Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Retrospective 1: Conception

Since starting TorrentFries, I've had a number of people ask me how to start a successful tracker. The first question I ask is always "What sort of material do you want on the site?" Only one person gave me a response other than "everything". Incidentally, I'm now involved in some small way in the development of that other person's tracker. The two aren't directly related (I'm not a sword for hire), but they're not entirely unrelated either.

Listen, I'll let you in on a secret. There are tons of "everything" trackers out there. Come up with something unique to pull people in.

Personally, I believe in unconventional activism. In this case, deep-fried goods are too expensive, so I thought a BitTorrent tracker might get people talking about the problem. Since nobody else had one going, I set out to create one of my own.

The first step in the process was to find a host and a tracker. In this situation, personal connections are nice. I was lucky enough to know a guy that ran a shared web host, so I was able to get things running for $5/month, plus the cost of registering a domain name ($12/year). However, any shared host worth their salt should figure out that someone is running a tracker pretty quickly, so don't count on slipping that under the radar. Instead, you might consider a VPS, which allows you to rent part of a server, rather than having to pay for the whole thing. You should have plenty of control over your server, and get more leeway in terms of traffic. A basic VPS will cost you around $40/month.

However, be aware that there's no way you can buy security for any price you can afford at this point. The best you can hope for is a web host that will look the other way until they hear from a copyright holder. Most dedicated and VPS hosts I've encountered will do this; in fact, some hosts have told me this directly. What you can do is maintain daily off-site backups and have a backup host lined up in advance in case of the worst. We'll talk about contingency planning a bit later on.

Choosing the software involves a fair bit of research. I was pretty lazy on that point, and have been paying for it ever since. The only two trackers I checked out were TBdev and TorrentTrader Classic. TBdev is used by a lot of big-name private trackers such as Torrent-Damage, TorrentLeech, the late OiNK, LearnBits, BitMe, BlackCats, BrokenStones and so forth. However, the administration functions are almost non-existent, and the amount of customization available in TorrentTrader appealed to me. I didn't want to spend much time digging around in the code to get everything to work properly.

I've got a fair bit of experience with graphic and web design, so I took it as given that I'd build a new theme from the ground up. The product was in retrospect not that impressive, but it was certainly usable and unquestionably better than what I'd started with.

Finally, before going live, I asked a friend to take a look at the site. I expected him to spend perhaps 5 minutes and respond with a "looks good", but he ended up giving me a two-page essay including everything down to copy-editing in the FAQ. It was great help, and I was able to refine a lot of features that way.

Tomorrow: details on how to pull members in.


OnionRings said...

You mentioned that you only checked out TBdev and TorrentTrader. Knowing what you know now, what tracker would you choose?

CurlyFries said...

I still haven't done a whole lot of research, since there doesn't seem to be much point at this stage. I know the aversion to getting my hands dirty wouldn't apply after the amount of customization TorrentTrader has needed, so TBdev would get a longer look if I were to go through a second time around. I've had a number of people recommend Gazelle, which is brand new, but I see it as a little too flashy. I'd crack it open and probably get some good ideas and bits of code from it, but I'm not sure I'd want to go with that one either.

I'm just too picky!

gipsy_scholar said...

Another alternative to check out is the XBTIT code which has been handling my own tracker well for the last six months.
Still, in the hope that others can learn from my mistakes, do not make your tracker too specialised. I have been collecting documentaries about China for many years and I thought that I would be able to get loads more especially this year. As it is, I seem to have topped out at about two hundred or so torrents and about 600 members. The mistake that i think I made was to pick too specialised a niche and not have a limitless source of new material to rip and up. For me it seems that the most successful trackers (such as my fave UK TV tracker) have an almost limitless resource of new material to keep the site going. If I was going to try another tracker (and I would very much like to in the future) I would choose a resource that has a lot of material. I would probably approach one of the big networks too see if they wanted to release their archive on a tracker. Maybe NHK or PBS or perhaps even TVB Pearl, but certainly one with a big archive so that I would not run out of material again.

CurlyFries said...

An excellent point. TorrentFries is actually that specialized, but it turned out okay. You might want to think about opening the site to documentaries in general. It's not untrodden ground, but it's also not exactly saturated like other fields.

The nice thing about specialized trackers is that they tend to get material in their particular field before the big boys do, giving people a reason to visit. The same goes for your Chinese documentaries; chances are many of them can't be found elsewhere. As you've found, it's not a great draw in the grand scheme of things, but it has given you a member base you can build off of. The first thousand is the hardest.

Best of luck with the tracker!

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