When should I launch?
March 29, 2013 6:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm building a web site dedicated to my grandparents' old letters and diaries. It will be a few months before I'm done scanning, transcribing and creating other original content. Should I launch now, or wait until I'm done?

I'm building a new web site dedicated to my grandparents where the content is primarily old letters and diaries. I won't be done scanning/transcribing for another two or three months, and I plan to create other original content as well. For now, the site is offline.

I was planning to hold off on launching the site until I finished everything, until I saw this site (previously). Now I'm all excited at the prospect of launching early, but I'm not certain if that's the best move.

There are probably close to 400 letters and four diaries. So far I've scanned about 200 letters and one diary, and I've transcribed and posted about 40 letters. The other content, not yet created, consists of commentary, biographies and personal blogs for living family members.

What's best practice for soft launches of this nature? Am I better off waiting until it's fully developed and built out, or should I go ahead and just launch with what I've got?
posted by christopherious to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Could you post one or two new letters every day or a couple times a week? People who are interested will check back in to see new content if you update regularly.
posted by steinwald at 7:12 PM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah totally launch now with what you have and then add more. It will make it more fun for people to check and see if you've posted anything new lately. Just make it easy for people to tell what is new.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:14 PM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The first thing, of course, is to make sure you have the design of your website down pretty well. Obviously you'll always find ways to tweak it but if you're using WordPress or whatever make sure you understand how it works and are relatively happy with the overall look and feel. When you're ready to focus on content you don't want to spend all your time working on the look of the site.

Second, you have .25-.5 of the content ready so I would definitely start putting it up. Are you doing this as a blog or just one large static site? Personally, I think spreading out the content over time will get more people interested and excited in it. And if you're able to create a kind of narrative thread through all of it then it might be compelling enough to get people coming back for more.

And then lastly, only you know if you'll have the time or energy to keep updating every week or so for a long time. If you suspect you aren't able to make that type of commitment then perhaps doing it all in one chunk is best. In other words, there are those of us who love blogging and do it no matter what, and then there are folk who just want to get the information out there without the daily grind.
posted by bfootdav at 7:19 PM on March 29, 2013

If you're doing the slow dribble approach, definitely do yourself a favor and publish an RSS or ATOM feed- that's the best way for folks to get alerted when you make updates.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:23 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An RSS or ATOM feed- that's the best way for folks to get alerted when you make updates if you're time travelling back to 2004. Now, the best way for folks to get alerted to updates is by posting to social media.

Don't wait to launch till you're done scanning and creating content. If your objective is for people to read and engage with the majority of the content you create, the best approach is to publish new content on semi-frequent schedule (say - twice a week), so that people will have a reason to come back to the site, and so that content is presented to them in digestible chunks. (Read a paragraph or two a couple times a week? Yes! Remember to come back and slog through thousands of pages? Nope.)
posted by Kololo at 7:54 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Plus you can Tweet out links to the new stuff a few times a week. It allows you to link to fresh content, which is different than linking to the entire archive all at once. That gets old after the first few times.

Make sure to curate the content a bit - "find out if Millie got over the heartbreak!" and not just "Letter #492 www.xyz.com"
posted by barnone at 10:02 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great feedback, thanks everyone.

First off, bfootdav wondered what I'm using, and it's a Drupal site that I set up. I've set up several before and I'm comfortable and confidant with that platform. I have decent design skills but may pay an artist to help beautify things more, which is probably important for a site like this one.

Sounds like the consensus here is that, seeing as I have enough content to launch, I should focus on the design for a while and make it tight. It looks okay right now, but I want to make it better.

I use social media a bit, but I'm a somewhat private person. I'm on Facebook, but not Twitter. Sounds like I should consider creating an additional FB page, get on Twitter and maybe blow the dust off my Google Plus account too.

Thanks for the curate tip. I'm titling the posts using key text from the letters, e.g. "Something that just shouldn't happen at an opera", or "We have had it rough as hell at times, but it can't last forever".

