Site profile: jemdiary.com

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JEMDiary was one of my longest running websites, from way early in the century.

Goal: In 2001, having an online diary was only being piloted by a few people. Blogging was big, but considering it a ‘diary’ was not that popular. Only a few competitors existed: myopendiary and teendiary. I started my own online diary system for my own site. After a year, a few friends saw what I was doing and asked if they could do it too. I decided to launch JEMDiary for the three girls who wanted it as a free online diary system for all.

What happened: This was my longest running website. I think it was slightly before its time. When it became more popular, I just didn’t have the time to keep developing on it. Then, other larger sites eclipsed it and it slowly lost market share.

Technology:

This was originally written in procedural PHP4. Then, later I migrated to PHP5 in procedural style. It finally became my first object oriented framework with my own custom controllers and views.

I used to host on dreamhost. Because of that, I learned what it was like to have a slow host that needed the site to be optimized more. I started compressing and caching my assets. I even ran a system to create the home page every hour as a static page with no PHP required. This made a huge performance boost.

I made lots of mistakes. One of the mistakes I made was to put the incompatible browser message at the top of the page. Then, almost all of my pages in Google showed up with that headline instead of their actual content. Whoops! (That was many years ago). To fix that, I made the tagline a h2 at the top of the page, but in smaller font. (the design of the page wasn’t such that large headings were that available all the time).

The other mistake I made was having the incompatible browser be a whitelist. So now, even with chrome, it gives a warning about having an incompatible browser. That is not the case.

The site went through 5 programming versions of which 3 of those had design changes as well. The last design was nice and clean and seemed to have the best conversion rate.

I did put in a few little easter eggs here and there too. Once someone was looking at the security of my site and sent me an email with one of the easter eggs they found. They thought it was clever. (I had put a header in there talking about the girl who I was in love with.) I also had a ‘boss key’ which allowed you to quickly replace the entire screen with any other url. By default I suggested a google search of ‘productivity tools.’

The final thing I did, which was really a big deal for the time, was to allow users to export their diary in both text and word doc format. In word doc, I would actually insert the images into their diary. The user had control of their data.

I learned from MySpace success for a time with the initial Tom friend. I would add myself as a friend. I also started using an automated system that would comment as my user on all new user’s content. It would make one comment on their profile and one on their first diary entry. I twas ran every few hours. The system would look at their account and create a special message based on things they said. For example, I suggested someone add a profile picture in 4 different ways. The system would pick one randomly - and only add it to the message if they didn’t have a profile picture already. A lot of the users thought I was actually adding the messages myself. (A few times the programming was faulty - and I commented on ‘deleted’ diary entries - that wasn’t good!)

Lessons learned:

  • keep with the times! I think I could have made some more money off of google ads if I would have kept current
  • use google ads and other ads! I wasn’t placing ads very well for a while.
  • advertise. I was still #3 in free online diary search on google - but sometimes people just didn’t search that.
  • some of my features were too advanced. Some people couldn’t tell the difference between password protecting your entire diary with the other feature to password protect only certain ones.
  • better anti-spam measures. I didn’t use a captcha or anything like that to sign up. After a while, I had a lot of spam entries.

Final thoughts: It’s almost sad to see something you’ve spent more than a decade with go away. But it was time to retire this beast. I’m so glad I made it, stuck with it, and that I get to pull the plug myself.

Screenshots

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