Er, what happened here? Did I really put this online as the home page? This was back in the era when the games section of the site was starting to become popular. Can you tell that I wanted people to play the games? In hindsight this is an awful design, but there's a homely note with the "Thanks to Jennifer..." message. The rest of the menu (as of 2005) continues below the fold, i.e. the bit that you have to scroll down to see.
In 2005 I had spent a couple of thousand pounds on the site - both promoting it (e.g. the print ads) and on adding new features that would hopefully attract either new income (the pay per download software) or new visitors (the postcards system), not to mention hosting costs which kept going up in line with the ever increasing number of visitors. In 2005 the number of pages viewed (3,589,936) was way up on the previous year (1,428,966), so I must have been doing something right. Sales had been relatively good throughout 2005 and during the last three months of that year the income from the ads was just starting to increase to something more significant. However, over the preceding five years or so, I had - by the benefit of various overdrafts, loans, and credit cards, and for various reasons - managed to achieve a personal debt of around £12,000. As I faced the new year 2006 I decided to take stock of my and the site's financial positions. I wrote a short manifesto in which I determined not to invest money in the site during 2006, but to use all of the income generated to help pay off my debt. And that's more or less what I did. My resolution read as follows:
"2006 - The Fallow Year!
"Aim: after three busy years, to use the fourth "fallow year" to end non-income generating activities (e.g. print advertising) and pay back £4,000 in 10 months from English Banana.com income to various debts that have built up in the course of growing the business (incl. x2 overdrafts and credit cards)."
Feb - April: It seems astonishing to see this now, but I was selling individual worksheets (with the answers) for 15p a time on a site called Payloadz.com. They sold, but not in any great quantity. Let's face it, I wasn't going to become rich selling ten worksheets per day at 15p each. Even with my limited maths skills I realised that. I was also offering the three books for paid download on the same site.
The podcasts originated from my desire to add syndicated content to a feed that could be published all over the web. The buzzwords of the day were "RSS - Really Simple Syndication" and "Podcasting", that is creating small nuggets of content that could be advertised by way of a web feed in lots of different directories online. I began by syndicating content from pages of English Banana.com - a new page every day would be listed on the feed - but this developed into making short audio lessons, using a cheap microphone and free software from Audacity. Podcasting was all the rage, and - not shy of jumping on a passing bandwagon - I spotted a great opportunity to promote English Banana.com material in many of the new podcast directories that were springing up everywhere on the web - and the podcasts really did spread the englishbanana.com URL far and wide on the web. Plus I wanted to learn how to make an audio lesson. How cool! Somebody, somewhere else downloading and listening to my lesson! My interest in the audio podcasts waned after ten outings, laregly because I was keen to try my hand at video podcasts.
I didn't have a video camera, just a video function on my digital camera, but that didn't stop me having a go! I figured that the originality of the content would make up for the poor quality of the resources. Another bonus with video podcasts was that they could be uploaded to YouTube - the site of the moment - and also embedded on my site, making it look up to date and "with it". I made ten English Banana.com video podcasts in all, mainly using the free Windows Movie Maker programme to put together animated sequences, rather than a video camera. As with other areas of the site's development, I didn't invest in it really, although this was "The Fallow Year". Had I bought a shiny video camera, would I have produced better videos - and more videos - and got more hits, and more this and that...? Yes, maybe. Like with the audio podcasts I ran out of steam after a while, but the great thing about the web is that the material you create can stay online and form an archive or library that anybody can dip into at any time.
7th April: registered www.englishbanana.eu and www.english-banana.eu as a precautionary measure. One which was, in hindsight, absolutely unnecessary. But you never know!
Summer: In May 2006 I got engaged to Anna, a Polish lady whom I had met during the course of my work the previous autumn. Although she speaks English very well, I wanted to be able to talk to her family in Poland, and this site was the product of my trying to teach myself Polish. The site was online in its own right for about a year, but was amalgamated to become part of English Banana.com in 2007, as Channel Z had been before it. I borrowed the central design feature - how the vocabulary words change from Polish to English and vice versa, using the 'ImgOver' HTML tag - from the Picture Dictionary HTML, and this method of learning words seemed rather innovative. It was great to be able to design a completely new website from scratch, using what I'd learned from making the previous two. The vocabulary sets were Polish words that I wanted to learn - basic things for beginners, like "Days of the Week", "Fruit", and "In the Bathroom".
