Web and Digital Highlights, Autumn 2015
Edited highlights from more than 5 years as lead producer on the AOL UK portals team
1. AOL portal home page – Live 8 and beyond
Redesign and relaunch aol.co.uk home page to re-position the portal following AOL’s Live 8 exposure.
- Begin to transition the portal towards a unified member/ non-member experience.
- Balance the requirements of editorial, sales and marketing stakeholders.
- Reflect UK brand identity whilst conforming to global brand guidelines.
- Reconcile local and international portal product strategy expectations.
- Maximise short-term Live 8 exposure within a sustainable, long-term solution.
- A single shared member/ non-member page architecture.
- Intelligent, dynamic page elements to target member/non-member audiences.
- Flexible, high impact content programming space.
- UK branding and content within recognisable US template.
- Large new multimedia UAC ad formats accommodated.
- Renewed focus on core communications products.
- Embedded module for monetised, task-orientated, searchable content.
- Full CSS implementation for style and layout.
- W3C Accessibility compliant.
2. Celebrity Love Match
Devise a new interactive content feature for use across AOL channels.
- A game of matching pairs using DHTML drag-and-drop interactions.
- Authored using Macromedia Coursebuilder software with adapted logic and feedback.
- Re-usable in a variety of situations with minimal production costs.
- Very popular with AOL members.
- Adopted by several AOL channels, including Entertainment, Motoring and Lifestyle.
3. James Bond 007 Game
Create an entertaining game to accompany a micro-site dedicated to the latest Bond film premiere.
- A series of mission-style objectives to identify Secret Service potential.
- Incorporated a number of DHTML interactions including drag-and-drop, sliders, text-entry and multiple choice.
- Final assessment feedback with times and scores for each objective to encourage competition and repeat visits.
4. AOL 9 Launch
Support marketing efforts to promote release of AOL 9.0 client software and new access product suite. Update site in line with new global style guide.
- Maximise marketing home page real-estate without alienating existing AOL members and other interests within the business.
- Showcase exclusive broadband content to users on a mixture of existing connection types.
- A dynamic home page to serve differentiated member and non-member views from a single shared domain space.
- Distinct pathing for separate audiences.
- First European portal implementation of AOL Screen Name Service for member authentication and recognition.
- Complete overhaul of marketing area with new structure, copy and branding.
- A comprehensive Flash showcase demo tailored to narrowband and broadband connection speeds.
- Satisfied both acquisition marketing and member service interests within the business.
- Served the needs of prospective members with minimal disruption to existing members.
- Launched on time to coincide with TV and press promotions.
5. AOL Advent Calendar
Reinvent AOL’s annual Advent Calendar prize give-away.
- Take a tired old HTML format and bring it alive.
- Deliver a flexible, easy production process within a dynamic template-driven design.
- Incorporate non-intrusive commercial opportunities.
- A simple, fun, interactive Flash-based design.
- 24 short festive animations revealed progressively throughout the run-up to Christmas.
- ‘Provided by’ partner sponsorships embedded in every archived movie and prize landing page.
- Generated ~20K daily competition entries with regular Welcome Screen promotion.
- Ran on the AOL service in various iterations for more than 4 years.
- Made the sales team and their clients very happy during the festive period!
6. Halloween Haunted House
It’s Halloween – have some fun with it!
- An editorially driven micro-site using a haunted house analogy.
- Spooky DHTML effects galore: disembodied eyeballs track the mouse pointer; a ghostly apparition floats in and out of the page; assorted menacing kitchen implements levitate of their own accord.
- Much amusement had by all.
- AOL members liked it too!
I’ve photographed puss moth caterpillars (Cerura vinula) before, but this summer I wanted to follow them through all 5 stages, or ‘instars’, of their larval development.
Luckily I discovered a batch of recently laid puss moth eggs by searching the exact same aspen sapling chosen by another adult female the previous year.
6 June: Unhatched Ova
12 June: Hatched Ova
12 June: 1st Instar
The ‘puss’ moths look a lot more cat-like at this early stage in their development I reckon.
15 June: 2nd Instar
I’d received a shock on my visit the previous day when I found the caterpillars frozen rigid in position, with their backs arched and tails in the air. They looked decidedly dead and I thought they must have been parasitised. Today, however, they were re-animated once more.
24 June: 3rd Instar
9 days later, after vanishing for several days, the two siblings had relocated further up the branch they originally hatched on. Neither was particularly active in the midday heat.
28 June: 4th Instar
It lashed with rain on my next visit and the only visible puss moth was trying its hardest not to get pummeled off the leaf. Its silk pad lashed to the surface provides a firm anchor for feet to grasp.
9 July: 5th Instar
A further 11 days later I returned to find only one of the original 4 puss moth siblings remaining, now in its magnificent mature larval form.
To be continued…
Soon after reaching this mature larval stage the puss moth stops eating and leaves in search of a safe place to pupate. Its transformation into the furry white adult moth can then begin. Despite much searching I couldn’t locate any pupae. Next time maybe!
Another year, another shortlisted image! This time in the ‘Invertebrates’ category:
Canon 600D + 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens; 2 sec @ f/40; ISO 100
This is a long exposure image of pond skaters (Gerris sp.) in motion, taken in the shady bend of a local river one summer afternoon. Shortly after this frame was captured my tripod toppled over and the camera went for an expensive swim!
