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GoodNewsIndia: A diary


Annals of the site !

November 18, 2003: A major reorganisation has been completed. The site has now gained new capabilities.

One, the site has migrated to a premium server at Linksky. Premium server has many added features, among them notably, the ability to run Java Servlets. Migration itself was not without its complexity or anxieties. But it was made possible at all by the steady hand-holding by Linksky support over nearly seven weeks. The reason for selecting Linksky as a low-priced, well supported host is only reinforced by this experience.

Two, the supplements now run on Version 2.3 of PMachine. This great content management system earlier lacked a crucial feature: search-engine friendly url generation. Major search engines ignored the material published in the Supplements because of the unwieldy urls that went with them. Ver.2.3 has a workaround now. It is heartening that the Google robot is already able to 'see' all the pages at GoodNewsIndia. Site traffic may therefore rise.

It is 40 months since GoodNewsIndia was born. It will clock a million page views later this month. With more features planned to run on upgraded facilities, the second million pages may be quicker in coming.

July 03, 2003: Finally some of main media is beginning to take note of GoodNewsIndia. First there was a story in the New Indian Express. Then soon after, a long profile in rediff.com. It does feel nice to be noticed.

In June,2003, GNI welcomed its 300,000th unique visitor. The first 100,000th came in May, 2002, about two years after launch. GNI received its 200,000th visitor in Jan, 03, ie in about 8 months. And now the 300,000th in five months. May the growth continue for it means the message of GNI is reaching wider.

The new look GNI launched in Jan,03 had three sections in the Supplements section: NewsClips, Updates and Support. Since then two new sections have debuted, called Enthusiasts and Ideas For India. Enthusiasts will feature Indians who are committed to a passion that adds some value to India. Ideas for India, will describe practical ideas that might have the potential to solve some of India's problems.

January 03, 2003: After two years of publishing GoodNewsIndia I became aware of the huge need to gather more of the India good news than the site had thus far done. GNI is publishing about two feature stories in its magazine section but what seemed needed was a series of supplementary sections to host the many facets of a 'good India.' The result is already on view, but here for the record I think I will lay out something of the flavour of the work done. A sort of 'movie about the movie'. The following may be technical and personal but this being a 'diary', I feel all of that belongs here. So here goes.

With the zeal of a convert I am --after four years of working with it-- a passionate Apple Macintosh man. I do the entire GNI work from a 300mHz Apple PowerBook portable that goes with me between my city place --for the Internet connection-- and my country place-- for the quiet. And just when I was settling in my Mac OS9 heaven --to which of course entry is barred for Windows-users :)) -- along came Mac OSX. Apparently even heaven can get better if Apple can do anything about it. So I upgraded as that seemed the first requirement to run a about-to-get-big-GNI. I am convinced now when a computer approaches perfection its operating system will be Unix-based and the interface will be Mac's. Mac OSX is already there and Microsoft will probably get there in about ten years. Sorry about that, most of you Windows people!

It's an all-Mac cast that now brings you GoodNewsIndia and I am delighted to introduce them so they may take a bow. The OS is Unix based rock-like Mac OS ver.10.2 also known as Jaguar. The entire text editing and html hard-coding is done on the peerless BBEdit. Images are 'managed' on Graphic Converter --another Mac native-- and edited in Photoshop Elements. FTP client is the charming Mac original, Fetch. So life *is* possible without Windows.

The next search was for a Content Management System [CMS] that would be flexible and easy for a one-man-op to maintain. I tried several CMS and 'blog'-type tools. There is an amazing variety out there. I almost settled for MovableType and just before committing to it, discovered pMachine: and that made all the difference. After playing with it for close to 4 weeks I paid for a pro-version. It's that good. There's a free version too, from here. [Sorry to belabour the theme but Rick Ellis developed pMachine entirely on a Mac.]

Now I found I needed to run a MySQL database and have PHP enabled at the site. And more than that I needed to 'learn' these new things. So there was two-weeks of learning enough of these to get by. In all this time what stood by me was my web-host, LinkSky.They set these up for me at no additional cost to the $4.95 per month that I pay. I have raved enough about this low cost service elsewhere- and not only because GNI gets a commission if you patronised their service.

