Monday, February 26, 2007

Working on Flash avatars

Just something we've been working on "behind the curtains"...

Our animators are creating a couple of new avatar characters, that could be used with our TheoAvatar chat. I'm attaching a small preview.

You can notice the lady is not dressed for the winter season. That's because we start with our characters half-naked and then add layers of clothes on top of it. It gives the possibility to mix-and-match the clothing, creating many different combinations.
Our new characters have a higher quality, more details and smoother animation. Plus, the fact that it's bitmap makes it fast for Flash to work with them...

Feel free to contact us if you need custom characters for your chats or games.

Monday, February 12, 2007

We received another Adobe Site of the Day award

Adobe (former Macromedia) selected our Valentine's Day Flash interactive e-card as an official Adobe Site of the Day. We'll be featured on their site in the Showcase section ( Tuesday , February 13 , 2007.

That's the third SOD we have earned. The first two were for our Halloween and Christmas ecards.

The bad news is that our server can't handle all the traffic and went down five times today (read the previous post about our problems with the provider). Beware what you wish for (big traffic) :-).

Valentine's Day - send a sweet e-card to your sweetheart!

Just a couple of days left till Valentine's Day!

Don't forget to send an e-card to the people you love. This year we
created a special e-card just for this event. Go to:

and create your own.

For each e-card you create we are also donating a percentage of our
advertising income to The Salvation Army!

Share the love and have a Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

About the all-mighty gods of hosting in the world of small business mortals

Ever felt that hosting issues are like forces of nature – they are uncontrollable and make you feel powerless? When your website is down – you cease to exist. Simple as that.

We are in the middle of our Valentine’s Day campaign with our interactive ecard - Yesterday published it, and the numbers sky-rocketed – 41542 created ecards in one day. It redirected some traffic to our website and also put some load on our server that handles the database. The bad news is that our servers went down four times in the past 24 hours!

We are hosted at and used their services for years. A good thing about is the fast response time. When I submit a ticket, they fix the issue within 5 minutes most of the time. Generally, it’s been an ok experience, except that $2000 traffic overcharge bill (I may talk about that another time, though I’d rather forget about it).

What is going wrong with AIT is the amount of times our servers go down. I know we are experiencing spikes of traffic (up to 35K on Halloween), but still. Take yesterday – we got 7K visitors (nothing huge), and our server goes down. It’s fixed, works several hours, then goes down again. I just keep submitting tickets, and they just keep rebooting it. I don’t know what the “99.9% uptime guarantee” is about.

Also lately we purchased a dedicated server from AIT. Half year pre-pay. It’s a Windows box, but we decided to move to a Unix one (surprise, surprise). I bought 3 “Pay-Per-Incident” tickets, as I was told, submitted the request and… one and a half weeks later I’m still waiting. Called them three times, and each time I was told “it will be done tonight”. Looks like “tonight” never came. Good thing we don’t host anything there yet, but imagine your business site being down for 1.5 weeks.

Sure, servers go down and issues happen, but I’d like to minimize the risks if possible. I talked to other small businesses, and it looks like we have more issues than normal. Jobe Makar ( recommended, which is what they use. I also found this nice list:

I guess hosting issues are just something that comes with the territory, but there are options. It’s worth investigating. Maybe even reconsidering your present situation - I am.

All other small businesses, feel free to share your hosting experiences. I’m sure there are a lot of “fun” stories.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Book of Google

Remember those “Choose You Own Adventure” books? You got to choose where your story would go next, usually at the end of the page. It was pretty cool back in times…

Google today is a lot like a big gamebook – you can browse in infinite paths and build your stories.

I don’t talk about some meaningless internet browsing on a Friday afternoon. The one that starts from a link your friend forwarded to you, some random news headline or just a shiny banner that caught your attention. Then you just jump subjects in an ADD–manner, ending with a mesh of information on global warming, fondue recipe, newest i-gadjet, whale conservation program, and the weather forecast. Anything to kill time.

I’m talking about a real Story. The one that just grabs your attention and makes you dig into it. And, as with a gamebook, you never know where it will bring you.

One day, a couple of years ago, I was googling on the most addictive games of all time. Tetris is the best selling computer game ever, so I ended up checking some details on it. What grabbed my initial attention is the history of Tetris creation.

It starts back in the 80s, in the backwaters of the Soviet Union. Two men and a teenager are killing their spare time at some academy labs by developing small games. I google on and click on, and the story just takes off from there. What follows is the uncontrolled game popularity, international legal battles and soviet government involvement. The story continues all the way through the fall of the Iron Curtain, with some of the original creators moving to United States and more legal battles. It ends up in Pal Alto, California with a double-murder suicide and the “I’ve been eaten alive…” note. What an incredible chain of events. A great story about moral corruption...

You can find all the bits of that story on the internet and google your way through it. Don’t just go through a single article with somebody’s aggregated version of it. Because web today is an infinite gamebook, and you can read any story your own way.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Our experience with AdSense + seasonal ecards

We started using Google AdSense about 4 months ago, placing the first one on our Virtual Pumpkin Carver ecard.

The setup was so easy that I don’t know why we didn’t try this before. We just didn’t want to clutter our pages with advertising, but there is a lot of empty space on our ecard pages, since they are designed for 800x600 resolution screens.

We also tried it on Christmas and Valentine’s Day ecards, so here are some numbers…

The CTR rate was pretty good - about 2-5%. I guess, this is due to the placement and blending of the ads. Plus, not having many additional “competing” links on the same page. The keyword popularity comes by default (“Christmas” is still very popular during Christmas holidays). And the viral nature of the ecards assures the stream of traffic. All the ingredients are there.

The seasonal nature of holiday ecards means that you can reap pretty good benefits for a short amount of time.

Our page impressions averaged at about 8K per day, with a maximum of 54K. The price per thousand impressions averaged at about $3. Nothing huge, but enough to cover our traffic bills.

Halloween pays higher – I guess there is less competition. We even had two days with >$100 income. But the interest in it drops pretty fast. The income graph looks like a cliff.

Christmas pays less, but the income graph looks like a rounder mountain that stretches on a larger area. In the long run, both seasons bring about the same income. It makes perfect sense, since it’s all linked to the amount of money the advertisers make during those periods. More money is spent on Christmas, but there is more competition for the keywords. Less money is spent on Halloween, but the competition is also smaller. It kind of levels out.

I don’t have the Valentine’s Day data yet, but so far it started slowly. There are some interesting eCMP jumps. Like this morning the price per thousand impressions was about $43 (it should get back to normal later in the day)! I’ve seen several weird eCMP jumps, but, so far, this is the biggest one. I guess a lot of guys in anticipation of the trouble they will get in after their crude behavior during today’s Super Bowl decided to make it up to their girlfriends/wives.

Generally, Google AdSense works very smoothly. The service is easy to use and the checks keep coming in regularly by snail mail (feels kind of cool to be paid by Google). Feel free to share your own experience with Google AdSense.