May 23, 2007
PlentyofFish.com — file under 'things that make me go hmmm'
Long story short: "For the week ended April 28, it was the 96th-busiest Web site in the U.S., according to the HitWise tracking service. That means it has more traffic than some of the Net's best-known destinations, such as Apple.com. Mr. Frind says the site brings in between $5 million and $10 million a year."
Here's the column.
- PlentyOfFish Owner Has the Perfect Bait For a Huge Success
The headquarters of what may be, on a per-capita basis, the busiest, most profitable site on the entire World Wide Web is on the 16th floor of a brand-new Vancouver building with panoramic views of the nearby Canadian Rockies.
It happens to be the apartment of 28-year-old Markus Frind, the owner and sole employee of PlentyOfFish.com, a free online dating site and a model for the next generation of Web entrepreneurship.
Lots of people run Web sites by themselves. But it's likely that no other solo venture runs at the scale of PlentyOfFish. For the week ended April 28, it was the 96th-busiest Web site in the U.S., according to the HitWise tracking service. That means it has more traffic than some of the Net's best-known destinations, such as Apple.com.
Busy Web sites like these usually require scores of people: technicians, certainly, to keep the servers running, but also programmers, marketers and the rest. Mr. Frind says people often don't believe him when he says PlentyOfFish is all his.
I needed to see for myself, so I spent an afternoon touring the company's roomy offices, which most people would call a spare bedroom. Unless there is a team of programmers hidden down the hall, or off in Bangalore, things are exactly as Mr. Frind says they are.
Mr. Frind was born in a small rural town in northern British Columbia. He headed to Vancouver in the late 1990s, went to trade school in computers and rotated through several dot-com jobs before starting PlentyOfFish in 2003 to keep himself busy.
The site was done without much of a plan, though Mr. Frind was intent on finding out how far he could get keeping it entirely free of charge. Most other dating sites charge anywhere between $20 and $40 a month for membership.
The site became popular in Canada and, later, in the U.S. Mr. Frind says he doesn't know exactly why.
There are now 1.2 million active members. HitWise says it's one of the five-busiest dating sites. Nielsen/NetRatings says that by some measures, such as the time its members spend on the site, it ranks second after eHarmony.
How does he do it? In large part, by keeping things simple. The graphical design ranges from rudimentary to nonexistent. No wonder, since Mr. Frind did it himself. The site also won't win any J.D. Power awards for customer support. If you write in with a problem, the odds are long about hearing back from either Mr. Frind or his girlfriend, Annie Kanciar, who helps now and then answering emails.
The site runs on Microsoft software on a half-dozen machines at a hosting facility a few miles away. From his bedroom, though, Mr. Frind can keep tabs on everything going on. When I was visiting last week, he showed me the site's monitoring program: 43,000 people were at PlentyOfFish at that moment, with 500 Web pages a second being sent out.
When you have that kind of traffic, you can make money three ways: via Google's small text ads, with bigger banner ads and through "affiliate marketing," where other sites pay you for sending them customers. Mr. Frind does all three — and does very well. A few months back, he posted on his blog a picture of a check from Google for nearly $1 million for a two-month period. Google confirmed the check was for real.
Mr. Frind says the site brings in between $5 million and $10 million a year; lest even more competitors get onto his success, he declines to be more specific. That puts him ahead of some of the Web's best: Last year, each Google employee generated an average $1 million in sales.
PlentyOfFish is the success that it is because of several converging Web trends. Servers and server software have become simple and reliable enough that they can run on their own, without a lot of babysitting. What's more, a remarkably sophisticated economic infrastructure now exists that allows busy Web sites to make lots of money, certainly enough for one person to live very well. (Mr. Frind's consumption so far doesn't appear to be conspicuous; his major indulgence is travel.)
Mr. Frind, as one person, can afford to give it away. The big dating sites can't make enough just on Google ads to do the same thing, but the smaller sites can. One small site, HotOrNot.com, is dropping its monthly fees, fashioning itself after PlentyOfFish.
An ascent of free sites could shake up the online dating scene, which is already struggling with flattening growth in the U.S. Nate Elliott, who follows online dating for Jupiter Research, doubts the big Web sites have anything to worry about from for-free competitors. Mr. Frind disagrees; he said his own traffic in Canada has fallen lately as Facebook, the free social-networking site, has become more popular up north.
Many companies would respond to that sort of competitive pressure by hiring someone -- say, a strategic planner. Mr. Frind says he has no plans to do so. He has nothing against employees, he says, and he insists he isn't a control freak. Instead, he just enjoys the freedom to work on whatever part of the site interests him on a given day, without having to fret about who else might be involved. "No one else has ever done something like this before," he says. "It's like my own personal toy."
That last sentence is about the only thing he and I have in common.
