It began as a good idea, and a month later the ball was rolling. Max, Alec, Cameron, and I were going to collaborate on combining their majorly active sites into one large one. Several hundred thousands of visits a month was the plan, and we actually reached those numbers it in the month of May. This would be a big venture for all of us, but soon things went sour and 3 months later the site was announced to be closing until further notice. Why, you ask?…
If you’re not aware of what EvilChicken is, you should go ahead and skip this entry. Things are going to get in-depth and it’ll be hard to understand at points if you weren’t there from the beginning.
Before I go on, I’d just like to preface this by saying that I’m not trying to shift any blame around, but instead outline the shortcomings and faults that led to the site’s demise. This should also serve as good reference material for anyone that wishes to start a large, community oriented site.
Alright, so I’m just going to dive in and outline what went wrong, what went right, and what needs to be done before the site comes back up again.
What Went Wrong
- On the first day the site was online, Max and Cam both uploaded advertisement videos to their YouTube accounts. Combined, they have over 150,000 subscribers. Less than 1/15th of that was all that was needed to take out the single server.
- Back End Systems
- While it wasn’t evident to the end users, the system that ran most of the site was crippling out ability to administer it. We took a shortcut and ran Joomla on a site that needed a much more specialized codebase. We initially planned on coding our own content management system – but this was scrapped due to impatience. Once the site was up, we learned that you can’t run a large, comprehensive site on Joomla without hitting some big walls. We had a strenuous time expanding the site (games room, item database, etc.) because we didn’t know how the code for Joomla was setup (since we didn’t write it ourselves).
- While some may take offense to this, I must be honest and say that the staff was, overall, poorly managed. Some of those who were active (and a lot weren’t), didn’t know what their job was because it wasn’t clearly outlined. Yes, it is common knowledge that the job of the moderator is to mediate conversation – but there still were some inconsistencies between staff members. A bit higher up in the chain, you have the staff rank entitled “Owner”. This should be eliminated and be combined with administrators. It should be recognized that those people do indeed own the site, but they should not be placed at the top of the hierarchy for doing little in [forum] moderation/administration. Sure, they manage expenses and the like – but that’s not something that Mint can’t do. Some members of the staff seemed dwarfed by ranks such as owner – resulting in little motivation and spite against those above them. It’s hard enough to put in volunteer hours, but it’s even harder when those above you are getting the spotlight and even accept credit for the work you did, leaving you with little compensation.
- Yes, the design did look pretty – for Firefox users. A higher percentile of users still use Internet Explorer, and when your site looks like a bomb went off when they visit, they aren’t going to change their browser over to Firefox just to use it. In terms of expanding upon the design, it would be very much a pain. Each little rounded box was encased inside a dozen other divisions, making for very confusing and messy code. I’m sure even the original designer of the theme has a hard time wallowing through the code. An in house, site-specific design would have taken a lot more time to make, but would payoff in the end due to the understandability of the code (since we wrote it ourselves!). Like the back end systems point earlier, this was scrapped due to impatience.
What Went Right
- Most sites struggle for weeks attempting to establish a user base. EvilChicken, however, was reached by thousands within hours of launching the site. This was because of the use of viral/social media. If one influential and popular user uploads a video and asks the viewers to help advertise it too – they will. Dozens of videos were made by community members as a result.
- When a visitor comes to a site, it’s usually because of either hype, or specific content. If said content is non-existent, non-unique, or is simply not up to par – they will leave within seconds. In the case of EvilChicken, content on the site was submitted by the community. To be more accurate, the content came from the RuneGamer community – EvilChicken’s [main] predecessor. The large amount of guides, tips, and the like were moved over from RuneGamer to EvilChicken – giving the site a bit of a head start.
What Needs to be Done
- The EvilChicken name has some what been tarnished with embarrassment. The site was down the first day, then down again during the server upgrade, and then down once again during the domain transfer. When it was up it displayed improperly for half of its users.
- Closer Look into Staff
- Clear roles need to be laid out for staff members to follow. While it may sound restrictive, it will dramatically save time and make a much smoother system for both the users and the staff. Inactive staff members should be pruned and the portion of the staff that put in the most dedication should be recognized and rewarded, either in the form finances or in proper attribution.
- A Complete Rework
- A new name won’t be enough to restore reputation. As was initially planned with EvilChicken, the new site must have it’s own content management system and design that actually suits the needs of both the administrators and the users. Look around at some of the most popular sites and you’ll see that they don’t run Joomla or Drupal (ok, fine, a lot run WordPress though).
- Gradual Rollout
- When the site is totally complete, it needs to be rolled out slowly to users. Preferably by word of mouth. This way, the server hardware can easily be scaled to suit the needs of the site. It should also be noted that the “biggest” or most “powerful” server doesn’t need to be used. If a content data network (like S3) is used then bandwidth overages can be averted and HDD space can be conserved.
- The staff needs to all join one conference and lay things out. What content will be on the site, who’s doing what, the current progress on milestones, and what’s ahead for the future all need to be discussed… periodically. In addition, the implementation of collaboration software such as activeCollab or DimDim would be very helpful.
Many people invested many hours into this site and to see it go is a shame. When it does return we will have learned from our mistakes and further, embarrassing mistakes may be averted.
I’m going to close this by reiterating that I am not trying to shift blame. I do indeed have a lot to do with most of these points, for better or worse. I’m sure I’ve left many other things out, but those should be saved for another post.