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Thread: Should I go on with Cyburbia, or throw in the towel?

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Should I go on with Cyburbia, or throw in the towel?

    I started Cyburbia in 1994, on a hacked Web server that I set up (without the knowledge of school officials) when I was in grad school at the University at Buffalo. PAIRC, as it was known then, was one of the few urban planning-related Web sites out there. The site got a lot of attention, but not many visitors -- that was to be expected, considering that the Internet at the time wasn't the phenomenon it is now.

    I put perhaps thousands of hours into creating and maintaining Cyburbia, and if/when I install the new database program, I'm looking at even more of my life devoted to this exit of the "Information Superhighway." Unfortunately, not many people are getting off here. Cyburbia used to be the equivalent of a lone gas station on a little-travelled road in the desert -- EVERYONE has to stop there. Now, there's the equivalent of an Interstate highway going by, but it seems as if Cyburbia is just one of those anonymous exits without a name, a diamond interchange in the middle of New Mexico, leading only to some obscure ranch road. Hundreds and thousands drive by, but only a few exit.

    As I type this on a Saturday night, there's only two people looking at the site -- me, and one unregistered user. Meanwhile, over at another Web-based bulletin board devoted to general urbanism and city talk, one that was just started a couple of years ago, there's 50 folks logged in, and hundreds of messages posted daily. That board is down about half the time, but its traffic is still 10 to 20 times that of the Cyburbia forums. Consider that APA has 30,000 members, there's probably 100,000 professional planners in the world, millions more interested in planning and urban issues -- and only 400 registered users of this board, with maybe 30 or 40 that are really active.

    The database of links was always the core of Cyburbia, and I just can't keep up with new sites that are out there. Links are going bad, I have little time to fix them, and 404s are preventing this site from reaching its full potential. Large planning-related sites, such as the growing number of new urbanism and sustainable development sites, more often than not don't have links to Cyburbia.

    To be selfish, those thousands of hours I've put into the site have resulted in ... nothing. No money, no donations, no awards, nothing. Cyburbia never got any sort of formal recognition or award from the APA or any of its chapters -- nothing. The APA California chapter got a national award a while back just for having a Web site up, but I got nothing even for having a Web presence two years before they went live. In fact, in a recent poll the APA did on what planning-related sites people used, NOBODY voted for Cyburbia. NOBODY. Maybe their polling was flawed, but the fact that they didn't see anything wrong with the results isn't a good sign. If I fix up the database, will traffic increase? Will there be any recognition of the site? Would anyone be interested in advertising or financial support? I don't know.

    I've been battling depression the past year, and the past couple of months I've been putting in 50 to 60 hour weeks at work. If I do install a new database program, its maintenance would probably have to be a cooperative effort -- there's no way I could do it myself.

    Help me out here, gang. Would anyone be interested in helping with database maintenance, if I get a new database back end? How do I increase traffic, and get more people who are interested in planning, or just the built environment, over here? Is it really worth it to go on, or should I just throw in the towel on December 31, sell the domain name, and go dark?

    No poll here. I need participation, ideas, encouragement, connections, something. Anyone?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Jen's avatar
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    stick around Mr. Natural

    Dan thanks for letting us know about your predicament, I stumbled ontocyburbia last year while surfing "environmental planning" topics and sites.

    The lack of "traffic" is puzzling, though maybe to focus solely on AICP planners is not the best niche for cyburbia - im thinking of other "landuse professionals" (land trusts, township govt, watershed councils enviro institutes, etc) who would also find the forums and especially the newswire "addictive".

    members dont keep cyburbia your own secret world, pass it on!
    what is the purpose within
    if not to reach the cluBBe
    herein it remains contained
    let the journey of the words begin

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I, too, stumbled on this site while looking for environmental/recreation sites while serving on my local Rec Board. I appreciate the info shared here, and I love some of the humor. I contribute when I can, so it must seem that I lurk about most of the time.