Then there was the search for a piece of software for a search-facility. It is moving to see so many dedicated souls creating fine pieces of software and giving them away free. In this commerce-ridden world that is good story nobody seems to be noticing. Between say Linux, Apache, MySQL, PERL and PHP --all free-- one can today put together an industrial strength web site. I finally settled on DGS Search to provide the search feature at GNI.

So all the bits and pieces were in place for GNI to step into another dimension and still be managed by one man. All that was left was to get the content going. But that's a different --and ongoing-- story!

You must pardon me this rather personal concluding note: Throughout the four months given to this re-work, I was a happy --if hard-worked-- man moving towards a Jan 3,2003 launch. Then on Jan 2, Gayatri died suddenly. She was beautiful, young, innocent and wanted so much to live. She had worked hard as a school-teacher and had walked into the hearts of her students. For me, --a loner-- she was a dear niece who was proud of my work with GoodNewsIndia. Then suddenly as I said, a day before launch date, she died. In trying to cope with her loss, I in my despair make you all consider her for a moment here. There seems little else I can do. I dedicate this reborn site of positive news to that dear child so unfairly wiped away without a trace.

November 10, 2002: I have discontinued gniPost because of poor reader participation. Its purpose will be served in another way soon.

October 14, 2002: A drive through rural India is always an educational experience, if you are looking for signs of positive change. The traveller must learn to see the implied in the obvious. For example, the crowding, squalor and noise of the small town may seem to have worsened. But they may in fact be transitory symptoms of growing prosperity. Likewise the stridency of a political debate may in fact indicate a quarrel for a larger share of a desirable pie. In both, the implications are positive. Admittedly, things may seem 'bad' and may even get worse -- but you need to believe that they will eventually get better. If you do, then much of your despondency may be because things may not get 'better' in your lifetime. But then you are less than a blip in a 5000 year continuum.

I drove between Sep 22 and Oct 7, 2002, some 2000km through Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. I was chasing stories for GoodNewsIndia and I had often to drive an average of 40km on country roads to reach the subjects of my stories. These were always more pleasurable than the smart National Highways. It constantly amazed me to have been told by main media about poverty, conflict, insecurity and backwardness reigning everywhere. I have rarely been happier or more reassured than in these remote parts. Of course I was driving through 'better' states of India, but even here the picture is better than you are told to believe.

What an impatient, quick-to-judge traveller must learn is that change is always incremental and rarely by quantum leaps. So what we need to ascertain is whether the direction is right and leave the issue of speed to another breath. My judgment is that India is unfolding as it should. And my evidence for that claim are: the massive army of well dressed children going to or returning from schools everywhere -- even the remotest village; the general standard of health and dress of adults; the number of young ladies at work in very visible jobs that need interaction with strangers; the crowds on buses and trains that don't come cheap; the number of small mechanised farm implements everywhere and finally - and most importantly -- a sense everywhere of belonging to 'India' brought about largely by the ubiquitous cable TV!

For me the defining image was this: I was driving through interior Tamil Nadu. I had deliberately chosen this detour --as I often do-- to relax and observe. I guess I must have been about 20km away in any direction from a highway. The road was narrow but paved. On either side was paddy far into the distance. Electric pylons traversed them. The small hamlets were of thatched huts yes, but were sparkling clean and bristled with TV antennas. Peace reigned the vast silent spaces. Suddenly, at a turn, from a school, I heard a chorus of energetic voices repeating a lesson. Nearby I came upon 3 young boys -- all under ten-- racing each other on bicycles. Obvious truants! When I passed them one of them decided to race my car! I let the race go on for a while. The boy could barley reach the pedals but he was furiously cycling away. When I saw he was tiring, I said, "You are really fast." He retorted in a flash: "You call this fast? This is nothing! I didn't have the money to pump air into the tyres. If I had, you can't touch me!"

For me that little boy pedalling away cheerfully sums up what the other India is doing -- and his comment, what it will.

