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Building Blogabond

a travel blog by Jason Kester

Almost a year into development, and most of the way around the world, it finally occurs to me that the process of constructing this site deserves its own travel blog. Hope you enjoy...

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First Inspiration

Portland, United States

I first got the idea to build this thing back in the summer of 2005, sitting in the coffee shop at Powell's books in Portland, thumbing through a Lonely Planet book on travel writing. My dreams of a comfortable life as a traveling author were abruptly dashed, but I came across a term that the author had used that stuck with me. Blog-a-bond.

I downed the rest of my coffee and headed to the nearest Starbucks to register the domain. (Yes, it may sound silly to most of you that I would drink coffee in one coffee shop and use another one only for its wireless internet access. But if you're from Portland, you'll understand. Coffee is important.) Anyway, I had the domain even before I knew what I would build. I figured I'd probably throw up a set of tools that the average Joe could use to build something like I had going at http://www.jasonkester.com/ . Still, I was in no hurry to go ahead with anything. I just liked the name.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on July 17, 2005 from Portland, United States
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged Coffee and Blogabond

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The Flaky VC

Pasadena, United States

So now it's two days later and I'm scanning for consulting gigs on Craigslist in LA. I've been sort of living in Pasadena for a while, trying to get Expat Software ( http://www.expatsoftware.com/ ) to the point where I can skip the country again with a full load of work.

There's an overly enthusiastic ad from a guy wanting to build a MySpace clone, so I send off an overly enthusiastic response asking for more info. It turns out he wants to build a travel site, with maps and itineraries and community spaces and a huge database of everything in the world that a traveler might want to know. It was actually a pretty cool concept, but it had one fatal flaw. It would have taken an army of data-entry monkeys a year to compile enough information on cool places and sights to make it a worthwhile place for a traveler to hang out and do research.

The one thing that I brought away from the 2 weeks of proposal writing to this increasingly flaky prospect was a heads up on the existence of the Google Maps API. Holy Crap! That's Cool! I'm gonna build this guy a couple prototypes!

I ended up writing the seed that would eventually sprout into the Trip Builder. Naturally, the money never showed up and the flaky VC evaporated, but now I was inspired enough to keep going. I figured if the guy ever came back, I'd offer to cut him in on the action (though I'm still convinced there never will be any profit from this thing), and until then I'd just take this on as a hobby, building the site that I wish I'd found back when I was building http://www.jasonkester.com/ .

permalink written by  Jason Kester on July 19, 2005 from Pasadena, United States
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged VentureCapital and Blogabond

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Pasadena, United States

Things have been moving fast these last few days. We finally pushed our first build live on Saturday, and have been getting lots of good usability feedback.

Lesson One: Nobody Reads Instructions!
This was our first real mistake. Our screens were easy enough to use, but you really needed to read the little block of text up top to know what you were supposed to do. Even the fact that the "Countries In View" list next to the map could be scrolled off the screen caused a few users to wonder why they couldn't pick Thailand off the list when they were zoomed in on Central America.

Lucky for us, the changes we needed to make were pretty minor. The big explanatory paragraphs are all either gone, or moved down out of the way, in favor of big simple taglines. Gone are the references to Travel Journals, Trip Reports and Diaries. Now it's all Travel Blogs and Blog entries.

Lesson Two: If it looks clickable, it better work!
We have big ideas here. There are plenty of new features on the way, so we mock up all our screens to incorporate those features. The only problem is that users see a link saying "0 photos", and expect to be able to click on it to get to the page where they can view those zero photos. It never would have occurred to me to do that!

So this was another easy fix. We went through and lopped off anything that's not fully built. And in a few cases, we just cranked overnight and made those features work. So now, if you click on something, you can be assured you'll go somewhere.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on October 17, 2005 from Pasadena, United States
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged Blogabond

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Are there really Mexican cities in Africa?

Pasadena, United States

We're using a latitude/longitude database put together by the US government. It has over 2 million populated places in it, and for the most part it's fairly accurate. But not always. During testing, I kept seeing cities showing up in places they really didn't belong. And strange things, like Fiji showing up as 'in view' no matter where in the world we were looking.

Digging around in the data, I managed to find a dozen or so mistakes, usually where a longitude of -97.115 would end up as 97.115 or 9.7115. Luckily, most were tiny villages that could simply be plucked off the map and never missed. We also had to deal with countries like Russia, which are far enough North that they actually span most of the globe.

Anyway, most of it is fixed now. Though just yesterday I got an email wondering why 'Centering' on New Zealand would show you a blowup of the Indian Ocean. Slowly, slowly, it's all starting to come together.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on October 18, 2005 from Pasadena, United States
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged Blogabond

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Forums go live

Pasadena, United States

Cranking out features like this and like that! Forums went live today, and they've exploded with a whopping ONE post to date. Yeah! Taking the world by storm!

Photos are also getting easier to manage by the day. With luck, we'll have Tagging in place for photos and comments soon. For now though I'm having to deal with silly things like making the site "search engine friendly", and other minor technical details that keep me away from actually making the site better.

