It's twenty years to the week since Aaron J Sams decided to make a 'U2 Web Page'. Part of a University class project, that webpage became U2Wanderer.org and with long-running collaborator Carl Uebelhart and other contributors, the site is still going strong.
We asked Aaron for five tips on running your own U2 fan site. Here's what he told us - including how the late, great Johnny Cash sent him his thanks and his autograph. 'Truly one of the most memorable moments I’ve had working on Web sites.'
I’ve been making U2 lists most of my life. Early in the 1980s I had a list of U2 singles and B-sides that I would update with each release. Twenty years ago this week that list became a U2 Web page as part of a university class project. For a bonus I found a way to get it published on the World Wide Web. That list of U2 singles has become the discography section of U2Wanderer.Org. Over these last twenty years I’ve learned a few things about running a U2 site and here are a few thoughts I had to share with others looking to start something similar.
1. Pick something small and build. You won’t launch a Web site tomorrow about the band that covers every last aspect of their career. There is just so much information about U2 after a career that has lasted over 30 years. Pick some aspect of the band you enjoy and start with that. Maybe start with a focus on the bibliography of books dealing with the band, investigate the chart history, or start a Facebook group about the band’s Zoo TV tour. If you pick a favorite aspect to get started you can always build from there. My starting point was a list of B-sides and where to find them. We added the discography, lyrics, chart positions, collectibles and much more over many years.
2. Over 20 years the most enjoyable aspect of working on a U2 site has been communicating with other fans. I’ve been lucky to work with fans from around the globe over the last 20 years and had an opportunity to have contact with many more. So many faces and names flash before me as I think back on the people who have helped me out over the years – and from so many countries -- Mexico, Spain, Australia, Croatia, Poland, Greece, Ireland and so many more. The site has opened the door to so many people that I would not have met otherwise.
It’s also important to find good people who share your interests. Without my longest running partner Carl and all of the staff at U2Wanderer.Org I might have given up on it years ago. It has been nice to work with people and get to know them through the projects we work on, even if we have only rarely had the chance to meet in person. It's important to have someone who will pick up the reins when you need a break, or who you just might want to discuss an idea with.
3. Every fan has something to offer, it doesn’t matter if they’ve seen the band 75 times - or 1. It doesn’t matter if they have two singles or if they have them all. A site will be aimed at a wide range of fans from all over the world and you should expect communication from a range of backgrounds and experiences. We all have one thing in common and that’s a love for the band. Some of the most positive interactions come from the places you least expect it.
One of the earliest contributors to U2Wanderer.Org sent her first suggestions when she was 14, after having seen the band only once... taken kicking and screaming by her grandmother! She’s helped decorate the place and is still ready to offer up an honest opinion on any design changes we make. It was also because of her that Johnny Cash became aware of a U2 Web site that was named after the song he did with the band. He sent me his personal thanks and also his autograph. Truly one of the most memorable moments I’ve had working on Web sites.
4. Don’t be afraid to take a break and work on other things. If you want to do anything, you best enjoy it. If it stops being fun or seems like too much work you might need a break. I always struggle between tours to stay focused on working on the site but there is nothing like a new song or a new tour to renew that energy for me. We are currently working to finish off a major update, probably our largest, with a definite boost of fresh energy from the release of Songs of Innocence.
5. These days you need to use social media and get involved in the community. Web sites are just one way to discuss the band these days. There are Facebook pages to moderate. On Twitter you can discuss things with fans around the world. Zootopia is one forum where fans gather to discuss the band. It's important to learn where your audience gathers, and to look into the different options for communication you might want to use. This is where you'll find the people you want to work with – whether it's on a Web site, or through a Twitter campaign, or through a Facebook post. And if they are discussing what you are doing it will help gauge how your work is being appreciated. I have to admit, it always puts a smile on my face to see my site getting a mention - especially when people might not know I’m watching.