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SR! @ 20: Part 4

Following the tech

In part 4 we take an inside look at how tech was managed over the next decade of our existence.

If you're going to start an online magazine, there's a lot of tech that plays a role in the background. And a lot of that tech is based right here in the Pacific Northwest.

The backbone of Sound RIDER! and our parent, Mixed MEDIA, is Big Red - as in Redmond. Microsoft has played a major role in what we do from the beginning in 1999. We use their software to create the site (no WordPress going on here). We use machines that run their operating system (no Macs here) and up until this year we used their phones. No Google here, no open source, no user tracking. We don't believe in that stuff. It's why, when you navigate the Sound RIDER! site, everything works so fast. We're not tracking our users.

HP has been our hardware of choice when it comes to desktops and laptops. Yeah - ain't it amazing, we still use desktops as the primary production machine of choice. Give me a mouse and a keyboard any day!

In 2011 we did a major makeover of the site to bring it in line with where web design was at that point. Over the next two years the world of mobile devices really got moving. At the same time Microsoft got ready to retire the ASP language and wanted all those users to move to a more secure platform, ASP.NET. We used ASP to run the back end of our databases including the Calendar, Newsbytes, Dealer and Service directories and our popular used and hot deal bike pages.

Google was getting pushy complaining that the site wasn't mobile friendly. It was just cell phones, but a number of small tablets were hitting the market including iPads, MS Surface, Samsung Galaxy, and HP Stream devices. So in 2013, I worked together with my tech guru, Doug D. in Portland and we put together the current format. The entire magazine runs across an ASP.NET server. The databases have never been hacked, we've never experienced a loss of data, not even a server outage. And they flow nicely across all the platforms and screen sizes.

Over the course of the first quarter on 2013, Doug and I reworked all the guts. It was serious coding action with lots of midnight oil getting burned. There were a number of nights when I went to bed at 5 a.m., got up at 10 or noon and went back to work. I always thought it was interesting how I could shoot Doug a message at 2 a.m., and there he was - next to the keyboard responding back.

The online store was in need of a redo as well. It was as static as could be, looked horrible on a mobile device and had no future for change, other than building an entirely new store on a RWD (Responsive Web Design) platform. Derek Roberts started working with us in 2014 and together we built a brand-new store on the Shopify platform.

In doing so, we lost all our positioning in Google and Bing and sales plummeted. I knew it was going to take time for the numbers to recover based on when the search monsters would spider the new pages.

I'd remained leery of going to social media, knowing it was a real draw on time to manage. There was no budget to hire a social media manager or "New Media" helper. If we were going to play in that arena, we had to do it on our terms. I could see people were spending more time on social media and less reading the news, watching TV or, sadly, riding motorcycles. If we were going there, the mission was to get their eyes pried away from Facebook and Twitter and back to reading Sound RIDER! In the summer of 2014, we opened up pages on both platforms and started to fly posts out about new articles. Suddenly our readership was up, and subscribership was once again growing.

While the platform was good for growing our reader base, if was a bomb when it came to trying to sell a product in our store. If we posted up about a new item, it was pretty much meh. OK - growing our readership was the lesson we learned from the format.

In 2018 I had a huge stack of magazines on my counter. I'd never littered anyone's home with a paper magazine. I already subscribed to a number of digital versions of magazines and set out to convert as many paper magazine subscriptions as I could to digital. The best one on the platform today is Motorcycle Consumer News which allows you to read the publication as it's laid out on paper.

And speaking of tech, Amazon hasn't made our life any easier over the last decade. We have a love/hate relationship with them. Their predatory practices combined with no accountability when it comes to their sellers, lowballing prices has led to a number of businesses failing. To compete with them on price and free shipping means virtually no profit at the end of the day. To counteract this, we've had to create a number of items not available on Amazon. Our guide books, tire repair kits, broken key removal tools, Zip EZs, and so on are all a product of distancing ourselves from the day-to-day melee that Amazon creates. At the same time, we have successfully used them to unload overstocks in our warehouse (some of which they created in the first place).

At the end of the day, what we sell online has changed over the last decade and it has been a challenge to make it all work. But hey, we're still here and the store is still viable. Your support not only helps keep the lights on, but also covers part of the expenses of running an online magazine. Data storage, fuel to get to riding destinations, food, and so much more.


TM/May 2019

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