Today marks the release of VodkaBuzz 2.0. It’s been just over a year since I launched VodkaBuzz, and two things have become clear to me.
- This site is providing something valuable that people are interested in.
- Things can’t keep going the way they have been for the past year.
When I started VodkaBuzz, I had a few goals for it from a business perspective and a few goals from a vodka enthusiast perspective.
Obviously, monetizing the site with ads was a long term goal. Less obvious was making contacts within the vodka industry. No other site I’ve written did well with ads because the content was pretty geeky web design stuff that didn’t lead to a lot of interest. In order to monetize, you have to have something interesting. Furthermore, I knew making contacts would come if / when VodkaBuzz gathered the interest of people. I decided to put off the business goals for the better part of the first year and simply concentrate on being a vodka enthusiast.
My goal as an enthusiast was to make a site that is useful to other vodka drinkers, as well as share my opinions and involve my friends in my interests. If I could get my friends excited about vodka and being involved in VodkaBuzz, people I didn’t know would probably get excited and interested as well.
So, I created a very simple site with a single goal: weekly vodka ratings and reviews. For just over a year, I’ve done pretty much that. In fact, as of this writing, I’m about 6 reviews shy of a one per week average. Sticking to this formula has done well. I get tons of e-mails from people all over writing to suggest vodkas or tell me how VodkaBuzz influenced their purchases. Even my mom gets excited and donates bottles to the review process. VodkaBuzz has exceeded my expectations. It’s been a lot of fun and I appreciate everyone who has joined me in creating a great site (especially you who read the site on a regular basis).
VodkaBuzz Has to Change
Over the past year, I’ve realized some deficiencies in the setup. First of all, I can’t legitimately keep up the pace indefinitely without potentially facing some health issues. Second, it’s nice to drink old favorites sometimes without worrying about the next review, which is rare for me now. Third, there are some supply issues with my location (e.g. a rather limited number of vodkas are available for purchase in Alabama) that are preventing me from, say, actually reviewing suggestions I receive via e-mail in a decent amount of time. Fourth, there is a strong case for community but not much in the way of supporting a community. The first three seem like obvious issues and solving the fourth issue helps alleviate the rest.
So, I should try to cultivate the community. Initially, when I launched comments, the goal was to foster the community and get people involved in a conversation. Due to a half-baked solution in tandem with moving servers and other technical challenges, the discussion aspect of the site hasn’t been as fulfilling as I’d like. I’ve had quite a few good e-mail conversations, but I’d like discussions to be open to the community. The first version of the site, as much as people like the look-n-feel, isn’t extensible enough to accommodate the changes I feel will improve the community aspect. So, I started working on VodkaBuzz 2.0.
Where VodkaBuzz is Heading
If you only like reading vodka reviews and don’t care about getting involved with other enthusiasts, not much will change for you. I’m still going to do weekly reviews in the near term. The only difference is that I’ve introduced this blog, which shows up in the RSS feed along with reviews. In the long term, I’m planning to feature the best user reviews, which may show up in the main feed, to help alleviate the first three issues noted above. I haven’t implemented user reviews yet. So, things will probably be the same for you for awhile.
If you are interested in helping me create a community for vodka lovers, here is where things get interesting. VodkaBuzz 2.0 is a ground-up rewrite. I’ve put a lot of effort in laying the groundwork for the future. As they say in the Web 2.0 world, release early and often. I’m taking that to heart. So, the site you see now should be seen as groundwork. There is more to come.
I’ve implemented the standard sort of user login and profile that can be expected in today’s Internet. I’ve tied that in with the commenting system to help things function more like they ought to (instead of the not-quite-there solution from the first iteration of the site). I’ve improved the user rating system to give users an easier way of saying how they felt about a vodka without going through the hassle of posting a comment (or eventually a review of the vodka). I also opened up posting prices to the community. If you have a VodkaBuzz account, you can post a price you found in your city, which gets filtered into the average price and the price by city (which has a nice Google Map to help you locate your place in the US). Finally, to help improve the commenting system (and hopefully provide more and better discussion), I added an “e-mail me when someone replies to me” option so you don’t have to manually watch a page to see when someone says something back to you.
In the not-too-distant future, I plan to implement full user reviews. Users will be able to add vodkas to the site and post a review of the vodka. I’ll then be able to post and plan my reviews around what vodkas people are most interested in. Additionally, user forums, personal messages through the site, and more will be added on to allow more interaction. Hopefully in another year or so, we’ll be doing meet ups. If you have any feature suggestions to help cultivate the site, feel free to let me know. If it’s something I can do that will add more value to the site, I’ll certainly give it fair consideration.
The new version is not without losses. The big loss for me is the scaled ranking system. When I launched the site, I wanted to make recommendations the way I do it in real life. That is, I usually say, “Y is better than X but worse than Z.” This ranking system, I think, was a unique way of doing things. Over the year, though, it became difficult to keep this ranking system. When I started, I had a pretty good grasp of where things fit in the list because there weren’t many vodkas in the list. Now, however, there are vodkas that I have had one time, potentially a year ago. It’s difficult to accurately place a vodka relative to some of the vodkas I’ve only had once. So, VodkaBuzz is moving to the same sort of star rating system most sites use (except our stars are shot glasses).
As a consequence of this, any list-based thing on the site can’t really work. Instead of a dynamic top 5 vodkas or best vodka list, I’ll compile the list at the end of the year for a best of the year list. The Top 10 Vodkas Widget had to be frozen (and will eventually be redone). So, some things had to suffer or change, but these pains are necessary to move the site toward the future.
So, welcome to VodkaBuzz 2.0. Keep an eye out for new features as we release them. If you find any bugs, don’t hesitate to let me know. Likewise, if you have any feature requests, questions, comments, etc., post them below. Thanks again for reading, participating, and enjoying VodkaBuzz. The site wouldn’t be what it is without you!