The site was successful for me, since I managed to learn almost all of the words! I got some good feedback about it; for example an email from a primary school teacher who suddenly had to teach several Polish children alongside English pupils in her class, as a result of the large number of economic migrants coming to the UK from Poland after its accession to the EU in 2004. However after the initial burst of energy - making thirty different vocabulary sets - and despite an attempt to use the "technology" with another language, French, I got bored with the site and/or other things took over. I've always had only a limited amount of time to work on English Banana.com (having been employed full-time as a teacher throughout the site's existence), as well as a limited attention span for making any one kind of resource.
1st June: Check It Again! (Book One) (ISBN: 0954698584) was published. It wasn't published as a CD-ROM due to the lack of sales of the previous titles. I started working on this book in the second half of 2005, when the Big Resource Book was in its final stages. I wanted a break from books of worksheets, and had been collecting typos from newspapers, leaflets, and magazines, etc. throughout 2005. I wanted to encourage my students - and readers - by showing them that even trained professional native speakers of English are prone to making errors in language from time to time. I grouped the errors into six categories: "apostrophes", "articles", "doesn't make sense", "punctuation", "singular / plural", and "spelling". I was careful not to use each extract "as is" (for copyright reasons), and wrote a new text whilst keeping the same mistake or typo from the original text. I included copious notes and answers for each error and an "A-Z of English Grammar Words" - stuff that my generation (schoolchildren in the '80s) weren't taught in English lessons at school.
I was inspired by Lynne Truss's mega best-selling book on punctuation "Eats, Shoots & Leaves", which had sparked an improbable nationwide interest in the apostrophe, and believed that my tome could be equally popular with both language students and native speakers of English (you can't fault the scale of my ambition!); a book for reading on the loo, or on the bus; for dipping into and testing your knowledge of grammar and punctuation marks. Sadly, the book didn't take off or sell well, but it enjoys a "long-tail" life on English Banana.com online and download sites such as Download.com and Scribd (more of which below). I optimistically named it "Book One" of a series, and I do have enough material for more Check It Again! books but, I fear, it's destined to remain an oddity: a curate's egg of a book - the least popular English Banana.com book by far. I still believe in it, though (as any proud parent would!), and feel it to be an original and helpful little book for practising some of the niceties and nooks and crannies of written English.
20th June: This was a great boost for "The Fallow Year" concept because the Yahoo! webhosting price plan was far cheaper than the Lycos deal. The hosting with Yahoo! was also more user-friendly and much easier to navigate.
14th August: I started the English Banana.com channel on YouTube, so that I could upload the video podcasts that I had been making (see above).
Oct - Dec: From its zenith in the second quarter of this year, ads from Google Adsense began to show a serious and worrying decline. For the first time I thought about the possibility of registering with other ad companies, and applied to several different ones. Bearing in mind the aims of "The Fallow Year", ad revenue had become a more significant issue, particularly as it had grown steadily from autumn 2005 to the middle of 2006. No longer just pin money to cover the hosting charges (which had in any case been significantly reduced by my switching provider), I looked to the ad revenue to help me out with my credit card debt. I was forced to consider the uncomfortable possibility of losing this revenue. If that happened, would I still keep English Banana.com online, now featuring over 600 free printable worksheets? After all, I wanted to get something of value from the site too...
This is from February 2007 and it's the first time that we can see an ad on the English Banana.com home page. It was quite a nice layout, with text making it clear for visitors (and, crucially, for the search engines) what the site was all about, and it was clear what the site was offering by now: "750+ Free Printable Worksheets...", the games, the quizzes, and the free books... Free books?! Wait a minute! I'll come to that soon! Everything that is still available today on the site. But I feel that this version of the home page lacked a little sparkle, or passion, if you will. There are no pictures - apart from the ad - and the whole thing looks kind of, well, functional.
