Why my Doctor Who blog failed: Part 2 - The Long Game

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 3 July 2007

A few years ago, back when Christopher Eccleston's Northern accented Doctor Who was just a gleam in Russell T. Davies' eye, I set up a site dedicated to my fanboy obsession with the show - doctorwhoblog.net.

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Rather than being a straight forward episode guide, it set out to collect the contemporania and ephemera around the transmission of stories from the original series.

And it was a complete and utter failure.

This week I'm looking at the four principle reasons that I believe it failed - which turn out to be reasonable rules of thumb for avoiding disasters in just about any website build and launch.

The first of these was that I chose the wrong format for the kind of content that I was producing.

The Pepys' Diary blog had been a source of inspiration, but one of the real problems with my Doctor Who site was the pace of the content publication. Samuel wrote faithfully pretty much every day. However, back in the 1960s, with no BBC Three repeats for a start, Doctor Who wasn't on every day.

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I had the plan all worked out for a long-term commitment though.

The entire site was in black, white, and various internet shades of black, white, #CCCCC and #333333, and it was scheduled to transform, via the miracle of CSS, into colour on the 3rd of January, 2010. That, of course, would be to mark the 40th anniversary of the transmission of the first Doctor Who episode in colour - Jon Pertwee's debut story "Spearhead From Space".

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However, sticking to the "anniversary of transmisson" format of the site, and the fact that quite a few early Doctor Who stories were transmitted over the space of six weeks or more, meant that it was only ever going to feature about 8 or 9 new entries a year, all several weeks apart.

After publishing the page about "An Unearthly Child" in November 2003, the next page I published was about the second Doctor Who story - "The Daleks" - four weeks later in December 2003.

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Then the next entry on the site, "The Edge Of Destruction", didn't appear until the following February. That was only a two-part adventure, made in order to pad out the BBC's first order to 13 episodes, in case the show was canned after three stories.

Following "The Edge Of Destruction" was the now sadly missing "Marco Polo", a 7 parter. That meant that six months after the launch of the site, it still only consisted of five main pages.

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That may have been fine for a slow-burn RSS feed once the site was established, but it didn't make for a site with a compelling reason for people to regularly re-visit it and interact with it.

In fact, I think only the RSS feed of the Queen's Christmas Address podcast would have been updated less regularly.

In retrospect, I think I would have been better off publishing the content in one concerted burst during a single year, and then simply rotating what was on the homepage based on an "on this day" principle, rather than doing it on the basis of the more precise but, for a user, frustratingly irregular "on this day exactly 40 years ago".

I also hadn't planned terribly well or made a proper content model of the type of things I wanted to publish .

I knew that I wanted the contemporania and ephemera, but I didn't have a tightly defined list of what was going to be included. Some things were obvious - for example news headlines or the music charts.

However I only hit upon some of the content ideas - like linking to "This day in History" from the History Channel and the relevant date pages on Wikipedia after I'd made the first couple of pages, meaning I had to go back and re-edit pages.

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So, without generating much traffic, interest or money, the 'Doctor Who Blog' site got almost as far as covering the whole of William Hartnell's first season in the lead role, before there was a sudden change of direction.

In the next part of this series I'll look at how I transformed the site in the run-up to the television revival of the show.

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2 Comments

Queen's Christmas Address podcast would have been updated less regularly.

Dammit! I think you'll find that the Queen's Christmas address is very regular. Not particularly frequent though.

Gah! Stupid queen and her stupid grammatically correct queen's English

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