Behind the scenes of Bicycles Network Australia
- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 6 December 2011
It may seem a bit self serving to be publishing an article about BNA on BNA, but I figured that if we (the readers) are being asked to support the site we should at least get a chance to have a tour around the BNA empire. So rather than ask Christopher if he thought this was a good idea or not, I figured I would bully him into publishing whatever I wrote without any editing on his part milkshake. So here’s a little inside look at BNA, which will hopefully inspire you to open your wallets and support the site we spend so much time on.
David: So Christopher, let’s do the obligatory background bit. A/S/L and anything else of the type you would share on an Facebook.
Christopher: I am 35 years old and grew up in Sydney. I enjoyed BMX and then mountain biking and more recently, with excessive doses of European grand tours, have found a friend in road riding.
David: Now give us some background on BNA; when and why did it start?
Christopher: BNA is a combination of my passion for cycling and the Internet. As the Internet started to escape the universities and enter the commercial domain, I left university as an industrial designer with self-taught web design skills. When the idea for BNA was fresh in my mind, though not yet implemented, I moved to Germany (in 1999) and from there launched the website as a directory of Australian Cycling. It was very much a hobby for many years and I guess one of the ways of staying in touch with Australia while I was overseas.
David: What did BNA look like in the beginning? How has BNA grown in the past decade or so?
Christopher: BNA was not very pretty by today’s standard; rather it was a compact, but none-the-less nicer site than others other there.
The site statistics have been fascinating to track over the years – they reflect on the interest people have in the quality of the content. It was a rather slow development which was given a kick in 2005 with the launch of the Australian Cycling Forums (prior to 2005, there were two attempts at starting a forum, however problems with software and then with spam meant that it took a while until the right system was implemented). Each year the traffic to the site increases; to give you an idea of the current volume of traffic, in October 2011 there were a quarter of a million visits (121,000 unique visitors) and 1.37 million page views.
It’s surprising how many people know about the site – both in the industry and everyday cyclists.
David: I first heard about BNA when I googled for an answer to a question and found the question answered in the BNA forums. How many members does the forum currently have and how much activity does it generate?
Christopher: The forum has 6900 members – and these are active members. As part of the house-cleaning, thousands of accounts (spam and inactive) are removed each year. This year 14,000 accounts were deactivated to protect these less active “members” from a hacking attempt.
There are over 700,000 posts on the forums which is a mountain of knowledge. One of the interesting stats is that unregistered visitors, who spend time on the forum just reading, typically outnumber registered members currently logged in about 4:1. In true forum style there are a lot of answers in the Australian Cycling Forums that are of benefit to others.
David: If the site is going so well, why is there a need for a re-design and re-launch? What will the new site be like compared to the old site?
Christopher: That’s a good question. When other people hear of the stats they comment “wow, that is a lot of traffic”, but it’s hard to be satisfied if it’s not constantly improving and getting better – that’s one reason why I encourage member feedback in the forum and try to implement the popular ideas.
I’m really happy with the Australian Cycling Forum; it has a non-commercial approach, is supported by a great team of moderators and the overwhelming majority of members use the forum well.
The relaunch concentrates specifically on the Australian Cycling Directory and News and Articles. The directory works well, it’s the most comprehensive cycling directory out there for Australia, however it could really benefit by making submitting and editing listings easier. The News and Articles section, which includes the homepage, needs a lot of work. While I aim to maintain good quality in the content, the social interaction for readers is missing and the behind the scenes work involved in publishing content is quite cumbersome.
My first goal was to move to a better system that would be easier to use for BNA contributors and give readers a better chance to get involved. I prepared the first round of designs and gathered feedback from a broad selection of web professionals and cycling industry professionals, but realised that while the design was good, it was too close to the current look and feel. It didn’t feel exciting and dynamic enough, so in round two I set out to create a site that would not only present the content well, but would feel more exciting.
David: Given the amount of work you’re putting into this venture, what do you hope to accomplish with the site in the years to come?
Christopher: If you ask my family, I have always put too much work into BNA, though the relaunch is certainly a bigger task. With the relaunch I am preparing BNA as a bigger, more relevant and more credible media platform. Since the system will reduce the time and attention I need to publish content, I can spend more time on producing quality content, and for both the industry and consumers it will be a better resource for cycling information.
David: I’m going to have a guess here and say that the Jens Voigt interview was probably your best BNA moment so far. Do you have any other big moments (or even just weird moments) to share?
Christopher: The interview was certainly a highlight and generated interest from across the globe. Although I was living in Berlin, the same town as Jens, it took months to organise and when he changed from Saxobank to Team Leopard I had to start again. In the end it went very quickly and I was lucky to be able to get a great photographer along on short notice and spend a few hours interviewing Jens. When it came to publishing it I was looking at doing a lot of editing, but I shared the full interview with a few people who said that the entire interview deserved to be published.
Other highlights have been the BNA meet-ups in Sydney and Melbourne in January 2010 and seeing so many people from BNA. Usually, on the forum, the members are somewhat anonymous and it was fantastic to see a big group of different types of cyclists getting together and knowing that I had played a part in it all.
David: Apart from the millions of dollars in revenue, the international prestige and the legions of adoring fans, what do you personally get out of doing this?
Christopher: Well, to date I haven’t paid myself a wage from BNA, so it hasn’t been for the money. I do want BNA to grow and want to spend more time on the site so this will change. To date I have invested heavily in the site with time and money and have created, with the support of writers and moderators as well as contributions of forum members, a big community passionate about cycling.
Through the site I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of people both face to face and also just via the Internet. A lot of people and businesses benefit from the site; whether it’s the finding the answer to some tricky bottom bracket questions or using it once to find a local bike shop. In 2012 I look forward to BNA bringing more value to all involved.
About the BNA Crowd Funding
For the 2012 relaunch of Bicycles.net.au, the BNA community are invited to contribute towards the development costs. To make it more exciting, everyone who contributes is entered to a chance to win one of 23 prizes from generous prize sponsors valued at over $1800. (Contributions start at $5).
Support BNA and have a chance to win great prizes >