October 9, 2002: Honours come in many ways to a website. One of them is to be hacked. Yesterday for a few hours the homepage of GoodNewsIndia was replaced by another by some Arab groups denouncing President Bush. I was online then, and so repairs were quick. It was nevertheless touching to be alerted by a well-wisher of GNI within minutes of the defacement.

July 4, 2002: gniPost has finally been launched after much fiddling and testing; and for all that it is still experimental. The idea behind gniPost is that it become a place where visitors to GNI can meet kindred spirits. The idea for this section arose because of a number of mails received asking for things like suitable projects readers could contribute to, or seeking funds, asking where they could volunteer or find volunteers etc. Several wrote asking how to contact people with similar interests or missions.

Until the feature settles down, all posts will be pre-viewed in order to keep its grain consistent with that of the site.

And, finally a commercial: gniPost will carry banner ads which hopefully will generate some revenue.

June 1, 2002: This shall be an elegantly simple entry: on May 29, 2002, GNI received its 100,000th visitor. I feel good --and smug!

April 14, 2002: I have just completed a 4000kM road trip for GNI through Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa , amidst disquieting news of berserk mobs in Gujarat using communal identities for rioting, looting and blood-letting. It was -- and is -- a moment to ask, "Will India ever let go of its periodic spells of madness and uncilivilsed behaviour? Are the stories in GoodNewsIndia likely to sound escapist and unreal?"

My answer after 18 days on the road is: "As real as the reports of violence, are the sagas of quiet Indians working beyond the insane din, on missions of their choice that add positive value to India. To linger among these folk is my right, as much as joining the sufficiently developed debate elsewhere on the violence, is my duty."

So thinking, I made my trip. The roads are getting better. The truckers and farmers on tractors, for all the unjust notoriety heaped upon them, are in fact disciplined road users. [If there are offenders, they are the state transport buses, small vans and neo-riche louts with over priced, over powered cars.] There is discernible improvement -- at least, to my 60 year old eyes -- in the sense of well being among people. Everywhere public phones and internet kiosks abound. General sense of hygiene is better too, save in the noisy small towns, where heady commerce has no time for graces. Frequently there is the sparkling village, tempting you to stop. There was near Hampi, a quiet eatery in a bird dense mango grove, some 40 feet above the Tungabadra with rice fields on its banks, all together conspiring to mock the cynic and ask him whether he would include this too as evidence before he pronounced his judgment on India. And oh yes, the smiles everywhere are electric as ever.

What I report is no illusion. Most of India is in calm repose, expectant of prosperity. In most unsuspected places you find those heroes of GNI's pages: the silent, unsung Indian committed to concerns beyond his home and doing something about it.

Thus I found a group working to settle street children, an illiterate couple planting trees on public roads as service, a 74 year old man --an ex-corporate senior -- running a vocational school for rural children, busy middle income groups running a huge consumer co-operative, two young ladies trying to clean up slums, a shy scientist putting India on the world map and so on. In the coming days their stories will appear in these pages.

February 24, 2002: A sobering descent yes, from the heady page-views record in January but still bowling along at an average of about 430 per day.

Introduced an alert service. Visitors signing up for it will receive an email soon as a new story is published. Sign-ups are about 4 per day since the service went on-line on Feb.19,2002.

January 9, 2002: The year has certainly  begun well for GNI. The readership which was running at 193 per day went to unbelievable heights on Jan 4: 22,500, in fact. It has come to average 332 a day now. This was primarily due to a flattering reference to GNI  by Rajeev Srinivasan in his column. Thank you, Rajeev. Secondarily, visitors in droves have clicked to recommend GNI to their friends, using the new facility implemented on the home-page. Following these, there has been a flood of appreciative mail. I am moved by this outpouring of appreciation for GNI and record here my gratitude to all of you.

Did a 1000kM through Tamil Nadu. Visited Gandhigram at Chinnalapatti and Kalanjiam at Alagarkovil. Good GNI stories.