    I share info found here, and the site's availability, with my former co-workers in environmental and preservation fields. I'm here often, although while I'm raising my children, I work less than half time from home.

    I hope your plea for help is answered; I wish I shared your technical talent so I could help. It sounds like you're battling some demons and need to use your energy there. I would miss this site, that is sure.

  4. #4

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    I really don't know how I came across Cyburbia, but I think that it was a long time ago, when I used the links more than anything. I don't use the links nearly as much as I used to. I guess because: 1) I already have my list of favorite sites that I visit regularly, and 2) I have switched career paths and no longer have the need for most of the information that I used to need. I now use the message boards only. Although, of course, that is not to say that the links are helpful to some.

    I would really miss the message board if it were gone, although I would understand if you do not want to continue, as I could not really devote much time to it either. If I had seen the APA poll, I would have voted for Cyburbia. In fact, this is the site that I visit more often than any other, including the APA site.

    For those of us who are not techies, maybe you could be more specific about the help that you need?

  5. #5
          Downtown's avatar
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    I'll have to agree with the other posters... I would really miss Cyburbia if she went down. She's my first stop in the morning after reading my email, before I tackle my in-box full of requests for inspections. So if there is any tasks that could be shared, please let us know, I'm sure that many of us would be more than willing to shoulder some of the cyburbia burden.

  6. #6
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Should I go on with Cyburbia, or throw in the towel?

    I don't know the answer for getting more traffic, except for surfing the other sites and asking for links. I for one would be willing to help you out as much as I can. I too would be very sad to see this place go. I come here for burn out prevention more than anything else. I have been coming here so long that I forget exactly how I found it.

    Let me know what I can do to help.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Cyburbia Tote Bags!

    Dan,
    Take care of yourself first. That is far more important than Cyburbia. If you need time off maybe one of us could run it for a few months after suitable training of course. That might give you a well deserved breather.

    Second, I get far more out of Cyburbia than I do my APA membership. So, yes I would miss this wonderful creation! Am I willing to donate? I’m not renewing my Information Technology APA subgroup next year (for so many reasons), so there is a spare $20. Send me an address to mail the check off too. But, I bet you need more than that. I’d think that maybe some advertising might be acceptable to your loyal members. I wouldn’t mind it. Please no porn or DNC ads. Consultants have rooms full of cash they need to launder. Oops, I let out the consultant hegemony’s deepest secret.

    How about a suggested donations page? Can you set up an email that goes out when someone makes their 25th post? By then they are comfortable with Cyburbia and probably wouldn’t mind helping out. Also, let us know how much it costs to keep this baby afloat. Some members have no idea what a website takes to run.

    If I was guessing:
    Web hosting for this kind of bandwidth - $500/year
    Board Powered by: vBulletin Version 2.0.3 - $300/year
    Your Broadband ISP Connection - $500/year
    New PC every four years - $500/year
    Photo/visual html software - $150/year
    Incidentals - $300/year
    Time – 10 hours a week @ $50/hour (low end rate for webmasters) $26,000/year.

    Am I close?

    Then divide that by your membership as a suggested donation. Maybe make up the shortfall with advertising. I wouldn’t mind seeing you turn a handsome profit; remember El Guapo is a Capitalist Swine.

    And to be frank, I don’t use your links page. I use Copernic when I search. Nothing personal, it is just my habit. Do you have web tracking software? If not install some and find out if people use those links?

    Maybe place Cyburbia on a Public Television operations model – Pledge weeks twice a year, Gold club memberships, and Coffee mugs for $100. You could have your loyal members wear buttons in Chicago telling the world they subscribe.

    Cyburbia Tote Bags!

    Good luck and tell me what I can do to help.
    el Guapo is a former 20 year +/- urban planner (just like you) who thought becoming an attorney was a good life choice.

  8. #8
    maudit anglais
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    I don't think you'll find anyone here telling you to give it up - we'd all be sad to see cyburbia go - but I guess you have to do what your gut tells you - it's not worth killing yourself just to provide a forum for a few cynical planners to vent, thankful though we are to you for that opportunity.

