Developing a Profitable Web 2.0 Project in 24 Hours
It took seven months to get the One Million Masterpiece charity project online. The site is complex and needed the development time, but in the last few days I’ve had a yearning to see if I can still turn around a project in 24 hours.
Back in the early days of the Internet boom I’d sit in my bedroom and knock out html websites all night long, but almost ten years on, can it still be done in a time where profitability and interactivity are the key measures?
So, it’s 7am and I’ve got a plan. The new pressures I face in life (work responsibilities, family etc) have been dealt with and I have a clear 24 hours ahead of me. An idea for a site has been kicking round in my head ever since I sold a site last year. This site was a very specialist software comparison site that generated referral commissions and Adsense income. It was an excellent earner and I’ve wanted to recreate that success, but on a larger scale.
So last year I bought the domain http://www.shoutdown.net with the intention of building a software comparison style project. I want the site to be in the informal blog style, where the posts are product summaries (written by me), and the comments would be reviews submitted by other people. I’d also throw in a rating system, and way of attaching news releases or other relevant pages to each product post, plus link related posts (for example different versions of the same software).
So the idea is there, it’s 7:30am and my first job is to select some mp3’s to get me through to lunch. Here goes…
By the time I’ve chosen my music, switched off my Google desktop bar and responded to essential email it’s already 8am – crap. So, first job is drawing out a schematic of the database that will power my site. What information do I want to keep and how will I organise it? I’m having five database tables. For ease I’m calling them level1, level2, level3 etc because I see them as levels of information about each software product – the top being category information and the bottom being the reviews and ratings.
Took me quite a while to get the structure clear, but now I’m sketching out the homepage on paper. I’ve looked at a few blogs that I like and have basically copied their layout for ease. I’ve also worked out the sizing of my main columns and rows and know the positions of the adverts, main blog posts and navigation. I still like to work on paper at this stage – I’m an artist at heart!
OK let’s get on the computer. I’ve fired up Paint Shop Pro and my first job is to work out a colour pallet. I want three colours, so I blob different combinations on a blank white image until I get the right combination – orange, purple and grey. I then make a note of the hex codes for each colour on a post-it – this will save LOADS of time later. While I’m in PSP I’m going to mock up a logo as I already know the size of image I need from my plan. Actually I really like the logo so it will probably be permanent.
Time to start on the site. I’m using a single html page at the moment with a linked css file. Using some basic tables and css I’ve laid out the top bar, the post area and two columns (one for ads and one for navigation). I’m sticking to a tried and tested blog layout.
I always use Dreamweaver, but always hand code. Why use Dreamweaver then? Well, I find the preview quite accurate, but other than that I have no idea – just habit.
I’ve just finished the main site layout, including place holding text that will eventually be dynamic. I’ve left space for some ads on the site, so I’ve justed logged in to Adsense to generate the code. All I need to do is use the colours on my post-it to get them fitting in nicely. I’ll also take a look round for some other nice banners in my affiliate accounts.
That took longer than planned, time for lunch
OK time to fill up my database with some data, then I can start writing the php that will populate the pages. I’m going to sign up for a few software affiliate accounts and write some sample reviews on the software. At the moment I haven’t got time to write really good reviews, but in time I intend to fully try each title and write some good stuff (positive and negative). For now I’ll be brief.
Right, let’s get back to the site. I’m going to sort out the navigation side bars first, and then I’ll split my single page up.
This isn’t working. I’ve got a very limited knowledge of php so I’m having trouble dynamically generating category headings and software lists dynamically. It’s taking too long to sort out so for now I’m going to simply print a list of all software titles in the database. I’ll make up for it by also providing a list of software categories, plus a list of the most reviewed software.
I’m going to split up my single html page now into a header, body, nav and footer, and use a php include to pull the pages together. In total I will only need three main template pages for the content of this site – the homepage, a category page and a product page.
I’ve finished the layout of the three pages, including all the code that pulls info from the database. Everything’s working pretty well and I’m please with the simplicity. My next job is to create an rss feed of the posts and reviews, but first I need some DINNER!
After some pasta and tv I’m ready for this rss feed. It’s pretty easy to create a php page that will pull the necessary code and place it in the rss 2.0 layout. Once I’m done I’ll just save the php file as xml and ensure that my .htaccess file remembers to parse xml files for php code.
I checked that the rss feed was valid using a standard validator. It took a little time to sort out the date formatting to be honest.
I’ve been developing using Firefox to test the layout, but I just checked the site in IE and noticed the background colour was dodgy. It was a css error – fixed.
OK back to content. The reviews at the moment are boring so I’m going to add some images and expand them a little. I’m also going to add some reviews that I’ve been collecting over the last few months. The good thing about buying the domain and posting up a test website for six months is that the search engines have already crawled the site, and hopefully will help me avoid the Google sandbox.
I’m absolutely knackered. I’ve just spent the last few hours trying to get the navigation system working but with no luck. The problem is that I’m trying to dynamically generate an information tree (apparently that’s what it’s called after much research) but I just can’t get it working. I’m giving up.
OK, I’ve just created a rating system which will only accept one software vote per IP address. Seems a bit buggy but I really really tired and can’t be bothered to go through it again now.
So what’s left to do? I need to create forms to input reviews, news and bookmarks but I’m just too tired to continue. So much for 24 hours, but actually I’m really pleased with the result. On the surface the site looks like any other blog, and you might question why I decided to hand code the entire thing. Well, I have some ideas for some advanced functions, but I’ll only be able to implement them if I know the site inside out. Plus I just like the challenge.
I wont have time to work on the site all week, but I’m already planning my next 24 hour session – marketing. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that, and how the site is doing generally!
Paul Fisher is a professional in online search. He is also editor of http://www.shoutdown.net and is the founder of the global arts project http://www.theonemillionmasterpiece.com