I added the RSS and XML buttons, for the feeds (audio and video podcasting) which I felt made the site look a tiny bit Web 2.0. I was still using the original titlebar that was on the site back in late 2002, but this page looks a bit boring and uninspired compared to the 2005 version, don't you think? The photos of people's faces made the latter seem more friendly and welcoming.
By the autumn of 2006 the site was offering around 750 free printable worksheets for free download - with no strings attached. This was more than I had ever seen offered online anywhere on the web - without subscription or membership, or a catch of some kind. I was still holding out on putting the books up for free download, because I saw them as an important income generator. The ads were doing far worse than I had anticipated, but I was still selling a steady number of books per month - at high prices: £39.95 for the Big Resource Book, and £29.95 for the other two workbooks. I didn't need to sell many to make a healthy profit.
I was still wrestling with two seemingly unrelated, but nevertheless interwoven, issues: 1) How to make money from the materials, and 2) how to give away the materials to those people who couldn't afford to pay for them. By the end of 2006 I was busy making a download page for each book, which would enable any visitor to download and print each page of each book. I figured that the extra hits I would get from the search engines by listing all of the page titles of each book, with links to .pdf and .doc files, would bring in more visitors, leading to more ad income and perhaps better book sales. At the same time I had always been aware that whenever anybody printed one of my worksheets and photocopied or distributed it, they were creating a form of advertisement - and a new potential audience - for the website, because each one carried the English Banana.com logo and URL. Perhaps monetisation by page views with ads on them would be more profitable in the long run than hanging onto the books and making individuals pay high prices for them - the income from the ad companies paying a few cents each time for many page views, outweighing that generated by the relatively few customers who were paying big prices for the books.
As you can see from the home page image above, by February 2007 all three workbooks (plus Check It Again!, plus all 750 worksheets, along with other resources) were online for people to download - but one page at a time. I still held out on offering the books in one complete .pdf file (which is what feedback was telling me that people really wanted).
January: By January 2007 I had CPM ads from Burst Media on the site, as well as ads from Google Adsense. The Burst Media ads were initially there as an insurance policy in case the Adsense ads continued to get worse, but the CPM ads started to do well, and by the end of February I had replaced many of the Google ads with the new ads.
1st March: The ELT Resource Bank (CD-ROM) (ISBN: 0954698592) is published. Having made the pages and files for the online versions of each English Banana.com book, it seemed like a good time to put together a new compilation CD-ROM. After all, it was now three years since The First 500 Worksheets CD had been published. The original ELT Resource Bank was much smaller than this Version 3.0, but still contained a lot of material for teachers and students. It wasn't the complete archive that this CD-ROM now is, lacking, among other things, the interactive quizzes, audio and video podcasts, and clip-art photos (and content from my other two sites: Channel Z Television, and I Can Learn English). I felt it was a better package and looked more professional than the former CD-ROM, although The First 500 Worksheets CD has sold more than five times as many copies.
Feb - April: As a way of introducing this new product on the site, I ran a promotion where people could apply for a free copy. The blurb read:
"We have a limited number of copies of our new CD-ROM - 'ELT Resource Bank' (RRP £25.95) - to give away free to people who are teaching or learning English in difficult circumstances. We know that many regular users of English Banana.com live and work in situations where to pay £25.95 (plus postage and packing) in British Pounds Sterling is simply not possible.
"If you would like to receive a free copy of the 'ELT Resource Bank', simply send us your name, address and email address, and tell us why you need to receive a free CD-ROM from English Banana.com. There are no strings attached, and no charge to you - we will even pay postage and packing!
"We look forward to hearing from you!"
This is one of the many emails that I got back, which I found so inspiring - and humbling:
From EP in Repķblica Dominicana: "I'm teaching english for free to a group of teenagers that are my kids friends, as they can not pay for it and I want to teach my kids I decided to create a 'English Club' for 10 of them. I prepare the lessons myself but is hard for me, because I have to do it at night and my lunch time, as I have a full time job I use the internet in my lunch time to find things that can help me with the lessons. I found this site preciselly looking for 'free printable pairworks and exercises'. Please let me know if I can count with you."
