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AutomaticRomantic : A Major Update.

It's been a couple of years and the web space has moved on, especially the python web-space. It was time to upgrade AutomaticRomantic. There were a few things I wanted to add and a few things that needed fixing. But I find that web-apps are kind of like a thread, you start pulling on it and soon everything you have unravels and you want to re-make it.

The template

I started out with a great template from Andreas Viklund but lately I have been playing with the YUI Grids and after struggling with the template for a while I decided to just rebuild it around the YUI grids. It was remarkably easy and allowed me to do a few things :

  • Reposition the side-information bar to the left with an ad-approved width
  • Easily switch between different main-section widths during testing.
  • Know that the reset CSS provided by Yahoo was going to reduce and browser compatibility problems.
  • Strip the CSS back to just what I needed.

To be fair, I could have done a lot of that with the existing template but ensuring that it worked on all the browsers I wanted to support would have been more pain with the original template. I left the attribution to Andreas in the footer of the site because the resulting website is still very much influenced by his design and he deserves the credit.

One of the things I like about the YUI grids is that Yahoo maintain them and even serve them for you. That's a risk, if Yahoo go down so does all my supporting CSS but it's a risk I'm willing to take. The idea that Yahoo will update the grids to support and work around issues in new browsers is wonderful. Outsourcing some of your web-design worries for $0. Thank you Yahoo!

Advertising / Monetization

The focus of AutomaticRomantic has always been providing romance-related reminders to the romance-impaired. I didn't want to change that, people are using it. But in the two years that I have been running the site the hosting bills have started to add up. That's fine, I can handle the $10-15 a month in hosting that it costs to run the site but over a lifetime it will add up and I'd like to make it self-sufficient in terms of hosting costs. I doubt it will ever pay back my time but I got an education from that so I don't begrudge it.

The site always had a number of potential revenue streams : AdSense ads, Affiliate sales links and an Amazon aStore. Part of the plan with AutomaticRomantic was to learn about these forms of eCommerce.

Well, after two years of running the results are in. Affiliate sales has made me exactly $5 and Amazon's aStore has earned me $0. AdSense is the only thing that has consistently made even a few cents a day.

So I've reworked the site and ejected all the Affiliate links and I must say, I feel cleaner for it. Maybe one day there will be a place for them again but right now, no thanks. Despite no results from the aStore I'm keeping it. I like the way it integrates and I want to see what else Amazon come up with in this space. Tracking the results takes no time at all (I just don't bother) unlike the affiliate sales which require login to a bunch of different affiliate networks to see how things are going.

AdSense revenues from this site aren't exactly exciting from a second-income perspective but given the level and type of traffic the site receives (turbogear-heads, djangonauts, pythonista's etc) it's not surprising that romance-keyword revenue's aren't popular. I'm keeping AdSense, it's effectiveness should float with the right kind of traffic.

Content is king

You knew that already right? The search engines work on content, the more and more unique the better. The search traffic that does reach the site shows me that people are looking for more than just romantic tools, they want to understand their relationships better. The programming side of AutomaticRomantic is fun but I also like to write, so I'm adding a blog and an articles section.

Django

Let me say first, Turbogears is fantastic, but 0.8 which I have been using for some years now has it's issues, at least for me, and upgrading wasn't an easy option. I started a dalliance with Django for pyxboard and when I decided I wanted to add some new features to AutomaticRomantic, I just ended up going there because pyxboard didn't exercise much of Django and I wanted a larger project to work on.

So AutomaticRomantic got rebuilt in Django. About 90% of the code just transferred over. It was all python and since TG never invited the mixing of templates and code it was a smooth transition. I spent more time working on reworking the structure of the web templates and CSS than I did on porting the core TG app to Django. I really missed TG's "flash" but finding a replacement wasn't hard.

One of the nice things about Django is the feeds framework which made my plan to add RSS feeds for people's reminder lists really easy.

Overall, it was a fun couple of months of tinkering. There is still more to do of course but I want to concentrate for a while on traffic building and see if I can hone my skills there.

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