us over the past 20 years and we will continue to promote Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck in the future.

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