Tue 14 Apr 2009
As the webmaster for Every Day Fiction, I am in charge of keeping the website up and running, adding new features, and trying to make the whole process as easy as possible for the authors, the slush readers, and Jordan and Camille.
One of the first problems that we had was the validation of email addresses. The problem was that we had no validation. Whatever a user submitted in the email address field would be stored as plain text. This became a huge problem as we started sending out acceptance and rejection emails, only to have them bounce off of invalid email addresses. We had no other way of contacting these authors. Our only hope was that they would contact us looking for a status update on their submitted stories. In our first month, there were thirteen invalid email addresses, and only three of those authors contacted us about the status of their stories. The other ten? Apparently they didn’t care if their stories were accepted or not. We added email validation at the end of the first week and haven’t had a problem since.
Twenty-nine days after we launched the site, we got hit by one of the larger social media sites called Stumble Upon. We went from a meager 200 unique visitors a day to a whopping 7000 unique visitors overnight. We were pretty excited – was this the start of a snowballing effect? Did our little site get discovered that fast? The Stumble Upon spike only lasted about 48 hours, and our average readers per day only increased by about 40 over the normal increase. Plus, it broke a bunch of features that I had added to the site, or “stress-tested” them as Jordan described it. Over the next year we got hit by many different social sites. A normal site visitor’s average read time is about three to five minutes. An average Stumble Upon reader stays on our site for about eight seconds on average, Digg users stay for about 25 seconds, and visitors from Delicious stay for about two to three minutes. We came to the conclusion that yes, these big social sites do bring a lot of traffic all at once, but not many – if any – of the users stay.
About four months after we started this project, I added the star rating system to the stories. We needed a way of getting measurable user feedback on the stories. We decided to keep the system open so that anyone could vote without creating an account, to encourage more people to vote on stories, and we also put in a safeguard to prevent people from voting multiple times from the same computer. The system worked smoothly and is still in its original form today.
Originally, we hosted the site with a cheap, overselling host that I had an account on that I wasn’t using any more. It was already paid for by an older project and seemed like a decent way of saving a few bucks. We were wrong. We wasted countless hours dealing with the host’s problems. Faulty hardware on their servers caused constant downtime, arbitrary restarts and database roll backs, with horrible email-only tech support that took days to respond to any email that I sent them. If I could go back and do one thing differently, it would have been to pay the extra money and get a good host from the start. Lesson learned – don’t cheap out on a web server.
When we first started talking about our concept for a daily online flash fiction magazine, I was expecting it to take about 40 hours to set up, with maybe two to three hours of maintenance every month after that. But after the first month I found myself spending eight hours at work then coming home and spending another five hours working on the site. Jordan and Camille were reading about 300 stories a month and providing personal responses to each and every story. I don’t know how they were able to keep up with the slush, but they did an excellent job. Their average response time was 10-15 days during the first year. My weekly website workload has now dropped to 10 hours a week, but it took a lot of effort to get to that point.
Near the end of the first year, we started feeling the weight of Every Day Fiction’s demands – the price of success. We started automating everything we possibly could behind the scenes, and Jordan and Camille began a search for volunteer slush readers. We were lucky enough to find Davina Colpman and Hillary Degani, who are both doing an excellent job. The website is a lot more manageable now, and the ongoing flow of fantastic stories from talented authors makes every bit of the work worthwhile.
It’s been a great learning experience, and a true labour of love.
Steven Smethurst first started web design in 2002 by creating simple HTML manuals as a hobby. At first his code was very primitive, but he kept looking at what others did and learning from them. Over time, he found that he had a real knack for web design and his skills grew as he needed to fullfil requirements for new projects. In late 2006, he found himself doing more web sites than utilities and made the mental switch from calling himself a programming monkey to calling himself a web monkey. He reads mainly short Sci-Fi such as Philip K. Dick, and older story books like The Arabian Nights and the Brothers Grimm.