A spot of advice for anyone who wants to run a website

One of my biggest pet peeves is when the proprietor of a site that I enjoy and check regularly for updates falls off the face of the earth. Usually they give the half-assed explanation that “My schedule has gotten too busy to keep updating.”

Fine.

But when you create a web site, and you give your audience an expectation that you are going to keep adding new, interesting content, you are set for life. If you’re going to stop updating, take down everything that gives the impression you’re going to keep updating except your update records, and even there make clear that you’ve stopped updating quite so regularly. If you announce a scaled-down regular update schedule, hold yourself to it, because the longer the time between updates, the bigger penalty there is for missing it. A daily update schedule tolerates several days’ worth of missed updates. A weekly update schedule can drop off for a week, maybe two. A monthly update schedule causes problems with the first missed month, and there is no excuse for a missed update on a yearly schedule.

Even if you stop completely, you can’t stop completely, especially if you’ve been linked to from elsewhere on the Internet at sites whose proprietors are probably also too lazy to keep their links up to date, and especially if the information you provide is potentially volatile and liable to change with the news. If something goes wrong, or if your host changes everything, or if (as with Freehostia even on their free service) you have to keep renewing your website’s existence, you owe it to your readers that everything goes off without a hitch. Even if your site is fairly automated.

Especially if your website is fairly automated.

I just signed up for buzzComix, which ranks webcomics into a “top 100” based on people’s votes. The primary means of voting, as near as I can tell, is following links from the sites themselves. You have to open up a secondary panel, from a tiny button, which you can still be convinced doesn’t exist if it doesn’t pop up right away or at all, to vote from within buzzComix itself. This means buzzComix pretty much becomes a contest between those sites that are interested in flooding it with votes. Of course, that would probably happen anyway, but bCx doesn’t seem particularly interested in stemming that tide.

Or, in fact, with anything anymore. There are signs of abandonment everywhere – both from the proprietors and from the users. There’s a thread on the bCx forums calling for a fix for “vote/rank images”, referring to some function that is no longer working and whose images have been taken down. The thread dates to March 2006. It’s possible this was an intentional permanent removal, but apparently no one decided to send the word: after the initial post, the original poster bumps it about twice a month as the only posts, eventually making fun of itself by labeling the bumps as “monthly/semi-monthly bump”. After seven and a half months, the original poster laments the lack of “visible means of support”, followed – after ten months! – by the first post from someone that’s not the original poster, seconding the lament. That’s followed by several other calls for the problem to be fixed (including a note that the function in question is “kind of standard” on other similar sites, despite me not knowing what it is even after checking buzzComix’ main competitor, a problem I have with that site since it provides no help whatsoever, not that bCx’s FAQ is much better) and a recognition (by June) that the site is abandoned.

The kicker: Were it not for a recent onslaught of spam, this thread – last post July 2007 – would be very near the top of the bug report forum. That’s before we get into the current news post, which wishes us a “happy summer“… in April 2007. The current news post is nearly a year old!

What’s more, bCx’s ads routinely advertise the ability to advertise on them… indicative of no one actually taking them up on their offer. A look at their ad calendar shows that many of the same comics have spots in the ad rotation day after day. This is especially distressing when you consider that the ads advertising the ads claim that you can buy an ad “for only $1”. You have to buy them in multiples of 5, and most webcomic artists aren’t making money off their webcomics and have to have a life too, but… dude. That’s a bargain.

If only I could be certain that bCx is still “rapidly growing” and still gets “over 10,000 unique visits a day with over 30,000 page views a day” that they claim. That would essentially be buying me an easy onslaught of traffic for a day. If you read today’s strip you’d know why. Instead, I plunge into bCx rather tentatively, wondering if anyone is still listening…

I’d ask you to vote for me here, both for bCx and for Top Web Comics (which doesn’t look to be quite as abandoned as bCx, in part because it doesn’t have much forum support or news at all, but still seems to be running mostly on autopilot), but I think you should see the strip first and decide for yourselves. If you like it, vote for it using the new links on the strip page itself. If you don’t like it, click the Feedback link and let me know why or e-mail me with your reasons why. Heck, even if you like it, let me know what you think of it and how I can improve. (I’d advise you to read some of the strips before this one first, though.)

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