In total I sent out sixty-five free ELT Resource Bank CD-ROMs to people in many different countries all over the world. I received up to ten requests per day. It certainly kept my local post-mistress busy, looking up the small packet rates for many far-flung destinations! It also proved that there was a real appetite for free hard copy materials. I pondered: how can I send out hard copy materials to everybody who wants it? The answer was, of course, that at that point in time, working on my own, with a family and a full-time job, I couldn't.
April - August: I had always been fascinated by finding effective ways to get feedback from site visitors. A forum is very attractive for a site owner, because it generates a lot of page views and clicks, and the content is created by your visitors, rather than by you having to exert any pressure on your brain. Having tried (just for a few weeks) a couple of times before, this attempt was the closest I got to running a forum on English Banana.com. The original intention was to create a place where teachers could visit to swap teaching resources, links, and anecdotes, etc., but it failed to attract any visitors, so I started adding flash games from the main website to the forum. Oh yes, then it became more popular! I started making visitors sign up as a forum member to play some of the more popular games from the main site, and several hundred people - kids mainly, I guess - took time to register for the forum. This was better, but it still barely generated any discussion among the users. They just wanted to play the games, as they had done back on the main site.
So, how do you generate discussion on a forum from scratch, without a small, dedicated band of people who already know each other, posting to keep each other amused? I still haven't worked out this conundrum! As well as the games, I started posting material that I was writing for a project called "English Banana.com Schools". It was a collection of all the basic forms and paraphernalia that you need when you're planning and administering an English course (see below for more details). I was getting hits for the games and for this material on the forum, and people were signing up, but there still wasn't any discussion between English Banana.com site visitors themselves.
April: I added thirty-nine new games to English Banana.com. It had become my habit to add big batches of games at regular intervals - for example before the start of a new school term - to keep the games-loving kids happy, rather than adding one or two new games every week.
Hard as it may be to imagine, for a site that gives away so many free learning materials, I get negative or offensive feedback about English Banana.com every single week. It usually comes from kids who are visiting for the games, and falls into one of several well-defined categories:
Kids complaining about games that they find offensive:
Marina wrote about The Idiot Test: "I really think that the idiot test is cool, exept I don't think you guys should put ' YOU FOOL' if someone gets something wrong, because it may be affending to some people. just to let you know."
Crystal wrote about Monkey Cliff Diving (in which you have to save monkeys who are jumping off cliffs from being dashed to pieces on the rocks below - yes, I know...!): "I think this game was cruel and unnessasary. Forgive me, but I think it is your worst game yet. I love your site (and so does my SIX year old brother) so I was very disapointed."
However, lots of other people wrote in to say how much they were enjoying these games.
Kids complaining that games won't load, whilst 99% of the time the problem is with the Flash player on their computer, rather than with our server:
Chazz wrote about Kilroy: "I WHANT TO PLAY THE GAME RIGHT NOW SO MAKE IT SHOW."
Ashley wrote: "IT DOESN'T WORK, WILL NOT LOAD MAKE IT WORK! SEE HOW I'M TYPING IN CAPS! IT MEANS I'M YELLING AND SCREAMING AND EVERYONE CAN HEAR ME BECAUSE OF YOU! MAKE IT WORK! MAKE IT WORK! MAKE IT WORK! MAKE IT WORK! MAKE IT WORK! MAKE IT WORK! MAKE IT WORK! MAKE IT WORK! MAKE IT WORK! MAKE IT WORK...! [Ashley went on to copy and paste the phrase "MAKE IT WORK!" over a thousand times...]"
Erica wrote "none of the games that i want to play will work. this happens every time that i want to play a game. FIX THEM."
Andrea wrote about Bloons: "your ####en game isn't working and im p####d and i don't p####d easily."
Or that the games won't work on their school computers - i.e. they've been blocked:
Bob wrote about Bubble Trouble: "this game sux because it wont work on school computers!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
General gripes about the games:
Jibblex felt the need to tell us this comment about Bubble Trouble 2: "C##P!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No way is it educational!"
Kitty told us, in a very understanding way, her feelings about The Florist Game: "ITS KIDA BORING?! NO OFFENCE COUSE I KNOW U TRY YUR best 4 US."
Ashley wrote about "all games": "your stupid site is extremely stupid.i hate you for making the teen life so boring! Take your site and shove it!"