There's also a new design on the way. Sad news I know for those of you in love with grey boxes and oversized fonts. But we live in a visual world, my friends. And looking at the competition it is clear that we simply cannot hang unless we clean the look up a bit.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on October 19, 2005 from Pasadena, United States
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged Blogabond and Forums

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More wackiness in the City data

Phoenix, United States

Dubai is not in the database. As in, the capital city of the UAE, probably a city we need. I've noticed a few other standouts that just aren't there in other places too. This is not good.

We're really going to need a way for users to add their own locations to the map. And while we're at it, we should probably add the concept of aliases for places we know about. The town of Abu Zaby shows up right in the center of Dubai if you zoom in on the map. It would be nice if our application knew they were the same place.

But wait, it gets worse! Cairo and Alexandria are missing too. The tiny oasis of Al Qasr is there, but the two largest cities in the country are just plain gone. Not acceptable. We're going to have to find a better dataset.

Oh yeah, I can zoom into my hotel in Cairo and see the name of the neighborhood. But the city is not there. And it claims that Italy, Russia and the Seychelles are in view!

Ah ha! Turns out in my initial import, I neglected to include capital cities!

permalink written by  Jason Kester on October 26, 2005 from Phoenix, United States
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged CertainDeath and Blogabond

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By travelers, for travelers

Bangkok, Thailand

"By travelers, for travelers."

You'll find this claim on just about every travel site out there, but if you dig around you'll also probably find a mailing address in Oakland or some other non-exotic location. There's an office there, staffed with anywhere between a half dozen and a few hundred people, most of whom have never been outside the United States. This is not unexpected, since any place that actually hired dirtbag travelers as its staff would have such high turnover that it would never get anything done.

With Blogabond.com, I'm hoping to make that "by travelers" claim a reality. As I write this, I'm sitting at a guesthouse off Khoa San road in Bangkok, nursing a Beer Chang and working out the details on how not to get my laptop stolen when I head out to Cambodia tomorrow. I'll be on the road for the better part of a year this time around, and with luck I'll find enough time to work this site into presentable shape by the time I'm done.

I just pushed a new build live that addresses a few minor bug fixes and finally adds the ability to comment on other people's trip reports. In the next few weeks, you can expect to see enhancements to make the Maps a bit more usable, and a new, more elegant design. So if you're a big fan off grey boxes and photos of cows, best speak up now because they will soon be a thing of the past!

permalink written by  Jason Kester on December 3, 2005 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged Blogabond

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Blogabond Global Headquarters

Ban Ao Nang, Thailand

I spent the winter of 2005/2006 on Tonsai Beach in southern Thailand. I seem to spend about every other winter in Thailand, climbing rocks on the beach. It's just that good. This time around I had some client work to keep me busy part time, and with the laptop along it was easy enough to spend the odd afternoon geeking out on Blogabond.

The site had been live for about 3 months at this point, and was finally starting to attract a few actual users. I'd been intentionally keeping a low profile, and letting people find the place on their own. As Joel ( http://www.joelonsoftware.com/ ) says, "when you get premature publicity, lots of people check out your thing, and it's not done yet, so now most of the people that tried your thing think it's lame, and now you have two problems: your thing is lame and everybody knows it."


So, with a few Real People using the thing, I was able to get some feedback about why Real People think that Blogabond sucks. I've since fixed a lot of those things, and will hopefully get around to fixing more of them soon. For now though, there's this climbing route on the beach called Tyrolean Air that's been taking up a bunch of my time. It will be my first 7c, and I keep taking 20 foot falls from the endurance section above the crux. Sometimes, work has to take a back seat…

permalink written by  Jason Kester on February 1, 2006 from Ban Ao Nang, Thailand
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged Blogabond and JoelOnSoftware

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The Australian Mobile Office

Noosa Heads, Australia

Believe it or not, if you spend enough time sipping Mai Tais on a tropical beach, you will eventually get bored of it. After 4 months in Thailand, I was ready for a change. How about a last minute, 60 day return ticket to Australia? I hear they've got surf there.

So, with the promise of another couple weeks client work (for real money), I booked a crazy plush holiday flat in Noosa Heads for myself and the lovely miss Helen. Bought some surfboards, wrote some code, surfed a bunch, lived large. Bought a cheap van off an English chick, threw a bit more money at it so that it might actually run, and headed South in search of right point breaks and wireless hotspots named Linksys and Default.

A few new features kept creeping into the site. Somewhere along the way, Tags were born, browsing and search were improved, and the map stopped zooming out to see the entire planet just because you started your trip halfway around the world from where you were actually writing reports. Internet access is actually hard to come across in Australia, so updates would pile up for a while before being thrown live with crossed fingers.

Once we made it to Sydney, the surfboards got stashed in the back and the climbing gear came back out. Spent a week in the Blue Mountains and another at Nowra, clipping bolts with friends met in Thailand. Finally, we limped the van down to Melbourne and passed it off to a friend, who managed to get it halfway back across town before it died a painful death in the middle of rush hour traffic.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on March 1, 2006 from Noosa Heads, Australia
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged Climbing, Surfing, Blogabond and Hooptie

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Blackheath, Australia

permalink written by  Jason Kester on April 15, 2006 from Blackheath, Australia
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Jason Kester Jason Kester
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Hey! I wrote Blogabond so I guess that makes me your host. Welcome!

I spend about 9 months a year on the road, chasing the sun around the world in search of good climbing and surfing. I carry a laptop along with me, and take on small programming contracts to take care of expenses.

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