In 1999 myself and my brother, Simon started talking about setting a website for people to share travel stories. I had already helped found a Software Consultancy (Arepo Solutions Ltd) in 1998 and through that was working with a few Internet companies, so it seemed like a pretty obvious step. Added to the original team was Ralph Sanders, a colleague of Simon's at American Express in New York and Lynne Pritchard, a freelance animator and designer who also happens to be my partner.
It was the middle of the dot com boom and it seemed like all you needed was a interactive site with a couple of thousand users and venture capitalists would be falling over themselves to give you money. Lots of money. I had the technical skills. Simon and Ralph, working at American Express, had lots of travel experience and a growing network of people to tap into in the big city. Surely we would be millionaires by christmas?
Originally it was a simple site where you could simply post stories and photos. Compared to what's available these days on sites such as wayn, tripfinder, flickr, facebook et al there wasn't a whole lot you could do. However in the first few months we definitely captured a bit of a buzz and had lots of people signing up and posting great content. Looking back those were probably the most exciting days for me.
All this time I was working at various companies as part of my consultancy business and finding time to work on the site was very difficult. We never managed to source any serious funding so weren't able to grow the team that much. Anyway in 2001 we launched version 2 of the site which added a better look and feel and lots of features. By this time the dot com boom had well and truly ended so we really gave up trying to find funding and instead focused more on trying to provide a platform for sustainable travel, enabling independent tour operators to provide details of their tours on the site.
While Simon was working on building up the relationships with the tour operators I was spending more and more of my time working with one of the dot com survivors, lastminute.com. Eventually this led to me becoming full time early in 2003. For me that started a roller coaster that lasted nearly 5 years, ending up with me working as a senior architect with Sabre/Travelocity, lastminute's owner.
What this meant for worldsurface was less and less time to be able to devote to the technical side of things. The technology base of the site was getting more and more out of date and becoming harder to improve. Some of the problems in the platform were systemic. As a result most of the technical time devoted in the last couple of years was really only focused on keeping things running, clearing up the ever increasing hacks on the site, dealing with spam, trying to help users etc.
By Spring 2008 we had reached the end of the road. A lot of what we had built so long ago had been superceded many times over by other sites and to bring everything up to scratch seemed like such a mountain to climb. Also I had started on a new venture as CTO of Wahanda, a health and wellness site, Simon was expecting his first baby (Sebastian, born September 2008) and Lynne was working 24/7 on a variety of television series. We were having trouble with our server and decided that it wasn't worth the expense of replacing it. The option of moving the site to another server wasn't easily available due to the way it was implemented.
So in April 2008 the server was turned off and worldsurface.com was no more. For those of you involved in the community we were, and still are, sorry. Worldsurface was an amazing experience for us. If only we had known then what we know now (or known who we know now) things could have been different.
Fast forward to 2009. Work is still taking up most of our time but a little more manageable. Working with others we are trying to resurrect a simpler version of the site on which we can showcase the many amazing stories added over the years.
The worldsurface community was special and deserves a better legacy than a holding page.
If you're interested in being notified when we re-launch the site drop your email in the box below. We won't use it for anything else.
Julian & Lynne