There are currently 41 posts on the site spanning from 1942-1950, and I have uncovered 65 additional letters within that same period. There are more letters and diary content that go up to the 1980's. I think the way to go is to hurry up and scan/transcribe/post those 65 letters and transcribe/post the scanned diary that I have from 1942. Then finish the design and launch everything from 1942-1945 (when my grandpa helped liberate Dachau and shipped home), leaving anything posted after 1945 in an unpublished state. Then, as I continue creating unpublished content, I can slowly dribble things out to chum the waters, so to speak.

Another question: what order is best for presenting content of this nature? Lots of sites do it in reverse chronological order, but I'm wondering if that's the best plan.

These are great suggestions all around. Please keep 'em coming.
posted by christopherious at 12:43 AM on March 30, 2013

Best answer: It is important to ensure that the site is updated on a predictable schedule. One way to ensure you'll have enough content queued up even if you get too busy to transcribe for a while:

When you launch, only publish the first ~5 letters (regular chronological order!), along with an About page giving an overview of the arc of the story these letters tell. Queue the rest up to publish 1-2 times a week, and to alert FB/Twitter/g+ when that happens. This gives you 35 posts queued up and ready to go, which is a nice cushion for busy times and ensures a reason for people (and google's spiders) to check your site often. It lets people follow along on the journey and creates a sense of anticipation.

Think of it like a tv show: Which is more enjoyable, to get a box set and watch it over a week or so, or to look forward to it every week for a season and have time to think about each episode on its own? Treat your audience to a season. The archive will always be there later.

And do an RSS feed too. It's still useful, particularly for a Pikachu Edition project like this!
posted by heatherann at 2:42 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't forget email--it's still a powerful method of delivering content.
posted by sexymofo at 5:33 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Heatherann's point is good, it's worth making sure that you come up with a good publishing schedule, since people will read more if it's fed in chunks consistent with their attention span. I've that unless I've got a massive backlog with my blog (which is food reviews, so a different audience) that if I post more than 1 article a day, or 5 a week, that people stop reading all the postings and my readership actually goes down.

Like others said, get the site design down solid (and projects.metafilter.com is a good place for feedback when it's close to ready, btw), push out enough articles to give it some real content, and then set the rest up for a regular posting schedule.
posted by kaszeta at 5:39 AM on March 30, 2013

Best answer: I'd have thought the key questions to ask are: "Who is it for?" and "What is your goal?" Is it just for family to enjoy, or are you looking to get wide readership? Is this for fun, to preserve and share family history, to make money, to showcase your skills or what?

Generally I think a Minimum Viable Product approach is a good way to go. i.e. Get enough content, and a good enough design and then as soon as possible get some real readers to see how it goes down with them, and be prepared to adapt what you're doing based on experience and feedback.

For example, if it's something primarily for your extended family, some of them might like to participate more actively in creating this site.
posted by philipy at 7:52 AM on March 30, 2013

Agreeing with others who emphasize the importance of sticking to an update schedule and making use of RSS/Atom.

Essentially, I think you'll get more repeat viewers and dedicated subscribers if you go with a more bloggy format rather than an online archive.

Design and structural functionally are the limiting factors for launch time, IMO. If your site is set up well and easy to follow and navigate, trickle-style content won't be an issue.
posted by sazerac at 9:27 AM on March 30, 2013

Response by poster: Ahh, this is really great, heatherann & kaszeta. I like the idea of limiting published content to ~5 posts at the outset and slowing down the trickle a bit. And thanks for the projects.mefi suggestion -- that's excellent.

I'm glad you brought up audience, philipy. The sites I've created in the past were all for employers and clients and those audiences were clearly defined from the outset. This will be my first personal, blog type site and to be honest, I'm a bit fuzzy on audience. My desire is to make it as widely appealing as possible and not limit its appeal to just family/friends. Making money is not a goal (yet?), in part because I'm not certain how I could make a site like this generate revenue beyond ads and donate buttons (cheesy), but I'm open to suggestions. One day there will be a book, but this site is intended to help me toward that long term goal. And yes, it will be a part of my professional portfolio.
posted by christopherious at 11:27 AM on March 30, 2013

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