All 4 entries tagged Tetbury Online

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April 23, 2009

From dunce to developer

Bill Thompson is something of a Great Uncle of the world wide web. He’s not the daddy – that’s Tim Berners-Lee. He’s more of a godfather, who Berners-Lee might trust if he had a nasty accident with some html.

In his latest posting on the BBC News | Technology site, he points out one of the many ways in which IT education in Britain is rubbish and how more of us are going to need to at least know about programming and development.

I’ve been writing websites since about 1999. My first was a sort of primitive blog, without comments. I reviewed music, films and games. It had about one reader. Me.

Then in 2001 I created a community website for my home town called Tetbury Online. Miraculously the internet archive has preserved my earliest efforts from 2002 and 2003. The site’s changed cosmetically since, but not a lot. It’s still just a static load of html with some code from Google thrown in to make it seem a little more dynamic.

I was already thinking about it before Bill Thompson’s column came out, but he might have tipped me over the edge: I’m scrapping the whole site and rebuilding it in something a little more Web 2.0.

I’ve chosen Drupal as a content management system as it seems to be well supported, relatively simple and infinitely flexible. Oh, and free. That unfortunately means heaving the whole website to a new hosting company and shared server so that I can install the cms. My old hosting provider didn’t allow databases, which I’ve recently discovered is what makes the internet go round.

Drupal’s based largely on php – a programming language with which I am as familiar with as veganism or Hungarian. But from what I can tell, that shouldn’t matter. Drupal, and other CMS’s, like Joomla are based on a system of menus, buttons, drop-down boxes and remarkably little code. All the hard work goes on under the surface.

The biggest advantage of using a content management system over just html is that for the first time, I’ll be able to let other people fiddle with the site. I’m hoping that local groups will add events, businesses will update their directory listings and employers will post their vacancies. In short, while re-writing the whole site will be a chore, once it’s done I can share the load of updating the site with others.

The new site will also be about six billion percent more dynamic. I can enable comments on any page at the press of a button. No coding. Just a click. I can have every article appear on an RSS feed without having to understand how. And I can create event calendars, audio slideshows, aggregated feeds, and Google Maps in 30 seconds.

It’s an awesome bit of kit – it’s just a shame the barrier to entry (having your own shared server space = £30+ per year) is high enough to put people off having a try.

Hopefully by the summer when the site should go live, I’ll be able to call myself a developer, of sorts. All without learning any code. Now that they should be teaching in schools.


November 05, 2006

Stats and FOIs

Iain Dale had 153,000 visitors to his blog in October. I’m not going to say how many I’ve had (as that’s just embarrassing vulgar), but my stats are surprisingly good.

If anyone doesn’t have a decent hit-counter on their blog, then get one. It’s fascinating to see which websites have linked to you, and who’s been referring the most people. I’ve learned about loads of websites I never knew existed just by seeing who had linked to my blog entries. So “Hi” to Adam and Counterspin and The Stage (yeah, I couldn’t work out why either) and Dave Sheffield and of course Google, all of whom sent me some visitors last month.

All I will say is that my other venture: Tetbury Online gets considerably less ‘hits’ than my blog does. Which is a bit weird.

I don’t want to suggest the blog’s been dumbed-down recently, but I am planning to take it upmarket with some original journalism in the next few months (and no, it’s not going to be about railway museums or WI meetings). There were a few moments, when I filed my first Freedom of Information request, when I thought I was probably wasting taxpayers money. But then I realised the job of a journalist is to cause trouble, and seeing as a streak in me has been doing that since the day I was born, I pressed “Send”. I’ll let you know what happens. And what the hell it’s about.

If anyone has an idea as to how I can cause some trouble (within the law, preferably) please do let me know in the Comments section.

P.S. Don’t let anyone tell you blogging is profitable. I’d be amazed if anyone (in Britain at least) could earn a living from it. You might notice the Amazon adverts in the sidebar have disappeared, as they’d earned me precisely £0.00 in the three months they’d been there. At best, you can only hope a newspaper might pay you to write something they’ve seen on your blog. And so far, no-one’s opened their wallet.


August 30, 2006

Website taking shape

Tetbury Online takes shapeMy plan for world domination is taking shape and Tetbury Online is now on shiny new servers with FTP and everything (yeah, that’s how backward the old one was!). The whole site’s online except for the homepage, and it seems to be working, which is something of a miracle.

Check it out if you’re bored (http://www.tetburyonline.co.uk ) or head over to one of the pages behind the placeholder for the main thing (http://www.tetburyonline.co.uk/Directory ). If it doesn’t work, blame your ISP for not updating its DNS name servers. Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.


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…


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