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January 2005 - Posts

CoasterBuzz.com turns five-years-old
On January 30, 2000, I launched CoasterBuzz.com, a news/portal site for roller coaster enthusiasts. It was kind of a hobby, but it was something I wanted to be a big deal in the long run.

Back in those days, there were new coaster sites every day. It was hard to keep track of them, so I figured having a directory for them was a good idea. It was also hard to keep up on news from around the industry, so having a central place for that seemed like a good idea. We were doing similar things at Penton Media back in those days for the vertical markets we covered, so in terms of design and content, I didn't need to do anything radically different. The more interesting twist was that news would come from not just traditional news sites, but also from these niche enthusiast sites out there.

Five years later, it hasn't changed much. It has been rewritten two and a half times since its launch (the half coming with changes to POP Forums). It still serves many thousands of visitors every day. It's also home base for an enthusiast club, CoasterBuzz Club.

Keeping up with it has really been easy most of the time. The day-to-day time requirements of running the site aren't significant. I spend probably less than an hour a day looking for news, since most of it is user-contributed anyway. Moderating the forums isn't a big deal either, because for the most part the community is self-governing. I can't remember the last time I had to delete something inappropriate, aside from the occasional spamming incident.

Hopefully the site is at a turning point. Back in the days when I spent a lot more time on it (because content management wasn't as easy at the time), I used to have to spend a lot of money as hosting costs went up and ad revenue went down. These days, there's a lot of money to pay back from that era, but expenses are relatively insignificant compared to what they were. If I could only pay off that business credit card, life would be grand.

The highlight of running the site these days is probably the events we do. In particular, we have a great event at Paramount's Kings Island every year that is a total blast. Last year we had well over 200 attendees. I'm not the hardcore enthusiast I used to be, but I enjoy spending a full day in the park on that day.

The site is more of a business than a hobby these days, and I'm happy to see it thrive. There is certainly a revision in the site's future, but it's more of a function of my writing projects than it is a deliberate need to update. The site doesn't really define me the way it used to, as my interests have diversified quite a bit over the years. I need to keep in mind though that the site has been the testing ground for so many other things I've done professionally, not the least of which is write a programming book. It deserves my ongoing attention since it and its community are bigger than my own needs at this point.

So after five years, I hope that there will be five more. In terms of the Web, not many things have stuck around that long. It's weird to realize that there are things (other than my marriage) that I've really committed to long-term. :)
Posted: Jan 31 2005, 03:23 PM by Jeff | with no comments
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Hooray! Someone pre-ordered my book!
Someone followed the link to my book on Amazon and pre-ordered it. Now if only 10,000 more or so people order it, it will be considered a "reasonable success" according to those familiar with the publication of computer books.

Remind me in October to thank everyone who ordered when I finally see some cash for it! :)
Posted: Jan 30 2005, 11:29 PM by Jeff | with 1 comment(s)
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Who is the crack monkey at The Weather Channel?
The Weather Channel changed the layout and organization of their local pages again. Whoever is in charge of usability or approved the changes should be fired. What a mess.

The old layout showed the current conditions, the radar and the 10-day forecast. It was very convenient and told you really everything you wanted to know, right there. Now, there's the local conditions, some pointless Flash below it, some totally irrelevant text ads that I don't even see, a 36-hour text forecast (with a link to a very poorly laid out 10-day with irrelevant graphs), more ads, then finally the radar.

Can they show more advertising now? Yes. Is it effective? Hell no. With the old layout, there was a prominent 300x250 ad that was a great tool for branding. I could tell you, for example, that there was a Claritin ad there during allergy season. Now I can't tell you what's there, because I'm searching all over the damn page for the information I wanted (everything in the old layout).

Like I said, someone should be fired.
Posted: Jan 30 2005, 10:29 PM by Jeff | with 3 comment(s)
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Copyright, community and common sense
I noticed (via Scoble) that Microsoft is giving this guy a hard time regarding some screen shots for the next mobile OS. I hate to say it, but that's pretty lame.

Microsoft has gone a very long way to open up their development process and get stuff out into the open early. Most of the program managers and leads that blog think this is an awesome practice, because they're getting real customer feedback much earlier in the release process than they ever used to before. It's good for Microsoft, and it's good for customers.

But then you get lawyers involved. A part of me always wanted to be a lawyer, because I love to argue, but it has become the profession of ill-repute. Here's a guy being given a hard time for something that is out there on a PowerPoint. As far as I'm concerned, the gloves are off at that point and it's a bona fide news event and the standards of fair-use in reporting should be applied. If that's not the case, then it shouldn't be put out there for public consumption.

I realize there's a time and place. I'm on an NDA list for ASP.NET and tools stuff, so I could get the right information while writing my book. That's a lot different, certainly, and I of course would never reveal anything told to me that wasn't put out there for public consumption. But this guy was treated poorly, and it's a step backward in an era where code monkeys are finally respecting Microsoft and its products.

