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MAY 2006 0

Inside Pixel 2 Life

Who are you and what do you do? Tell us something about yourself.

My name is Dan Richard, I'm 30 years old and I live in Montreal, Canada. I'm a full time dad and I also happen to run the tutorial search engine Pixel2life.com, as well as a personal tech blog and some other hobby sites for movie collectibles. I like a wide variety of hobbies and topics, so my web work reflects those interests. I've been a freelance web designer and IT professional for many years, with my first paid web design job dating back to 1996 or so.

When did Pixel 2 Life start?

The creation of P2L in terms of a tutorial portal was a complete fluke. I had been doing freelance work for years prior to P2L and was on a designing hiatus due to the birth of my daughter and just working my full time job as IT manager for a retail technology firm here in Montreal.

In December of 2003, some pork purchased at the grocery store lead me to some extremely nasty food poisoning and I could barely move for a week. About the only thing I could do was type on the computer, so I thought maybe I'd look at creating a new portfolio site for my work, maybe create a few tutorials on graphic design and get back in some small freelance jobs.

I started snooping around for a domain name, and that's when I found Pixel2life.com. It was perfect! The site would be about everything from my online work and design, to about stuff that happened in my life (This was before anyone knew what a blog was), so in other words, everything from my pixels, to my life. Now you know where the name comes from.

From there, I started to design the site and that's when I noticed that I was scouring Google and tutorial sites trying to find some specific tricks I wanted to do on my site. I started to get frustrated and couldn't believe there wasn't just one huge site that covered everything. Sort of like a Google for tutorials. That's when I had my light bulb moment and figured "Hey, why don't I try to make one?!". I recruited my friend Shao who had done some work with me in the past to handle the programming, and a few weeks later, Pixel2life v1 was born. It was tough because the net wasn't stuffed with tutorial search sites like it is now, so we had to do A LOT of learning. I hadn't even seen Good-Tutorials at this point so we did a of guessing. In fact, the first version didn't even have avatar preview icons.

Pixel 2 Life has about 25000 tutorials. How did you manage to achieve this number since it all started?

When I first started, I sent out hundreds of emails to webmasters asking for their permission to add their tutorials to the database. If they responded, then I would take the time to add them all in personally while at the same time I was establishing affiliations with many other sites. Eventually I was receiving enough traffic and daily submissions that I didn't need to look for tutorials, people were submitting them by the dozens every day. I think we're at almost 50,000 submitted tutorials now.

You have more than 80 categories. How does the management team deal with this to ensure the quality of your content?

I actually do all the tutorial approvals myself, while the staff concentrate their efforts on community development, making sure the forums are in top shape and keeping the database clean from dead links and sites. You don't need to know how to use all the applications to sort out the tutorials for good and bad. After awhile you can recognize a well written tutorial almost immediately, and you can tell which ones are rotten apples even faster. There's a common look and feel to well written content. The topic is usually fairly irrelevant. Our lead forum administrator Donna is crucial to the database as well, she also checks the listing for dead link reports and works very hard to make sure everything is running in top shape.

We also have a very dedicated community, and they're not shy to let me know when something is broken or just stinks in general. I'm surrounded by an awesome staff and great community and it really helps.

What was the most challenging moment in the growth of P2L?

Version upgrades have always been extremely problematic and the most stressing experiences of my life. P2L is so big now that I don't think we can really have complete version upgrades any more. Now we just work on the site in sections and upgrade areas as required, rather than having complete "Site Version 5 BETA" releases. I've always found the site version release concept to be silly, and now I have a good excuse not to conform to it. The worst was when we were upgrading from version 2 to 3. It was a very rough time for me and the staff and we underwent a lot of changes. I knew things would come through eventually, but man did it feel like it would never end!

Current version of P2L was developed in 2005. What are the future plans?

Well we already employ AJAX throughout the site and we're always working on new goodies for the community. Our new Publishing System was a huge upgrade and we'll be working on that with some new upgrades to it. We also just released a new PPC/CPM advertising system last night to compliment our current ad area, and then we have to finish up the APIs such as the auto-submit system. I'm definitely never sitting on my thumbs, there always something I'm stressed about finishing up. As for web 2.0, it's an empty buzzword that has been done to death. It really has no meaning for me. Version numbers aren't my thing, I prefer to just plug away on the site and see how the community reacts. I rely pretty heavily on them when it comes to brainstorming new projects.

What do you think about web 2.0?

Well, again, Web 2.0 is a meaningless buzzword to me. I understand the concept of what web 2.0 is SUPPOSED to be, but user driven content and cross site integration is the natural evolution of the internet as technology becomes more readily available to the public. Why do we need to attach version numbers to everything? I prefer to think of the evolution of the web and of my personal projects as an ongoing, daily change, be it a reaction or an innovation. There's no version numbers, it's just consistent change.

Do you have any information or career advice to offer to our reading audience?

Freelance is a tough field to play on, because so many people low ball their prices, especially on freelance job sites such as elance. It's important to build up a solid portfolio and be very professional and bid on jobs constantly. It's also important to realize that it takes years of work to become a skilled designer, not months. Nothing drives me further up the wall than a 15 year old who titles himself a designer and has a portfolio full of forum signatures. If your work time is influenced by when your parents tell you to go to bed, or the extent of your drawing skills is based on the tutorials you have bookmarked, you've still got some work to do. It doesn't happen overnight, so be patient, trust in your style and the work and skills will come. I worked for YEARS before I finally had some measure of success, and even then, I worked on Pixel2life 60 hours a week for a couple of years to get it off the ground, and that was above and beyond my full time job.

So patience is critical in everything you do. It takes time and consistency, but when it does come, it feels GREAT!

Thank you for your time. It was a great pleasure to talk to you. This was Dan Richard, who runs Pixel 2 Life.

Published on Monday, May 1st, 2006 at 1:08 am in 2006.

About Bogdan Pop

Bogdan Pop is a young Romanian entrepreneur who runs WebRaptor. He is a web developer with awesome design skills, who enjoys writing about everyday's work and usability. He relaxes by taking photos every once in a while and by mixing french electronic music. Connect with him via Twitter.

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