Welcome to CoffeeGeek Version 2.0!
This is actually the second draft of this article - my first attempt to write an article about CoffeeGeek V2, or CGV2 (as it was known around the office for months and months) was really long, and pretty much dealt with the history of this website, and the massive, long term building up to what you see now. I'm still going to cover some of that, but that portion's going to be a lot shorter - I've got so much more to talk about!
What went on around here...
CGV2 is something we've been working on for about a year now. What you see now is actually the culmination of five complete "builds" of the website. The first build, completed around January 2003 was a radically different look and feel as compared to the previous version of this website, or what you see now. I liked it but I also realised late in the design that it could cause a lot of problems.
Build two was a complete flop. I don't even want to talk about it :) (other than it wasted a month of my time).
Build Three was very close to what you see now. But we had one huge problem - usability was severely flawed for the end user. I trashed it.
Build Four was nearly identical to the final product. The problem is, it was very experimental with a lot of CSS, a lot of "cludge" and a lot of seriously messy coding. We were happy with the look but we knew, once again, we'd have to build it from the ground up so it was clean, elegant, and wouldn't cause our programmers to hunt design down and kill us.
Build Five... it started in early August. Several other company projects took precendence but I, along with Grady O'Neill who is one of WebMotif Net Service's graphic designers and html coders, kept plugging away at it. (WebMotif is the parent company of CoffeeGeek.com). By late September we were done about 90% of the website and were ready to turn it over to programming, headed up by the very capable Wayne Venables.
Through October, we tested, fine tuned, built and rebuilt the website. By mid October, we had an alpha testing in the office. And by late October, we launched a public beta, and some 16 beta testers helped us iron out literally dozens and dozens of usability flaws and bugs in the WIPS software that drives this website.
And now, we're ready for prime time!
What's goin' on around here...
That's the build process. So, what's changed? Pretty much everything, with an eye towards usability, increased content and a new focus on the coffee industry (without forgetting our consumer audience). Oh, and (unfortunately or not), there's more ads. Let me get into each point.
Usability is a key word here.
When we built CoffeeGeek over two years ago (it launched December 19, 2001, after a month of beta testing), right from the get go we realised a few usability mistakes were made, but they were too difficult to fix. In the past two years we've had many more discovered and pointed out to us. Some were wishes for better content layout choices, some were navigation problems, some were just people plain not liking the structure of the website.
We tackled the vast majority of these with CGV2. Here's some of the highlights in usability improvements:
- First and foremost we opted to try and keep the same "look and feel" to the site in terms of colours used and general layout. White text areas, coffee brown (with milk, please) backgrounds. Green menu bars. Red interactive bars. Stuff is generally still in the same position on the browser page that it was in the previous version. This was a very important design consideration and while this might surprise you, it was much more difficult to achieve than you may think.
- Tying Detailed Reviews, First Looks (and now the new QuickShot Review) to Member Reviews. This was a "duh!" thing that we should have done from the beginning. Now when you read a Detailed Review you'll see member reviews highlighted in the Overview page. If you read a consumer review on a machine that has a Detailed Review, you'll find the link on that product's listing page and on individual reviews.
- The QuickNav. We've been asked for this a lot. Now you have it.
- Bigger Fonts. Articles, Professional Reviews, and consumer reviews all have bigger fonts with more leading to make them easier to read. Lots of you folks are old farts - I'm tired of getting the emails about "I need to reach for my reading glasses, ya young whippersnapper!" :) :) :)
- More new content on the front page. When you come to CoffeeGeek, you'll see 39 bits of new content, right on the fairly compact front page. 4 highlighted latest reviews, articles, and guides and how tos (the most recent ones), plus 10 recent articles, 10 recent resource items, and the 10 most recent public reviews of product. And you'll also see the five most recent forum postings.
- Restructured major sections. On our previous version of CoffeeGeek, the Columnists section (now called opinions) was an embarrassment for us - it was ugly, never updated properly and gave very little incentive to "click on". This has changed along with our guides and how tos section and our new professional reviews section.
- Consumer Reviews got a complete and utter overhaul. Now finding a product can take as little as three clicks - click to get to the consumer reviews, click an alphabet letter in your category of choice and click the product you want to read. We've also made the pages more compact, showing 10 or 20 listings at a time.
There's so much more in the usability front, but I think I'll let you go explore a bit and find some of the tweaks and changes yourself. :)
Gobs and Gobs of New Content
A sore point for the old CoffeeGeek site was the lack of columnist articles, pro reviews, and how tos. This is changing in a big way on CGV2.
First, we have three new regular columns launching with this version, and two new feature columns. Billy Wilson will be our resident pro Barista, giving his take on the world of this art form. Paul Pratt is the La Marzocco representative and an Espresso expert in Hong Kong and South East Asia, and will be giving us his take from that part of the world - with his column showing up very soon.
We have a new column called The Interview, which will host interviews with some of the major leading lights in the coffee and espresso industry.
We also have two new columns slated for the Feature Columnists section. The Ethical Bean will feature guest articles talking about ethical issues in coffee including fair trade, charitable efforts, women in coffee issues and more. Bill Fishbein, the founder of Coffee Kids, will start us off with an excellent article on how Coffee Kids came to be. There's also The Professional Eye is going to be a guest column for business to business issues in the world of coffee and espresso.
I'll also be working with our regular columnists more closely so that articles come out more frequently. We've also hired a part time editor and will be editing content better as the months roll on. The result should be more articles, better written articles, and more viewpoints from around the world of coffee.