Asa emailed us about Field Goal: "it was absoululy s##t!"
...and general comments about life, the universe, and everything:
Name = I pick my nose
game = boogers
Comments = I pick my nose
Nice! But I really enjoy getting feedback - both positive and negative - from people using the site, and it really helps to find out what visitors like and don't like. The kids' emails are really funny - and heart-warming - to read; even the negative ones. They really care about the site, and the games, and get a lot out of them. In general, the negative feedback is tongue in cheek, or doesn't reflect the popularity of the game. For example, the recent addition of a Flash game called "The Idiot Test" has divided opinion massively, with people emailing every day to say how much they love it, and others, like the person above, finding it just plain rude! Kids often write in suggesting new games; for example, the Bloons games, which are really popular on the site, were first suggested by somebody emailing me.
Occasionally I get feedback from a visitor about one of the worksheets or quizzes stating that they've found a mistake, in which case I'll check it again (like the book!), and if they're right I'll change it. For example, somebody emailed to complain - very strongly - about answers given for this worksheet. However, I disagreed with her comments and let the answers stand. Click here to read her original email. That said, constructive criticism is always welcome!
June: At the same time as the (ultimately unsuccessful) forum was running, I tried an experiment with a (paid for) live chat application from Bravenet. This allowed my site visitors to chat to each other in different parts of the world, by both hooking up to the application. To my knowledge nobody ever actually held a chat online using this application on English Banana.com, and I quickly buried it. You win some, you lose some. I just couldn't make English Banana.com a venue for chat - either here, or in the forum. By August 2007 I had closed the forum and moved the EB Schools material, and other useful posts to the newly-created English Banana.com Google Groups page (see below).
June: This material started its life as content for the new English Banana.com forum (see above), but grew and expanded into a comprehensive collection of blank forms and assessments that could be used by teachers to plan and administer a course. Not course materials, but all the bits of paper that you have to fill in before, during, and after the course to keep records on each student, and to make sure that students are in the right level groups. I have used the forms - particulary the initial assessments - with many different students in both the UK and Poland. The idea was that the site could now offer teachers materials with which to: a) plan and run their courses, and b) teach their courses. At the same time as preparing and writing this set of materials, I had a freelance job offer to write fifty printable worksheets for Pearson Longman's ELT website. I got as far as writing a sample worksheet for them. The problem was that they couldn't offer any editorial support and I would have had to have done all of my own corrections and rewrites for the same (rather modest) fee as writing the worksheets. I declined the offer, preferring instead to finish writing the English Banana.com Schools materials.
July: I Can Learn English.com moved across to the English Banana.com server. I felt that the site wasn't really going anywhere in terms of increasing its numbers of visitors or hits, and I didn't have time to update it, or develop new resources for it. I thought that it would give better value as part of the English Banana.com domain, than as a separate "dead-duck" site. Plus I was able to put ads on some of the I Can Learn English pages, which I hadn't been able to do before.
1st July: The original English Banana.com Copying Licence became effective and was published online for the first time. The idea behind the Copying Licence was to make clear in strict terms what people could do with English Banana.com materials. It grew out of the experience of putting all the books online (page by page versions) and making the EB Schools materials. The offer on the home page was quite unique (see the home page banner below) and the idea was that a teacher anywhere in the world could, with the help of English Banana.com materials, plan and run their course, and charge to cover their costs, without paying a penny. In fact it felt a long way from "Penny Download Day".
The reasoning behind the licence was charitable and humanitarian. By this point I was making a sizeable amount from the ad money and book/CD-ROM sales per month, but the materials were still locked tightly into a traditional copyright straitjacket. The following text is from the English Banana.com "Frequently Asked Questions" page from 2006:
"It is permitted to either print the worksheets while online or download each file separately and print from that while it is on your computer ... All material on English Banana.com is protected under UK and International law. All worksheets and books have copyright notices on them, which give due notice of this. No material may be resold in any form or any media ... No material may be added to any other server without the express permission of English Banana.com ... all the free worksheets are photocopiable. You donít need permission to copy them. Thatís why we have a notice on every worksheet, which hopefully makes our photocopying policy crystal clear: 'This worksheet can be photocopied and used without charge.' My feeling is, whatís the point of printing a free worksheet if you canít use it?
