I’d like to let you guys in on my experiences of running a very large community site such as Dota Strategy. To be honest, it’s a stressful yet fun experience. Managing a site like this requires a ton of patience, perseverance and yes, a bit of money too. Initially, it was hosted on my shared account with Dreamhost, which I pay 20 bucks a month for to this day. But soon enough, I was forced to remove it because it was taking up too much resources and bogged down my server five times a day. Didn’t help that my users were hating me. So I moved Dota Strategy to a $90/mo. VPS plan with A Small Orange. The plan includes 512MB memory, 250GB Bandwidth, 20GB disk space and whatnot. The whole moving process was a nightmare. It took me forever to export and import my SQL database plus the domain wasn’t resolving to the new server as fast as I’d like it to. That caused some sort of a ‘time paradox’ as we lovingly call it. One set of users was accessing the old site while another set was seeing the new one. Sadly, I, the all-powerful owner and administrator ‘drew’, was seeing the old site. After one painful week I finally got things back to normal.
Being the administrator of Dota Strategy (or DS) is like running a country. I serve as President and I have a cabinet of Secretaries with varying roles. We hold our cabinet meetings over YM and talk like politicians. We mainly touch on issues such as peace and order (warning/banning members), environment (moderating/deleting threads and comments), elections (accepting new moderators or support team members), tourism (new features), infrastructure (optimal site design/HTML) and economy (monetizing). I’m lucky to have my friends RJ, Marx, Ronie, Alvin and cousin Ria in my moderating team. It’s funny that the last support team member’s selection was done through a coin toss. Each of us who were at the meeting had to toss a coin five times. Heads means yes while Tails means no. To cut the story short, the guy luckily made it to the team.
Recently, we decided that we needed more people on the team. RJ suggested that we open up applications. Shortly after he made an announcement, applications started pouring in. We noticed that the more loyal members were applying, and rightly so. There’s no better way for us to judge an application but on the user’s activity on the site. Other factors we look at are: the user’s style of writing, grammar, spelling, friendliness, professionalism, helpfulness and knowledge about DotA. This time, we hope to make a prudent decision not dependent on coin tosses. So far we have singled out 6 applicants as potential finalists. We’re planning an online cabinet meeting soon to decide who goes through.
Since I am based in Davao City, I only get to see my mods when I visit Manila. I think we’ve met up four times already. We usually start by eating a big dinner somewhere and then play DotA afterwards. I’ve thought about organizing a bigger eyeball involving more members, but haven’t had the guts to do so. That’s certainly something I should pursue in the near future.
Alright, let’s talk statistics. For January 2008, the site received 3.8 million page views, 52 million hits, consuming 330 gigabytes of bandwidth. Daily unique visitors ranged between 17,000 to 22,000. A few days ago, our Alexa Rank topped 3,800. The site currently has more than 130,000 members and 140,000 articles. Sound crazy right? Coz it is! The sheer amount of traffic forces me to reset the server at least once a day. Often, even if the site hasn’t crashed yet, I do a reset just to present a crash from happening. When I say ‘crash’, it’s either the site isn’t responding or loading, or the MySQL database has too many connections. It’s truly a learning experience. Save for nightmares such as these, I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
If I were to give out advice on how to run a
country community, I’d say you need to have a good mix of management and PR skills, a group of trusted moderators, an effective moderating system and a slew of features to keep your users busy. Without one or the other, it would be difficult to maintain your site’s momentum. When your users sense that your community is falling apart, they leave. There’s always another place for them to go to. Unfortunately in my niche, there’s a lot! Try to keep your users active for as long as you can.
Interestingly, as I compared my community to a country, recently I read this excellent article that compares communities to parties. Basically the same idea of keeping your guests happy in a party holds true: Be a good host and plan it well!