This is one of those days that you aren't sure will ever really come. I'm very happy to announce that the latest version of RateVegas.com is now live and open for business. In April of this year, RateVegas.com turned ten (!) - and I think this is the best version yet.
You can visit the site here: RateVegas.com.
The update features an all new-design that's heavy on photos and designed to be easier to navigate and to read. An enhanced search tool (still being tweaked a little)makes the content more discoverable, especially the thousands of 'Ask the Experts' questions I've answered for folks over the years.
An updated technological foundation sets the stage for several new Vegas Mate features that will be unveiled in the weeks and months to come. I'm keeping those under wraps for now but I'm pretty excited about them - they're so far ahead what the other Vegas apps are doing and I can't wait to share them.
I hope you like the updated Vegas-y goodness and the next time you come home from a trip, maybe spend a few minutes to share your thoughts with the community. Not only are your reviews visible on the Web but also for the many thousands of users of Vegas Mate on the iPhone or iPad.
RateVegas.com (and this blog) continues to be supported through advertising and affiliate revenue generated by hotel bookings via our travel partner, Expedia. Our prices there should be competitive so the next time you book a trip, consider doing it through that mechanism, assuming you can get the rate and terms you're looking for. That, along with engaging our advertisers, is one of the best ways to 'help out' your favorite independent travel sites be it RV, VT or XYZ.
So go on, check out the site... and leave a few reviews. It only takes a few minutes (assuming nothing breaks).
If you're using Vegas Mate, there will be a content update for users of v2.7.1 in the morning that should show up in the app. It matches some of the changes I made here on the site today.
For those that are interested in the technical details, I've written a bit about them after the jump.
By my count, this is the sixth major revision of the RateVegas.com Web site. The first version debuted mid-April 2000. That's a long time. Before I get into the technicals, a few other things I'd like to say, if you'll indulge me.
Self Indulgent Section
Until I realized it had been over ten years, I hadn't really thought about writing anything retrospective. Actually, the ten year mark passed a few months ago and I didn't even notice. That's not a big surprise though, these past few years I've been too busy to remember a lot of this kind of stuff.
Wow. Ten years. I was twenty-one when I fired this thing up for the first time. That seems like an eternity ago. Since then I got married, my dad died and I quit a secure and stable job to start my own business. For me, it literally seems like an age.
This is a good time for me to thank everyone that's been around for awhile - I know some of you have followed my progress literally for years and for that I'm very appreciative. While the Web site has never risen above 'hobby on steroids' for me in financial terms, it's been incredibly rewarding when it comes to building personal relationships and allowing me to expand into mobile apps like Vegas Mate.
I've also been able to reach a ton of people. I often forget that an average blog post here will reach several thousand, a really popular post will hit tens of thousands and that in aggregate the site is seen by close to a million unique people a year. Those analytics never fail to surprise and amaze me - it's humbling so thank you. We still have a hugely disproportionate level of readers to reviewers. That will always be true but I'd like to see if I can engage a few more of you to share your thoughts with others.
What's coming next? That's the hardest question for me to answer. I have what I think are some killer ideas for new Vegas Mate features, some of which tie directly into stuff on the Web, both here and on other friendly sites.
One thing I can say for sure - the next ten years can't just be about me re-posting stories that are reported in the Sun and RJ. That's just not enough for me for it to feel like I'm making a contribution. I want to add more of my own opinion - be that through the Vegas Gang podcast, via written pieces here and yes, also through new features in the apps. I think there's an opportunity to express an opinion through enabling people to do more with technology.
Ok, my soapbox is wearing out... Moving on.
For those that don't know, I make my living as a software developer - a consultant to businesses that need custom apps built, be they on the Web, or more recently, on the Mac, iPhone and iPad. Given that, I've often used the RateVegas.com site as a place to experiment with new technologies that I'm considering using on customer projects. The site is often my tech guinea-pig.
Over the years the site has migrated from being based on PHP, then on to Apple's WebObjects and then for the last several iterations, Ruby on Rails. This time around, the whole site was rebuilt using Rails 3, the latest and greatest version of the framework that introduces some major changes to the way the object-relational modeling works under the hood. It was a great chance to get my hands dirty with Rails 3 on a real world project.
One part of the new infrastructure you won't see is under the hood - all the code that interfaces with folks running Vegas Mate has been heavily re-factored to make things more maintainable and expandable. Until now, there were two separate Web apps serving up Vegas Mate content, a vestige that's now ancient history. That's now changed and everything has been unified under the new RateVegas codebase, both for users of existing versions of Vegas Mate and for the upcoming Vegas Mate 3, something that wouldn't have been possible under the old setup for a myriad of reasons.
I've always preferred PostgreSQL to MySQL and that continues to be true. MySQL's just too flaky, plus the Oracle situation there doesn't really inspire confidence. The site's backend is built on PostgreSQL 9.
The search technology is built on top of Sphinx. I expect to be actively tweaking that for awhile, as I get a better handle on the types of queries that are being done and the quality of results being returned. Sphinx gives me a very powerful set of query metadata that I can assign various weights to. Fiddling with this should be a lot of fun.
Happy to answer any technical questions that anyone might have.