Marlborough Online has been providing information about the Marlborough region on the web since 1999. The site is one of the oldest NZ regional web sites. Initially the site was tied to the company Marlborough Online Limited, however this was short lived, and after two years, the web site became an independent entity.
The concept came originally from frustration at lack of regional information available on the web.
At the time the site was initially launched, there was very little information about Marlborough available on the web. Wordpress did not exist, social media had not been invented, stuff.co.nz did not yet exist, broadband was an expensive luxury that only a few businesses could afford, and digital cameras costing more than a cheap DSLR today used floppy disks for storage to take lower resolution photos than a cheap smartphone today.
In this environment Marlborough Online was established to start telling stories about the people, history and natural environment of Marlborough and make them accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
At high school, I'd contributed substantially with both photography, written content, and layout to the school annual the Marlburian, back in the days when cut and paste meant scissors and glue, so making a start in online publishing was exciting after having to abandon creative content after what I'd thought would be a science career.
As the site grew, it soon became necessary to have some form of content management system, and with Wordpress and other now popular systems yet to be invented, I developed Webpression, the CMS that powers Marlborough Online, beginning in 2000 to provide a publishing system for the site. Over the years the Webpression CMS has been used for various other local Marlborough web sites at various stages, including the Marlborough Civic Theatre, The Millennium Art Gallery, various legal practices and others. With the rise of free open source CMSs, Webpression has declined in use, but still powers Marlborough Online and a handful of other Marlborough web sites.
The concept behind Marlborough Online remains the same years after it initially went live in 1999, to provide information about Marlborough to anyone with internet access, particularly information that might not otherwise be made available online. If there is any model that provides an inspiration for what Marlborough Online is, or should be, it would have to be National Geographic Magazine. I remember as a child, being fascinated by the incredible stories and photography from exotic locations around the world that National Geographic revealed each month.
As a young adult, I was desperate to leave Marlborough as I thought it was boring, but after being forced to return due to health issues, I started to scratch below the surface, and realised that Marlborough is incredibly rich in history, nature and culture, and easily has enough material to fill its own equivalent of National Geographic every month.
As computing power, photographic equipment and internet connections have improved, I the way I document the rich diversity that is Marlborough. In the early days, photos on the site were scanned from prints, and had to be small to cope with dial-up connections. Nowdays I have a DSLR along with Photoshop and Lightroom, so that images can be made to look their best and uploaded in minutes.
Researching articles can be incredibly time consuming, so I've tended to focus more on images recently, but the intention is to provide quality articles as time and money permits.
In addition to the web site, Marlborough Online has also embraced social media, with a Facebook page, Instagram account and Twitter feed, to keep people updated with new material.
The web site has never made a profit, has never had any funding, and indeed involves personal expense to keep it online. Looking to the future, keeping Marlborough Online operating does cost money, and I need to explore ways to make the site pay its way. I'd love to be able to work full time on photography and research to improve the quality and depth of content on the site, but this is simply impossible without a source of income from the site. The site earns a small amount in advertising revenue from Google, but this still doesn't pay the bills.
I've had various ideas over the years for how to fund Marlborough Online. For many years, sales of Webpression licences helped subsidise the site, but now with better, free systems available that revenue source has dried up. Client web sites still help subsidise the cost of keeping the site online, but with many people opting for DIY solutions, or shopping outside of Marlborough with large corporate web agencies, new web projects aren't as common as they once were.
One possibility I am exploring is selling prints of photos on the web site. While it seems every man, woman, or in some cases even various forms of wildlife are getting into photography, and the trade in pirated images is huge, there are still people who appreciate the value of a quality photograph. I have a huge and growing library of high resolution Marlborough images, many of which would make great gifts. I have a variety of other ideas for merchandise which could help keep Marlborough Online operating for the years ahead, and continue telling the story of this wonderful region to the world.
Watch this space.