As stated in the last article, a lot of things were fleshed out and structured for the CoffeeGeek website, but something was really missing.
That something was a sense of community.
| Though there were earlier incarnations of this specific design, this is the one I finally settled on, though we had much tweaking and refining left to do. |
The site did have lots of "community" features - signing up and writing reviews as a community website staple - but the site lacked any real interactivity.
I went online into the alt.coffee newsgroup, and asked people, what would you like to see in a coffee information site? Would you like to rate reviews you read? comment on them? Do followups to your own reviews? Have a coffeegeek.com email address? discuss columns with the site authors? What?
Pretty much everything I suggested was answered with a yes - all that and more. So I was set. Something I was agonizing with before - user logins, was something that would have to be done - to use the full features of the website, you would have to have a username and password. That way we could let you do things like: post comments to discussion boards; vote on the quality of reviews, articles and detailed reviews; ask the columnists questions; to prevent "false review" postings, where a vendor may try to overpopulate a product with good reviews (like the Francis! Francis! X1 reviews); and track, manage and maintain the reviews you write.
One key thing that emerged for me was the ability for visitors to rank the consumer reviews. The purpose here is not to embarrass someone - the purpose is to produce better reviews, more detailed reviews because after all, this site exists to provide people with varied and full opinions on products that can cost $400, $500 or more. When you're spending that kind of dough, doing quality research is a must, and a well written consumer review aids in your search. A poor review, one that goes "it's great! buy it!" isn't helping anyone, not even the vendor.
So a review ranking system was set up, and the site is geared towards featuring highly ranked reviews. Ditto with columnists. They have to write good stuff. If they don't, you, the visitor and CoffeeGeek, will let them know. You can rate their articles on quality and informative value. You can also directly discuss the articles as they go live.
I had everything written out on paper, and everything mapped out in my brain for what I wanted CoffeeGeek to be. One thing I didn't have was time. Our company had a very busy spring and summer and our fall was looking jam packed.
Then Osama and his crew of evil people did their deed on September 11.
I don't want to go into any personal details here other than to say all the work we had booked for the fall was cancelled, and all of a sudden everyone on my team had a lot of free time and still needed to be paid. So CoffeeGeek became the priority, and we all worked on it feverishly for months.
For a while, I was interactive crazy with this website, going way overboard in what I wanted and what I thought we could do. I have everyone going crazy for a while. My sensible programmer, Wayne Venables, made me take a couple of steps back and think about things carefully, and as such, a lot of my envisioned interactivity, much of which was either impractical or impossible to manage, was yanked from the site plans.
We had our private alpha, testing with a few friends in October. We're now in the midst of our private beta. I want to really roll out this website before Christmas.
What we came up with isn't perfect by any stretch. There's a lot of polished, complete packages out there for community features on a website - ultimate bulletin board is one you see on every site these days - but it was really important for me to have ours built from scratch. Partially because we hope to resell it one day, but also because, when it's built from scratch, we can control what goes into it more. But our solution isn't perfect, it's like a 0.8 beta when this site launches, and I'm sure we'll be fine tuning it within a few months.
But... that was the missing component - interactive features, and now the site has it, galore. You can even comment on this article, just by clicking the "add comment" link below! Ain't that grand?
I hope you enjoy the new CoffeeGeek website! We look forward to your feedback!