currybetdotnet 2006 review

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 31 December 2006

I have never previously done this kind of end-of-year review type thing, well, except for making mixtapes of the year for friends back when cassette-by-post was the preferred method of delivery rather than mp3-file-delivered-to-your-phone-via-Bluetooth or whatever it is the kids are doing these days. However, on Friday I wrote about some of my favourite blogs from 2006, and today I wanted to do a quick run through of the highlights (and lowlights) of writing and running currybetdotnet this year.

I started writing regularly on the site again once I reached Chania in April, although whilst I was travelling through Europe I published a couple of articles to keep the site active - "Gaining Online Advantage - Building an effective web presence in a large organisation" and "Designing Your Website to be Search Engine Friendly"

Over the year some posts have been notable for generating big traffic spikes, and for generating a lot of comments (and by that I don't just mean comments of the "I've more or less been doing nothing worth mentioning" junk variety). Here are a selection of the most popular posts:

A History of the online World Cup
By some magnitude this year the posts that got the most linking and attention were me writing about the history of the FIFA World Cup online. Whilst the websites from the 2002 and 1998 tournaments had been subsumed into the offical FIFA/Yahoo! site for 2006, the site for the 1994 USA World Cup still existed on a mirror server in Japan. My post got references on Metafilter and a couple of football forums, and the rest, as they say, was bandwidth bills.

There were a couple of further twists in this story during the year. It turned out that when the currybetdotnet site moved servers, this was a post that got significantly mangled. Luckily I was able to restore it, but I can't say the same for the USA '94 site. Some time between me writing about it and the end of the year, after 12 years as the oldest online web resource about the World Cup finals, someone finally seems to have pulled the plug on the server.

USA 94 World Cup homepage

Gmail / Bloglines / Feedburner privacy problems
Sure, it was convoluted to set it up, and if you'd gone to that trouble you ought to have known what you were doing, but my post that showed that if you linked your Gmail RSS feed to a Feedburner account, and then subscribed to it via Bloglines without checking your privacy settings, it exposed your mail to the world was one of the years most visited. It got some attention from blogs about Google and security, although some people seemed to get the wrong end of the stick and think I had been a victim myself. Fairplay to the companies involved, I subsequently got communication either via comments or email from all three of them about it.

Gmail feeds in Bloglines

Testing online services
During the year I did several series of articles comparing the functionality and usability of different services. One area I looked at was online feed readers, where I assessed FeedLounge, Google Reader, T3h Blox0r and Rojo, to see if they could displace my preferred reader Bloglines. They couldn't. I also wrote a series of articles assessing the state of search across various British newspapers online, and examined the re-launched BBC Search.

New Sniffer
In October I assessed the News Sniffer site, which tracks changes in BBC articles and retains copies of messages deleted from the BBC's Have Your Say forums. I think it is a great little service, and probably unwittingly does a great deal to demonstrate that bias is in the eye of the beholder. It was set up to expose the BBC's bias in one corporate direction, is now regularly cited by anti-Beeboids as proving left-wing bias, and I think it mostly shows a long list of rather dull corrections to typos and updated picture captions and pull-quotes. My write-up of the service got mentions on both the News Sniffer site itself and the BBC's Editors Blog.

Cypriot Flag Dispute
Right at the end of the year my posts about the Cypriot flag dispute at Arsenal attracted a lot of attention both from Cyprus itself, and from football fan forums around the UK.

And then there was a host of my regular features - the annual moan about the negative and sexist coverage of the UK's A-Level results, organisations like Migrationwatch using statistics to generate sensational headlines that don't bear further scrutiny, and tabloid style coverage of child internet safety issues serving to make the net a more dangerous place for children.

Blanket media coverage on the success of girls at A-Level

Despite leaving the BBC in December 2005, I haven't been able to escape their shadow, and earlier this year I did some blogging for them as part of the reboot:bbc.co.uk homepage redesign competition they ran. I summarised the main points I'd made in one post over on currybetdotnet. I also waded into the debate about whether the BBC's international site should take advertising, although at least one person quite forcefully disagreed with my assessment.

It wasn't all new stuff that attracted the most visitors this year. By far the most popular article is still the first full-length essay I published on the site - "A day in the life of BBCi Search" - which was first published in January 2003, and which has survived the re-branding of the BBC's website to bbc.co.uk. The other articles that still attracted a lot of traffic this year were "Putting A F__k Off Dalek on the BBC Homepage Isn't Big or Clever" and "The software used to access the BBC homepage". As I think I mentioned on the backstage.bbc.co.uk mailing list, the follow up article that is due - "The software used to access the Sony Connect store" would be a lot less interesting, since the store is restricted to users employing Windows and Internet Expolorer 6 and above.

Then there are the things on the site that generate traffic via search, where what I've published ranks highly but isn't probably what people were looking for. A good proportion of traffic to the "A day in the life of BBCi Search" gets driven there by people getting the spelling of CBeebies wrong, and landing on my page about people not being able to spell CBeebies via search. Elsewhere any post that taks about Konnie Huq's knickers was always going to perform well (though I've still never understood the full story of why the BBC issued a statement about them), as does my post about using search on the Sunday Sport, mainly because The Sport's own site performs so poorly on Google et al.

My diatribe from October 2005 about H&M's "Romeo & Juliet" cinema advert which wasted nearly 15 minutes of my life and managed to glamourise gun violence in the name of selling clothes still gets a lot of traffic - although judging from the number of people leeching the images to place on forum posts I don't think it is generally people agreeing with me.

Screengrab from H&M's &denim site

The Ghost Walk category on the site still continues to attract a lot of attention. When I first wrote about doing ghost walks in London with my wife, it was a bit of a tangent for the currybetdotnet site. In fact nowadays, a ghost walk would get posted to 'Some edelweiss/A lemon tree of our own' as a personal thing, but these posts still prove incredibly popular via external search on currybetdotnet. The Haunted Walthamstow & Chingford one generates a lot of interest, as there doesn't seem to be much else on the web covering these stories from the area, and likewise the Haunted Malta post still attracts comments from people who are investigating ghosts on the island, or publishing books about the island's history.

The Royal Forest Hotel, Chingford

Probably the biggest upheaval for the site was moving servers again - for the third time since I started blogging in December 2002. After a bit of a saga I now finally control the domain name, and I'm hosting the site using Bytemark's excellent virtual Linux hosting offering, which means that, hopefully, I shouldn't have to move it all again in the near future. I've also had time this year to restore the whole archive, and put re-direct URLs in place, so hopefully the proportion of users getting 404 errors from following old links to the site or old search engine listings should be around 0%.

Anyway, since this is now reading rather like some ghastly Christmas circular letter, it only remains for me to say that Aunty Hilda has recovered from her hip operation, the dogs are doing fine, and that I don't think I've done bad considering it has been a year spent mostly in the country that censors bloggers for linking, has the EU's lowest internet usage, and I've spent the last 12 months without a fixed internet connection.

Keep up to date on my new blog