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7 Years of Uke School

Reflections and Directions after 7 years of online Ukulele Lessons

It's been a long time since I've written about this website.

It's hard to believe that it's been over 7 years since I first started imagining and building UkeSchool. In all that time, development of the site has been slow, and very linear. I've added pages, I've added content to pages, I've streamlined and edited content to make it more clear, I've corrected foolish mistakes that were pointed out to me by observant students, and what the site became was a site exactly like the one I'd coded in 2004, but much, much larger.

As I looked through analytics about the site, I was amazed to see how the traffic grew. UkeSchool now has over a thousand new visitors every day. Since the middle of 2007, when I started tracking, there have been 1,085,000 unique visitors and over 11 million page views. The pages with the ukulele tuner get over a thousand page views a day. It boggles the mind, and sure makes it feel like building the site was worth the bother.

Here's a charming map from my analytics machine, that shows that in 2011, there were still a few places in the world (beige countries) where people don't use ukeschool.com.

ukeschool's international reach, 2011

I was also troubled to see that my "bounce rate", which measures how many people try to come to the site, but "bounce" off for whatever reason, had reached bottom in 2008 and has been slowly climbing ever since.

Flash! Uh-oh...

The technology that makes most of the cool stuff on ukeschool possible is called "Flash". One reason people come to the site, and then leave immediately, is that they do not have Flash, and cannot see any of the interactive content. This is especially true of people using mobile devices - some types of mobile devices flat-out refuse to support Flash. One of the options would be to write all the interactive stuff for different mobile platforms, and write javascript to serve up the right technology to the right devices. Eek. One thing I like about this site is that it's simple. So I don't like the sound of that idea. Fortunately, it seems that "3rd party providers" are stepping up to the plate, and providing "apps" for mobile devices that allow them to see the interactive content that is ubiquitous on the web. So on that front, I'm sitting tight for now.

I have had a student work with me recently to resolve this on a mobile device, and they tell me that a free app called "iswifter" brought not only ukeschool, but Flash content all over the web to life for them. So, like I say, sitting tight for now...

Re-building the Code Base

When I first wrote the "html" that makes up each of the pages, I wanted it to work in as many browsers as possible. And that meant testing it on machines from years like 1998 and 2000. Computers that simply did not know the "modern rules" by which web pages are displayed today. As the pages were not written to a modern standard, some browsers now go into what is known as "quirks mode" for pages that do something other than what the "standards" require, loading and rendering the pages as slowly and carefully as possible. It becomes clear, then, that the time has come to re-write the underlying code to conform to modern standards - "strict" standards, as they are known - to speed the loading of the pages, to hopefully get that bounce rate down, and to "future proof" the code so that its performance will not be so likely to deteriorate as support for "standardless" pages dwindles.

One thing I will not be monkeying with is the design of the site. I will be tweeking things like fonts and spacings to make the pages read more comfortably, but I will resist the temptation to come up with a more modern, wider, fresher, or more hip design. It's small and it's simple, it was never "fashionable", it was just practical, and like a ukulele, it still IS all those things. So while I am modernizing the underlying code, it ain't gonna look any different. Just load faster.

Social Media

I used to have a "construction blog" on another site, where I wrote things about what I was doing to this site. It was kind of fun at first, but it fell into disuse as I found little snippets of time to add stuff to the site, but not some extra time to update the dumb construction blog about what I had just done. I stopped writing about the pages I was adding back when there were around 50 pages - there are now almost 100.

But now, UkeSchool has a page on Facebook. I must admit, I am unsure of the potential of this - but having already posted a couple of fascinating videos, and posted a couple responses to comments and questions that appeared there, it seems clear that it CAN be of more use than some other part glommed onto this site. Please visit us, like us, share us, and join in a conversation.

Our Petition

We do honestly believe that the ukulele SHOULD be the official musical instrument of the planet Earth. So as soon as we'd joined "social media", we saw an early practical application in pushing this idea upon the world, as a group. Please sign our petition to have the ukulele declared the official musical instrument of the planet Earth. Please share with your friends. The signatures are indeed coming from all over the world - but we're going to need lots and lots and lots of them to convince an unwieldy organization like the United Nations to give a humble instrument like the ukulele much time or consideration.

Our Word

Well, I'll be. Early in the development of this site, I went looking for a word for the little interactive widgets that appear on many pages of this site, that help the learning process in specific relation to the content of the page. As there was no such word, I coined one - the "tutolet".

Much to my amusement, the word is now listed in The Urban Dictionary, with a reference to this website. It is also becoming a more common approach to educational websites, as the technology makes it easier and easier to deploy such tools.

To support this word entering the English language, and therefore to some extent, support this website, please visit the definition of tutolet on urbandictionary.com and show your approval by clicking the little "thumbs up" icon at the top right of the definition (white space).

In Conclusion

While the content of UkeSchool, which has been growing slowly for 7 years, sits idle, work on the site continues. A new, modern code base will mean quicker load times and more accessibility in the future. Our forays into social media will keep us more in touch with you, and you more in touch with us. When these modernization activities have drawn to a close, we will return to our usual routine of slowly expanding and polishing the site.

It's been a long time since I've written about this website. But if you do for some reason enjoy reading about ukeschool.com, rather than using it to learn how to play a ukulele, feel free to read all the junk I wrote about ukeschool.com during its first 7 years of existence - the construction blog I started when I began construction of the site. The "Top 10" list near the bottom is quite a hoot, all these years later...


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