December 26, 2001: Defected from Pugmarks --the web host so far-- to LinkSky. That was a saga all by itself. Pugmarks was a "free service" [bar the Rs.500 for set-up] when this site began in May,2000. During the first year I traveled to Bangalore especially to meet a Pugmarks executive in an exhibition stall there. "What would be the charges after the first year is over?" I asked, anxiously. He consulted someone and vigorously asserted it would be Rs.2000 per year. 'Not bad', I thought and forgot about it. When the year ended, *they* had forgotten. I had to remind them. They woke up and in thanks, asked me to send Rs.12,000, as they had changed their tariff in the while! After much protesting, pleading and bargaining, they picked  Rs.4000, "as a special case". What did I do? I sent the cheque. 

As the site grew, their limitations began to surface. Support was handled by a team that barely understood technical questions. Features that called for cgi email scripts could not be implemented. Worst of all, as GoodNewsIndia's popularity began to increase, I was informed of a new tax! "Your traffic last month exceeded 250mB. Please upgrade to a higher plan which will be Rs.20,000 a year," said an email from Pugmarks. "... within 15 days," it added.

Well, I chose to put the offered time to better use and started to look for an alternate host. There was of course the mild panic at this one-man GoodNewsIndia operation, even as research on various low-cost web-hosts proceeded furiously. The winner was LinkSky.

The contrast is remarkable. First of all, all queries were answered within an hour or so. The offered  services were irresistible and pretty high-end, providing an opportunity to add many features. And then the price: $4.95 [Rs.240/-] payable monthly for 50mB of disk space and about 9gB of traffic!

 While shifting the site from Pugmarks, much hand-holding was required -- and was available! There were about 6 email queries that momentous day-- and all were answered in full and with clarity. By the way, my account had been set up earlier in two hours flat, and I could begin transferring the GNI site even as web bureaucrats [--anonymous computers, really!] changed my address! In the end, the 'shift' went smoothly and without any outage.

Insofar as I can make out LinkSky is  a small personalised operation, with a  sophisticated server installation. The chief I think is an artist, who seems to enjoy the business more than the money! Very impressive, so far.

And thus, to a plug: GoodNewsIndia is taking its first commercial step in two years. If any of you admirers of this site's work wish to put a few coppers this way, you can do so easily by choosing LinkSky as your web-host. I am promised a small commission for every account routed through GoodNewsIndia. LinkSky is good value in money and service terms. You can click this link [-or the banner in the home-page] to go there.

In it's new home, GoodNewsIndia already sports a feature on the home page by which visitors can "recommend the site" to their friends by a click on the mouse. Soon every story-page will feature the facility to send the pages they are on to their friends. More ideas are in the works.

An uplifting mood reigns at GNI after the scare!

October 1, 2001: Began a new section called "Appreciation" where I reproduce feedback and comments received from visitors. 

Page-views per day are as of date,an all time-high average of 165;  but for the month above 200. The page-view acceleration continues: the first 10,000 in 32 weeks, the second in 16 weeks and just now, the third in 6 weeks.

The number of story features has just touched 40.

September 9,2001: Returned from a trip through rural Karnataka and Bangalore city verifying five story leads. 

August 20,2000: Added two new sections; Milestones and Institutions. 

The site Directory is now illustrated, with thumb-nail images. Hope this doesn't slow the page's loading time.

And oh, on Aug.16, 2001 the site recorded its 20,000th page-view. The first 10,000 took 8 months and the second just over 4! May the acceleration sustain!

July 25,2000: Abandoned tracking traffic with WebSight: they wanted to become a paid service at $2000. Thank you very much; SiteMeter serves me well at just $0/-.

Second newsletter sent out to 175 recipients to mark completion of one year.

June1,2001: May saw the first newsletter  being sent to 164 addresses using a homespun email- merge programme!

Effective this month, the home page will not sport a dateline as this is beginning to cramp the updating freedom. The site will be updated as when stories are ready - hopefully, this would mean greater refresh rate!

May 1,2001: Major house keeping and gremlin-busting effort completed! Dead links removed, bugs squashed [you found one? really?] and type faces made eye-friendly. Following a few outraged comments, cute page background colours retired in favour of plain vanilla white.

March Hitometer score was a historic high!  2700+ hits on the index page alone! The future is sure promising :)) ! Began tracking with www.sitemeter.com, a great service. Will have finer stats in the future.

'Discovered-by'  this month: sulekha.com, utnereader.com, the latter with a warm review too. 

