A lot of people who don't know me very well, or more specifically, know me as the guy who runs CoasterBuzz, would probably think that it's the center piece of my life. I suppose after seven years, that's certainly a reasonable assumption to make.
The reality is something different. Because of the way I built it, to largely make it self-sustaining, it isn't as big of a deal as you'd think. Make no mistake, it is a part-time job sometimes, but it doesn't dominate my life at all. My closest friends often have to remind me that it's a fairly notable accomplishment though.
When I started the site in 2000, one of the most spectacular years of my life, it seemed that everything was going my way. I was making solid money at a media company, where the execs invited me to important meetings (even if they didn't listen ;)), I sold popworld.com later in the year for $100k, I got married, I went to Hawaii, and most importantly, now that I look back, established some of the most important friendships of my life, most of which I still have today.
CoasterBuzz grew out of the idea that my little hobby, Guide to The Point (later PointBuzz), could translate well into a bigger concept. People seemed to like the forum system I built because it was very simple, a happy accident because I didn't have the skills to make it anymore advanced. There was a site I visited called "Voodoo Extreme" that was aggregating news in a manner that today we'd consider a blog, and that was the basis for CB. (VE is still around, though its founder left years ago, and died more recently.)
I think the thing that established credibility early on was that the seed money I used from the popworld.com sale bought me an audience early on by placing pay-per-click ads with GoTo.com, which later became Overture, then Yahoo. It probably explains why the early members were not the typical enthusiast audience. Combine this more mainstream audience with extensive coverage of the IAAPA trade show that year, and it gave the vibe that I was very serious.
The costs associated with the site started to get a little out of control after that. In 2001, you couldn't get a cheap rented server with a ton of bandwidth, so Sprint piped a T-1 into my house at a cost of $1,200 a month. The advertising barely covered it, when DoubleClick, the leading ad providing company at the time, dumped me. What was worse, it happened just a month after I got laid-off, shortly after 9/11. Suddenly my little hobby had the potential to make me bankrupt. There was no getting out of the Sprint contract.
To say that was a panic time for me is understating things. I really freaked out, and got very depressed. In those days, I associated my self-worth with my job. With the bubble bursting, jobs were scarce. I started working again six months later, in a job I never actually liked, but I had income and I was able to finish out and extend the Sprint contract.
I thought about quitting so many times. In the earlier years, there were a lot of choices on the Internet, and even better, dozens of localized communities around specific parks. I'd get these thankless bastards who did nothing but bitch about the way we chose to run the site, instead of them just going somewhere else. I wasn't good at not taking it personally back then, but I've since learned to just blow it off. I still get very sad IM's from people we booted for reasons I don't remember (or care about), and think that I actually harbor some ill feelings about it.
CoasterBuzz reached something like its current state four years ago today. When I look at the code, I can't believe it has survived four years. It's really horrible. I'd never show it to anyone, because it's so bad. I hate that I've neglected it for so long, but it just hasn't been manageable.
If you count the podcast, I'm probably spending about six to ten hours a week on the site, during most of the year. The forum rewrite that is in progress has consumed hundreds of hours. Pulling off an event take a solid 30 hours of work (except BooBuzz, which was entirely handled by the park). I'm fairly energized at the moment in doing some of the new things, because I now have the know-how to do things that seemed impossible four years ago. If only I had more time.
The weird thing is that I didn't do more work in 2004 and 2005, when I was hopping from one contract gig to the next. I had a ton of free time in those years. Granted, 2004 was more about writing my book, and 2005 was about figuring out who I was supposed to be following the separation. Since last fall, I've had a lot more focus, much of it having to do with learning.
If I could pick one great value from the CoasterBuzz experience, it would easily be the friends. So many of my closest and dearest friends would have never met me had it not been from the site. From CEO's to teenagers I've mentored for programming, the people aspect is what keeps me going.
It's impossible for me to predict how long this will go on, but I don't see any reason to stop. The site generates enough revenue that I'll finally eliminate the debt this year that built up through the T-1 days. It might have happened last year had I not decided to get into the video/HD business. I think this year I'll resume IAAPA coverage because I can afford it (and I might have another certain incentive to be there).
So here's to seven years... and many, many more. Thank you to my friends for supporting me through it all.