Monday, February 26, 2007

Microsites - progress with image quizzes

My PhpBB extension for image quizzes is coming along quite nicely. 18 hours, 657 lines of PHP and 250 lines of HTML later users are now able to create quizzes and take quizzes. Most headaches I had were session handling, I couldn't figure out how to do it properly with the session handling build into PHP, so I resorted to just passing stuff around in very non-SEOed (lately the word SEO makes me cringe) obnoxiously long URLs.

If I had tried to do everything perfectly then I would have never finished, I think it's important to get a first version out before polishing it too much, see what the users do and then improve on it. Obviously it should mostly work, and it does. Currently it's just in Finnish and I enabled it just on one forum to have a limited test. I hope that people will like it and that it would cause people to spend more time on the forum (which I'm not sure Google Analytics knows how to measure), maybe even get some new visitors that come just to take the quizzes.

One benefit I didn't anticipate from integrating with PhpBB was that it's possible to know who the people taking the quizzes are, so I can construct a scoreboard for them. People love scoreboards, it makes them want to improve their score over and over in order to not look bad. My plan now is to see the effect the quizzes have, polish the code a bit, then create a new PhpBB installation (actually all my installations are virtual, not actually separate instances of the software, using a mod I made) which is focused just on image quizzes and redirect my existing quizzes there.

I love the feeling of publishing stuff on the web, not knowing at all if it might be popular or not.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Microsites - extending PhpBB to support image quizzes

One of the features I imagined any fansite should have is a quiz of some kind to test your knowledge of the series in question. One popular site I have is a Naruto quiz, which I made one evening just for fun. Adding images to that quiz required me to edit things in the database manually and copy images into the image directory manually as well. I want to improve that by creating a PhpBB extension that lets forum users create their own quizzes by uploading images. I have several motivations for making this.

First of course that it is one of the planned features for the microsites I've been talking about for the past few posts. Secondly it allows me to easily create new quiz sites similar to the Naruto Quiz, which seem to easily become popular. Thirdly I can use the feature right away on the forums which I host and get people to make their own quizzes - I'm sure they'll be more creative than me and create kick-ass quizzes.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Microsites - Kickstarting a forum

In previous posts I have been describing my idea of using my online Japanese book & record store as a platform for kickstarting microsites around the bands / series sold, the theory being that if there is a popular microsite hosted under the site's domain and with a link back to the products being sold, this will attract customers and result in more valuable conversions than if the microsite was just a separate entity with AdSense ads or Amazon Affiliates ads on it (one purchase from my own store is A LOT more valuable to me than a purchase through Amazon would be).

I'm already very busy with my studies and running the web store as it is, so as the first easy part of the microsite experiment I decided to attempt to launch a forum around the band Antic Cafe. One thing I have learned is that people go crazy over prizes, so I decided to offer a prize to the most active person on the forum. In addition I dedicated some valuable screen estate on the store's main page to promote the forum. Here's what happened:

(162 absolute unique visitors)

The forum was promoted on the web store from the beginning. I marked the beginning and ending dates of the competition in black. It is clear that the competition had a major effect on amount of visits. The 11 members of the forum have written 147 posts up to now, which while modest seems like a good start for such a niche (Finnish fans of the Japanese band Antic Cafe) forum. I neglected to measure how many conversions this forum has created, but I'm not sure if that's even possible. Suppose a web store visitors goes to the forum, then comes back and buys an Antic Cafe record, is that a conversion? There seems to be no way to know if they got excited about the band on the forum or would have bought that record anyway.

I would like to launch the main microsite as well (this forum would be just one part), but I don't want to do that with completely pathetic production values. Also the forum might well be 80% of the microsite's value in the end, so why even bother with the rest?

Features I imagine that each microsite could have:
  • forum
  • polls (but forum already has polls...)
  • quizzes (can you recognize these members/characters from the band/series X?)
  • personality tests (which X are you?)
  • embedded videos (">veoh! youtube is so last year)
  • fanart submission, voting (maybe just a thread in the forum from which these are pulled?)
  • info pages for the series (through a wiki or pulled from forum threads)
  • news (perhaps an embedded RSS reader)
  • gallery (some clever system to get legal-size thumbnails linking to images elsewhere)
  • fan fiction
  • links (perhaps by automatically monitoring server logs for incoming links and favoring those)
Cool but impossible things:
  • exclusive band member / manga author interviews
  • exclusive content from the band / author
Perhaps most of these could use some embedded elements from other sites and would let me avoid actually coding them. If I could just find some good solutions for doing these, then I can use the same formula for a hundred different sites and save a ton of work compared to people who start single fansites for fun.

One option to consider might be to extend PhpBB to support these things. Perhaps there are already plugins for these? That would at least make it very easy to have just a single login that could be used for all of the microsites (since OpenID isn't here yet).

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Did some site reorganizing

I run a small village of microsites on different topics, it's sort of an experiment to see what sorts of traffic I can get. I had the domain, which I bought on a whim and set up an unofficial page about Jack Valenti there along with AdSense ads. Well, after spending nearly $100 on the site I am averaging ZERO visitors per day, so to avoid some site fees I am moving the content to a subdomain instead. From now on Jack Valenti page will be here instead.

Another more successful, but still an infuriatingly unsuccessful small site I had was a sweepstakes site. It runs on pligg and used to be in English. Every day I would check the stats on Google Analytics and every day I was getting around 200 visits, but nearly 100% from Finland through one nice inbound link I managed to get, so I will yield under the pressure and turn the site into a Finnish site to serve those visitors better. From now on it will be here: kilpailut.

One thing I have learned while trying to promote my sites is that people respond well to prizes. I had a forum that I was spending some promotion efforts on, but hardly nobody registered to that forum. Then I offered a prize for registering and posting on the forum and suddenly people (in the target group, not just prize scavengers!) started registering and posting. Prizes are expensive though, difficult to say if it makes sense to give them out. On a forum it is very important to reach a critical mass of posts at first, so it may help at that and possibly pay off in the long run.