Enough news to live by.

Mar 26,2001: Netscape's Hitometer clocks 10,000 hits for the index page.

Another website has links to goodnewsindia.com: beliefnet.com

Mar 10,2001:An update after many days! There is much to report!

1- Began a new section called Tweendom [ since renamed 'A Personal India'] , into which goes all my travel writing and thoughts on India! There are six pages in this section as of now.

2-Content pages have increased and support pages are down: News pages: 23; Support pages: 14 and Tweendom: 6.

3- Search engines that fish the site: Google, Lycos, Alta Vista, Yahoo. A few sites have begun to link to goodnewsindia.com :  British Holistic Medicine Association, D╚p═ches de l'AFP, Devolution - The Good Vibration Network , Guardian | Web watch, sybar.com, websiteofindia.com, angelsweekly.com, 

4- Tracking continues with Netscape Hitometer and WebSight; the former tracks only index page hits; it misses visits to other pages. The latter tracks all pages but does not give historic data; only a moving monthly average. Hits recorded by Hitometer are aug2000: 839, sep; 1221, oct: 1473, nov: 1226, dec: 810, jan,2001: 1234, feb:1360. That's a total of 8163 in 193 days giving a daily average of 42.3. Total page views could be between 1.5 and 2 times that number.

Oct 22,2000: Hitometer: 3000+. Mind you, this scores only home page visits and ignores other pages visited in the same  session. Hit average: 46/day. Page views may be at least double that? aidindia.org newsletter cites 3 stories from goodnewsindia.com

Slide show introduced.

A major rework on the layout of the index page was prompted by the very painstaking feedback  by reader Sunder Santhanam in the USA. He went to the extent of preparing a prototype complete with re-laid images. The wide screen logo has been shrunk to the stamp sized one now. The stories are laid out in three column format.

Font size and style were changed to the present one on the basis of reactions from both Mr. Santhanam and my good friend Devendra Kumar Shah.

Oct 5,2000: AltaVista replaces Yahoo as the main referring agent. Google begins to list links from the site, but a goof up has occurred: the directory structure has changed and so any  click- through from Google will return 404 error! May be corrected after Google's next crawl.

Sep15 to Oct 8,2000: Field trip to Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh covering 7 leads for fresh stories  and verification/ updates on 3 published stories. Began using my digital camera, to collect images of children for the slide show in the opening page. Trip covered Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Bhopal and Indore.

Sep 10,2000: Netscape Hitometer records 1000 hits!

Aug 30,2000: The number of pure content pages enters double digits: it's 10 today!!

Aug 24,2000: Began tracking with WebSight. Counter set to zero today. Where as, the Netscape counts only visits to the index page, this service is expected to track page-views and also produce significant user data.

Aug 22,2000: Big day! Yahoo lists the site in its directory!

Aug 18,2000: Began tracking visitors to the index page using Netscape's free service. Counter set to zero. Number of pure content pages at the site is 7. All pages [including directory and support pages] linked from the index page: 26.  7/26 or 0.269 will be referred to as content ratio . The aim is to take it past 1.0 and even higher!

Aug 16,2000: AltaVista search engine lists the index page.

Jul 5, 2000:  A number of browser compatibility problems reported. Redid the site to serve versions 4.0+ of both Netscape Navigator  and Internet Explorer running on either Windows or Macintosh platforms. Configured for display on 800x600 screens and above. 

Jun 21,2000: 1.06 am! The site goes on-line with 3 pages of editorial material and about 8 support pages! But the site-structure and the graphics livery will hopefully prove to be an iron-frame! Testing is ahead even as more pages are expected to be added. expecting feedback from about ten testers world-wide.

May 10, 2000: Priti Narasimhan, 23 ,  becomes the first volunteer for goodnewsindia! She travels to Tambaram near Chennai and interviews Dr C S Mohanavelu. And he is the subject of the sites's first story !

May 16,2000: Transferred from domainsarefree.com to pugmarks.com. 

Dec 11, 1999: The name goodnewsindia.com becomes official domain name registered through domainsarefree.com at networksolutions.com. Paid for use till Dec 11, 2001.