The Return of thefreecountry.com
The story behind the closure and restoration of thefreecountry.com
The Return of thefreecountry.com
by Christopher Heng, thefreecountry.com
Written: 8 February 2003
If you have visited thefreecountry.com last month, you would have been greeted with a notice that told you that the site was closed. If so, you would probably be surprised to find it not only still operational today, but sporting a new look. For the curious, here are the juicy details. Or perhaps they're the gory details for you, depending on your point of view.
The Initial Closure
As I mentioned in the closure notice, I had been planning to kill thefreecountry.com for a long time now. I simply got tired of it - maintenance of the site was a chore, with endless links that needed periodic checking, new short reviews that needed to be written, and so on. Then there were the increasing costs. The large number of daily visitors to the site resulted in a high bandwidth utilisation, bandwidth that kept increasing every few months. For those not familiar with running a website, larger bandwidth means larger bills.
So in January this year, I posted the notice that many of you saw, namely that thefreecountry.com was closed. And I thought that was the last I'd see of the site.
The Fan Mail
I don't know how many of you run a site similar to thefreecountry.com. Before the closure, I got the usual assortment of messages from visitors. There were the typical messages from people insisting that I provide them with certain programming or webmaster information, the demands from webmasters who wanted me to link to them but who did not wish to reciprocate, and the assignment lists from people who wanted me to do their homework for them. And oh yes, of course, the spam. I get lots of those.
However, when the closure notice was posted, my inbox was suddenly innundated with an overwhelming number of (gasp!) fan mail.
I received messages like:
"It's a thousand pities that thefreecountry.com won't be available anymore since it was THE source of information about free programming tools. Nevertheless all of us should respect your reasons why to put it down. Just let me express my thanks for your efforts of providing the public with invaluable information - it helped me a lot! All the best wishes for you,"
"I don't use the net quite frequently, but whenever I needed to some programming help I came here. I wish there were other free sites as accessible as thefreecountry.com."
-- Yusuf Khan
"I enjoyed visiting thefreecountry.com for various and sundry resources, and recommended it to others who were looking for things but did not know what they wanted. I found it through a google search when looking at text editors. I am disappointed that you are shutting your site down, as it will be a sorely missed resource. However, your reasons for closing are understandable and, since you were doing this on your own time and without renumeration, one hardly has reason to gripe at you for shutting down -- especially since your expenses were out-of-pocket. You had a great site going, and I hope you'll be back sometime. You'll be missed. Good luck."
-- Matt Morgan
"Not really much to say. Your site rocked, it was THE SOURCE I went to when I needed stuff..."
-- Stephen Johnson
Snigger all you want. But when one receives several hundreds of such messages (literally), one begins to think that closing the site may be too hasty a decision. Pick whatever cliche you like - "flattery will get you anywhere", "compliment him and he goes soft in the head" or even "never underestimate the power of the Dark Side" - but messages such as these were primarily responsible for rekindling my interest in the site. I seriously did not know that my site started off so many programming careers and websites. Or that it was the "greatest thing since sliced bread" (aw shucks).
The Web Hosting Offers
Along with the fan mail, I also received numerous offers from people to host thefreecountry.com for free, bearing the cost of the bandwidth for me (within limits, of course). If I had been adamant about closing the site, and the fan mail weakened my resolve, then this development was the straw that broke the camel's back.
On 3 February 2003, thefreecountry.com was resurrected. I took up one of the offers for free hosting, and uploaded portions of a newly redesigned site.
What About the Newsletter?
For now, the free newsletter where I published information about the new stuff appearing on thefreecountry.com is gone. The reason is simple: along with the site closure notice that I put on the website, I also posted my final issue announcing the demise of the site and the end of the newsletter. Since subscribers will now expect that they will not receive any more issues from me, I can't very well go back and start posting to that same list again. It will be too much like spam. So it's gone. This is not negotiable.
That's not to say I won't start a new free newsletter in the future. But when I do, if you still want to receive the newsletter, you will have to subscribe again. The old subscriber list will not be used again.
But one thing at a time.
What's With the Facelift?
The change in design and appearance of thefreecountry.com is not merely a cosmetic change. There were actually practical considerations to my redesigning the site.
As you know, the site has constantly struggled with bandwidth issues. I must have complained countless times about bandwidth problems with this site in thesitewizard.com's newsletter, such as in the article Woes of a Big Site. This new web design cuts the total size of the website by two thirds. As a matter of fact, the site redesign (when completed) will result in a website consuming about (hopefully) one-third the original bandwidth. (Or maybe that is just wishful thinking.)
The new design also no longer relies on the old web idiom of using tables for layout and using font tags to control the typeface and point size of the text. I have moved the site to use Cascading Style Sheets for the presentation. This may present problems for people using certain old browsers (especially IE 3 and earlier, and possibly also IE 4), but as I said, I had practical considerations to take into account.
At the time I write this, I have not yet completely restored all the pages that were formerly on thefreecountry.com, so you will probably continue to receive "404 File Not Found" errors till I do. It takes time to convert all the pages to the new format, so please be patient.
Thank you for your support. This time, literally, if not for your messages of encouragement, thefreecountry.com would not be around.
Copyright © 2003-2005 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
thesitewizard™, thefreecountry™ and HowToHaven™ are trademarks of Christopher Heng.
Please do not reproduce or republish this article.