Tuesday, November 3, 2009

History of The Africa Overland Network

I often get asked why I started The Africa Overland Network.
Here’s a quick overview of why I started the site and the reason behind it.

I started the project late 2000 as a result of my personal website which tracked overland websites.  I hungered for overland information – where did people go, how did they modify their vehicle, how much did it cost and where are the best bushcamps situated. My personal website was a generic mix of Land Rovers, Travel, Overland and the odd family family.  Overall it was not that applicable as a dedicated site hence the move to the dedicated site.

The first website which inspired me...
In early 1996, I was searching the web, using an early version of Netscape browser and a 18k modem line, for Land Rovers, overland and expeditions based websites.  I stumbled upon a new website called ‘In Search of Lovedu’.  Heading South from London to South Africa (via West & Central Africa), this website was being updated as the journey progressed - a new concept was being established: live overland reports as the trip happened.  According to the website author (Ann Jones), this was a lengthy process of recording the website on a floppy disk and posting it to the USA.  It would then be copied onto the site - a few updates got lost, misdated but the concept of live internet updates was on the edge of the internet.
I was intrigued by the sites ability to keep relatively updated and so began the process of documenting my first overland trip in a 1968 Series II Land Rover. See ‘To Africa and beyond’ for the website. 

Over the next few years, I started collecting and receiving links from other overlanders.  In September 2000 I launched The Africa Overland Network – a site dedicated to independent overland trips.  Primarily privately funded these websites offers diary updates, photos, GPS coordinates and embassy visa information and as internet access has increased video clips.  Information on the websites range from single line entries to paragraphs of useful, and sometimes useless information.  The uniqueness of each site is still the personal aspect and the fact that for most people, this is the first endeavor into the overlanding world.

Although the site is primarily Africa based, more independent trip were springing up with covered The Americas, Australasia and world trips.  The site now hosts a vast number of those trips – see below for a few stats.

One downside of independent trips is the fact that websites are generally created for the duration of the trip.  I estimate that about 300 trips are now lost due to websites closing down.    As a result, I now offer a hosting service for websites that are about to expire.

Keeping a website like this updated has taken a lot of time.  I went through phases where I would not update the site for months due to the manual method I used of creating the BIO page.  I came to the conclusion that the only way the site could grow would be through a professional web design and the ability for easy uploads and management.  The new site offers all this...

The website evolves…  here are a few screen shots of the website as it has evolved over the years:

A new concept I started in 2001 was the use of a guestbook to allow people to advertise their trip - after about 80 odd trips, the concept evolved and vanished.

The current concept begins to evolve - a new colour scheme, rotating banner and more trips... still very manual and cumbersome to update so the design had to be modified.

I have always been interested in overland books - this layout, attempted to list books as I read them.

In 2008 I opted to spend a lot of money to have the website modified with an admin system as the process of creating a new BIO page was taking to long and the formatting was always different.  The result was the new look and feel, which offered easier access, plus the ability to search for trips.

Evolving ever further, another need sprung up and that was the ability to keep updated with new content.  Thanks to the concept of RSS feeds, Overland-Live now uses Google Reader to collect and present all the latest video, diary, photo and forum updates. And not to mention, the new concept of Twitter.

A few statistics:
Websites listed – 670 (a few lost links amongst those)
Websites viewed by day – about 500

That’s about it for the history of The Africa Overland Network.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

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