Freezenet Celebrates it’s 10 Year Anniversary! A Retrospective

If you can believe it, Freezenet is officially 10 years old. We reflect on the last decade to see how far we’ve come.

If there is anything that’s true, it’s that time seems to progress faster the longer you work on something. Another thing that is true is that if you keep yourself busy, most of the time, time just seems to whip right by. Regardless of the actual reason why it feels like time has gone by so quickly, I can safely say that it doesn’t feel like this Freezenet project has gone on for 10 years. Yet, here we are, 10 years after launch looking back and reminiscing.

A Very Rough Start in 2013

Indeed, we announced the opening of this website clear back on January 3, 2013. While you can’t see it now live, back then, we had a default theme with a hastily produced custom banner put up. While that was the official anniversary date, Freezenet had already been in development for a year.

As things began to slow down on ZeroPaid, I was witnessing, for a second time, something I had hoped I would have never seen again, a website I was working on rapidly collapsing and my dream career collapsing before my very eyes. It was probably the biggest low I have ever experienced in this long journey. So, in early 2012, I was working with a developer to create a brand new website so I could continue to see through this journey. While I was creating art assets, concepts, HTML, and CSS, his responsibility was to provide the back end code to help make the site tick.

After spending about a month creating the assets, I waited on him to deliver his side of the project. While I waited, he mentioned he wanted to also create a video game. This was something I had thought would be a cool idea as well, so I figured that I’d help him on his game project while he continued work on the website. While I was busily sending him packages of design and concepts, I was presuming he was working on my site.

Unfortunately, what followed was a year of development hell. Communication breakdowns gradually became a regular occurence and my enthusiasm for helping him with the game project gradually waned. I wanted to get to working on building up the news part of the website and I was ultimately stuck waiting on him to deliver on the last piece of the puzzle. By December, my patience had finally wore out and I completely reworked the plan for the website. I offered the idea that he could work on the web forums while I carry on building the main part of the website. While communications weren’t broken completely, by the time the web forums were built up by myself, he had left the project completely with only a couple of claims of something basic to show for it (I never saw any working code for the site).

So, just getting to that grand opening and that first post was quite a challenge, not to mention I was at quite an emotional low. I had a whole year of a gap where I knew my reputation was fading into the background, the last person that I could trust that could significantly contribute to this project had been reduced down to a strained relationship, knowing that the odds were heavily stacked against me that I would survive for very long, knowing that there were those who didn’t want me to succeed for one reason or another, and the very real idea that I was truly alone and left to fend for myself.

If anything, my work on this site, at least at that time, was more of a work out of spite to everyone who not only doubted my chances of success, but were actively rooting against it. If the past was anything to go by, I think there was plenty of proof that I’m a pretty tough person to kill off. Could I pull off some sort of miracle again? It was all in my hands now.

Regardless, I knew I was in trouble not for something I did, but because of the circumstances I found myself in. So, I loaded up the track Christophe-E – Alone in the Desert and began hammering out the initial first steps for content. Website E-mail got set up, server stuff got taken care of including figuring out how to generate regular database backups, and forging a more vivid plan moving forward.

First thing was first: create a guides section. It was a boring and mundane task that may not be flashy, but I knew that such a section could prove to be useful for users just looking for questions. As I wrote that, I could almost hear Jorge saying that he told me so that such pages were important to write (long story). While I was working on writing guides, I knew that the website would be starved for content, so 2013 was largely just video game reviews with the odd news story here and there to tide my urge to write news over while the rest of the site got developed.

By November, I generated an index page for video game reviews. A key development that would help set the stage for the modern day Freezenet to say the least. This along with me forging ahead with more guides as I began entering into guide areas that was only passively offered on websites I previously worked for, video game emulation. Yes, even in the earliest of days, I was setting out my own vision different from the websites I had previously worked for. Sure, it doesn’t sound like much now, but it was a pretty big step at such an early time of development.

Indeed, offering content that I figured would be of interest to new visitors was a huge thing from the beginning. While I had worked hard through that first year to get the site “off the ground”, I knew I had a long way to go to get the website into a proper working order.

2014 – Transformative Change Comes to Freezenet

2013 was definitely the year where I was just pushing out video game reviews wherever possible to start building up the content to the site. However, this was never going to be sustainable in the long term. So, this was where I started executing plans to take rationing of manpower resources seriously. Video game reviews would ultimately go to a fixed schedule of once every Friday. This would mean that there are no surprises of when content was coming out of that nature.

The practical benefit to this is the fact that I could schedule content weeks, months, and even years in advance. While I was still pumping out video game reviews, users would still only get one game review per week. The amount of effort was more about buying myself time for when my real life day job came calling. Have some crazy shifts for three weeks? No problem! That whole month was covered anyway. The practical benefit was that this reduced stress on my part of having to produce, getting myself off of the content production treadmill on that front.