In the amusement industry, which I cover for CoasterBuzz, there are two kinds of amusement parks you run into. The first kind want total control over everything, and won't allow you to post anything. The second kind will announce a new attraction, send you photos and video, invite you to construction tours, and basically do whatever they can to foster a fan community. While one could argue that these communities are a relatively small portion of your audience, are they really when the rate of information dissemination is so fast? That's a hard question to answer, but when you're Microsoft, pushing around the community is certainly not going to win the hearts and minds of anyone.
Posted: Jan 30 2005, 05:57 PM by Jeff | with no comments
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AOL cutting off Usenet
Yep, it's true... AOL is ditching its Usenet service. My feeling is so what, but then again I feel very different about Usenet.

Usenet is nearly useless as far as I'm concerned. It wasn't always that way, but spam and trolls have destroyed it. There were a few groups I used to visit now and then, but I quit years ago. There are better Web-based forums out there.

It comes down to moderation. On one hand, Usenet is mentioned in the same breath as being totally free of moderation or its authority, but just as anything else that grows in number of participants, those numbers inevitably bring in the poor element too.

It's not the death of free speech. Any idiot can put up a Web site these days (I'd know!).
Posted: Jan 25 2005, 07:52 PM by Jeff | with no comments
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Can you believe we get paid to play games?
I just saw a TV spot for some "school" that teaches game development. This goofy girl and a typical diverse group of kids are all sitting around at computers playing games. It's hysterical. I love when the girl says, "Can you believe we get paid to play games?"

And if you're lucky you'll get to work at EA and kiss your home life goodbye! :)
Posted: Jan 25 2005, 07:37 PM by Jeff | with 2 comment(s)
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Long beta periods yield better software
There was a time where I would bang out a change to an application, see that it basically worked, and bust it live to production all in the same day. For the most part, this isn't a horrible practice when you're using test-driven development, but it's not a great practice either.

For example, I've been sitting on a minor forum upgrade for about a month. After a week or it being in production on one of my sites (which I generally use as a live test), I saw one particularly odd problem that wasn't covered by my tests. Then last night I found an issue with a regular expression that was tagging the CPU big time.

Would it have been a tragic failure to release it a month ago? Not by a long shot, but I am saving customers (not that they're paying me) the trouble of having to find the problems and then wait for an upgrade.

In this respect, I don't think it's such a bad thing for Microsoft to have really long beta periods. I know they've caught some flack for that. I can't be the only person that remembers Windows ME. I'll concede that I wish .NET v2 was out yesterday, especially Visual Studio, but look at how horrible that designer in VS 2002/2003 was. That should have never been released.

The definition of "on time" has to find some middle ground between adequate testing and getting to market in a timely fashion. Getting crap to market (like RollerCoaster Tycoon 3) by a deadline and having it suck is frustrating for customers.
Posted: Jan 22 2005, 01:41 PM by Jeff | with 2 comment(s)
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The CPU-eating RegEx
The following Regex takes upwards of five seconds to get through a couple paragraphs of text:

text = Regex.Replace(text, @"(.*)((?<!(\A|<blockquote>|</blockquote>|</p>))(<blockquote>|<p>))", "$1</p>$2", RegexOptions.IgnoreCase | RegexOptions.Compiled);

I'm at a loss to explain why, because I've never had any expression choke like that. I theorize that it might have something to do with the "or" options in the groups, but I don't know for sure. Or perhaps something is causing it to recursively scan the entire text over and over, I'm just not sure what.
Posted: Jan 22 2005, 12:40 PM by Jeff | with 1 comment(s)
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MSN Search using ASP.NET v2 Profile? Nope.
I was just reviewing the proofs for my book chapter on ASP.NET v2.0's anonymous Profile feature and wondered if perhaps MSN Search was using it for the storage of settings. Looking at the cookies stored, it would appear not because the cookie names have "SRCH" in them. Still, there are GUID's in there, so they are storing the settings on their end.

Oh well, it just would've been super cool to see them using an off-the-shelf ASP.NET feature, a beta feature at that, for their killer search app. Certainly they'd be using their own Profile provider, but still, it would've been a neat thing to see!
Posted: Jan 21 2005, 11:15 PM by Jeff | with no comments
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Nofollow seems a little silly to me
So in the grand spirit of "we'll show them," the major search engines agree to treat hyperlinks in pages with rel="nofollow" differently as an effort to combat blog comment spam. I can't be the only person that finds this a bit silly.

First off, the spamming is most obviously automated. At this point, it's still going to go on anyway. Second, at least on the .Text system, we can moderate or delete the comments anyway (which we know about instantly with the e-mail notification). The stuff doesn't stick around long enough to ever get indexed.

People are acting like there has never been spamming on the Web in cases where anonymous posting can take place. Give me a break. It has been going on for as long as discussion boards have been around. The only reason anyone cares now is because everyone has a blog that they own, unlike the countless message boards they visit but don't own. I especially find it funny that some people go as far as to say, "My blog is important and visited by millions, and a single link can skew page rank!" Wow.

The whole discussion misses the point: Free advertising is free advertising in the mind of spammers. It doesn't cost them a dime to send out thousands of e-mail messages, and it won't cost them a dime to spam thousands of blogs. I don't have the answer, but this certainly isn't it.
Posted: Jan 20 2005, 10:45 PM by Jeff | with 3 comment(s)
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