History of the site
FROM EARLY 1995 TO SEPTEMBER 2002
Stirnet Limited has been trading since May 1992. Its Founder & Chief Executive is Peter Charles Barns-Graham, me. I set up a kind of site for Stirnet in early 1995 to report on Stirnet’s activities. It was just a few pages within Compuserve (I think). I put very little effort into it and so ‘the site’ attracted no attention.
FROM SEPTEMBER 2002 TO SEPTEMBER 2007
In June 1997, my father died. Being one of my his executors, I took on responsibility for settling one of his requests which was to use a sum of money set aside in his will to prepare a record on the family’s history (a project which he had only just started when he became ill and was unable to continue). As the sum was not enough to cover the costs of hiring a professional researcher to carry out of the work, I decided to do it myself. I produced a book on my family called “FAMILIAL BUT UNFAMILIAR ROOTS” (see below). As part of my preparation for the book, I carried out a lot of research into the family’s ancestors. With the excellent start provided by my father and his mother, who had pulled together a significant database of information that covered many of the first few generations of ancestors going back on my father’s side, I soon developed a large genealogical database. In April 2002 I decided to share that database with others through Stirnet’s web site. The response I received was much more positive than I had expected.
In September 2002, Stirnet’s activities were extended to include a wide range of services on family history research & related issues, initially under the banner STIRNET GENEALOGY. The main elements of these services were the provision of a Families Database of genealogical data and a library of articles that was initially called FAMILY HISTORIES. This decision brought with it the need to turn the site into a commercially viable venture. It was realised that a lack of capital would hold back development along traditional marketing-focused lines so the decision was made to take a long-term approach, not trying to obtain income from the site until the Families Database had been built up and become a contender for being viewed as one of the best of its type on the Internet. Efforts were therefore focused on developing the Families Database, leaving Family Histories to be developed at a later date.
The site was very simple, written by me in HTM code, initially using a file editor whose name I cannot remember and later progressing to an early version of Dreamweaver. It was very amateurish but the data was easily found by Google & the other search engines and people liked the way the Families Database was structured. That structure/format remains today.
FROM SEPTEMBER 2007 TO MAY 2011
By late 2006 the Families Database had become quite substantial, and the site had obtained a good following, so I started to think about turning the venture into a commercial operation. In September 2007, a new site was launched (using a Joomla template) which enabled major improvements to be made to the presentation & flexibility of the site, not least its ability to operate subscription & membership procedures. The site became commercial inasmuch as the Membership Scheme was started with charges made for uninterrupted access to the Families Database although, consistently with my support of open-sharing of information over the Internet, those who made a ‘meaningful contribution’ to the site were offered Free Membership.
By 2009 I thought that the site had obtained a basic structure which should be stable for some years. There were some technical issues with the way that some browsers (particularly Internet Explorer) handled the Families Database (because it was displayed within an ‘iFrame wrapper’), and there were 2 operational matters which should have worked automatically but which I had to deal with manually (a significant minority of subscriptions were not processed properly + the Password Replacement system did not work), but such were controllable and the site prospered.
FROM MAY 2011 TO MARCH 2014
At the very end of 2010, but more particularly in early 2011, ‘disaster struck’. Google changed its search engine and the site changed from being highly visible on the Internet to being almost invisible. I had to rush out a replacement site which my programmer (Rob) managed to do within a week by using a WordPress template, supplemented by various ‘plug-ins’. It was a rushed job but I was really pleased with it, not least because it produced none of the operational problems that made using the previous version of the site somewhat tedious. We were not sure if it would get around the problem with Google but, because we had stopped using an ‘iFrame wrapper’ to display the Families Database, we thought it stood a good chance. Unfortunately, it did not work. In the end, to keep the database visible to the Internet, I had to produce a ‘dummy database’, taking the raw data from the (proper) Families Databasebut but deformatting it (to stop site visitors from using it and bypassing the proper site).
