2013 Review: The business

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 31, 2013, 10:40 AM | comments: 0

It seems like I just wrote up last year's post, but here we are! This was a strange year for my little endeavor, in part because I've spent most of the year working as a contractor. That means all of my income flows through the business, and I have to write checks to the IRS and buy my own health insurance. If I pull all of that out of the accounting, this year was similar to last year, with certain ups and downs.

On the open source front, I released two major versions of POP Forums, and I'm pleased to see it did over 2,000 downloads this year. I used to dread working on that app, because it seemed like I had to keep rewriting it. Fortunately, since the last rewrite about 2.5 years ago, it has been really easy to maintain and update. It could definitely use a lot of clean up in places, but I'm happy with it overall. Also exciting, I finally had a pull request for a language translation, and it's now available in six languages!

CoasterBuzz had a pretty great year. The effort I put into search engine optimization and speed really helped in the bigger discovery context. Unique visitor counts were up double digit percentages this year, while overall visits and page views made modest gains. The win came from the long-tail search traffic. Tens of thousands of people showed up from some of the strangest things they were looking for.

I didn't generate a ton of content, but I did get to do a fun tour of the plant where they fabricate roller coasters. We also had an event at Kings Island that was well received, after missing several years there. I really don't enjoy doing events, but I'm thrilled that parks are doing more on their own. Folks did a nice job supporting GKTW, too.

PointBuzz had a really strong start to the year, which should come as no surprise since Cedar Point opened the first significant new roller coaster in several years. GateKeeper was a huge hit, and we had a lot of fun covering the construction and the park's media day. It opened the opportunity to do something technically interesting as well, doing a "live blog" app that could (in theory) handle any traffic you threw at it. That was fun to build.

Unfortunately, we also saw how fickle the Cedar Point fan audience is. It was almost as if the day after GateKeeper opened, the kids got bored with it and traffic went back to no-new-ride levels. That was disappointing.

The big problem with traffic either way is that ad revenue just isn't what it used to be, and that sucks. Last year I had the massive 10% decline, but this year it stabilized, and was essentially flat. This is why straight content sites suck without some other form of revenue. If CoasterBuzz Club wasn't a thing, I'd probably stop doing it (memberships were up, thankfully). The P&L just doesn't stay very comfortably in the black.

Despite knowing that content sites suck, what did I do? I started a new content site project! In the spring, Diana and I talked through what we would do if we built what we thought would be a great quilting community site. I think we have good ideas. When I ended the contract gig I had in the spring, I decided I was going to make working on that my full time job. I did about two months of solid work on it, about 25 hours per week, and used a whole lot of new technology in the process. Then I got the gig in Orlando, and I essentially stopped to prepare (mostly getting the house ready for sale).

Here's the thing... I haven't had the time to get back into it. That sucks because it's really most of the way there, aside from solving a couple of the harder problems. I wanted to finish it this year, so we could start to grow it and develop some kind of real business model around it that isn't entirely ads (we have some ideas in mind). Not following through and making the time to get this done causes self-resentment. It's just hard to find the time when you have a normal day job, and then you consider the fact that you have a child, a wife, and presumably some time devoted to leisure with them.

Same thing with the "server metric" project I started last year. That could actually be a viable product if I finished it. I don't know if anyone would use it or pay for it, but it would at least be viable.

As much as I treat the business as a hobby, at least I'm getting more serious about how I do work for it. I actually put on my day job process hat and map out the work, with some level of planning. I have goals and milestones in mind, but without dates attached to them since there isn't a lot of time I can map to them in a realistic way.

Regardless, the work I did do for my projects this year was fun. I saw results. That makes me happy, even if I haven't had any clever ideas about how to make the fun pay with cash. Indeed, it continues to be the journey that makes this stuff fun.


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