After that, I focused more on music reviews. This was something that didn’t require hours upon hours of work just to push out a single review. I just listened to the track a couple of times, offer a detailed review, say whether I liked it or not, and move on to the next. This led to the inevitable structure of an index page to make it easier to navigate all of the reviews.

Of course, it wasn’t all about just pushing music and video game reviews. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on as well. A default WordPress theme may be a good starting point, but in order to stand out and really become your own website, it is advisable to have a custom theme to show that this wasn’t a dime a dozen websites that get produced on a mass scale. After months of pulling out my hair and pushing my front end coding skills to the limits, I produced the first fully customized iteration of the Freezenet web design. It came complete with drop down menus and a general look that was, at the very least, unique. As many developers know, creating your first fully custom WordPress skin isn’t exactly a fun experience, but it is necessary.

2015 – The Year of Grind

Generally speaking, 2015 was largely a content driven year – namely in the reviews side of things. Music reviews were building up in numbers to become viable. Eventually, the final week to week structure was put in place. Music reviews every Monday and Wednesday while Fridays would be home to the next video game review. For the most part, I found myself working on building up a catalogue and creating what I would term “buffer” for content. Whole years worth of content would ultimately be built up, scheduled up, and ready to go.

Ultimately, while there wasn’t a whole lot of significant single one time developments, behind the scenes, I was grinding it out, trying to get something of a comfortable set of content that would publish regularly no matter what.

2016 – More Structural Changes to Content

As more content got indexed, it became clear that simply having two long lists weren’t going to cut it any more. So, I started adding features such as tracks and games of the year. It was a small enhancement, but certainly one that added to the usability of the site.

What’s more, 2016 would be the last year I would be on the grind to getting a regular flow of general interest content out the door.

It all might seem counter-intuitive to build a news website in this manner, but in my mind, it was all about long term thinking and sustainability. It was also about reducing reliance on third party websites as well. No one third party web service could choose if my website lived or died off. At the same time, it wound up being loads of work for very very little payoff.

2017 – The Year News Came Back!

In 2017, there was some more development in getting the finishing touches on background content, but the main content that I was known for was still largely absent apart from the occasional story here and there. That content, is, of course, news. While my early years was focused heavily on file-sharing and copyright related news, the world had changed significantly between 2005 and 2017. Indeed, my coverage of how politics interacted with technology did help shape the transformation of what a modern look of news was, but there was some reservations on my side.

One of the big questions was how I could possibly come back after a by and large long absence from the scene. Of course, I knew the viable strategy in such a situation was to start small, but I was quite nervous at the time, nevertheless. The biggest worry is that I had become so rusty in writing news that the quality wouldn’t exactly be up to par with what people had expected from me. At the same time, though, there was no sense in continuing to mess around with music and game reviews. It was time to activate the main core feature of the site: news.

What a time it was to rejoin the news scene indeed. The FCC was gearing up to scrap network neutrality to name one example of what was getting ready to go down. For what it was worth, it felt amazing to finally get back on the saddle and get to news coverage of the many things happening in the world of digital rights. Old writing muscles were getting exercise and it was just like old times writing news once again.

The reception was actually quite good as well. It seemed as though it was getting good feedback and I was getting featured on mid-tier social news websites once again. It all seemed like it was all uphill from there.

As an added bonus, I also added the greatest games of all time feature. The content was getting so well rounded that I had enough material to produce something like that. The future was looking quite bright for me.

2018 – The Reach Begins to Expand

2018 would ultimately prove to be a pretty significant year in terms of overall functionality and reach. Right off the bat, we were able to tweak the coding so that the whole website could support HTTPS encryption. While late to the game on that, it was a significant technical move forward with the site.

Another big revision was the complete revamping of the video game reviews section. I split the list from one large list to separate era’s altogether. Believe me, just adding content to that list became a massive chore because the backend was really grinding just to load and make changes. So, it was definitely needed. What’s more is that it made it easier to navigate from the front end, so people’s mouse wheels didn’t get a massive workout when browsing.

There was also the unveiling of the greatest tracks of all time feature and a similar revamping of the music reviews index. Usability was getting better and better.

Of course, an even bigger development was the expansion of the overall reach of the site. First was the introduction of custom RSS feeds which allowed users to get live feeds from the site in any area they want to focus on or just getting the main firehose of the whole website. It was all up to the user what they want to use.

From there, I opened up a Facebook page for the site as well as a Google+ page (now defunct).

Another major development was the unveiling of the Freezenet forums. It honestly felt like a mandatory thing to have on the site and I finally was able to release that to the public that year. I had a lot of hope for that feature and went the extra mile to implement weapons grade anti-spam features that actually managed to work quite well as well as features that allowed WordPress and the web forums to basically work and communicate with each other and build each other up. That undertaking was enormous, but a significant achievement nevertheless.

The expansion then continued with the launch of the Freezenet official podcast – another huge milestone that gave the website even more potential.

The year then concluded with the launching of the Freezenet Patreon page which allowed users to financially support the site.

