Gwulo in 2017

Submitted by David on Sat, 01/07/2017 - 16:00

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

Upgrades first:

  • 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!

New features

  • 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
  Photos 15,508 11,670 9,401 7,817 6,359 5,725 4,330
  Places 3,770 3,140 2,867 2,440 2,035 1,623 1,310
  Diary pages 4,373 3,836 3,243 2,326 1,589    
  People 2,696 2,425 1,907 1,522 1,000 28  
  Forum topics 1,159 1,019 923 761 639 525 350
  Stories 405 341 312 265 243 213 170
  Total pages 27,911 22,431 18,653 15,131 11,865 8,114 6,160
  Total comments 31,861 27,620 24,097 20,883 17,477 14,910 11,370
  Jurors Lists (years) 35 33 31 29 27 19 11

The number of readers is growing too:

     Newsletter Subscribers 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
  Email subscriptions 1,466 1,211 1,030 833  603 353 180
  Facebook 'likes' 1,849 1,629 965 705  463 273  
  Twitter followers 114 100 82 58  43 33  
  RSS subscriptions [1]   48 81 31  82 53  
  Total 3,420 2,988 2,158 1,627  1,191 712 180
  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 [2]   94 42 44 37    
  Total [3] 380 438 327 241 118    

A few explanations:

  1. Since switching from Feedburner to MailChimp, we have no way to monitor the number of RSS subscriptions.
  2. The "70 years ago" diaries finished at the end of 2015, so I don't count their subscribers this year.
  3. 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
  Visitors 253 230 226 263  250 200 157
  Unique visitors 148 138 131 155  150 113 88
  Pageviews 1,292 1,184 1,186 1,351  1,149 919 872


2017 Plans


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

Readers ask for information (photos, facts, memories, etc.) about:


New on this week:



first a big "Thank You" for the excellent work you did in 2016 (and before).

Regarding your 2017 plans I want to make two remarks. Yes, tags desparately need cleaning and allignment. If you need help, you could publish a list and ask users for comments and proposals.

Another issue are authors. If you open the list of authors, in a couple of cases names appear several times (beween twice and eightfold). Or they appear with only a slight change twice or threefold. And finally, some are listed but have no images assigned. One example is William Gerald Hillman and William Gerald Hillmann. I made a mistake by typing a double "n" when first entering the name. I corrected it, but the incorrect name still exists (and I forgot to ask for deletion).

I support the idea of adding street pages. This would mean that for e.g. (my favourite street) Barker Road a street page would be created where all the houses on it are listed. Currently, Barker Road is a place only.

Regards, Klaus

Thanks Klaus!

You're right, I'd forgotten about Authors, but they need a clean up too. I'll look at them when I'm working on Tags, as they are very similar.

Thanks for the thumbs-up for streets too.

Next step will be to post a list of tasks, and put them in order to be tackled.

Regards, David

Already done:

Next task:

  1. Add area-outlines to Places. 

Still to do:

  1. Add a tutorial (multiple)
  2. Clean up Authors
  3. Add a new "Street" page type. 
  4. Clean up Tags
  5. Review performance (multiple)
  6. Easier entry, and better display of tags.
  7. Make "Add a connection" wider, so we can distinguish between similar items when their name is long.
  8. Add user profiles, where we can say a little about our interests.
  9. Show scanned maps without any background.
  10. 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.
  11. Fix sliders on the catalogue page (eg to select a date range) for iPad.
  12. Fix CSS so that indented lists are displayed indented after saving, not just while editing.

Hi David,

I was thinking about your idea of creating a new page type "streets". This helps to add places (e.g. houses) to a higher level category (i.e. street). Another page type might be helpful, too. When we look through Gwulo, we find similar type of buildings or other features throughout Hong Kong. If you are looking for these, of course, the tags are very helpful, but possibly not implemented in all entries. So what about a "parent-level page type" allowing pages like

  • Hospitals
  • Wharfs and Godowns
  • Power Stations
  • Churches
  • Hotels
  • Schools, Colleges and Universities

Many more are possible. This could also be combined with maps such as Peter's map of cinemas.

Just an idea. I'm really waiting for you and other's response.

Regards, Klaus

Hi Klaus,

I like the parent-level pages you describe - your recent page about the incinerators is a good example, and you've listed several more categories above. I can think of dockyards, airports and temples as other candidates, and I'm sure there are many more.

We can use the current Forum page for these though, together with tags on the member pages. (Rob's pages are good examples, see his page for Anti Aircraft Searchlight (AASL) sites in Hong Hong.) So I don't see a need for a new page type.

There are a couple of steps that need admin help - fixing member pages that don't have the right tag, and inserting the map into the page. I'm happy to help with that, so if you want to make a page like this, just let me know and I'll fix tags / add maps as required.

Regards, David