    If you don't feel you're being rewarded properly, whether it is materially, spirtually, philosophically, or whatever then yeah - I guess it would be time to pull the plug.

    Unfortunately, I can't offer much more than moral support.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    'YO Dan-o

    I agree with El Guapo, take care of yourself first!

    As far as site popularity, hmmm. I do have a link to Cyburbia from my department's home page. I need to check with my IS 'homies' to see if we track hits to links...

    I do find the resource directory very useful, but I can only imagine the amount of time it takes you to keep things current! Heck I don't have the time to keep my department site current, and I know it's just a fraction of what you do!

    For as much as I use the site as an information exchange, I have also found it to be:

    1. A networking opportunity
    2. Stress relief and comic relief
    3. An alternative to APA propaganda

    As far as revenue, maybe there could be "free" areas and "membership" areas. I would definitely fund a membership for my department staff...

    I would be disappointed to see the site go dark, but if this has just been a hobby for you, and your hobby doesn't make you happy, then maybe it's time to get a new hobby. Whatever you decide, I'm sure everyone will respect your decision and give you kudos for everything you've done over the years.

    Good luck, Dan!

  10. #10
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Hummm?

    Maybe you could sell it, before you let it go dark! Somewhere there is a consultaning firm that would be interested in hosting it. They wouldn'd give it the love you do, but hey, that's life.
    el Guapo is a former 20 year +/- urban planner (just like you) who thought becoming an attorney was a good life choice.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    A quick layout
    el Guapo is a former 20 year +/- urban planner (just like you) who thought becoming an attorney was a good life choice.

  12. #12
    Member Mary's avatar
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    I would be very sad to see Cyburbia go. But remember that your health comes first. Your site has been a joy too me and has helped me to survive many long work days. If you need a break take one you've provided a wonderful break for many of us. I have a 5 month old baby and very little time but if you can use those of us that are not techies I'm sure myself and all of use will be happy to do what we can. Donations again I don't have much but let us know and I and everyone will do what we can.

    We would miss this site greatly. I found this site when someone commented on it as a way too get away from the battles of the discusion threads. Once I got here I've never gone back. I don't use the APA site more than about once every month or two so if they did the survey on their site that may be why none of us responded. We don't go there we've found the better site here already.

    Again if you have to let this go we will all understand life is too short to spend your time doing something you find no reward in. I do send you my thanks for the help and support that this site has provided me.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Jen's avatar
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    Keep On Truckin'

    The resource directories?! Had to look for it duh, forgot it was even there - Excellent links there!

    Also maybe Captain Dan could deputize some of the more loquacious cyburbanites to moderate, or at least see to it that every new thread post is answered in some amiable fashion.

    Ex: I was puzzled over poor pooisan and his critical mass population question,was he a refugee resettlement worker or ?

    A hanging thread is irksome
    what is the purpose within
    if not to reach the cluBBe
    herein it remains contained
    let the journey of the words begin

  14. #14

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    Wow, ElGuapo, I had no idea it costs that much to run a web site like this. Dan, I am sure that I owe you much more than I can pay. I would be willing to help any way that I can, just let me know.

    Like the others said, and I am sure you already know, you need to take care of yourself first. Hang in there.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    3 o4 years ago I did the U of Wisconsin thing for planners. One of my handouts was 'planning resources', and Cyburbia was at the top of the list. It still is, for all the reasons mentioned above. Dan has done a great job, but it is not his job. I understand he likes to, uh, work for pay sometimes. Do what is best. I would pay for a subscription. I would help moderate the boards as well.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian prudence's avatar
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    Cyburbia's Fate

    Dan-

    Everyone who utilizes your life's blood must sing praises to you. Your efforts have provided many of us with a valuable planning resource clearinghouse (a Planning Napster...minus the Metallica-esque misgivings) and and even more valuable personal outlet (I my boss knew how much time I have spend perusing the posts...wait, he does).

