A heartbreaking portal of staggering genius

When ITBusiness.ca stumbled into existence on March 30, 2001, I immediately sent around an e-mail to our entire staff. “”The site’s up,”” I wrote. “”Now let’s get the hell out of here.””

We were moving offices that day, and the trucks were coming to pick up our boxes around 2:00 p.m. Our previous

site, Plesman.com, had been hosted locally, which meant we had to unplug the server before we made our final exit. ITBusiness.ca’s launch had been repeatedly delayed for a number of technical reasons, but we couldn’t afford to put it off anymore. Like any other birth, this baby was on its own schedule.

Shortly before we threw the switch I had been having lunch with senior executives from Ingram Micro in Las Vegas. I told them that we were preparing a new portal. “”Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone when you launch,”” one of them said to me, stabbing her Caesar salad as though she were slaying a bad memory. “”Believe me, we’ve been there.””

“”She’s right,”” her colleague said. “”Just launch it, and then in a few weeks after you’ve worked all the bugs out, then tell everyone about it.””

I soon understood what they meant. Our first few months were a series of humbling experiences that gave me a newfound respect for the struggles our readers experience as they pursue e-business strategies. For days after we launched, the URL “”ITBusiness.ca”” didn’t work. We contacted CIRA, but experts there said they’d never come across this problem before (I had wanted the site to break new ground, but not like this). Our archives weren’t turning up even simple searches on keywords like “”IBM.”” Worst of all, the site was abysmally slow — so slow that I despaired of anyone reading our content. The fact that we went live so close to April Fool’s Day was not lost on me, either.

Those problems were eventually fixed, but things really took a turn for the better only after the launch of our e-mail newsletter last summer. Though these newsletter products were common among other publications within our parent company, Transcontinental Media, this was new territory for our group. We debated the frequency of ITBusiness.ca Update, the number of stories we could produce, and tried to estimate how many people would stick with it. The mailing system brought its own series of glitches — I still shudder when I think of the day it sent multiple versions of the same newsletter to thousands of subscribers — but we learned from those experiences, too.

In its first year, ITBusiness.ca has transformed our newsroom. We break stories online that we once would have “”saved”” for print publications that came out weeks after events took place. Now, when industry-changing news like the HP/Compaq merger rears its head, we offer same-day perspectives and up-to-the-minute reaction from industry experts. Our print publications publish these stories but also explore issues in greater depth through feature and benchmark sections.

We will be spending our second year making more improvements to our online archives, enhancing our online points of contact and introducing new services to our subscribers. At the same time, we will be launching new content projects, one of which I will discuss at the end of this week.

I feel nothing but gratitude and goodwill towards the readers and advertisers who have supported us during our infancy. We had once tossed around the idea of offering a threaded discussion area for the site, but in the end I’m glad we didn’t. Instead of a bulletin-board style discussion like Slashdot, I’ve enjoyed developing a one-on-one relationship with many readers who have added their insight and experiences to the stories we cover. Sometimes readers couch their letters to me with phrases like, “”It’s just my opinion,”” when they criticize our work, but anyone who takes the time out of their day job to respond to our coverage is doing me and the other writers here a great service.

This anniversary also strikes me as a good opportunity to recognize the extraordinary contributions by our editors and writers, particularly the three reporters who work with me directly: Geoffrey Downey, Neil Sutton and Paul Fruitman. I still worry about a lot of things — the technical issues, design elements — but the one thing I never worried about was the ability of our team to tell Canadian technology stories better than anyone else. Thanks for listening to us.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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