Unfortunately this year’s entry again failed to make the final cut. Congratulations to The Winners.
After emerging from hibernation in early spring, toads migrate back to their breeding ponds.
Males fight to secure mates and often outnumber the females at some sites. When this happens the female may be grasped by several males in a position known as ‘amplexus’, as they compete to be in the best position to fertilise her eggs.
The common toad is widespread in Surrey, however populations appear to be declining. Where toad migration routes cross busy roads there can be many fatalities, and local conservation groups police ‘Toad Crossings’ at dusk to help them safely across.
- Dom Greves Photography: Toad Kama Sutra (Buy & license images)
The wood ant mounds among the pine trees were beginning to stir on my visit to the RSPB’s Arne reserve in Dorset recently.
Nests become active in early spring when worker ants begin to forage for food items and building materials to repair damage sustained over the winter months. Badgers, magpies, jays and other animals often raid wood ant nests for food.
Wood ant colonies can contain up to half a million individuals. On sunny days worker ants ‘sunbathe’ at the nest entrance to absorb heat and then re-enter the nest to release it – keeping it at a steady temperature. When the nest becomes too warm they open small vents to cool it down.
The ants are particularly aggressive in springtime as they re-define their territories. Sometimes ants from weaker neighbouring colonies are recruited by force and carried back to the main colony.
This species of wood ant is classified as Near Threatened (NT) in the IUCN Red List and classified in Great Britain as Local. Numbers seem to be increasing in the south of England but it has become locally extinct in parts of its former range in the north and east of England, the Midlands and north Wales.
Photographing ants is always a challenge because they’re small and they move very fast. It’s a good idea to keep your trousers tucked firmly into your socks when lying on the ground this close to a nest full of them! They will bite occasionally but can’t pierce skin. The formic acid they squirt in defence is too weak to harm humans.
Last week I joined Surrey Wildlife Trust on a harvest mouse survey in wetland habitat beside the River Wey.
Harvest mice are tiny rodents 5cm in length. Their remarkable prehensile tails add an extra 6cm. They live in long tussocky grassland, reedbeds, hedgerows and around woodland edges, building a spherical nest of tightly woven grass, high up amongst the stems. We found several examples at this site:
Nests are the most obvious sign of harvest mouse activity since the animals are especially active around dawn and dusk and rarely spotted in the thick vegetation.
Dozens of rodent-friendly traps of different designs were set in the thick wetland reeds and grasses. Surrey Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers returned three times each day over the course of a week – at dawn, midday and dusk – to ensure that no trapped animals were left for any longer than necessary.
After retrieval from the trap harvest mice are transferred to a transparent bag for weighing and sexing:
Once the details of each rodent have been recorded a small patch of fur is trimmed to identify any animals which are subsequently re-captured.
The highest number of individuals captured was 12 one morning, making this the most abundant site for harvest mice in the county at present.
With thanks to Surrey Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers.
Well it’s been another case of “nearly, not quite” in the furiously competitive world of wildlife photography this year…
My image of a red fox cub in car headlights (above) was shortlisted in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in the ‘Creative’ category, but progressed no further.
Driving home one night I encountered 3 cubs gamboling about in a narrow country lane without a care in the world. They were oblivious to the sound of car engines and headlights. I hope they survived to adulthood.
As any technically-fastidious wildlife photographer will tell you the term ‘creative’ is reserved for blurry, out-of-focus images, and this effort on my part made no attempt to challenge that prejudice!
In the domestic British Wildlife Photography Awards this year my image of a glow worm displaying against leaf litter was shortlisted in the ‘Hidden Britain’ category.
Photographing glow worms is quite an adventure, and a frequently frustrating one, as my earlier blog post on the subject explains.
How short is ‘short’?
The BWPA shortlist comprises around 300 images we were informed, so the shortlist is not especially exclusive it seems! Winners have yet to be announced.
We encountered another variety of sand digger wasp on the heath recently – this time Ammophila sabulosa, which uses caterpillars to feed its larvae.
Similarly to the spider-hunting wasp (Anoplius viaticus) it paralyses its victim with venom from its sting and buries it in a nest burrow. The caterpillar remains paralysed until the wasp larvae hatch out and eat it alive!
The entire nest cycle from site location, through excavation and provisioning, to finally sealing the burrow, takes 8-10 hours to complete.
Many wasps have ingenious parasitic strategies, as these earlier blog posts illustrate:
A colleague working for Surrey Wildlife Trust kindly guided me to the location of this wonderful puss moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) yesterday. A pair of them were contentedly grazing on aspen leaves.
In adult form the furry grey and white moth flies at night between the months of May and July. The larval form looks much more exotic. The gawdy pink ring around its face gives the puss moth a very distinctive appearance.
If disturbed the puss moth caterpillar extends two whip-like appendages from its tail end and flails them around to deter attackers. It’s a bizarre and unexpected thing to witness.
It also has the ability to squirt formic acid from its thorax if further provoked, but I didn’t try that!
Shortly before pupation the caterpillar will change to a fetching shade of orange, and then again to purple.
It spins a cocoon of silk around itself and uses bits of tree bark as camouflage to stay hidden for the winter. The resulting cocoon is one of the strongest constructed by any UK moth.
I will have to return to see if I can find it in its various rainbow stages of development.