    I must concur with the others that a nominal fee would not be out of line, and your thoughts to share the responsibility of hosting/providing are equally valid. Can you try to ensure I pass any fees off to my employer? j/k

    Some additional PR would certainly be in order. A mini PR-blitz in Chicago would be great. I am hoping that a coordinanted gathering can occur in Chicago so I can put names (actually personalities) with faces. Say Sunday night at the House of Blues bar after the Opening Reception ends? 10pm?? Everybody is resonsible to bring at least one person who doesn't post with them...

    When was the last time APA ever provided anything useful? The hot sauce in New Orleans in the bottom of the bag that broke when you set it down because you didn't know it was there? BTW, I was the guy who smelled like jambalaya... Tote bags are a great thought El Guapo, but I am thinking PINT GLASSES.

    Dan, my point is (and there is one), let us know what you are looking for so this forum/kiosk/resource keeps running.
    "Dear Prudence...won't you open up your eyes? "

  17. #17
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    First off, thanks for the kind words. You don't know how much they mean to me right now.

    Second, the cost of maintaining Cyburbia. Time-wise, if I really maintained the database like I did in the past, along with the occasional updates and redesigns, it averages out to be about two and a half hours a day, every day. With my time worth $20 an hour if I did this commercially and lowballed my consulting fees, it comes to $18,250. vBulletin set me back $150, and In-link, which I'll be buying for the new database, will put me out another $200. Broadband at home is about $500 a month. I made my home PC -- there's about $2,000 under the Lian Li aluminum hood. The site -- at least the forums and the index page -- is graciously hosted by Chris Steins and the folks at Urban Insight, pro bono. Cyburbia brings in a lot of traffic to PLANetizen, and it was a gesture of thanks on the part of Urban Insight. Cyburbia isn't that much of a burden on their Web servers, and as they see it, the more traffic Cyburbia gets, the morehits PLANetizen gains. I've said "thanks" many times to Chris and the gang, and that alone doesn't begin to express my appreciation for what they've done.

    The University at Buffalo still hosts the link library. When the new software is installed, Cyburbia will be completely away from UB, but we'll still maintain close ties. Cyburbia was credited for bringing a lot of traffic to the school, and for helping with its enrollment -- their graduate planning program is now the second largest in the United States, With the increased enrollment, their aging Web and mail server is under a lot of stress, and moving Cyburbia (and its inefficient, processor cycle intensive WILMA-based link database) off site would help them out a lot. There's an oral agreement that Cyburbia will continue to maintain something of a "UB identity" when it finally moves out of Buffalo.

    Third, the possibility of a partnership with the APA. I'd love to have nothing more than a partnership with 'em. However, the feeling isn't mutual. At the APA Florida conference, I've spoken with Paul Farmer, the new Executive Director of the APA about the possibility. I got the same response that I usually get when I reply to a woman's personal ad on match.com -- nothing. A few years ago, there was an "incident" which some of you might have heard about -- an APA staffer essentially copied a good portion of the Cyburbia directory, put it in print, and sold it without offering any sort of credit whatsoever. I yelled about it on the URBAN-L mailing list. I got a letter from an APA lawyer, threatening to sue me unless I shut up, and besides, I couldn't copyright an index and it was just a coincidence that one computer at APA hit Cyburbia a few thousand times one week so nyah nyah nyah. That was under Frank So's leadership, though, and maybe things have changed. I'd like nothing more than a collaborative endeavor with the APA, but those in the know tell me that unless you're another large organization (CNU, ULI, etc.), it's impossible.

    Mind you, this is APA national we're talking about. The chapters are probably a different story. I sound like some bitter, paranoid oddball crank, which I'm not. I think.

    By the way, there's nobody from planning.org registered at the Forums.

