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Dan Richard On Pixel2Life.com
There are lots of good Photoshop tutorial sites but few sites offer the whole enchilada as far as being a developer's one-stop shop. Pixel2Life does a pretty good job. Not only does it offer a great selection of Photoshop tutorials, the site also features a large collection of tutorials for Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver and a slew of other programs. It also boasts a 15,000+ community that shares ideas in the P2L forums. A few days ago we asked owner Dan Richard some questions about Pixel2Life, and here's what he had to say...
Can you give us some background on Pixel2Life...
Pixel2life.com actually began as a personal portfolio site I was designing while recovering from a serious bout of food poisoning. I was working out quite a bit at the time and had zero plans for taking on any new web design projects since my fairly complete retirement in 2002. I got sick, couldn't work out, much less stand, so I decided to build a website instead!
As I searched for tutorials for particular elements I wanted on my site, I couldn't believe how many places I had to visit for the various tuts I needed! That's what got the wheels turning and the idea of a large format tutorial search engine was born. So, in December of 2003, I recruited my good friend Shao to code this new idea and on January 2, 2004, the first version of P2L was officially launched. Unfortunately, we didn't really plan things out too well, and it became fairly obvious that the internal structure of the site just couldn't support the project.
Shao eventually became too busy for the site and things were in dire need of attention when I first met Jay in early summer 2004. Jay is a pure PHP coding guru, and once he was onboard, we couldn't stop dreaming of where to take the site. In May 2005 we launched a whole new front end system as our version 2 release and since then, Jay and I have been slamming away on CMS improvements and secret projects every week. It's definitely a full time job now.
What was your initial inspiration for creating and launching the site?
It was a combination of nausea and frustration! I wasn't in a very good mood when I started working on my portfolio, so the need for a tutorial search portal for every aspect of web design was extremely obvious at the time. I also didn't want to create my 200th portfolio site. I also love helping people, and if you ever get a chance to see my inbox, you'll see emails from 1997 to now of people from around the world simply asking me for help in some form or another. If you don't mind waiting, then I don't mind answering ;)
How many people visit the site a day, and how many tutorials are viewed a day?
Approximately 23,000 people visit the site a day, with around 50,000 thousand views. Jay probably knows the exact number, but he's sound asleep across the Atlantic in the UK at the moment. It's ironic to think in early 2004, I used to be thrilled at 500 uniques a day!
Which are the most popular areas of the site?
Well the obvious champion area of our site is EASILY the Photoshop tutorials. In terms of tutorials and views, there's nothing else very close to the numbers the PS area puts out. Flash, PHP and the 3DStudio Max categories are also quite popular, although I'm all about the Corel goodies. It's a lonely place to be lol! Aside from the tutorials themselves, our forums are also a big hit, and there's ALWAYS something going on over there. Whether you want to code AJAX or talk about what Bill Gates likes on his Pizza, you can talk about it on the forums with 15,000 other people.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tutorials out there? How do you cope with all the submissions?
Actually, the sheer volume of junk out there has only recently become apparent. I think with the HUGE spawn in tutorial portals in the last 6 months, websites everywhere are seeing it as easy traffic. So you get all these sites recycling the same tutorials for easy traffic, and it's just a huge waste of time for everyone.
It takes about an hour to sort through 100 tutorial submissions, and I may approve 5 from that lot if I'm lucky. We get over 300 a day, so you can imagine how long it takes to wade through all that muck. How do I cope? It's part of running the site, so I just deal with it like I would someone who driving slow in front of me, or any other inconvenience. I want to run a great site, and our guests expect a great site... Dealing with poor submissions is part of the business, so I just accept it and plod on.
Which tutorials do you enjoy reviewing the most?
No contest! I love seeing new Corel tutorials come in. But, seeing as that pretty much never happens unless I wrote it, I'll go for digital photography editing with any of our 2D graphic categories. Photography is one of many hobbies I pursue, and I love playing with photos, especially recovering old and damaged photos. I spent about a year working with a photo recovery master a few years ago and it's almost like you're in some kind of CSI episode. Rebuilding destroyed photos is extremely challenging, but a lot of fun. And I don't mean photos that have a crack or a few splotches in them... I mean photos that look like they came out of an oil barrel shortly after being passed through a paper shredder. Why? Because the look of shock and appreciation on the person's face when you give them the restored photo is absolutely priceless and I never get tired of it.
How do you rate the other tutorial sites out there, and is there one that you find stands way out?
There's others?! In seriousness, there are a couple of good tutorial sites out there, but I'd like to think that P2L is pretty much top notch, or at least very close to being there. What is really vexing me are all these portal start ups that are basically visiting P2L, GT (www.good-tutorials.com)or another large site and just sucking out the entire database and popping it up on their sites.
I'd say this happens at least twice a week with a new "latest and greatest" portal site that is a dupe of mine. At least I get a chuckle when the site disappears within a few weeks because the author suddenly realizes you need about 60 hours a week to keep the thing running. Most of these young kids assume we just downloaded a script and we sit on our arses and just reap in piles of money. Jay and I have probably put in a total of 10,000 hours or more into this site so far and Donna and the mod team also log TONS of hours to keep our community running in top shape. This is definitely not a 1 person show, and this is definitely not something we set up in a few hours, sat back, and let the good times roll. It really is a lot of work.
Do you have plans for any other sites?
Jay and I always have new things brewing in the pot, and we're VERY excited about our latest project named "Hammer Time" or "Project MC Hammer" depending on who you talk to. This is going to be a huge deal for us and we are VERY excited to be bringing this to the community. This is a top secret project for us and even most of the staff know only a vague outline of what's in store. Parachute pants anyone? After Hammer Time goes live, we'll see what happens ;)
Whenever we interview a tutorial site owner we always ask what advice would they give an aspiring tutorial writer to help them get posted - and so we ask you...
Be unique, be professional, and teach! The 3 biggest problems I see in the thousands of tutorials I go through every week is that most of them are the same old tutorials over and over again (yes, we know what a forum sig is, and NO you didn't invent a new way of doing one), they are filled with spelling errors and swearing, and/or they simply tell people what to click or type without explaining anything.
If someone has to click something, explain why and what they are doing! If you teach them to simply click this and that, they'll only know how to create exactly what is in your tutorial. In my tutorials for example, I not only teach whatever the final objective of my tutorial is, but also how to use the tools involved and how to make many variations and deviations based off the result or any step in between. Students generally hate conformity, so why force it upon them?
So, be different, take your time and spell check, and cover as much material as you can to help people learn. It cracks me up when I see someone post "Hey, I FINALLY finished this tutorial after 3 hours!" I often take more time to just take my screenshots, never mind write the entire tutorial. I'd say an average tutorial I write takes about 25 hours from start to finish, with my slicing guide one (www.slicingguide.com) taking something like 60 or 80 hours. Trust me, 3 hours is a short skip in the woods compared to the wonderful free tutorials I see come through the submission queue.
That's it for now. Thanks Dan, and continued success with Pixel2Life!
Read Dan's blog.
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