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Popular Sites Running On Limited Budgets

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The net is an expansive, overwhelming world that we tend to take for granted. Many upcoming sites such as the “adult” Asstr, Blogcritics, Desicritics, etc. become sites most of us habitually visit.

Despite the immense popularity that these sites enjoy most of them have yet to make money. The sites are basically run by people who have day jobs and pay for the sites from their own pockets.

During the earlier dotcom boom people found easy money to fund anything they could dream of. In the Web 2.0 world, a few huge $$$ deals have made other sites believe they could strike it big too. The reality, though, is that many struggle to keep the lights on, in the face of growing readership and popularity.

Take for example Asstr, an adult site that is a free, user-supported web site. There are no banners, AVS, blind-links, pop-ups, or other gimmicks designed to pick the reader’s pocket. Anyone can submit their erotic stories to the site and people from around the world get to read them.

The site also picks authors who are given space on its server and the benefit is a vast volume of readership yet to be matched by similar sites; all free of cost. I had been submitting my erotic stories on Asstr sporadically and only recently I was accepted into their coterie of authors and collectors. It was a grand experience and I stood in awe of the vistas the site laid open. My stories were read, bookmarked and I even got feedback.

What more could an aspiring writer want? Well, a little money would be nice but when the site itself is struggling to survive its own popularity on overloaded servers and limited budgets, the authors/writers are generally happy enough with the fact that their stories are reaching the readers and some may even become as famous as Kristin Becker.

However, Asstr has been in trouble. Their servers crashed and the site was down for over a week. Management was quick to inform its authors and collectors of the problems they were facing, which were compounded by limited funds. Here is the letter they sent to all their authors and I’m sure it won’t be a problem with them if I share it:


At this time we believe our systems have been fixed and everything should be back to normal. If you find anything not working, please let us know.

We are evaluating our options for minimizing this type of problem from reoccurring. The bottom line is the more machines we have, the easier it is to have backup systems in place in the event one of our machines dies. Based on our experience, periodic system failures are unavoidable, and so by having other computers available that can take over, we can minimize and/or prevent any outages. Of course, whenever one of our systems fails, we work to understand what caused the problem and how we can minimize the chance of a reoccurrence.

As funding becomes available to add additional equipment, we will do so.

We encourage our account holders (authors and collectors) to make their site visitors aware that while Asstr is and will always remain free, unfortunately it takes real money to provide our services (particularly reliable services).

We appreciate everyone’s patience and support. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

– Rey del Sexo

In the modern always-connected world, it looks like websites are expected to go beyond 99.999% availability and reliability in the service of their readers. We tend to take freebies for granted, but can’t do without them in this new connected world. Asstr happens to be one of my favorite sites as it supports freedom of speech and provides me with a community of authors and readers who enjoy erotica.

What sites could you not bear to live without?

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About Deepti Lamba

  • I can’t live with out Engadget but looks like they have more funding then a little bit. I thin the asstr site needs to look for a business partner that they would funnel traffic to.

  • Sites like Engadget make it look easy for everyone else until web reality bites them in the T1 pipe

  • Interesting timing – Shoutwire is down:)

  • Chris

    Definitely Shoutwire, Engadget and Maddox (The Best Page in the Universe)

  • I wonder if any of these sites could apply for endowments or grants? You’d think sites facilitating the arts, free speech, and so on would be eligible for something in the scheme of things. Alas….money.


  • Tom

    They could always get some advertisers

  • i’ve scaled websites to 10k daily pageviews and Alexa rankings of 10-15,000 … all from a $500 server running over a DSL connection with a 250k uplink.

    it can be done =)

    hosting lots of images / video is where you get nailed.

  • Another porn related site that is and will remain free (as in free of charge, ads and whatnot)
    is http://www.ratedp.com – social bookmarking for porn (Web 2.0 style)

  • It proves that most people leech. I want this I need that etc. but when it comes time to bring up the cash……

  • nsfw

    First link is NSFW.

  • There still are free hosts, which allow you (within reasonable limits) to set up a website – I’m using http://www.atspace.com at the moment.

    I think that if the site mentioned above would use Google ads, they would stay out of financial trouble (given the amount of traffic they have).

    Another poster stated that hosting images and videos is the big one to tackle, and I could not agree more. Getting a site up and running is not that big of an issue, it’s paying for the bandwidth of a multimedia-heavy website with a lot of visitors that is the killer…

  • Thanks for the tip JayCee. I’ll check atspace out.

    I run my own site from my mac mini on a ADSL connection – seems to cope OK with several thousand pages/day. But I keep pretty much all of the images off it.

    When (if!) I ever make enough through adsense to pay for hosting then it’ll go ad-lite and get more multimedia.

  • (#7/#12) AdSense won’t accept NSFW sites. Most advertisers that will are themselves far more NSFW than a text repository.

    S.A. (#10) 10k daily pageviews isn’t actually a ton, even if you’re text-only. This site (Blogcritics) had more than 10k pageviews in one hour yesterday, more than 100k overall. It’s like the richter scale: 20k to 30k is ten times as hard as 10k to 20k, and so on.

