We started the new year in January with a newly-designed home page. This time the aim was to get all the main links onto the screen without any need for scrolling. There was also room around the edges for ads and for feature panels, which could easily be updated to show what was new on the site. I stayed with this design throughout the rest of the year, so it must have been effective! I spent the first couple of weeks creating games pages for our sister site at Study Paws.com, and also finishing off the ELT Resource Bank - a folder containing all English Banana.com resources since the site started in 2002. The ELT Resource Bank was put online as a free download (in a .zip file) and was also available to buy on a CD-ROM. I also uploaded the whole folder (almost 1 GB of resources) to an online location at http://www.studypaws.com/elt, where it would stay until November, when I finally removed it.
With this big project completed I had time to add a few new games for English Banana.com, adding forty new games in February, including: 18 Wheeler 2, Dino Run, Idiot Test 2, 3, 4, 4 and a half, and The Ultimate Idiot Test. The rest of February and March were taken up with completing the Talk a Lot Elementary Handbook, and the first two units from Talk a Lot Elementary Book 3 - Unit 1: Learning English - and Unit 6: Money - all of which was published on 19th April at a new location on the site: http://www.englishbanana.com/talkalot/ I updated the Handbook during the year, notably in May, June, September, and November - whenever I had some new material for it.
Earlier in April I had decided to identify the top twenty English Banana.com worksheets that had been accessed on Scribd.com. The top six were:
I also found time to add thirty new games to English Banana.com, including: Stone Age Sam and Territory War.
In May, with two big projects completed (the ELT Resource Bank and Talk a Lot Handbook) I was able to relax and focus on writing the new units for Talk a Lot Book 3. I published Unit 2: Films on 8th May. Also in May our first Certificates of Authorisation were issued. The aim was to help people to be able to use our free licences by giving them concrete assurance that they could make money from them. The certificates gave both permission and credibility in the form of signed documents, and by the end of the year fifteen different individuals or companies had received this authorisation.
Also in May a new avenue opened up when we first heard from Ray Connors, an English teacher working in Vietnam. He got me started teaching online lessons, first on WiZiQ.com, and then later on eduFire.com. Thanks, Ray! By the end of the year I had taught over fifty online lessons - both paid for and free - with twenty-nine of the free lessons being recorded and distributed as podcasts, to which hundreds of people subscribed. Also in June we launched a new games page template that tried to make better use of the page space.
In June I continued to write for Talk a Lot Book 3, and on 16th July Unit 3: Hospital was published. During this time I was also learning to teach online - by just doing it! - and building up a loyal class of students on WiZiQ.com.
By August I had stopped updating Study Paws.com and was focusing all of my games-page-building energy on English Banana.com. I added twenty-two brand new games to English Banana.com, including the following, which proved to be mega-popular: Bloons Player Pack 5, Boxhead: the Zombie Wars, Incredibots 2, and Territory War Online - all ready for the start of the new autumn term.
Also during August, I switched to eduFire.com for my online lessons, because I was getting fed up with some of the technical problems that I had encountered on WiZiQ.com. These have since been resolved, but it was good to try out and learn a different platform. Many of my regular students followed me to eduFire.com and I taught there - usually every week on a Saturday afternoon - all through the autumn and to the end of the year. I taught some paid-for lessons as well as free, but in the end focused mainly on the free lessons, as a way of demonstrating and promoting the Talk a Lot materials. The series of podcast .mp3 downloads grew until by the end of the year there were twenty-nine free lessons online. I really enjoyed teaching these lessons and hope to continue into 2010.
On 10th September Unit 4: Books was published and I ploughed on with Talk a Lot Book 3, with Unit 5: Airport being published a month later on 13th October. September also saw some new chapters being added to the Talk a Lot Handbook.
October was the month when English Banana.com moved to its first dedicated server in its seven-year history. Before that it had always been on commercially-hosted shared servers. The aim in moving was to allow space for the site to grow bigger. October 18th was the big day, and it went smoothly enough. After the big move I started to dismantle the ELT Resource Bank from Study Paws.com and bring together all English Banana.com materials onto the same server at http://www.englishbanana.com/ Our blog closed at this point, but it had only been updated sporadically during the year. Any big announcements had gone out via the mailing list and our Facebook group. At the same time I had a spring clean with my other domains and cancelled commercial hosting for naukajazdy-zaniewski.com (a family site), moving it to English Banana.com. I did the same with studyenglishpl.com, which is the home of my offline teaching business. With just a little bit of sadness I cancelled the studypaws.com hosting package and put the domain name up for sale. (It is still for sale!) It was clear that all my attention and focus should be on my main site at English Banana.com. Once the dust had settled on the new, integrated English Banana.com site I scanned every page and file and created a new, up-to-date site map.
In October I was also very busy with a special extended unit for Talk a Lot Book 3, and on 9th November Unit 7: Places in the UK was published. The English Banana Trust met with the British Council in London in mid-November, to show some of our resources and get some advice regarding gaining funding. Shortly afterwards, we launched English Banana Trust's Causes page on Facebook. At the time of writing the English Banana Trust is still waiting before it can apply for charitable status in the UK.
In November the mailing list was discontinued, mainly to reduce costs for the site. After building up more than 1,400 members over a fourteen month period, it was decided that the site could do without the costs and that our Facebook group could do the job of keeping members in touch with news and new materials. My eduFire lessons continued to be really rewarding, and some positive relationships grew and developed out of this work. One example is with Nadia Solovyova, a student who offered to help on English Banana.com and has so far provided Russian translations for both our Free Copying Licence, and our Free Licence to Run Courses.
