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Mark Allen

An online résumé, blog, biography and digital sandbox


A few words about my websites (part 2)

Posted 2009-10-10 in Web


AuthorCollector is a place to keep an online list of your favorite authors and keep track of existing and upcoming titles from those authors. I read a lot and have 25-30 favorite authors which I try to stick with (for the most part). I use Amazon to buy books (as well as many other things)… I’d log in and search for books and find myself overwhelmed.

  • I’d often have trouble remembering the names of my favorite authors. Sometimes I’d fetch past invoices just to remember author names. Very tedious.
  • Amazon’s search engine is very powerful, but can be very “general.” You can get 600 hits for an author who has published 10 books, and then spend time filtering these hits down to size.
  • Sometimes I’d let Amazon recommend books for me. I’ve never had good luck with this… as the online ratings for books are often spoofed by homers. So I stick to authors I know.

Lots of cool technology

AuthorCollector employs a lot more technology than Sparklegram… some highlights…

  • Employs Drupal, a popular but difficult-to-learn CMS (content management system).
  • Incorporates a lot of custom PHP code… a few thousand lines actually.
  • Manages several MySQL tables to store user, author and publication data.
  • Leveraged AWS to retrieve publication data from user authors.
  • Employs JavaScript and AHAH to give the user a snappy, “local application” feel.
  • Stores user preferences, whether the user is anonymous or registered using cookies and sessions. Users can set-and-forget their favorite filtering settings.
  • Users can selectively hide publications… mark them as “owned”… or just as “don’t show me this one.”
  • Updates publication data automatically via a cron mechanism.

Yet sadly, a “commercial” flop

With 35 (or so) registered users, AuthorCollecter has been somewhat more popular than Sparklegram. However the bulk of the registered users are one-shot affairs and haven’t frequented the site since registering. Once again, it seems that AuthorCollector solves a problem for me… but not for anyone else.

In truth I didn’t “market” the site with any vigor, perhaps this is one reason it hasn’t caught on. Another reason might be that the host GoDaddy just doesn’t handle web 2.0 needs particularly well… at least not the $4.25/month “deluxe” hosting package I’ve purchased. Often web pages will time-out, undoubtedly due to the many database accesses required to construct each page. I found myself in a chicken-or-egg scenario… I didn’t want to spend more money for hosting if the site isn’t going to catch fire… yet perhaps the reason the site wasn’t being used was the time-outs and general slowness.

In the end, I got distracted a bit my real-world concerns and stopped extending site features. I was often asked to add features which would put the site on more even terms with other “book club” sites, but I resisted these requests. Didn’t want to blur the purpose of my site, can’t really see competing with big-money sites as a book club… but most of all, couldn’t see investing too much more time-and-energy into an idea which fizzled.

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