Gwulo in 2017
As we start the New Year, let's look back at how we did in 2016, then talk about plans for Gwulo in 2017.
You'll see that the site has continued to grow over the last twelve months. We finished 2016 with over 3,000 subscribers, 27,000 pages, and 1,290,000 page views! Thank you to everyone who contributed to make that happen.
Best regards, David
2016 Review - progress against plans
Last years plans were split into three groups:
1. Ask for help with running costs
I made my appeal for help last April, using the Patreon service to collect a small monthly contribution from patrons - people who enjoyed Gwulo's newsletters and website, and wanted to support the costs of running them.
Combining the patrons who've signed up via Patreon, and those who contacted me directly, we ended 2016 with 54 patrons, paying a total of USD315 / HKD2,440 a month.
I was surprised in two ways: The number of patrons works out to appx 1.5% of subscribers, which is lower than I'd hoped. But the average contribution is almost USD6 per month, which is much higher than I'd expected. Thank you to Gwulo's patrons for your generous support!
2. Talks and a book
I gave six talks last year. I've also finished a first draft of a book, based on my first talk, and sent it to a publisher in December. They say they are interested, so fingers crossed that will go ahead.
3. Keep the site running smoothly: upgrades and new features
- Maps. Maps on Gwulo are now much faster to use, and have scanned paper maps available on both individual Places and the map of all Places. I started the year planning to upgrade the Openlayers mapping library we used to the newer version, but that didn't work well so we ended up switching to the Leaflet library instead.
- Image support. That was an upgrade to a newer version, which was completed without any problem.
- Switch subscription service. We changed from the free Feedburner to the paid MailChimp service. Feedback from subscribers about the new service has been good, and it gives me useful new features. I've also noticed we're adding new subscribers faster since we switched, probably because the new sign-up is easier.
- Upgrade web hosting. We used up all the storage on the old plan, so had to upgrade. Not much work involved, I just had to start paying the hosting company more each month!
- Add support for Youtube videos & PDFs. I've decided against this for now. They aren't used often enough to make it worth adding the support.
- Allow users to add lines, shapes and markers to maps. The original idea was to allow us to make custom maps that could be included in posts and comments. There are several existing 3rd-party websites that can do this, so I won't add this feature. I still plan to add a variation on this idea though, as explained in the "2017 Plans" below.
- Use Relationships to link People and Places to photos. This was added at the end of the year, with a minor tweak that "Relationships" are now called "Connections" instead. I'm already finding it useful, and hope it will be widely used.
2016 Review - the year in numbers
The site continues to grow, and it's good to see the growth is widely spread across all the different types of information:
|Pages on website||2016||2015||2014||2013||2012||2011||2010|
|Jurors Lists (years)||35||33||31||29||27||19||11|
The number of readers is growing too:
|RSS subscriptions ||48||81||31||82||53|
|Wartime Diaries subscribers|
|75 years ago||86|
|74 years ago||109||79|
|73 years ago||108||91||100|
|72 years ago||115||89||97||109|
|71 years ago||139||85||88||88||81|
|70 years ago ||94||42||44||37|
A few explanations:
- Since switching from Feedburner to MailChimp, we have no way to monitor the number of RSS subscriptions.
- The "70 years ago" diaries finished at the end of 2015, so I don't count their subscribers this year.
- The Total is less than the sum of the rows because many subscribers are subscribed to more than one year's Wartime Diaries, but I only count them once in the Total.
Finally, the numbers of visitors to the website continues to grow too:
|Website traffic (thousands)||2016||2015||2014||2013||2012||2011||2010|
This year's plans will look familiar:
1. Ask for help with running costs
The current monthly income is less than the Hong Kong minimum wage, so I must improve it or I'll have to sue myself!
- Add more patrons: If you'd like to contribute, please sign up on Gwulo's Patreon page.
- Accept corporate sponsors: Please contact me if your company would be interested in sponsoring Gwulo.
- Apply for grants: So far the grants I've seen are for new projects, rather than maintaining an existing project like Gwulo. Suggestions welcome if you know of any grants that might be appropriate for Gwulo.
- Divert time to paid services, a combination of: selling prints, providing research services, speaking at events, and leading guided walks. If you hear anyone is looking for these, please send them my way.
2. Talks and a book
I've been asked to give a new talk in May, which will be talk #4. Details to follow.
There's still a lot of work to get from having a draft to having a printed book, so I'll keep working on that with the goal to publish it this year.
3. Keep the site running smoothly
I don't plan on making any major changes to the site's infrastructure this year, but instead focus on improving what we have. These are points I'd especially welcome your input on:
- Housekeeping. The site has been running for over ten years, so just like living in a house for ten years, mess accumulates. Tags need attention first - there are many duplicates and unused tags that need to be cleaned up. Are there any other parts of the site that need the attention of Gwulo's feather duster?
- Performance. As the site grows, it naturally gets slower and needs work to speed it up again. At the moment I'm happy with the performance, but if there are any parts of the site that are frustratingly slow to use, please let me know.
- Usability. What changes will make the site easier to use? A few suggestions and ideas include:
- easier entry, and better display of tags.
- make "Add a connection" wider, so we can distinguish between similar items when their name is long.
- add user profiles, where we can say a little about our interests.
- show scanned maps without any background.
- allow login with a Facebook account if the user is already registered with Facebook, so they don't have to create another account for Gwulo.
Any other ideas?
- Tutorials. Improve the FAQs to introduce more of Gwulo's features, and help new users find their way around. Is there anything you'd like to know how to do?
- Fix bugs. As an example, I usually visit Gwulo on my desktop PC, so I don't see any problems that iPad users experience. I've just realised that the sliders on the catalogue page (eg to select a date range) don't work - and have likely never worked - on an iPad.
Are there any other bugs you've noticed?
4. Add new features
Add area-outlines to Places. We currently show a Place's location with a marker on a map. I'd like to also show the area that it covers. eg imagine adding the many reclamations that have happened over the years. We can make a Place for each one, but it will be a lot easier to understand their effect if we can also show an outline of the area each reclamation covers.
Add a new "Street" page type. This will be the seventh type of page, in addition to the Place, Person, etc., that we currently have. I'm cautious about adding a new type of page, as it makes the site more complicated to use and run. But I think a Street page type will be a good addition, that fits in well with the rest of the site. Some of the ways I imagine it working include:
- We can connect Places to the Street they are on, and then for a Street we can show a list of all the buildings (Places) along it.
- Following on from that we can automatically generate a list of all the photos that show a Street - similar to how the "Photos along the tram line" pages work.
- Gather information about the re-numbering of a street over the years, following Herostratus's lead.
- Record the origin of the Street's name, its date of creation, and its development over the years.
- Record the Street's route, and show that route on modern maps and scanned copies of old paper maps.
Are there other new features you think would improve the site, and I should be aware of?
Please leave a comment below if you have any feedback or questions about these plans.
And if you've only been a reader of Gwulo so far, I hope that 2017 is the year you'll jump in and add your comments / photos / questions / research / etc., to help us continue to grow this record of Hong Kong's history we're building.
Best regards, David