In November I added forty-five brand-new games to English Banana.com, many of which had been suggested by site visitors. I also salvaged almost all of the games from Study Paws.com and added them to English Banana.com. A real highlight of late autumn was waiting for the release of the amazingly popular Bloons Tower Defence 4. The publisher set the release date, which I posted on our site, but every day we received anxious emails from site visitors begging us to add it to the site. As soon as we could, we did! After that the email activity went strangely quiet for a few weeks, with everybody busy playing it!
On 14th December I published Unit 8: Politics. It felt great to have finished 80% of Talk a Lot Book 3 before the end of the year! The complete book has a tentatively-planned released date of April 2010. Also in December I renewed our english-banana.com domain name - mainly so that it couldn't be used by other sites.
In terms of both visitors and page views in 2009, we didn't have any big 4 million page-view months like November 2008, but English Banana.com did continue to grow - with 7 million more page views and 1.6 million more visitors than last year. The amount of material viewed and downloaded grew exponentially too, not least because of the new material that was added to the site - eight new units of Talk a Lot Book 3 (around 37 pages each) and the Talk a Lot Handbook, which at 324 pages is the heftiest book that I have written to date! In total I wrote 633 pages of new material for English Banana.com in 2009.
We didn't forget about our games-loving visitors either, and added 110 brand new games to the site, bringing the total number of games available on English Banana.com to 680.
Ad revenue was down this year (was there a global recession this year, or something like that?!), but we continued to experiment with revenue streams for the site, launching partnerships with four new companies: Hooked Media, Infolinks, Project Wonderful, and Secret Builders.
We continued to use our Facebook Group to keep in touch with site visitors, and let people know about new materials and free online lessons. Just before Christmas 2009 the group passed the 1,000 members mark! It proved itself to be a really useful way of communicating with English Banana.com visitors, and finally usurped our mailing list, which was discontinued. Twitter proved to be a bit baffling to us in 2009, as in "What is it really for?", but people began to "follow" us anyway, and we were able to use it to some degree to promote our materials and courses.
An update on English Banana.com materials:
There have been 864,882 reads/downloads of English Banana.com books and worksheets on www.scribd.com (June 2008-December 2009).
There have been 353,814 downloads of English Banana.com books on www.cnet.com (July 2007-December 2009).
We also added our materials to some new content sites during 2009, namely, Slideshare, Docstoc, SourceForge, Issuu, and Internet Archive. However, Scribd and cnet remain the most consistently effective platforms for sharing our resources - giving us the largest readership. We've lost count of the number of downloads there have been from English Banana.com itself, and we can only guess how many of our materials have been downloaded from file-sharing sites which weren't Scribd and cnet. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Similarly, we can only guess at the number of pages of English Banana.com materials that were printed out and photocopied in schools and homes around the world in 2009.
As for book sales: we sold thirty units. Yes, that many! But, of course, our business isn't selling books. English Banana.com is all about free materials. We aren't actively trying to sell our own stuff. We'll leave that up to the people who want to use our free licences.
Completing the ELT Resource Bank - collecting together six years' worth of resources onto one CD-ROM - and getting it online for downloading. It was a big job!
Completing the Talk a Lot Elementary Handbook (how to use the course), and also completing eight brand new full-length units for Talk a Lot Book 3.
Learning to teach online with WiZiQ and eduFire, and meeting a small but dedicated band of students and friends who participated in the lessons with great enthusiasm and panache. A very rewarding time.
Getting great feedback almost every day from people around the world who are successfully using English Banana.com materials in their lessons, and also hearing from people around the world who are making use of the free English Banana.com licences. Click here to read more...
Changing servers without too much hassle, and consolidating all English Banana.com materials onto one server - including stuff that was on studypaws.com as part of the online ELT Resource Bank. A not particularly easy or straightforward job, but worth doing nonetheless.
What I was reading during the year while writing the new Talk a Lot materials:
Master and Man, and How Much Land does a Man Need? by Leo Tolstoy; A Passage to India, Where Angels Fear to Tread, and A Room with a View by E. M. Forster (I had a real Forster phase in 2009); Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (I started to get into Hardy, despite initial misgivings about Tess, that have now been resolved!); Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving (the latest novel by my favourite writer; didn't disappoint, but didn't match his best work - how could it?); The Guardian - Tech Supplement (this kept me up to date with IT news and issues every Thursday); online I read lots of showbiz tittle-tattle on, among others, Popjustice.com, BBC Entertainment News, and Unofficial Mills.co.uk (the web home of my favourite DJ, Radio 1's Scott Mills).
What I watched and enjoyed during the year while writing the new Talk a Lot materials:
Tropic Thunder (film); The Apprentice (TV series - on iTunes); Teachers (TV series); South Pacific (TV series); Dragons' Den (on YouTube); Harry Hill's TV Burp (on YouTube). Note: my choice of viewing was somewhat limited by living in Poland!
What I listened to during the year while writing the new Talk a Lot materials:
Many excellent podcasts, including: Scott Mills Daily, Adam and Joe, HTB Sunday Talks, Richard Herring: As It Occurs To Me (AIOTM), The Now Show, and The News Quiz.
Music: All the Lost Souls - James Blunt; Day & Age - The Killers (endlessly); Favourite Worst Nightmare - Arctic Monkeys; The Happiness Project - Charles Spearin (unusual and wonderful); I Look to You - Whitney Houston; If on a Winterís Night... - Sting; Itís Not Me, itís You - Lily Allen; The Killers Live from the Royal Albert Hall - The Killers; No Line on the Horizon - U2; Partie Traumatic - Black Kids; This Delicate Thing We've Made - Darren Hayes; Sam's Town - The Killers.
More English Banana.com materials, more amazing games, and more online lessons - watch this space!
Matt Purland, Ostróda, Poland - 6th January 2010