    Fourth, the database. Cyburbia started off as a list of link, and the bulletin boards were incidental. As Google came online, and I started to experience some personal setbacks and slacked off on the links, the bulletin boards began to take precedence. I'd still like to maintain a list of links, though, so people can browse through planning-related Web sites, maybe get user opinions, and so on. Getting rid of the 404s and architecture links, updating what's there, and making the directory more hierarchical, more Yahoo-like is worth a shot. Later this week, I'm dropping about $200 on a program called In-link Inlink is a mySQL-based directory engine that is much more robust than the ancient WILMA program that the resource directory now uses. In-link permits section editors, automatic link checking, link ranking by users, a count of link popularity, editor's picks, indication of new links, the ability to "bump" links to the top of a list (for a donation, of course) and other cool features. It'll take a month or two to get everything over to the new database - WILMA is proprietary, and there's no wasy way to convert data over.

    The database is actually the most time-consuming part of Cyburbia. I get a few e-mails every day asking me to move a link -- I've yet to respond to any of them. I'm waiting until I install In-link.

    Fifth, how you can help. I would feel funny about running Cyburbia for a profit if I've got volunteers helping out at no charge. Still, I know that Cyburbia will never be a money-making venture, and I didn't start it to make my fortune. I'm terrible with my personal budget, and figuring out how an "associate" program would work is probably beyond my fidicuiary skills. I could try, though -- if Cyburbia does get revenue, I woldn't feel right about keeping it all.

    Anyhow, back to help. Here's a few thoughts.

    1) The resource directory. Since it would be possible to have section editors, would anyone be interested? Anyone have any ideas about the organization of the directory hierarchy? Helping me weed through the old directory and trashing bad links would help, too -- if you want, I'll give you the admin URL for that.

    2) Helping moderate the Cyburbia Forums. If you're tired of being a "Planner II," you've been a regular participant, and you aren't afraid of moving threads or deleting duplicate or inappropriate posts, drop me a line.

    3) Spread the word. Tell people about Cyburbia. Tell your co-workers, tell others in your state or provincial planning association, tell those who are just interested in cities. Just don't spam. I'd love to see more laypeople on here, folks who are just interested in cities or the built environment. Check out misc.transport.road on Usenet or the forums on http://www.skyscraperpage.com for examples of vibrant "city geek" discussion. I don't want to steal traffic from another site, but it would be nice to have more foks here, just to avoid the cliquiness and boredom that would eventually set in if the same 20 or 30 folks post over and over and over again. (No, El Guapo could never be boring.)

    The other things I wanted to do -- the creation of a "best practices" database where planners could submit photos of good and bad development (I think every planner has a collection of photos from around of country, with examples of what they believe is model development), and if I can find a free version of the script, do an "Am I Spawl or Not?" feature, based on "Am I Hot or Not?" I thought about the "Planner's Napster," but what would be up there? Pirated copies of AICP study guides? An illicit scanned .pdf version of the Green Book?

    I'd like to give Cyburbia until the end of the year to turn around, and at least get 25,000 index.html hits a week, with at least half the amount of discussion in the forums that www.skyscraperpage.com's city forum gets. Revenue -- bah, enough to pay for computer upgrades and broadband would make me happy. Really, I just want to see Cyburbia get better, but I can't put 20 or 30 hours a week into it. 10, no problem.

    I'll post individual followups tomorrow. (I'm feeling a bit sick, and may just put in a half day tomorrow -- do my inspections, make the meetings that I have to make, and bring home the Development Code.)

    Thoughts?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  18. #18
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Re: Tote bags. I've been procrastinating on this, but I'm looking at a Web site that allows folks to sell their own branded products. This weekend, I should take a few hours out (it's not like I'm going to be out on a bunch of dates or anything) and shoft my schedule around; instead of yard work, set things up so folks can buy Cyburbia-branded T-shirts, mugs, mouse pads and so on. On top of the brand and logo, though, I'd like to include some sort of witty phrase like "Live to plan, plan to live, " "Plan or die," or "Visualize world zoning." Maybe a coffee mug with a hammer and sickle, and the phrase "Damn Commie Planner."
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  19. #19
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Interesting

    1. Perhaps you could from a non-profit for Cyburbia. That would take away the stigma of covering your expenses and having volunteer labor.

