Ten Years of INeedCoffee
When Michael Allen Smith reflects on a decade of INeedCoffee, one thing becomes clear - Internet history is no longer an oxymoron. There exists no standard for measuring "website years" in the same way that a dog's age is compared with a human being's age. Suffice it to say that 10 years is pretty damn old for a website.
INeedCoffee was launched by Smith on April 4, 1999, with the help of Lura Lee, Ryan Jacobs, and Alex Scofield. The 10th birthday is both cause for celebration and a signal that changes are in store. A decade's worth of monthly INeedCoffee articles has begun to evolve into the more blog-like format of the newly launched Coffee Hero.
'A Better Coffee Site'
Coffee was no different from any other website topic in the late '90s - although the Dot-Com Era was at its peak in many ways, there was a scarcity of informative, reliable, professional-caliber sites about coffee. "That was really one of the main motivations - to do a better coffee site," Smith said.
Launching a coffee site seemed like a natural idea to Smith and Lee. Both worked in the tech sector, and coffee was a hobby for them. Smith also had experience writing online coffee content. When he lived in Tampa, Fla., Smith wrote an espresso guide that reviewed about 20 different coffeehouses in the Tampa Bay area. Conditions were primitive. Whenever Smith updated the guide, he had to call the local host and FTP the new files. Just as frustrating to Smith, the domain was not his own. "At that point, I knew I had to man up and buy my own domain," Smith said.
Smith bought the INeedCoffee.com domain on September 1, 1998. "I liked the name at first," he said. Since then, however, he's had a love/hate relationship with INeedCoffee's name. One of the reasons? "It was too hard for people to remember three words," Smith said. Many people, after hearing the site's name, would later incorrectly recall a URL like IDrinkCoffee or ILoveCoffee (both taken, neither affiliated with this site).
For any misgivings Smith has with INeedCoffee's name, he has been proud of the site's content from the get-go. On April 4, 1999, the site went live with a Coffee History Primer by Ryan Jacobs. New articles were released on the site each week, ranging from humor pieces to brewing tutorials.
Within two years, INeedCoffee had switched to monthly releases. It now boasts a total of over 500 articles from about 100 different contributors.
Roasting coffee in a popcorn popper, looking for changes in roast color.
Caffeine Highs and Lows
It's tough for Smith to stomach some of the photography in INeedCoffee's earlier pieces. "I really didn't have good photos for the first few years," Smith said. "I almost want to go back in time and take good photos of equipment that doesn't exist any more." He takes consolation, however, in recalling that INeedCoffee was born in the "Pixel Depression," a time when broadband was not as widely available and there were stricter bandwidth limitations.
That's one of the regrets Smith has about his site, but it is far outweighed by the positives. From a technical standpoint, Smith takes pride in the fact that he has never broken an INeedCoffee link. Anybody who bookmarked an INeedCoffee page 10 years ago would find that the link still works.
Smith has also enjoyed the times when INeedCoffee received some high-profile attention.
In 2007, Smith said, the site received e-mails from the Howard Stern Show concerning INeedCoffee's coffee enema articles. However, INeedCoffee didn't receive the e-mails until after the day's show was over, and thus the site missed out on a possible chance to chat on-air with Stern.
Finally, Smith feels that INeedCoffee has benefited him professionally, and vastly improved his coffee experiences. "What I drank 10 years ago, I wouldn't clean my bathroom with today," Smith said. Editing a coffee website has made Smith pickier with beans, with home-roasting, and with the equipment he uses, thus leading to better and better coffee to drink.
A Changing Paradigm
Smith is a relentless adapter. Throughout INeedCoffee's 10 years, Smith has made changes to the site's front-end appearance and back-end architecture. The site has had three different logos and an equal number of content management systems. INeedCoffee was entirely non-commercial for its first eight years - for the last two years, with Google AdSense ads, it might best be described as "marginally commercial." Smith has long described web content as "living [and] breathing," and INeedCoffee's evolution has helped keep it current through a decade of rapid changes.
However, a few months ago, Smith began to feel that INeedCoffee's e-zine format with monthly content releases has run its course. "The whole paradigm kind of changed," Smith said. Ten years ago, many coffee lovers needed an online forum to which they could contribute. "That's not necessarily the case any more. Most people have access to their own publishing space," Smith said.
More coffee connoisseurs are able to publish their own content now, and soliciting contributors has become increasingly difficult. As a result, with a decade of monthly Caffeination Information on its server, INeedCoffee will no longer release new content every month.
This does not mean INeedCoffee is going offline - far from it. Smith recently secured the domain for another 10 years. "The stuff will still remain," Smith said. "The site's not going anywhere."
A Milestone and a Metamorphosis
Even as INeedCoffee celebrates its 10th anniversary, Smith is transitioning his online coffee efforts to Coffee Hero, a website that he launched on March 27, 2009. With a new site, Smith feels freer to innovate, rather than overhaul INeedCoffee again. "It's best to keep them in two different boxes," Smith said.
Smith describes Coffee Hero as "a work in progress." In its earliest days, Coffee Hero has taken a coffee blog format, which Smith believes is better suited than an e-zine to thrive in an era of social networking and Twitter. "I want to highlight some of the best coffee related content out there," Smith said.
Just as INeedCoffee has helped Smith improve the coffee he drinks, it gives him satisfaction to think of 10 years' worth of readers who benefited from the site by learning about home-roasting or French-pressing coffee. "I think [I've most enjoyed] reaching out to coffee fans and professionals that volunteer to contribute their talent to the site," Smith said.
The Coffee Hero blog lasted a year and a half and INeedCoffee continues to publish new content.
Published: April 2009, Last Modified: September 2011