PCTechGuide has grown from a personal hobby site into a world respected resource for computer technology guides and explanations. The principles of the site haven’t changed, however: What we learn we share was once a tacit principle, but is now a guiding motto.
To explain the background and origins of The PC Technology Guide there’s no better place to start than the words of the site’s founder, Dave Anderson. The following editorial used to form the front page of the site and is a full account of the site’s progression through to the summer of 2006, when the site underwent a major overhaul and Dave stepped down from frontline running of the site.
It was only after retirement that I developed any real interest in PCs. Like many who use them routinely at work, I had viewed them as a mere commodity item. It was only when I came to purchase a machine for use at home that I began to appreciate the tremendous complexity and variation in the underlying PC technologies. The astonishing rate of development fascinated me and the PC soon became a serious hobby.
I had begun compiling a dossier of technical information when researching which machine to buy. That was in 1995. Three years later this had grown into a fairly comprehensive text and one that I felt may be of interest or use to a wider audience. Since my interest in the PC had extended to the Internet by then, the idea of publishing what I had on the World Wide Web seemed a logical step. By so doing, the material I’d put together could be shared with the Internet community at large and PC hobbyists in particular.
The PC Technology Guide was launched in April 1998, after a final round of editing and attempt to make the material more Web-friendly by the incorporation of a number of graphical images. It covers the PC’s major internal components and peripheral devices and, as its name implies, is more concerned with PC technologies than products. In general, specific products feature only in the context of major technological innovation. Topics are covered at the overview, rather than detailed technical level, so as to make the material as accessible by the PC novice as the IT professional. While its focus is current technology, the aim is to also convey a degree of historical perspective, and this will increase over time as the guide is updated to track technological advances. As well as the regular addition and update of technical information, the site has also been continuously developed – and I hope improved – in terms of features, scope and usability.
Perhaps the most meaningful expression of a site’s success is the number of visitors it attracts. In the summer of 1998 the PC Technology Guide was receiving less than 6,000 unique visitors a month. By the end of 1999 the 50,000 visitors per month milestone had been reached a little more than a year later this had grown to approaching 70,000.
Many things have contributed to the site’s growth. Amongst these, the many accolades the site has been accorded – whether by being honoured with an award or simply by having received a favourable review – have been extremely gratifying. However, two other factors have had the biggest impact on the site’s popularity.
The first of these is the role played by the Search Engines. This is a critical area in which the site has enjoyed considerable good fortune. Key to this was the propagation of the site’s several excellent early listings with the Open Directory Project to many of the major portal sites when they started basing their own web directories on the ODP database. This resulted in the site achieving an excellent ranking position with most of the major Search Engines. Indeed, by mid-2001 the site had a number 1 ranking position for searches on PC technology with Yahoo!, Google, AltaVista and several other of the premier Search Engines. What’s particularly pleasing is the knowledge that this is a reflection of how the site is perceived and used in real life and has been achieved without any artificial manipulation whatsoever.
The second is the site’s acceptance within the education community. Back in 1997 I may have thought I was creating the site for fellow PC hobbyists, but it turns out IT students in schools, colleges and universities in English-speaking countries worldwide account for a large segment of its following. In a field in which developments happen so quickly that it’s practically impossible for the traditional school textbook to keep pace, it’s perhaps not surprising that Internet has become so important a source of information. Much of the site’s success in the education sector is a consequence of promotion it’s received from UK government-sponsored education bodies and agencies, specialist education links sites and many individual schools and colleges.
March 2003 saw a major development in the site, with the introduction of the concept of restricted content, available to licensed users only. The approach adopted sought to balance the desire for the PCTechGuide to continue as an essentially free-to-access informational resource with the need to generate sufficient revenues to support the site’s continued development. In particular, the licensing cost structure was designed to accommodate the many students who used the site on a regular basis.
The new Tutorials section – introduced at the same time – was a prime example of the further development of the site it was hoped the additional revenues would fund. Its aim was to provide a definitive, graphics rich series of step-by-step How To tutorials covering commonly performed PC tasks. As well as the many system maintenance activities users find themselves having to perform – either by way of unavoidable trouble-shooting or planned system enhancement – it is intended that these also cover many of the more common leisure activities users are increasingly using their PCs for, such as the transfer of an LP collection to CD, or of an archive of VCR tape footage to DVD.
Whilst the licensing option succeeded in offsetting the drastic loss of advertising revenues which had resulted from the bursting of the technology bubble in the early 2000s, in the end the cost – in terms of loss of functionality and return visitors – was deemed too high. By October 2003 the site had reverted to being 100% free-to-access. The licensing concept was retained, with licensed users now having continuous access to downloadable Word and HTML versions of the site.
My thanks to everyone who’s contributed to the success of the site:
- the magazine publishers who gave their permission for the use of the material that constituted much of the site’s initial content
- the site’s various sponsors
- NOWPC Internet and IT Service and Saunders Web Solutions, for their web design services
- everyone who’s helped promote the site, and in so doing enabled it to achieve so prominent a position with the major Search Engines
- The Search Engines and Web Directories themselves, and last but not least
- the site’s regular visitors
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