Last evening was the Jersey Canoe Club Annual Dinner and Prize Giving and I was asked to put together a short presentation of the Club over the years to play quietly in the background. Doing so required me to search through my hard drive somewhat more thoroughly than I would normally and what I found started me thinking about how how our access to information is changing.
Chris Jones and myself ran the Sea Paddler website for 5 or 6 years and it proved to be extremely
popular. We were regularly approaching 2,000 visitors a day, and this was without the benefit of a forum which clearly helps to drive visitors to a site.
The aim was to be very much an online magazine and the aim was to update once a week and we hoped at some point in the future there could be a financial model which would allow us to receive an income which would allow further developments in the future, including paying for contributions.
At the time there were discussions about subscription based sites, we naively thought that I we could get people to contribute the cost of a pint each year; ie less than the cost of a monthly magazine, we would be home and dry financially. We did have a payment button on the site but completely misjudged the market, in 6 years we received less than £50 and about probably 90% of that income was in the first few months.
Then we came up with the idea of adverts on the site. Again naively we thought that if the site was receiving nearly 2,000 visits per day, these were very favourable numbers when compared to the print runs of specialist magazines. We approached numerous companies, individuals etc, we had a potential list of about 500 potential advertisers. We set our rates much lower than in printed magazines but still only managed to sign up 3 companies. Again we misjudged the market at the time.
The most common reply we received was if you put one of our adverts on your site we will put a link on yours to Sea Paddler. Hardly a fair exchange, a banner designed to sell kayaks for a maunfacturer who received about 200 visitors a day to their site, for a link back to a site receiving thousands of hits a week.
What was apparent was that the popularity of the site was going through the roof. We moved away from using Front Page, which at the time required Chris to do all the work on his computer, to a system which allowed either of us to update the site from any machine wherever we were. So for the last two years of the site we changed from updating once a week at the most to updating on an almost daily basis and some times a couple of small additions twice a day. The flow of photographs, articles etc submitted changed from a trickle to a flood.
In addition we were putting PDF documents for trip planning, coaching etc. We were one of the first sites to embed video into articles to demonstrate the skills and coaching sections. We built up a huge photographic database of types of kayaks, lighthouses etc. There were destination articles, coaching articles, related articles on environmental topics and the list goes. At the end there were over 1,000 different sections, in effect the site was huge and we hoped a really useful resource for paddlers throughout the world.
Unfortunately there was a technical problem with the site and about 18 months ago it crashed. Chris and myself decided not to rush back into developing the site but to take a breather, the site was costing, which we didn't mind, in fact we really enjoyed the work but it was starting to cost more and more money as our thoughts about how the site would generate income were completely wide of the mark.
So back to my original point, sitting on the hard drive of my laptop is all the work which we put in and which so many hundreds of other people contributed in the years that the site was running. In reality unless we relaunch the site all of that knowledge, information and expertise contributed by so many people is in effect lost to future paddlers. We are just one site which has come and gone, there must be hundreds which have gone through the same process and it is something which is not just limited to sea kayaking. Every aspect of our lives is affected in the same way.
When I walk into my office and look at my kayaking book collection and I can take down a title which was written more than a hundred years ago and I can gain an insight into paddle sport all those years ago. That is knowledge which will always be with us long as there are libraries and people who collect books. It is true to say that books are still being written and they will exist in 100 years from now but the point is that the written word which sees the light of day on paper is only a very small percentage of the total number words which are written about our sport and many of these will be lost forever, if they haven't been already.
So I suppose the lesson to be learned is that if come come across something which you think may be useful then make a hard copy as what it is on websites may well be temporary. And until somebody comes up with a model which will allow news and article rich sites to generate an income it will remain an issue.
Just to remind ourselves why we go paddling and being out on the water is so much more important that sitting at the laptop.