I just sold WorkFinders, one of the first websites I ever built

Today I sold one of the first websites I ever built -- a jobs board called WorkFinders at www.workfinders.net. From today, the domain and website are under new ownership. :'(

WorkFinders was one of the very first database-driven websites I developed, built in 1998 in the early days of the web, before the online revolution really exploded into exponential growth.

I built WorkFinders solo in my lunch breaks at work, using Classic ASP and an MS Access database. It took about a a week to build. I had no dev tools, so I developed in Notepad and debugged by loading the page. I didn't even have MS Access, so I posted my proposed schema on Usenet and a helpful guy at Microsoft emailed me the database file I needed complete with relational tables and queries. I used MS Paint for the "web design".

WorkFinders quickly became a popular place to advertise (for free) or search for jobs. About a year post-launch, it had 10,000 unique users per month and a huge number of page impressions which spiraled upwards in proportion with the growing number of job ads. To date, hundreds of thousands of job ads have been posted on WorkFinders, by tens of thousands of employers and agencies from all over the world, large and small, with some well-established regular advertisers. There's also a healthy flow of traffic in terms of potential candidates, partly through Google searches in which specific job ads are on the first page of search results. WorkFinders has always had strong SEO value, despite never being promoted or marketed, e.g. its homepage is currently on page 3 of Google for the search term "job search".  This morning, when I checked for the last time, there were about 3,000 active vacancies, and about 40,000 active advertiser accounts.

Sadly, I haven't done any development work on WorkFinders since the day I launched it -- and it shows. I've always had plans on the back-burner to add the search box to the homepage (this site was designed in the pre-Google era), a CV database, automated emails, and several other features which I consider essential or beneficial for this type of website, along with a new navigation structure, layout and design -- but I never seemed to get around to any of it. I've often received offers from potential buyers of the domain and website, and it finally reached the point where the offers were too good to ignore. It has gone to a company in the US with a strong reputation in the industry, run by a guy who knows how to take the website forward to the next level. No doubt when I see what he's done with it, I'll wish I'd never sold it. I've had to accept that at present it's other projects that have my main focus, and I can use the revenue from selling WorkFinders to inject a huge boost into these.

To put the launch of Workfinders into historical context, the website was launched less than a year after the domain name google.com was registered, and long before Google became popular. At the time, there were multiple popular search engines, many of which only searched meta tags, and websites were indexed by virtue of paying a fee rather than their value to users. WorkFinders was first crawled by the Internet Archive in 2000, a few months before the Wayback Machine was launched at archive.org. At the time, the The HTML4 spec was less than a year old, and most websites seemed to use markup rather than CSS, tables rather than DIV elements, tiled textures for backgrounds, and few high-res images because connection speeds were poor (typically internet access at home was via a 48k dial-up modem here in the UK). Browser plug-ins were a new and rarely-used web- technology, and it wasn't until a full decade later that Adobe acquired Flash (known as Shockwave Flash back in 1998, version 1) along with Macromedia. Almost everybody used IE6 in those days, but Netscape Navigator was still used at that time. Most people used VHS tape casettes to record and playback video, and the first DVDs had only been around a year or so. Cameras still used rolls of film which had to be developed. The world has changed dramatically over the past decade. The transformation is faster than the Industrial Revolution and already much bigger -- and it's only just begun. This is the dawn of a new era of mankind. We're privilaged to be part of it. We've witnessed the birth of the future.

I started work on WorkFinders shortly after spending an inspiring week in Silicon Valley on a business trip. The tech industry was booming, but the internet revolution was still just ahead on the horizon. At that time, faxing seemed more common that email. Silicon Valley already had a reputation as a centre for tech giants, and it looked like a good place to be. I was lead dev on a project to bring a clinical trials software and database system in house for Roche Biosciences at their huge new and highly modern campus at 3431 Hillview Avenue in Palo Alto, California. It was a vast and state-of-the multi-building research facility on a beautiful 100 acre site within Stanford Park, with about 1000 staff. Who could have guessed at the time that I was working 4 miles from what would six years later be Facebook's HQ in Mountain View (1601 California Avenue) on the other side of the El Camino Real, and a 15 min drive from Google's "Googleplex" corporate HQ at the in Mountain View (1600 Amphitheatre Parkway).  The technologies involved in the project included Oracle (another company based in Silicon Valley) and MS Access, and an external consultancy was also involved, Hanham Consulting (Kate Hanham). I was employed by Roche at their UK HQ in Hertfordshire, at the time.

As one of my earliest dev projects, WorkFinders has significant sentimental value which to me outweights any financial valuation. I still have many other websites and domains, mostly less neglected than WorkFinders, so this is a story that has not really ended...

Goodbye, WorkFinders, adn thanks for the ride -- you're like an old friend.

28 June 2012

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