Helpful Hints from joeeze — Fixing a messed-up shoelace tip
1) Get some tape. Best of all, due to its toughness, is 3M strapping tape in its 1" width but any tape will do.
2) Carefully compress the frayed end of the shoelace as best you can, drawing the fibers out the long way toward the tip.
3) Cut off a half inch long piece of tape.
4) Taking care not to touch the adhesive side any more than you have to, lay the lace down on one edge such that the fibers of the strapping tape are parallel to those of the shoelace.
5) Slowly roll the tape around the lace, compressing it as you go so as not to create wrinkles or creases.
6) Cut off the tip with a sharp scissors, leaving a length of taped lace equal to the other one.
Hamburger Synchronicity — Two enter, one leaves (followed shortly thereafter by the other)
How else are we to make sense of today's epochal event?
But no sooner did I get to my New York Times Dining In section than I espied, staring right back at me from the front page, the photo below,
It's only right that this item should be voice-activated, considering that its role model was.
This one's not as smart but just wait a few decades.
From the website:
- Voice-Activated R2-D2
This motorized replica of the headstrong little droid from the Star Wars films responds to voice commands, navigates rooms and hallways, and makes any home feel like it has been transported to a galaxy far, far away.
R2 obeys more than 40 voice commands ("Turn around!"; "Move forward two units!") and he plays games like tag, using an infra-red sensor to search for people in a room.
His sensor helps him follow behind you, or it can be set to detect motion, turning R2 into a room sentry that sounds an alarm when a secured area is invaded.
R2's lights, swiveling dome top, and distinctive happy and sad sounds faithfully mimic the real thing, right down to his occasional bad mood. (A simple command of "R2, behave yourself!" snaps him out of it.)
R2 can also replay sounds and dialog from Star Wars movies, answer yes-or-no questions, and dance while playing the famed cantina music.
Requires four AA batteries and four D batteries (not included).
15"H x 7-1/2" W x 10-1/2" L.
Ages 8 and up.
That means over 75% of my readers can feel comfortable with it.
30 years ago this coming Friday, May 25, 2007, in a galaxy called Los Angeles, far, far away....
Platial — 'The people's atlas'
- Platial combines blogging, tagging, and online maps
A website called Platial (platial.com) lets you stick virtual pushpins into a satellite photo map, and then write about the spot in its corresponding "PlaceBlog."
The ultimate goal is to give every square inch of the planet its very own PlaceBlog.
What kind of places get pinned and blogged on Platial?
Restaurants, for one.
Many of the restaurants in major cities have multiple reviews, as well as stories about what happened to the bloggers who ate there.
In addition to leaving written descriptions of a place, you can add photos from your computer or the web, and even upload videos.
You can also create your own maps — of your favorite dance clubs, for instance — and publish them to your personal website using Platial's MapKit functionality.
Me, I don't know an online map from a muffin but non-TechnoDolts™®, jump on in — the water's fine.
What is it?
Answer here this time tomorrow.
Hint: It's not a professional Rock Paper Scissors get-up.
Ohio's 'Scarlet Numbers'
Look at the photos above and below.
What do you see?
I see the special mustard yellow and bright red license plates which must be placed on all cars owned by a person in Ohio who has been convicted of DUI — including after a first offense.
From a website on the law:
- Ohio DUI Requirements
Added to the law beginning January 1, 2004 is the requirement that "family" plates be placed on all vehicles owned by the offender during the period of their suspension if the offender is given limited driving privileges. Normal white and blue plates are confiscated and destroyed and new red and yellow plates are substituted during the suspension period. Even first time offenders are required to display these plates. Therefore, if you are given limited driving privileges, you are required to use these plates for a minimum period of six months, AND these plates must be used even if other members of your family drive the vehicle.
You think that's too tough and penalizes innocent family members in the process?
Ask anyone who's had a relative or friend killed or injured by a drunk driver and I believe they'll say, "Why doesn't my state do this?"
More on the subject here.
World's best beer glasses — Episode 2: On the front page of the New York Times, no less
It happened last Sunday, May 20, 2007.
On the front page of the Times Travel section appeared Evan Rail's article, accompanied by many photos, about the distinctive local beers of Germany, becoming increasingly rare as modernity plows its boring furrow across the old country.
Above the headline (in the print edition) I espied my very own stange — special glasses (above and below) used to serve Kölsch, by German law the name given only to beers brewed in Cologne.
Guess what: beers brewed elsewhere taste just great in these glasses.
Hey, that's for you to decide.
But I digress.
I came across these wonderful, paper-thin flutes when Kate Meyrowitz emailed me about them last year, and I featured them in Episode 1 back on February 10, 2006.
I didn't believe then but I do now that their price — $8.95 for a dozen — is not a misprint.