Last year at this time we published a post detailing what we had been doing over the preceding winter to improve Attainable Adventure Cruising. It was a popular post that sparked a lot of helpful discussion, so we thought we would do the same this year.
These posts give us a chance to share what’s going on here behind the scenes and also get input from members that helps us decide where to expend our time and energy next.
Getting this prioritization right is particularly critical since administration, marketing, editing, and site maintenance already take more of Phyllis’ and my time than writing content, the most important and fun part of our jobs—sad but true and the reason we are so careful about not taking on any unnecessary tasks or getting involved in, or even tolerating, off-topic conversations in the comments.
On to what we have been up to over the winter:
This year our big winter project was to completely redesign the site, which I’m pleased and relieved to say is now complete. We made the site:
- Mobile responsive (phone and tablet friendly).
- Much cleaner and more legible.
- Improved new member recruitment (still plenty of work to do there).
We also spent a huge amount of time squashing the bugs that inevitably raise their ugly heads as the result of changes like this. Most of these seemed to be related to member login, particularly with the Firefox browser, but we think we have got them all fixed now.
Having said that, if you are still having any problems using the site, please check out our Help pages and, if that does not solve the problem, drop us a line, we are happy to help.
Our apologies for the frustration that login problems cause. With four major browsers and four radically different types of devices and operating systems in common use, bugs are pretty much inevitable, but that don’t make ’em fun for you or us.
Talking of help, as part of the site redesign, we put a lot of time into further improving our Help pages, which has resulted in a further drop in the number of support emails we get, a win for us and you.
However, I have never yet seen a Help page that could not be improved, so if you found one of ours confusing or incomplete, please tell us.
AAC Near You
After we got the site design sorted, our next big project was to speed it up, particularly for our readers who are farther from our server and therefore were experiencing longer load times.
We got that problem solved with a Content Delivery Network (CDN), a service which stores all of the static site content—photos, code, styles—on multiple servers (see the graphic at the top of the post), so that over 90% of the data required to display our pages is now close to all of our readers around the world.
This also takes a huge load off our main server, freeing it to deliver dynamic content much more quickly.
Although we don’t store, or even see, your credit card information, we still take site security very seriously, particularly since our site (like any but the smallest) is constantly being probed for a weakness by hackers trying to break in and install bad code that could do nasty things to our readers’ computers. And when I say constantly, I mean multiple attacks in every hour of every day.
To combat this we have hired one of the leading security companies in the world and installed their site-hardening software and firewall. They will also warn us immediately if we ever do get hacked and are there, if needed, to clean up the infection. (We have always had a security service but this new one is a big upgrade.)
Talking of security, if you take a quick gander at the URL bar in your browser, you will notice a padlock icon, or some such (depends on the browser), that tells you that all of your communication with our site is encrypted using the state-of-the-art Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).
This was a particularly important upgrade for Attainable Adventure Cruising since many of you read our site over unsecured WiFi networks. Without SSL a bad person could insert themselves into the link between you and us and, for example, divert you off to a place where they could install all kinds of bad stuff on your computer.
The cool thing about this is that you can now safely use this site on an open WiFi hot spot without having to worry about messing with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Just make sure you always see that little padlock.
As far as I know, we are the only boating site to have implemented SSL across the board.
By the way, Google is now penalizing sites in Page Rank that don’t use SSL, which tells you how important this is.
The downside of all this security is that false blocks are possible, particularly for readers who are traveling in some of the same places hackers hang out so, if you do get blocked, please contact us.
Two New Writers
You have already met Mick, who debuted here with a blockbuster first post, and in the next few weeks we will be publishing four posts from a deeply experienced new writer, who is younger than the rest of us (except Matt) and therefore brings a new view to AAC.
Talking of our writers. Despite our revenue sharing plan that we came up with a year ago, and some improvement in this year’s payout over last year, our writers still get paid far, far less than their talents and efforts deserve.
This is not a sustainable or morally supportable situation and is something Phyllis and I worry about constantly—the fact that almost all writers get screwed these days doesn’t make it right. We are determined to fix this, although it will take time and lots more innovation to generate the revenue to do so.
A special thanks to Colin and Matt for sticking with us and continuing to share their knowledge and writing skills as we work to get their compensation to where it should be.
Despite having some of the best writers in the boating space, we don’t run Attainable Adventure Cruising as a blog in which a writer dashes off a post and then publishes it. Every article you see has been through a six-or-more-pass edit process, usually lasting several weeks and taking anywhere from four, to as much as 20, hours of hard concentration.
In that process Phyllis copy edits—spelling, punctuation and style standardization—and then we both do the much more important (and often neglected in other publications) content edit to make sure that what the writer meant gets communicated in the clearest and shortest way possible while still preserving the writer’s own style. This last part is vital as good editing should be invisible.
After that the piece goes back to Phyllis for a second-pass copy edit, and then to me for photo optimization—yup, every photograph is hand-optimized to be as good as it can be—and layout, and then back to Phyllis for a final check before publication.
Phyllis and I are constantly working on improving our editing skills and while we know that we still have much to learn, we do feel that we took it up another notch over the winter.
Somehow, in all of this, we managed to publish three new Online Books:
And continued the ever-ongoing process of improving and editing the existing Online Books, two of which we did a major makeover on:
There’s more to report but I’m getting tired just reading the above and reliving the ten hour a day, seven day a week, four month push that made it all happen, so I’m going to leave it there for now.
I will close by saying that we will now put Attainable Adventure Cruising up against any web site or magazine in the boating industry and feel confident that we will come away from the comparison looking favourable on all fronts, and most of all in the quality and depth of our content.
Having said that, we know that there’s always room for improvement, so if there are changes or additions you would like to see, please leave a comment. We are all ears.