"However, what we do request is that no material from our site is packaged for sale, in any shape or form or in any media, either now or in the future ... Please note that our photocopying policy for English Banana.com books that have been purchased is slightly different from the above, and can be viewed on the front flyleaf of each book: 'Photocopying Notice: All worksheets in this book may be photocopied without charge for use by the purchasing individual or institution. Permission to copy does not extend to additional branches of an institution. All other copying would require prior written permission from the publisher.' ..."
Instead of hitting people with legalese, as I had been doing (ironically, all paraphrased from copyright notices in traditional course books!), I believed more and more that if people used and distributed the materials, more people would visit the website, which would mean greater ad revenues and book sales, so more money all round. Motivated by both a desire to make money for my family and a genuine humanitarian and utopian desire to help people as I had been helped over the years (I remembered in particular the many years of free education - including teacher training - that I had enjoyed) I wanted to get the materials out there: to set them free; for charities and private individuals to feel that they could print and copy English Banana.com books and CD-ROMs and distribute them, or sell them to raise funds.
At this time there were still three restrictions within the Copying Licence: "1. You may not repackage and resell English Banana.com materials in order to generate a business profit. 2. You may not upload English Banana.com materials to an internet server. 3. You may not capture English Banana.com materials in frames on a website." The first was intended to stop mainstream publishers from taking my work and making a lot of money out of it, whilst the second and third were intended to protect the integrity of my website. The first restriction proved the most confusing for people. I received many emails checking whether they could use the licence in their particular situation, e.g. at a training provider, the remit of which was educational, but which was still a commercial organisation. It took me nearly eighteen months to address this issue with the second version of the Copying Licence in December 2008 (see below), but for now this felt fantastically radical, and a big step forward in terms of making my materials more freely available and more useful. I didn't use a Creative Commons licence, e.g. "Some Rights Reserved", because I didn't feel that any of them fitted exactly what I wanted to permit with my licence.
I even splashed out on a press release to market the new Copying Licence: I paid a PR company about £150 to send out my press release to relevant publications. It seemed - to me - an amazing offer, but I didn't get any press from the release. Here's an extract:
"Publisher Permits Teachers to Copy and Sell Books and Materials Without Charge:
"New Offer From ELT Materials Publisher www.englishbanana.com. September 24, 2007 - Popular educational website and publisher English Banana.com (http://www.englishbanana.com) launches its unrivalled Copying Licence, which permits teachers worldwide to raise money for their courses by selling and distributing English Banana.com materials, including books and worksheets. Under the new licence, teachers may freely copy the English Banana.com materials to their own computers, servers or intranets for use throughout an organisation, and may freely sell (or give away) the materials on CD-ROM or in paper format - meaning that the materials can not only be used in the classroom but be reproduced and sold on disk or as worksheets, bound books or manuals, without any requirement to pay royalties or commission to English Banana.com. This offer applies to students, teachers and any employee working within an educational organisation (e.g. a school, college or university) or within a not-for-profit organisation ..."
19th July: In line with my thinking at the time about making the materials more available, I put all the English Banana.com books online as single downloads. For the first time, visitors could download a complete copy of any or all of the books for free. Initially this was through the englishbanana.com server, but after a few months I started adding the books to Download.com, which really helped because: a) they provided free hosting for the downloads, and b) they were a well-known and trusted place that people visited to download software. At the same time, the fact that the books were available spread throughout the cnet.com network - the parent of Download.com - and from there via search engines throughout the web. By 1st September 2008 I was able to estimate that more than 100,000 English Banana.com books had been downloaded in just over a year - since 19th July 2007 (downloaded from englishbanana.com, Download.com, and Scribd.com - more of which below).
