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Sunday, October 10, 2010

TWIAR's web site redesigned

Some of you know I'm the "web designer" for the program This Week in Amateur Radio, or TWIAR. I'm admittedly behind the times when it comes to web design, and I'm thinking of going to school to learn more.

Over the summer, TWIAR took a bit of a hiatus as George Bowen, W2XBS (Executive Producer) was working odd hours at his employer, and he was committing himself to being better fit. When I visited him in August, he was definitely working out!

Being the worldwide media conglomerate that TWIAR is, we nickel & dime our way through bringing the service to the ham community. We aren't backed with big bucks like other services, but we've definitely been more innovative. We were the first ham radio service to bring our program via podcast. What a moment that was...

George called me up once day and said "we need to do a podcast". I responded "Great!! What the hell's a podcast?" Over the next 2-3 weeks I got a crash course in this new thing called "podcasting", and saw the potential.

At the time, the iPod craze was in full swing and podcasting was a way to provide news, opinions, etc, via RSS/XML feeds. Former MTV "VJ" Adam Curry is credited with coming up with the concept of podcasting.

TWIAR was just the repeater service version back then was averaging a few dozen downloads a week. I was paying for hosting on a shared hosting service for a few bucks a month and we had a 10 Gigabyte limit on our bandwidth per month. In other words, I couldn't go over 10 GB of data transfer pre month. This was no problem, as we were averaging about 4-5 Gigs of bandwidth.

After I set up RSS feeds for the podcast I posted an email, and sent links to a few podcasting sites that were out there.

And then...here came the masses...

I checked the stats one day on a whim and they skyrocketed after the first 3 weeks. We went from 3-4 GB average to right at the limit for the month!

And then, the next week, the site was pulled. We exceeded bandwidth.

I scrambled and got more temporarily allocated (and paid a hefty sum for it) and we went to a new plan that allowed 40GB of bandwidth. So we were pretty good...for about 3 weeks.

The next month, I closely monitored the stats of the site, and they just kept climbing. And even though I got an additional 30GB of bandwidth, they were quickly eaten up by the podcasting.

I begged George to find any way possible to limit the file sizes of TWIAR. They were 20-30 Mb files and that times 100 was just eating away at our bandwidth allocation.

His response: "I'm starting another ham podcast called TWIAR International!"

I scrambled and we were blessed to find an outlet to provide storage for our audio files. Radio NewYork International was a group that offered to host the files for us. We had a few bumps in the road with them, but we didn't realize just how big we became. Their web guy contacted George to let him know we were now averaging 100 gigabytes a WEEK of bandwidth! And this was 3 months into the podcasting phenomenon.

Then one day the web site just died. The folks at RNYi just shut the doors and threw away the key, apparently. The web site is gone but a blogger account exists for "Johnny Lightning", who I assume is keeping their dream alive.

We once again scrambled and Fred Moses stepped in to offer bandwidth, and we've been there to this day.

Other services quickly found out about the miracles of podcasting (either from our model or other means, I'm sure) and soon the internet was flooded with ham radio podcasts of all sorts, from the big names such as Amateur Radio Newsline to everyday hams just wanting to vent their frustrations, show off their new toys, or talk about whatever was on their mind. Even the ARRL finally got on board with their version.

I've redesigned the site several times over the years (one example is to the right), trying to at least LOOK like I know what I'm doing. We've expanded our reach to twitter, facebook, and continue to look for ways to send the service out to as many as possible, so that hams around the world know about TWIAR.

It's had its ups and downs, but despite the trials and tribulations, we've survived, sometimes barely.

Someday I might actually be able to do more than just the KISS method of web design. But then again, sometimes, that's what works the best. The last incarnation was okay, but not the best, and I never got to utilize what I wanted with it.

I finally found a template (after a search of several months) that I think will work best, and built TWIAR's site around the template being used (called "quatrain" or "quantrain", not sure which as it's spelled both ways). A small screengrab is at the top, but visit the site to get the full experience!

Hopefully it will be well received. We shall see.

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