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Under the Hood at Tangmonkey.com
7.18.2001 by JP

This week I'm going to go under the hood of Tangmonkey.com and show you how to get your very own media empire up and running for less than $50. The first and most important ingredient you need is a gang of friends who can actually write (reading’s optional) and code and draw. I can’t emphasize this step enough, if your content is shit then your media empire will be a colossal flop and not a raging success like Tangmonkey. The people you recruit (yourself included) will have to be willing to work for free until you become a raging success, this may take up to 2 weeks so be patient, the internet wasn’t built in a day, it took 2 weeks. Once your media empire has become a raging success you can expect a large (or ‘raging’ if you will) returns on your hard work, Tangmonkey staffers now enjoy such luxuries as hot-oil-super-model-massage and hammocks! Keep in mind that we fall into the “small to midrange” media empire category, if you aim to become a “large” media empire you might expect to receive a company-hammock for home-use as well as one for the office.

Once you’ve gathered a staff you’ll need a neat sounding domain name like Tangmonkey.com, try to combine a space-aged beverage name with an animal, this strategy has worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers and AOLTimeWarner, it can work for you too! If you’re not familiar with the “Coopers” or the “TimeWarners” that commonly burrow their nests in UPS bubble-wrap then I suggest you order a Tangmonkey t-shirt available next week and find out what you’ve been missing! (note: shirts are shipped by Canada Post and are not packed in bubble-wrap). Ok, back to the domain names, chose one and register it, this will cost you about US$30 for a year, we registered ours at NameSecure.com and they seem pretty good. Funfact: I registered Tangmonkey.com before even thinking about what to use it for!

Now that you’ve got a name and a staff you’ll be needing a host for your pages. Tangmonkey has been through three of these since it’s birth so I like to think I know what I’m talking about here. In my experience guys operating from their parents’ basements offer the best prices but often don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Also in my experience people operating from their own bedrooms with their actual hosting being done by another company in another country are bad news too, they’ll “accidentally” rip you off and act like big mean jerks. If you want professional hosting with good prices and loads of great features go with Linuxwebhosts.com. We’ve been with LWH for a few months now and it’s been just great, they answer questions quickly and generally act as though you’re paying them more than US$12 per month when you’re actually paying them $11.99! These guys kick ass, I can’t say enough good things about them, really.

So, you’ve got a cleaver domain name, a cleaver host and a cleaver staff, now you need some tools to make your site zip. Our site relies quite a bit on Newspro, a free news publishing CGI script written in Perl. It’s easy to setup and easy to use, it’s also easy to customize via the help of various 3rd party addons and a great support community. We use Newspro for the news on the main page as well as for the columns section, for columns we use the Newscat ][ addon. Recently I was trying to make Newspro do my bidding for the upcoming Tangmonkey Collaborative Serial Novel and it was sorely lacking in the next/previous links area so Sean suggested I try Greymatter and that’s what we’ll be using for the novel now, it seems like a good app and it was easy to set up but I don’t want to sing it’s praises too much just yet since I don’t have any experience using it “live” or in customizing it. Another great CGI script we’ve got running on the site is the forum powered by the good folks at Ikonboard. Ikonboard is also free but you get a surprising package given the low price. Like Newspro there’s a large support base for it and loads of great addons, I highly recommend it. Incidentally, both of the apps will be releasing entirely new versions in the next few months, it should be interesting to see how things change. Other backend stuff like the Rant engine and the upcoming Top Ten as well as pretty much the entire site were hand-coded by VP of Rhythm and Web, Dave, he rules, you should get a Dave if you’re going to start a media empire.

Now, there are some things that are just too annoying to host on your own server so you get some neato web-based system for it, like hotmail only for all-knowing, all-seeing webmasters! In order to provide you guys with nifty @Tangmonkey.com email addies we signed up with Satan. Satan runs Everyone.net and provides web-based email for an infinite number of users (we currently have about 250 on TM email) in exchange for permission to try to sell you silly X-10 cameras. They’re a good service in some respects but you just know that a company run by the Prince of Darkness is going to be up to no good. Everyone.net has recently rolled out their “Elite” or “Platinum” or “Good” service that costs about $10 a month and they don’t show ads, they still offer a free service (which we use) but you’ve got to wonder how long they’ll keep that up after they’ve realised people are willing to pay.

Speaking of assholes, let’s talk about TheCounter.com and Listbot. Although we have access to full server-logs through our hosting company we wanted something simple to put on a few key pages around the site to give us quick and easy stats. For this we enlisted TheCounter.com’s invisible counter, you paste some code into your HTML (or PHP in our case) and they generate this sweet summary of the traffic to that page. The counter is invisible to anyone visiting the page but it does a good job of doing it’s job. That is it did do a good job, until TheCounter rolled out it’s “Premium” package where you have to pay US$2 a moth for the service you’d been getting for free for the past year. One day, without warning, all the “invisible” counters became visible, this pissed me off just a little.

Now the thing that really pissed me off is
Microsoft. A while back Microsoft bought Listbot, a web-based email list administration tool. Basically it allows you to manage an email discussion list so that a group of people can communicate via email. Also a while back the Tangmonkey Group graduated from high school and went their separate ways, in order to keep in touch regarding all things Tangmonkey I set up a Listbot list. Now today, Sean emails me to tell me Microsoft is discontinuing the free Listbot service in favour of it’s $149/year “list builder”. List builder doesn’t even do discussion lists, it’s an announcement-only system so it’s not like they’re starting to charge for a service they used to offer free, they’re actually getting rid of a service MILLIONS of people use every day! Because Listbot was so widely used there are very few reliable/good alternatives, please don’t use “MSN Groups” as Microsoft suggests in their FAQ, they don’t deserve your business after pulling something like this. I think we’re gonna try Quick Topic, it’s not the same service but it’ll do the trick and most importantly it’s not owned my Microsoft.

The last thing you’ll need to do with your media empire is make make some money, some people might tell you this is the first thing you should be doing when starting a new business but those people are wrong and probably use “MSN Groups”. The way Tangmonkey makes money is by selling high-quality t-shirts for rock-bottom prices as well as by selling ad-space in the forum. The ads at the bottom of the forum are brought to you by the nice people at ValueClick, they’re basically an ad-broker that sells ad-space to big companies like AMEX and then signs up sites like TM and gives us a cut of the action each time someone clicks the ads. Valueclick currently gives us 12 cents US per click so we only need about 3 clicks a day to cover our server costs, the more the better though so click every day!

This column is longer and less entertaining than I had originally anticipated so I’m going to end it here. The key to setting up a media empire is hard work, pacts with the devil and something else because lists like this always look better when there are three items.

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