This number far outstripped my expectations and was absolutely extraordinary for me as the author, working without a "professional" publisher. According to "Globalization and Language Teaching" (2002) by David Block and Deborah Cameron, "... a successful [ELT] course book could sell over a hundred thousand copies a year ..." My books were achieving a similar distribution - with barely any marketing - although without profit! Of course, if I had sold all of the books that had been downloaded I would be a very rich man today. To have a bestseller in the UK top 10 hardback non-fiction chart in May 2008, an author would have needed to sell only 870 copies of his or her book, according to The Times. "Talk a Lot Spoken English Course Elementary Book 1" was downloaded 1,875 times in a single week in December 2008, making it #5 on the Download.com list of the "Most popular Language Software downloads". All of the software titles ranked above my book were items that you had to pay for - mine was the only free title in the top 5. This figure doesn't include all of the many (and uncountable) downloads from file sharing sites, where people have uploaded my books for wider distribution - despite them already being free and included in the Copying Licence! In the absence of a mainstream - or any - publisher, is it better to give away the materials for free, than allow nobody to use them whilst all the time "waiting to be discovered" by a proper publisher?
August: The failure of the forum notwithstanding, it was still necessary for the site to have a space online - preferably part of the main site - where I could post news and ephemera related to English Banana.com. Prior to the forum I had had a page called "What's New?" on the site, that I regularly updated with news and things that I wanted to flag up on the site, e.g. new quizzes, or games. I started a Google Group, which gathered a few members. I was able to email them from time to time for updates. Members were also able to email each other. The group ultimately died because one member began sending offensive messages, that went to all of the other members, some of whom complained - quite rightly - to me. I was disappointed that I still wasn't able to start an online group or forum where members could discuss English language issues and teaching together, but better things grew out of the Google Group, in the form of the English Banana.com Blog - for news and stray bits of content - and the "English Banana Club" group on Facebook - for contacting members with news and updates (see below).
October: I had been working on this major new collection of 201 new worksheets during the summer of 2007, and it was ready to publish online by October. It was basically a collection of all the miscellaneous rough versions of worksheets and scraps of ideas that I had knocking around in my "Ideas Folder", as well as work that I had been doing with my learners in the first half of 2007, for example the worksheets on the IPA, and the Derbyshire Accent Project. My new thinking towards publishing and making available new material was reflected by the fact that I didn't even consider making a new hard copy workbook compilation of the best worksheets, as I so easily could have done. Instead I prepared all of the worksheets to go straight online as free downloads. This collection gave a big boost to the number of free worksheets on English Banana.com, and for the first time I was able to advertise 1,000+ free printable worksheets on the site. This was the first major update that I had added after moving to Poland in September 2007 with my family: my now wife, Anna, and our new baby daughter.
October: Facebook was all the rage, so, in my latest bid for English Banana.com to look like it had moved with the times, I duly signed up, made my online profile, and created the English Banana.com Club group. The group has grown very slowly, but today new people are joining every week, and it's a good way for them to get to know each other - as well as for me to be able to network with some English Banana.com regulars. I can send emails to all members of the group with updates, and post links to new materials. It's still hard to get a discussion going though, although groups with much larger memberships also have fairly spartan discussion groups. The truth is that the vast majority of web users use it to relax and get something, rather than participate and contribute.
October: In the initial rush of excitement of joining Facebook and starting the group, I discovered a way (via Spring Widgets) to make an app, or widget, for Facebook - "app" and "widget" being the great buzzwords of the time. The widget was a gadgety-looking square of .html code that people could embed on their sites, which contained copious links to English Banana.com pages. I should say that I'm not a technical wizard or computer nerd, but I know enough, and have continued to learn enough over the years to be able to do (most of) what I want to do online with my sites - and I'm still learning today. I don't think that my widget set the blogosphere alight, but it's still available online, and on Facebook, and showed people that English Banana.com was moving with the times, despite being an "old" site from way back in 2002! Truth be told, it felt good just for the site to have survived online since then.
November: I added sixty-six new games to English Banana.com, especially for the winter term at school.
December: towards the end of this month I had a flurry of activity adding pages containing useful online tools, such as a translator, a currency converter, world maps, a dictionary, a word of the day, and so on. I had a rather vague idea of English Banana.com becoming a kind of portal - an essential stopping-off place on the web. I think my ambition (for the week that it took to make these pages) once again outran reality because today these pages - though undeniably useful - are visited by approximately thirty four people per day... max! Well, you put stuff online (i.e. throw it against the wall), and you just never know what's going to stick.