    And of course, dynamic pages are much harder than static pages, and at this level hosts charge for bandwidth, and so on. I don’t know how much bandwidth asstr uses, but that could be hurting them if they’re on a dedicated server.

  • It’s not difficult or very expensive to have redundancy as is believed. All you need is smart DNS mirroring and a maybe two virtual servers or space hosts.

    If you go dedicated all it would require is two servers with oodles of bandwidth (EV1 or similar), which would be say $130×2 each month.

    If you go virtual with smaller disk space requirements or bandwidth you can do it at less than $100/month.

  • Gmail seems to be unavailable every 10 minutes or so nowadays

  • Jeeves (#15): Define “oodles.” Show me a link that says that EV1 provides dedicated servers for $130/month. (I’m not denying they do, I just didn’t find it at ev1.net.)

    More importantly, find an ISP that doesn’t offer a great deal but then force you to move if you actually attract, you know, traffic! It happens more often than anyone wants to talk about.

    Also, between best-guesses and reality often lies hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. This page has lots of images, but most are hosted on other servers. The favicon is 3638 bytes, the background is 128 bytes, the site logo is 1982 bytes, and the two Amazon logos are 2142 and 1717 bytes. All of those will live in the cache for your subsequent visits. And still it’s easy to burn through a ton of bandwidth: CSS files get biggish.

    Blogcritics.org goes through more than 3GB a month pretty easily, and that costs money. A dedicated server isn’t costing us $130, that’s for sure (which is why I’m asking!)

    I grabbed the first result for “dedicated server hosting” and it looks like I can get a server for $99! What on earth am I paying four times that much for?

    They do have a $99 dedicated server, but it’s a Celeron processor with 512MB of RAM. The processor is disappointing, but the 512MB of RAM is a deal-killer. Finding a more appropriate hosting package to host a server that has more than static pages, like one with hundreds (or more) of users, I end up at the Premium packages, which — darn it — are cheaper and better than I’m paying now, but are still nowhere close to $130 each. There also appears to be an additional fee for networking them together.

    In the end, I might be able to save a *little* here, in exchange for giving up the super-a-plus excellent support I get from my current ISP (not saying others support sucks, just that I don’t know), as well as going through the pain of migrating. But it isn’t very easy, and it’s even harder for a site like asstr, which is probably classed as porn by many ISPs, and refused.

  • kila gorilla

    http://www.microsoft.com is in teh same boat as this asstr site

  • Ignoring random bizarro comment #18, I want to highlight two things that make a site chew up system resources: includes and dynamic content. Usually two parts of the same problem, really.

    Think about that list of comments on the sidebar of this page. Every time someone writes a comment, that list is automatically updated on every page on this site (40,000+). There’s a really bad way to do that, and a slightly bad way to do that. The really bad way would be to connect to the database and get a list of the most recent comments every time a page is loaded. Horribly, horribly resource-intensive. A slightly bad way to do that is to have a small text file built when a new comment is posted, and then INCLUDE it into every page on the site.

    PHP include or Apache include — which chews up more resources? I don’t know; I should probably test.

    But it’s not just that. Because people who aren’t super-HTML-jockeys edit bits on the sidebar, there are several includes on each page. In fact, the comments here are INCLUDEd. All those includes surely add up.

    And of course these are PHP pages, so every page is parsed to see what PHP code might be lurking within. And there is some, to be sure. The Amazon listings are produced at page-load time instead of page-build time for reasons I can’t remember right now.

    Now imagine a site that actually presents different information to each user. It could be just your name in the header when you’re logged in. It could track all of your votes, or suppress bits you’ve checked. All of that means database access, and a lot of it.

    There’s a world of difference between serving up static pages and serving up dynamic pages, and another huge leap to serving up database-driven pages. Images and bandwidth aren’t the only killers. This site got kicked off of a shared server long before it made any money. We paid quite a lot out of pocket before ad revenue finally caught up with dedicated-server hosting fees, and even had a fundraiser at one point.

  • Well, this is late but…

    Just a few comments – ASSTR uses (at the moment) 10 Mbits of bandwidth (that’s almost 7 T1s) almost 24 hours/day.

    #8: Our Alexa rating is between 1000 and 2000 and we record ~2 million stories downloaded/day (that’s hits minus CSS, images, etc.). We manage to do this for less than $1000/month, although our hardware was rather expensive.

    #15: We have limited redundancy, but we’re still moving from a legacy architecture where all our “important” data is located on one system to one where all that data is on a database (that can be made redundant itself), so if our main server goes down then we’re pretty much lost. This should be fixed, but no one at ASSTR is getting paid to work on it so these things take time…

    Partnering and ads are both quite difficult. Right now we operate tax free since we’re a non-profit charity. Getting paid (vs. getting donations) makes our tax situation somewhat more complicated. Of course, even beyond that the administration isn’t a big fan of ads, especially the kinds of ads that people would want to put on our site (if it moves or flashes then it’s in the class of ads I *really* don’t like).

    Btw, this is not official ASSTR opinion, of course, just my own. I just happen to have some data that could be helpful, so I thought I’d share.