Yes, 2018 was an extremely busy year, but its usability and reach was increasingly rapidly.

2019 – Guide Section Expands and the Modern Freezenet Look Is Born

By 2019, something happened that I didn’t expect at all. Social news websites began filtering out smaller, less known websites. This was something I was informed of by those who were posting links to other sites. While the news quality kept improving as the building of knowledge increased directly on the site, the traffic started dropping. Ultimately, this was the explanation as to why. While I appreciated those who were submitting my content elsewhere, it appeared as though the website was not going to really survive on news alone.

So, in an effort to adapt, I expanded the guides section to include things like LibreOffice, Blender 3D, and Photoshop.

What’s more is that I knew that the current design wasn’t going to quite cut it any more. More people were using smart phones to browse the web and I knew I had to change with the times. So, I went back and rebuilt the theme for the WordPress side of things from the ground up. 2019 was the year I would ultimately unveil the theme you see today. It pitched the drop down menu’s to avoid content over content and replace it with a thin bar. What’s more is that it is, critically, a responsive theme that allows virtually all screen sizes to comfortably view it.

That big development would be followed up later with a patch to work out some of the bugs that came along with it. Hey, it was my first responsive layout I had designed, it was very unlikely to be perfect out of the gate.

Of course, another transformative change was the expansion onto YouTube which featured first impression videos. Video content was something I had never done before, so it was a big step forward for me personally to stat producing video content.

In the background, Nolan had joined the team. He happily helped out with editing and mixing of the Freezenet Official podcast as well by this time.

2020 – The Year of the Wiki

Making big strides forward was becoming a common theme for Freezenet. 2020 would prove to be no exception. One of the biggest and significant additions was the Freezenet official Wiki. It would prove to be a popular and ongoing project for the site and one that continues to grow to this day.

Additionally, the website design 3.2 patch was also released to squash some more lingering, though rarely seen, bugs as well.

What’s more is the Freezenet Official YouTube channel got a complete makeover along with another makeover on the SoundCloud page as well.

Another major development was the opening of the official Tumblr account, thus, once again, expanding the reach of Freezenet even further.

I also added a third way for users to support the site by launching a Ko-Fi account as well.

Usability also got another upgrade when I also enabled Cloudflare, increasing website responsiveness in the process.

The expanded reach of the podcast received a significant upgrade as well. After getting the podcast on, the podcast became available on Spotify, Radio Public, Pocket Casts, Google Podcasts, and Breaker.

As an added bonus, I also added support for Feedburner both for the podcast and the main website.

All this happened as Steam video game previews became a regular monthly occurrence.

2021 – Expansion Continues, Variety Grows

The official Wiki kept expanding in not only the quantity of content, but range of content it covers.

The reach also significantly grew with the Freezenet Official Podcast becoming available on Apple Podcasts and Amazon Music.

Sadly, 2021 would also be the year that the Freezenet Official Forums closed due to lack of interest. That remains to be one of the biggest disappointments that no one wanted to use the forums to talk to each other despite all the effort that went into making it a viable place to hang out. It seemed that web forums have become a relic of the past and, as such, the forums had fallen into disuse.

2021 would also be the year I introduced the Playstation 3 console to the YouTube channel, increasing both the variety and quantity of content in the process.

2022 – YouTube Becomes a (Nearly) Weekly Feature

As the popularity of the YouTube channel increased, so too did the variety and quantity. I had introduced the XBox 360 as a console and began previewing games available on it. What’s more is that I was able to add a second Steam game each month to the podcast, doubling the output in the process.

The Wiki also kept expanding in quantity and variety as well.

In the same year, the Freezenet Official Podcast reached 500 listens while the official YouTube channel also hit 500 views.

What’s more, the reach for the podcast expanded to include Stitcher and TuneIn.

Surprisingly, however, it seemed as though the real multimedia showstopper is the YouTube channel. It started gaining traction as it also, later on in the same year, reach 1,000 views.

Finally, with the chaos that was happening on Twitter, I had quickly added Mastodon as a site you can follow Freezenet on.

Sadly, 2022 would also be the year Nolan left the podcast project to pursue other interests, thus causing Freezenet to return to being a completely solo project.

Looking to the Future

So, now that it is 2023, the question then becomes, what is on the horizon for Freezenet? We actually have some pretty big plans in store. One announcement will drop later this month on how we are improving the website even further – Canadian legislation willing of course.

At this point, I think I can safely say that the reach for the audio podcast has reached the point of diminishing returns, so the focus will start shifting to other ways I can improve the site. I can’t wait to see where this project takes me next.

What I will say, though, is that, looking back, considering this effort was largely a solo project, I was able to accomplish in the last decade. While things do seem to move slowly around here, a lot does get done if given enough time. Honestly, with everything I have done on this project, I can safely say that I am very proud with what I have been able to do over the last 10 years. Here’s to another 10 years of Freezenet!

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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