Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Qatar Journal

I had a leisurely coffee with Qatari from QL last Thursday. We were talking about the state of the IT sector in Qatar, and generally solving the world's problems. Anyway, he was hassling me saying I should have some sort of commercial project, because there was money to be made.

I'm a bit skeptical about making money from websites. There were a lot of good ideas during the dot-com boom that produced no cash. He started quoting some figures about google ads, and how little you need to spend on hosting. Anyway, I went home that night and had a chat with Sara about it.

There's a gap at the moment for serious local news. QL and others serve the demand for informal chat, but the local papers have abysmal websites and mainstream news sites don't cover Qatar. Thus, I'm going to start up a news site, named Qatar Journal. The official launch will be on 12 May 2007 (exactly one month after my chat with Qatari) - it will be rough around the edges, but it's better to launch quickly and fix things as we go along.

Basically, there's going to be no editorial. The easiest way to scare advertisers is to start getting cynical about press releases, so I'm going to leave all discussion to the readers. Obviously, there's going to be an editorial element in choosing stories, and here I have an advantage over the newspapers' sites: I only need to pick around 10 stories a day, whereas they are publishing (almost) everything.

Anyhow, I just wanted to blog this before anyone starts asking - "why are you trying to compete with QL?". I'm not. I'm a regular QL reader, and it's great. Qatar Journal is an online local newspaper, and when it generates its own community, it will have a very different tone to QL. Hopefully, some readers will visit both sites, but I would guess that most QL regulars will stick with what they know - I'm not trying to poach anyone.

Let me know what you think about the site, and keep an eye on progress. Everything should be working very soon, but it'll take a couple of weeks to get the site looking professional.

Also, discovered Alexa today. Here is an image snapshot of Qatar websites (April 2007), and a permalink for future comparison.


mohamed said...

I would be careful about using Alexa to benchmark anything. Especially looking at a geographical niche like Qatar.

Alexa get's it's data from people who use the Alexa Toolbar. In a small set like this, the data could be horribly skewed.

Nigel said...

Yep. I agree. You shouldn't trust the absolute values given in the graphs.

But it's the only public data that I've found, and The Gulf Times isn't going to release its weblogs for comparison ;)

What will be worth watching is how these graphs change, particularly if The Peninsula improves its marketing, The Tribune launches its site, or Qatar Journal proves successful.

mohamed said...

Or you could just get five friends to install the Alexa toolbar and then make your site jump right to the top :)

Anonymous said...

Is this going to be using SlashCode? Or something a bit more lightweight?

Nigel said...

Yes, it's using slashcode. Lightweight is a debatable term. A lot of the current systems start off with a small memory footprint, but can't scale. Slash starts large and scales well. The main difficulty for most people is that you need to know a lot of perl to troubleshoot a slash site.

There are a few tricks you can use to reduce slash's overhead - I've got boa serving images on port 8080, so I'm only using the large apache process for serving pages. If the project is successful, I'll invest in another IP address, as port 8080 can be troublesome for some brain-dead routers.

I'm using memcached as a cache, because it has smaller overhead than either apache or mysql caching.

I've tweaked the apache conf file so that it doesn't issue keep-alives, and will start rejecting requests should memory become limited.

Finally, I used ab (the Apache benchmarking tool) to ensure that the server will stay afloat while being hammered by 20 concurrent connections. It does.

At the moment, I'm running the system (apache, mysql, slashd and boa) on one box with only 256MB RAM. The deal I'm getting is pretty sweet - $50/month at mediatemple. I suspect the RAM will need to be increased eventually, but I don't plan to spend any more money on hosting until the site is paying for itself.

daiski said...


It's good to see that a site like Qatar Journal has finally surfaced in Qatar.

I had some serious thought on developing something simiar but ended up engulfing myself in a proper map site for Qatar; to be launched in time for QSTP Tech Talk 2007 Conference.

POC available now here.