Well, I initially wanted to post this during the week of AD’s third anniversary, but my time has been cut short lately with site problems, houseguests, etc. I’ve got about an hour now, so let’s see how far we get.
About three years ago, Jaime and I started America’s Debate. I have an unlinked page at America’s Debate that details our history. It is a bit out of date right now because I haven’t updated it since the election, but the majority of it still holds true. Here is the link: History of America’s Debate.
When we started AD, we had no idea where it would take us. We started it mainly as a free-time hobby. We had nothing to do, and were sick of debating each other (Jaime is a tough opponent, especially when she is right). We figured that we would have a lot more fun if we could debate other people. Unable to find somewhere that we thought was suitable, we started our AD.
We started out slow, which was no surprise. There were already tons of political forums out there. It was the middle of what we now recognize is the “summer lull,” and so growth was slow at first. It was so slow, in fact, that we didn’t even have a set of rules for the first few months after we started AD!
From that time until now is just a blur. AD has kept growing and growing and growing. We have been having fun, and so time has been flying.
When we hit the election, we kept on growing even faster. As public interest in politics increased, so did our member and post count. Our guest traffic continued to climb through the roof. We hosted increasingly popular election themed chats focused around the presidential debates (if you can call them debates). At one point, we had something like 60 people in the chat room at once!
The election came and went, and we saw a leveling off of AD’s growth. All of the quadrennial armchair politicos retreated back to their shelters, and AD was left with several months of stagnation. Some senior members took a break from the wear and tear that embodies online political debate. New members kept rolling in, and that is always a good thing. Guest traffic dropped significantly, which was expected.
Now, we are at the tail end of the summer for most people. While we still have a few months of summer weather ahead of us here in Savannah, the kids are starting to return to school. It is now time for the growth to pickup.
AD is on target this month to hit our record number of pageviews ever: 968,161. That is a huge number.
See, about a year and a few months ago, I completely redid the site. Invision Power Services released the 2.0 version of their software, and so it was time to upgrade our site. I had learned quite a bit in terms of PHP coding, and I exercised that new knowledge in recoding the AD website. We now use a custom Content Management System that I have written. The CMS makes the numbers in my statistical reports much more accurate.
Before, each pageload on the forum used to actually trigger 3, 4, 5, or even up to 10 or more pageviews in our logs. It caused our numbers to be wildly inaccurate. They were probably 50% higher than the actual numbers, if not more. The new numbers are much more accurate. Instead of each content block on the website homepage requiring a pageview, the whole page now requires only one pageview.
That is why 968,161 pageviews for August 2005 is such a huge number. It represents an 82.5 percent increase in traffic over September 2004– an eleven-month period. Compared to our election high, we will be 27.3 percent higher this month– a slow month– over November 2004. Those are some great numbers!
With school coming back, I expect our numbers to continue to grow. I expect we will have our first million-pageview month by the end of the year, and then million-pageview months will become the norm.
So, what does the future for AD hold? Lots.
We’ve got AD Radio coming up soon. It is going to be a live streamed broadcast where members can call in and be placed on the air, just like a regular radio program.
I setup the second phone line yesterday, and so now we can accept two calls at once, and put them both on the air. That means that we can have a featured guest, and take phone calls from listeners. Or, we can have two listeners call up at once, and put them both on the air for live debate. It is really a large technical accomplishment to have the capabilities to do this, considering how little we have spent on equipment in comparison to what an actual radio station would spend.
AD Radio should launch sometime in the next 12 weeks, and– fingers crossed– will be successful. It would be really great if the members embraced AD Radio as they have done the forum, and made it a great show.
I have a good feeling. This year is *the* year. This is the year where AD will be transformed from a serious hobby for Jaime and I and into a job. We have always contended that we would love to run AD as our jobs so we could dedicate our full time to the site.
Imagine how great it would be! I could spend all of my time coding upgrades and enhancements to the current site. AD Radio would just be the beginning! We could have a setup where people could use an AD email address to contact their representatives without leaving the site, and they could share and discuss their letters and responses, if they wish.
We could setup a system for rating and reviewing politicians. Wouldn’t that be fun? Reviews make sites great. Look at Amazon or NewEgg. People shop there just as much for the products as they do for the community that is built around reviewing the products. We could let people review and rate politicians, and share those reviews with others. Heck, we could give out awards to politicians. “Mr. SoAndSo, you have been selected as ‘Mr. Pork 2006′ by the people of America’s Debate!”
Jaime could spend all of her time moderating, reviewing, and streamlining the way the site functions. She is incredibly talented, and I know that, given enough time and the right tools, she could elevate AD up to the next level. She works incredibly hard at both her real job and at AD, and she deserves to have AD as her full time job. It is her true passion, as it is mine, and there is nothing I would like more than to help her do what she loves.
So, how the hell can we do this? Well, I have one idea, and only one idea. Some people say, “Get a grant.” Yeah, yeah. Grants are nice, but not if you are as strict of a conservative as me. If the feds wanted to give me a grant, I would probably not take the money. Others say, “Charge people.” Yeah, right. That’s not happening. AD is free, always has been, always will be. We don’t ever plan on changing that.
My idea involves sponsorship. I think that, for the right company, AD could be an incredible advertising vehicle. Our members seem to be in the key demographic for most companies these days– 16 to 35 year old males. Yes, we have some women (thankfully), but we are overwhelmingly a male site it seems. Judging by our stats, males outnumber females 4:1.
You read about it all the time. Sites like The Smoking Gun have gained massive corporate sponsorships (I know, TSG sold their site to CourtTV. AD is NOT for sale). Those sponsorships pay their bills, and pay their salaries.
I don’t see why a major news company looking for a substantial amount of traffic would be opposed to sponsoring AD. A dream figure for us– about $100,000 a year– is a drop in the bucket to them. It is one advertising buy for one company for one week. It is nothing. To us, though, a hundred grand would be amazing. We could salary ourselves each at about $30,000 a year (we’re not looking to make a killing, just live comfortably), and have $40,000 to run AD.
That would mean a dedicated server. It would mean a fully stocked webstore. It would mean an annual AD convention. It would mean a salary for Moderators, and a stipend for Committee Members. It would mean Year in Review awards that were actually awards. It would mean a professionally designed template for the site. It would mean an exponential overall increase in the quality of AD.
It is my dream. This is our year. I hope everyone comes along for the ride.
So, there we go. Ten minutes to spare, and my AD write-up is done. That wasn’t so bad, was it?