A side effect of rushing the development of the site was that it had not been possible to tailor some of the coding in a way that was sufficiently distanced from the underlying WordPress template & plug-ins to enable them to be updated automatically. Furthermore, the main plug-in turned out to be not as good as had been expected. It contained bugs and so the need to update it ws important (as & when the plug-in provider repaired those bugs). When various of the main browsers released updates, our site was left exposed. It became undisplayable in several browsers. Combined with the tedium of having to maintain the dummy database (mentioned above), it became necessary to develop yet another version of the site – but I had to wait until my programmer had time to do it. Fortunately, shortly before the end of 2013, a site visitor kindly provided a clue which enabled us to make the site displayable again in all of the main browsers, but the need to redo the site remained as otherwise such a problem could reappear at any time.
FROM MARCH 2014 TO DATE
At the beginning of January 2014 we started work on redeveloping the site, again using a WordPress template with plug-ins but this time ensuring that the code needed to operate the site in the way I wanted was kept separate from the template & plug-ins so that their updates could be taken easily. The new site was launched on 6th March 2014. We have changed the way that non-Members’ viewing of the Families Database is interrupted and believe that it should now be fully visible to Google and other search engines, obviating the need to maintain any dummy database. I am hopeful that it should do well for a number of years.
The following relates to periods to 28th February 2014.
* This year (2014) : 59 days : Number of visits = 76,322 ; Number of page views = 890,312
* Since 1st January 2008 : 2,220 days : Number of visits = 2,484,984 ; Number of page views = 26,838,565
Number of different visitors : in January 2014 (31 days) = 16,177 ; in February 2014 (28 days) = 15,742.
We restarted our statistical information from the beginning of 2008 because in December 2007 we changed our Internet Service Provider and the data obtained for that (and the preceding) month was incomplete. The figures shown here exclude “traffic generated by robots, worms, or replies with special HTTP status codes” but includes an extrapolated estimate for December 2011 when our ISP’s statistics package was not working for several days.
Number of visits in previous years (rounded) : 2006=467,100 ; 2007=525,400 ; 2008=536,900 ; 2009=533,000 ; 2010=544,100 ; 2011=228,300 ; 2012=184,700 ; 2013=381,600.
Stirnet was one of thousands of small businesses that were badly affected by the changes made by Google to its search algorithm in early 2011. [The average number of different visitors per month in 2010 was 29,114. In May-November 2011, it was only 5,099.] As reported above, this site was redone in May 2011 in an attempt to repair the damage but that did not work as well as we hoped. I am hopeful that visits to the site will get back to their old levels now that this site has been redone once more.
As noted above, we were (and remain) keen to ensure that this verion of the site could be updated easily should there be changes to any of the major browsers. This has required us to avoid tampering with the central coding provided by WordPress and the plug-in programs, so that updates to those programs may be taken without problem. This has meant that, except for certain peripheral issues which we could tailor as we wanted, we have had to rely on the facilities offered by WordPress and the plug-ins.
There are two facilities that the previous version of this site offered but which we cannot offer until the Membership System plug-in supports them. They are:
- This site does not offer Members opportunity to renew existing subscriptions before they have expired. [We have partly compensated for this through offering 'Recurring subscriptions'.]
- The site does not send people automated emails shortly before existing subscriptions expire so as to remind them of the forthcoming expiry.
We hope also that the Membership System plug-in will soon enable us to amend the following:
- In ‘My Account’, dates are shown using the standard programming style (year-month-day) instead of the British way (day-month-year). At least it was not the American month-day-year version which we Brits stopped using ages ago.
We hope that, sometime in the not-too-distant future, we will be able to afford to build the whole site ‘from scratch’ without relying on other people’s templates & plug-ins. That will give us much more freedom to set the site as we want it to be. However, that option was not available to us when this site was being developed.
The following reports the three-part structure used by Peter in the book he wrote on his own family, “Familial but Unfamiliar Roots”. Its first edition was released for private distribution in December 1999. The experiences obtained when preparing this book made Peter realise that many of the skills and disciplines required for working on a Family History were the same as those required for some of the administrative and report-producing functions then being provided by Stirnet Limited. This encouraged him to diversify Stirnet Limited into Genealogy.
Appendix L referred to a computer disk (“Unfamiliar Familials”) to be provided to family members separately from the book, to be updated from time to time, and to include many photos and other matters not included in the book. That plan has been amended as Peter has deferred his production of a second edition of the book pending completion of a family web site which will provide a family archive.