But it doesn't end there. Over in our new Guides and How Tos section, you'll see new How Tos, and new major pieces of literature: definitive guides on various aspects of coffee and espresso. We're starting off with Aaron DeLazzer's Guide to Milk Frothing, and I think you'll agree with me that this is an excellent start to a new major resource online. And I promise - more How Tos! :)
We have moved First Looks over to where they belong - in a section called CoffeeGeek Reviews (also called professional reviews in some parts of the site). And we've added a new type of review - the QuickShot Review. This category is reserved for items that are worthy of a detailed, analytical review, but not necessarily our lengthy and exhaustive Detailed Review process. Our first product is the rather exciting Krups Moka Brew, which will be showing up very soon. I hope you enjoy the added resource.
Speaking or resources... This is a new section on CGV2 - Resources. Within, you'll find things that CoffeeGeek should have hosted from the get go - a new Official FAQ section (the Coffee Faq, written and managed by Scott Rothstein, will be the first on board, once we work out a few minor bugs with the major FAQ engine we designed); also, we have a new and revamped News Ticker column, edited by Jeanette Chan. She'll be posting between one and three coffee or espresso related news items a day. And we have the new Press Release service, where we will publish industry news press releases at no charge.
Yes, more ads... but not too many.
When I started CoffeeGeek two years ago, I had no idea of the scope of the audience, the numbers and the expenses this site would incur. Since launch, CoffeeGeek has barely gotten to the point where it "pays the bills". It pays for its hosting costs. It pays for our programmer's hours put into the site. It pays for our authors (when they meet their publishing schedule). It pays most of the website's expenses.
One thing it doesn't pay is a salary to me. In the beginning, I didn't want a salary. I wanted the site to "break even on expenses, that's good enough". But I put about 45 hours, week in, week out, into this site with all the reviews, the travel, and the content editing. I think it's about time for me to start taking some dough back for the effort. I love doing it (I wouldn't do it otherwise), but I also have a mortgage to pay and teeth to fix. My regular day job went from 8 hours a day, to six, now down to five. CoffeeGeek is now my full time job.
Also, the website's expenses have gone up substantially since launch. One expense the site has to start paying in full is any website-related travel. Another is the cost of events like our recent Meet N' Greet event down in Seattle during CoffeeFest weekend. We want to do more of those things, but they cost money. And, CoffeeGeek is a registered business and is a business in debt: it owes a helluva lot of development money to WebMotif Net Services, Inc. for all the work and building (and rebuilding) of the site.
So... more ads. This was a tough one for me. I personally HATE ad-heavy sites. I know this is pointing fingers, but some of my favourite gizmo sites, like Brighthand, or PocketPCThoughts and other similar sites have gone crazy with new ads - in fact, I was just over at Brighthand this morning reading an article, and right in the middle of the article is a massive, obscenely large banner ad AND a second square billboard ad, right after it.
Too much. Way too much.
We're fortunate around CoffeeGeek for several things. First, we have the supreme luxury of being able to limit all our advertising to Coffee and Espresso related businesses.
Second, we have amazing advertisers. I can't stress this enough. They put up with a helluva lot of BS from me at times, and the stick with it.
Third (tied in with my second point), we have advertisers who fully support this website and they buy a lot of ads. You in turn recognize these advertisers make this website possible, and you shop with them. A lot.
This is an extremely cool community.
Back to the "more ads" thing. As I mentioned, our advertisers are amazing and extremely patient with me as well. But they did want some things, some improvements. One thing they wanted was more visibility for SponsorAds, especially in Forums where they didn't exist before. So I gave them that - two per page.
Another was better visibility for GeekLinks in our consumer reviews section (Listed as "Where to Buy" on most product listing pages). That was a no brainer to set up as well.
Third - you may not know this - but our top page banner ads are always near-sold out. They reach that point because I've limited the number of banners to 15 site wide per month and two of those are reserved for charitable use. That leaves 13 banner spots available, giving a guaranteed monthly view count of 35,000 (but in reality, it's closer to 85,000 per banner per month). So we've introduced a new side billboard banner, with a low KB size limit (no 50kb, 100kb ads on this site - EVER!). And there's 15 slots available there too, again with 2 reserved for charitable and site use.
Oh - there's one more ad. The poll on the front page. Everyone loves polls. It's one of the most requested things I got from our visitors during the previous site's run. And advertisers have asked for it too - because sometimes they want to know the answers to a specific question. So occasionally you'll see a poll sponsored by a company (the first one is "sponsored" by yours truly :)). Sometimes our advertising partners also get to set the questions but most times they're just paying to get that guaranteed front page slot, and in turn helping support this website.
With all these ad changes, I'm hoping CGV2 will remain a low impact site in terms of ads, but also I hope you continue to support our website by shopping with our advertisers (and make sure you tell them you saw their ad on CoffeeGeek!!!). We should see about a 30% increase in revenue, which means that a) CoffeeGeek can stop being a freeloader and pay money it owes to WebMotif, and b) I may be able to draw minimum wage for the work I do around here :)
One thing I'll swear. You'll NEVER see pop up ads here. You'll never see ads that take up the entire middle portion of an article! Low impact advertising equals happy site users, and hopefully, grateful site users who occasionally click and ad and buy a product from our advertisers :) Don't forget to mention where you saw them!
I want to send out one special shout out - actually two of them.
First, huge, massive, monumental kudos to Wayne Venables, who is WebMotif's lead programmer / analyst. Wayne really went above and beyond the call of duty, putting in umpteen overtime hours to make this V2 rollout possible. Couldn't have been done without him.
Second, a big shout out and thanks to our beta testers. You guys put in a lot of work, and we really appreciate it. CoffeeGeek Members probably wouldn't be enjoying a (relatively) bug free V2 launch if not for your help. Thanks folks.
Well, this about wraps up my first CGV2 article. I know, nothing ground breaking in the world of coffee here, but we're proud of our new baby, and I hope you enjoy the new site as much as we do bringing it to you!