    2. My suggestion is to stay independent from APA. APA is the kind of organization that doesn’t support a free and open dialog unless it is their free and open dialog. I knew a fellow that wrote letter after letter to APA critical of a major policy. All were well reasoned and thoroughly ignored. His point didn’t fit into the APA paradigm. If you did partner with them, I would be inclined to curtail my participation.

    3. I love the idea of a photo gallery.

    4. “I'd like to give Cyburbia until the end of the year to turn around, and at least get 25,000 index.html hits a week, with at least half the amount of discussion in the forums that www.skyscraperpage.com's city forum gets.”

    In many of our opinions Cyburbia is already a success!

    5. Post a copy of that letter from the APA’s lawyer for all to see. I’d love to see them get some crap from your loyal posters.

    6. How about an art contest for the mug and t-shirt design - please, please, please? Moscow School of Planning!
    el Guapo is a former 20 year +/- urban planner (just like you) who thought becoming an attorney was a good life choice.

  20. #20
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Re: Fees. On other bulletin boards that have achieved some level of popularity, turning the site into a fee-based service only served to drive down the amount of users. It would be great to dsee traffic increase, and although fees would provide more revenue, it probably wouldn't help bring more traffic to the site.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  21. #21
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Re: Board moderation. That last message was kinda' long. If you want to become a Cyburbia moderator, drop me a line.

    BTW, After some consideration, I think El Guapo's idea of staying independent from APA makes sense. I'd be willing to host chapter bulletin boards (since the chapters usually have much different goals than APA national; i.e. primarily networking and local land use activism), but I would like to keep Cyburbia ideologically inclusive.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  22. #22
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Keep it going...

    Dan:

    As I helped you move posts in the past, I'd be willing to help with moderating and/or helping to weed out bad links.

    Unfortunately, my only net access is from work or the odd times I visit my parents (until I get my PC back from a buddy doing some harddrive reconstruction and tweaking). I'd love to help where I can.

    As an APA Chapter Officer, I have attempted to do the bulletin board with my chapter's website, but the rest of the executive committee was content to continue using a list-serv instead. I will try to increase some of the traffic from our site by repositioning some of the links we have (I'll put a link up on our jobs page...where we receive the majority of hits...in addition to the link on our links page).

    prudence: "Some additional PR would certainly be in order. A mini PR-blitz in Chicago would be great. I am hoping that a coordinanted gathering can occur in Chicago so I can put names (actually personalities) with faces. Say Sunday night at the House of Blues bar after the Opening Reception ends? 10pm?? Everybody is resonsible to bring at least one person who doesn't post with them... "

    I think this is a great idea. I'll be there with my boss.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  23. #23

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    Dan,

    I would love to moderate, and I could help weed out bad links too.

    House of Blues! I will be there.
    Last edited by planasaurus; 29 Jan 2002 at 12:23 PM.

  24. #24
    maudit anglais
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    Dan, I would be very interested in helping out with any of the transportation-related links/discussions, etc. Keep in mind though, my techie skills aren't the greatest - and I only have dial-up access at home (but T1 at work).

    I feel so left out of all this APA trash talk. Our National Planning Organization (CIP) seems fairly similar, but not as hostile.

    I won't be in Chicago, so somebody make sure to have at least one Canadian beer in my absence.

  25. #25
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 1996
    Location
    New Hampshire
    Posts
    7,882
    Originally posted by Dan Tasman
    I got the same response that I usually get when I reply to a woman's personal ad on match.com -- nothing.
    Oh...I meant to say something about this too...

    Don't knock Match.com too much...believe it or not I met my soon-to-be wife on match.com back in 1999. Marrying her in June this year.

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