Friday, May 22, 2009

What to do with our website?

Our treasured, packed, interesting, rugged and extremely worn website has been on our minds lately. We've been running http://www.lifeisgrand.org/ for almost 10 years now which, in internet terms, is mind boggling. I've been reading up on Web 2.0 technologies and am amazed at how much the technology has moved on.

For instance, we've been writing a journal on our site since Oct 5, 1999. When we started, there was really no such thing as a social networking site, so we used our website as a tool to keep in touch with our friends and family as we travelled around the world. Of course, it was "one-way" communication, which is really what Web 1.0 was all about back then. We posted pictures, stories and journals which were available for anybody in the world to read, and it worked great! Over the years, we've built up a substantial readership, in fact, we still attract over 10,000 unique visitors per month, mainly looking for travel related information.

Now, the internet world is much different. The name of the game is "interactivity" - the days of a static website are pretty much over. Which puts us in a bit of a spot. During the past year we've been kicking ideas around about what we can do to derive some income off the website, as the original purpose of the site has been pretty much replaced by Facebook (what we're up to), online photo sharing (where we've been), instant messaging (communication), wikipedia (information on countries) and Linkedin (networking for business/projects). We have really struggled with what to do with it. The first problem is that neither of us have kept up our web development skills, so any attempt to freshen up the site would probably just end up in a mess. We are also extremely cheap, so the idea of paying somebody to redo the site for us is not appealing, unless there would be a good return on investment. Which takes us to the second problem: what exactly is the purpose of our site?

The most successful websites out there have a clearly defined function or purpose. They offer specialized information, specialized products, or a unique way of getting required information. The same is true of the popular blogs - they are narrow in focus and keep a readership by focusing on a particular subject of interest. Our website and blog is all over the place!! I like to write about things that interest me, such as investing, travel, finance and politics. But I doubt that there are many people out there who are interested in the same wide span of topics that I am so my blog is really just a replacement for a personal diary.

Let's take the travel aspect of our site, which draws the most visitors. There are thousands or maybe even millions of travel websites out there, many very focused on one particular country or even regions or towns within a country. If you want to get detailed information on a specific place, our site is definitely not the place to come, as many of the countries we've written about, we only visited one or twice years ago so the information is not up to date. What we do offer is a very personal opinion on places, which is sometimes difficult to find on the web as it can be hard to tell if there is an "advertising" aspect to a website's opinion. It's a trust issue.

Ana and I have brainstormed various ideas, looking for an angle, trying to figure out what we have to offer that isn't available elsewhere and what we've come down to is this: we have struck an amazing balance between employment, business, travel, raising kids and having fun. We don't know anybody else who has been able to balance all these things as well as we do.

That's our angle. Now, we just need to figure out how (or indeed "if") that translates into a successful website.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Analyze a boat purchase

A great deal on a sailboat has come to our attention so we're now in the process of deciding whether to pursue this purchase.

Whenever we face a life decision like this, our first step is to decide "why". Last night we came up with this list of reasons why we'd like a boat:

1. We love spending time on boats

2. We want the kids to grow up around boats and water

3. We want to develop our own sailing skills to enable us to do a year long sailing sabbatical

The next step is to figure out the real costs of owning a boat. We contacted the marina where we would keep the boat and got the prices for monthy berthing, haul in/out, winterizing, etc, then spoke with our friends to get an approximate cost of insurance. If we spread that out over the entire year it worked out to be about $230/month. If we then add in maintenance costs, which are high on older boats, we get another $166/month(based on a $25,000 boat, mid 1980's, 8% maintenance/year).

That makes a total of almost $400/month per year to own a sailboat. Hmmmm.

If we decide that we can afford that cost, we then need to decide what activities our new sailing hobby will displace. As you can imagine, our life, like most peoples', is extremely busy, so when we pick up some new activity, then something has to give. It seems the area most likely to give would be the impromptu weekend trips courtesty of our favourite airline, WestJet. We're okay with this, especially considering we'll be spending the time sailing, fishing and swimming.

More to come, stay tuned.