About Miami Hawk Talk
In the beginning -- 1997 or so -- there was SportsOnly.com. SportsOnly.com hosted message boards for all kinds of conferences and sports. And a few Miami fans took up residence on the MAC SportsOnly board. And it was good -- except for the occasional loudmouth Herd fan.
And then SportsOnly begat free message boards for anyone who wanted them. And it was better. Because in February of 1998, a Miami poster by the name of RedSteve signed up for a free message board and named it HawkTalk. And it was very good because for the first time Miami fans had their own place on the Internet to discuss Miami athletics and toasted rolls and wine and cheese -- especially brie -- and keep each other abreast of Miami mentions in the local and not-so-local media.
Over the next few years, HawkTalk grew on SportsOnly at a steady rate. At the end of our time on SportsOnly, the board was averaging over 5,000 semi-unique visitors per month. SportsOnly had been a great home, but the HawkTalk community was burgeoning, the tastes were diversifying, and users were requesting an ever-increasing number of features that simply weren't available through the original board.
Version 1.0. November, 2000
In May of 2000, RedSteve registered the domain name MiamiHawkTalk.com. After a few more months of testing and implementing different tools, RedSteve uploaded the new site to a new server. On November 4, the day of the Miami's most miraculous come-from-behind win over the bobkittens of OhioU at Yager Stadium, he sent out party invitations, set out the crudite, and waited for people to show up at the new place.
And show up they have. MiamiHawkTalk.com began with approximately 1,000 unique visitors per week in those early weeks. During August 2001, before the Version 2.0 relaunch, the site was entertaining nearly 2,000 visitors a week and pushing over 2.5 gigabytes of information per month.
What started out as a simple message board became 30+ message boards, with a place to discuss every varsity sport at Miami, Oxford news, University news, wine and cheese (mmmmm...gouda!), and even a blotter for UC criminal-athletes who, surprise, run afoul of the law every so often. The site also refined the news board where our crack team of news junkies posted links to online stories about Miami athletics.
Version 2.0. August 2001
In 2001, shortly before Miami's season-opening football game with Michigan, MiamiHawkTalk.com was relaunched to add new functionality featuring a Yahoo-style link area where users can share sites from other schools, an exapnded news area with dedicated pages for many of the major sports, and a multimedia area where staff and users alike can share multimedia. This redesign also included a visual redesign to try to make the site a little more visually consistent and rich.
As part of the 2.0 life cycle (and in what could probably be termed v2.5), the MiamiHawkTalk.com staff added members to the moderation and news posting teams to help handle the day-to-day duties. And as it became clear that our original message board was creaking under its age and was no longer supported by its authors, it was replaced by a new, more robust message board program called phpBB.
Version 3.0. September 2003
In September 2003, the community was still growing at a healthy rate. During the week of August 24, 2003, MiamiHawkTalk.com served up 1.5 gigabytes of information to nearly 4,000 visitors who visited 17,000 times. In ONE WEEK. As a result, MiamiHawkTalk.com got a number of under-the-hood and cosmetic upgrades to better serve its users.
In version 3.0, a new news board offered improved flexibility for reporting news about all sports, and a new home page served up more information from both the news and message boards. And the older links and multimedia applications were replaced with new phpmysql-driven engines. In addition, the pages went from being styled with bandwidth-intensive graphics and nonstandard coding to being styled with standard style sheets and more standard html. Finally, the site changed hosting providers to a host that would grant more disk space and bandwidth to keep up with our ever-growing needs.
Version 4.0, March 2006
From summer of 2005 through March of 2006, the gnomes worked tirelessly (or at least as tirelessly as their union allowed them to) to incorporate a new news engine that runs:
- the news pages
- user-submitted news links
- ludicrously granular RSS feeds
- the most extensive recruiting database of any non-Rivals/non-Scout fan site
The last item actually drove most of the site revisions; once we had software that could handle the data elements required for a recruiting database, we could use it for a number of different purposes.
The recruiting databse itself was the brainchild of NickSkin who provided much of the vision for how such a database could work, and how much of a service it could be for Miami fans. Nick spends a ton of time on tracking Miami recruits, and this new portion of the site was a far better tool than a series of posts on the message boards.
Version 4.0 also saw an updated look and feel to the news pages, and a new layout for the front page all together. Both aspects take advantage of web designs that should display more consistently across platforms and load quickly in all browsers.
Also, as we tended to bring our shared hosting machine to a grinding crawl during more intense game threads, we have also changed service providers. We have moved to a host with more resources and allows much more upgrade potential when we exceed our given resources.
The other new item to note is that this version saw advertising on the web site for the first time. The MHT management, on a trial basis, incorporated targeted google ads on certain pages. We are also exploring the possibility of offering ads directly for the site. Our Marketing Expert, Gnome Celler Lott, is currently working on an advertising policy.
As extensive as the 4.0 updates are, however, it is worth noting that as of March 2006, the gnomes are still refining some of our previous features -- most notably the link list and multimedia area -- to take advantage of the same news engine. We can't let the gnomes take the entire year off.
But in the end, the real story behind MiamiHawkTalk.com's success is its community. The posters of MiamiHawkTalk have continuously displayed a unique blend of insight, savvy, humor, and best of all, an ability to argue and debate without devolving into personal diatribes and ad hominem attacks. They strike a balance that is unique among Internet sports posters -- a balance between passion and levity, intelligence and goofiness. Without posters and writers who are willing to visit this community on a regular basis, MiamIHawkTalk.com wouldn't be nearly as engaging as it is.