All entries for Tuesday 29 August 2006

August 29, 2006

My geeky summer project

Tetbury Online - Then and NowHaving spectacularly failed to find a job this summer (and buggering off to Thailand instead), my quest to spend the next year living above the poverty line has led me to give my existing website a serious jolt up the rear.

The plan is to make Tetbury Online profitable, five years after it was set up. So far it's probably cost a fair bit in domain names, not to mention time. But now it's time to turn it into a business, hopefully creating a little bit of pocket money for my year at Cardiff Uni. You never know, I might just be able to afford to eat.

The plan is to attract advertising from local businesses, charging upwards of £3 per week for space on the right of the homepage. For this, they'll get to reach 400–500 users, which compared with the local magazine is a bargain (circulation of 4,100 – £100 for a front page ad). I'm going to start targetting the businesses who already appear to spend a large amount on marketing, as the prices I'm charging will probably seem relatively tiny compared to what they're used to. There's also a bookshop which might bring in a small income by getting commission from Amazon.co.uk.

Most of my time so far has been spent on revamping the site. Much of it is nearly five years old, and some of the vital information is utterly useless. To be honest the website's been a liability more than anything else for the past 12 months. I've completely changed the graphics to make them a little more Web 2.0, although the real techies will be disappointed to hear there's not even a whiff of Java, php or anything else remotely complicated. It's just pure HTML.

The site's got a number of new features, such as a kids section, clever local maps from Google, a shiny new Message Board, and a worryingly large business directory which has probably taken most of my time.

I'm moving hosting companies to make the site easier to edit from Cardiff and also to cut out the annoying pop–up ads that I think were caused by my free hosting solution. Sadly it means I'm going to be paying at least £60 a year in hosting costs alone, so the need to make money is greater than ever.

If I can attract even a few adverts I should be able to break–even. But what I'd really like to do is turn the site into a profitable business which'll help get a mortgage in a few years time. Double the number of hits with pieces in the local newspaper and by improving the site's reputation, and it might just be possible!

The new site will go online in the next fortnight (hopefully!), so take a look now and compare it with the new site soon.

EDIT: The old site's gone offline already, so expect to see a placeholder any day now…


Two Weeks in Thailand

Kata BeachOr Phuket to be more precise. Mine and Rachel's holiday was a little bit last–minute, and we'd probably do things differently next time, but the island was great. The beaches were pretty much how you'd imagine a desert island to look, albeit with people on!

Having said that, for some inexplicable reason, August is "low season" in Thailand, presumably because of the threat of monsoons. But while the monsoons were spectacularly wet, they only really hit on a couple of days and certainly didn't spoil our time there. The temperature was (as far as I know) never less than 30c – even at night – and while the tides were quite strong, the more sheltered Eastern side of the island was relatively docile.

Streets in Patong, PhuketPhuket's a place forever changed by tourism, and it's hard to tell when visiting whether this change has been for the better or worse. The economy is completely dominated by the presence of tourists – it's very difficult to find a shop that appears to be geared towards locals, and when you do, you realise that the food they sell is designed for the hotels and restaurants. Main streets in the town have been blighted by Westernisation – neon signs, an endless competition to make your premises seem bigger and more exciting than the identical outlet next door. Restaurants, shops, taxi ranks and bars are a place of fight–to–the–death competition, where someone will happily spend hours trying to convince you to come inside. To their credit, the Thais are very resilient in this respect, and maintain a permanent smile despite the general futility of their efforts (especially when the level of tourists is low).

Much of the country has been improved economically by the move of high–tech businesses into the country who attempt to take advantage of low wages in order to manufacture high–cost goods such as computer chips. But two factors are undermining this: one is the presently turbulent politics of the country and the other is the fact that as wages rise (thanks to said high–tech industry), Thailand suddenly becomes less attractive to potential investors.

Phuket doesn't appear to have seen much of this investment from big business. Instead, the island's towns are dominated by small–scale businesses scratching out a living on tourism, and tourism alone. Phuket has little else to offer (not a bad thing for tourists, but not so good for the islanders).

Wat Chalong, the main Buddhist temple on PhuketThings might be starting to change though. Tesco has an enormous outlet on the island, and a new shopping centre in Phuket town is as impressive as any in Britain. But it's coming at the expense of the genuine Thailand. There's little Asian architecture to be seen in any of these new developments, and they too seem to be geared to the tourist rather than the local.

What would be fantastic would be to see more Thai entrepreneurs on Phuket, creating home–grown big business that recognises the history of the country. At the moment, it's simply not happening.

Phi Phi Don IslandAway from the economy, Phuket's a great place to visit: small enough to get around easily, but not so small as to become tiresome (I'm talking about you, the Isle of Wight). Having said that, we were disappointed at our lack of mobility. Having booked a package holiday, we were stuck in a large and mostly adequate hotel (the Peach Hill hotel on Kata Beach), but really wanted to get away for longer than a day–trip. A day–trip to Phi Phi Don island was great, but we could easily have spent a weekend there rather than the two hours that we were allowed before the ferry returned to pick us up.

The food was often quite Westernised, although virtually every restaurant had an extensive Thai menu. One thing I'd say is that price doesn't guarantee quality. Some of the best meals we had were also the cheapest, while one of the most expensive in the most ornate restaurant gave me really bad food poisoning!

The Thai's spoken English is nothing short of astounding for a place which isn't especially affluent. It makes the holiday very easy, and there's none of the language snobbery that you might find in Western Europe. The people are incredibly helpful, and you'll find yourself in a perpetual bind about how much to tip – they'll be ecstatic with an amount that would be beyond derisory in the UK.

Just one example of the wildlife that youPhuket's definately a place for travellers rather than families, as if you don't have mobility then you're going to kick yourself for missing out on the unknown treasures just around the corner. The Thai mainland, for instance, eluded us, even though we heard it was even more beautiful than Phuket. If you're travelling through Asia, then I heartily recommend a stop on one of Phuket's beaches. But be warned the possibility of getting tourist–guilt. The island has changed so much since tourists started visiting that you wonder if the Thais ought to be as welcoming as they are.


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