Lost Knowledge

Last evening was the Jersey Canoe Club Annual Dinner and Prize Giving and I was asked to put together a short presentation of the Club over the years to play quietly in the background.  Doing so required me to search through my hard drive somewhat more thoroughly than I would normally and what I found started me thinking about how how our access to information is changing.
Chris Jones and myself ran the Sea Paddler website for 5 or 6 years and it proved to be extremely

popular.  We were regularly approaching 2,000 visitors a day, and this was without the benefit of a forum which clearly helps to drive visitors to a site.
The aim was to be very much an online magazine and the aim was to update once a week and we hoped at some point in the future there could be a financial model which would allow us to receive an income which would allow further developments in the future, including paying for contributions.
At the time there were discussions about subscription based sites, we naively thought that I we could get people to contribute the cost of a pint each year; ie less than the cost of a monthly magazine, we would be home and dry financially.  We did have a payment button on the site but completely misjudged the market, in 6 years we received less than £50 and about probably 90% of that income was in the first few months.
Then we came up with the idea of adverts on the site.  Again naively we thought that if the site was receiving nearly 2,000 visits per day, these were very favourable numbers when compared to the print runs of specialist magazines.  We approached numerous companies, individuals etc, we had a potential list of about 500 potential advertisers.  We set our rates much lower than in printed magazines but still only managed to sign up 3 companies.  Again we misjudged the market at the time.
The most common reply we received was if you put one of our adverts on your site we will put a link on yours to Sea Paddler.  Hardly a fair exchange, a banner designed to sell kayaks for a maunfacturer who received about 200 visitors a day to their site, for a link back to a site receiving thousands of hits a week.
What was apparent was that the popularity of the site was going through the roof.  We moved away from using Front Page, which at the time required Chris to do all the work on his computer, to a system which allowed either of us to update the site from any machine wherever we were.  So for the last two years of the site we changed from updating once a week at the most to updating on an almost daily basis and some times a couple of small additions twice a day.  The flow of photographs, articles etc submitted changed from a trickle to a flood.
In addition we were putting PDF documents for trip planning, coaching etc.  We were one of the first sites to embed video into articles to demonstrate the skills and coaching sections.  We built up a huge photographic database of types of kayaks, lighthouses etc.  There were destination articles, coaching articles, related articles on environmental topics and the list goes.  At the end there were over 1,000 different sections, in effect the site was huge and we hoped a really useful resource for paddlers throughout the world.
Unfortunately there was a technical problem with the site and about 18 months ago it crashed.  Chris and myself decided not to rush back into developing the site but to take a breather, the site was costing, which we didn’t mind, in fact we really enjoyed the work but it was starting to cost more and more money as our thoughts about how the site would generate income were completely wide of the mark.
So back to my original point, sitting on the hard drive of my laptop is all the work which we put in and which so many hundreds of other people contributed in the years that the site was running.  In reality unless we relaunch the site all of that knowledge, information and expertise contributed by so many people is in effect lost to future paddlers.  We are just one site which has come and gone, there must be hundreds which have gone through the same process and it is something which is not just limited to sea kayaking.  Every aspect of our lives is affected in the same way.
When I walk into my office and look at my kayaking book collection and I can take down a title which was written more than a hundred years ago and I can gain an insight into paddle sport all those years ago.  That is knowledge which will always be with us long as there are libraries and people who collect books.  It is true to say that books are still being written and they will exist in 100 years from now but the point is that the written word which sees the light of day on paper is only a very small percentage of the total number words which are written about our sport and many of these will be lost forever, if they haven’t been already.
So I suppose the lesson to be learned is that if come come across something which you think may be useful then make a hard copy as what it is on websites may well be temporary. And until somebody comes up with a model which will allow news and article rich sites to generate an income it will remain an issue.

Just to remind ourselves why we go paddling and being out on the water is so much more important that sitting at the laptop.

2 thoughts on “Lost Knowledge

  • November 13, 2011 at 22:00

    Hi Mark
    Thanks for the comment and I totally agree that nobody has ever set up a paddling website with the idea of making money but I do wonder how long the authors of some sites will continue putting their hand into their pockets, its not a sustainable model. It is clearly something which you are giving some thought to as I have been following the relevant thread on UKRGB with interest. There is no easy answer.
    Also if something was to happen to a web editor it would be good to know that the site could continue to be current and to support the paddling community, ie somebody else takes over the reins but not everybody will be prepared to be out of pocket as well as doing all the hard work.
    My real point was how much knowledge and hard work is being lost because websites can be temporary features. Not just Sea Paddler but so many others.
    As regards the lost content, there are approximately 1,000 pages and thousands of photographs and I am not sure what is the best course of action but it is something I am thinking about.

  • November 13, 2011 at 21:29

    I know of no one who makes any worthwhile income from a paddling site, except for the editor of http://www.playak.com who makes his living out of his site, selling advertising; he simply takes other people's content (e.g. my blog) and sticks a Playak banner at the top.

    The sea kayak section of UKRGB gets several times the numbers you quote above, but (whether rightly or wrongly) we are proud that we have never asked for or taken a single penny for the site; we (I) make a huge loss each year, but believe that we should be running the site purely for love of the sport. Bonkers in economic terms, but any serious attempt to generate income would kill the site and kill our enjoyment in running it.


    Have you considered putting your 'lost' content into a pdf document that people can freely upload?

    Best wishes,

    Mark R

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