This document started life with the September 1999 entry, as a replacement of the original 'about Hitmatic' page and as a way to promote HitmaticPlus. The October 1999 entry was written at the time of the move to our own domain name, but was never released. The April 2000 section was added along with the original About page to create a private record of Hitmatic's development.
About Hitmatic (c. 2/99)
A B O U T
H I T M A T I C
Hitmatic is the creation of two school-weary students who started to dabble in HTML and Perl about a year ago. The most important thing about this site is that the service it offers really is free; we both got so tired of the mountain of "free-as-long-as-you-tolerate-gigantic-banner-ads" places that we decided to come up with something that, in true UN*X spirit, was completely free for all.
The web pages are written entirely in Windows notepad; no other HTML editor comes close! The technology for the counter and the statistical system was developed on a laptop dual-booting Win95b and SuSE Linux - Kernel 2.0.35. The scripts are written for Perl 5 in conjunction with fly, for glueing together the counter images, and of course good old sendmail for sending information back to the user. Some day I might get around to re-writing the whole lot in C to speed up performance...
We are always open to comments and suggestions, so please drop us a line if you have any thoughts about the site, the service or our idealogy - the address as always is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In those early days of the web, Perl 4 was just about the only tool available for writing CGI programs. Hitmatic's first system was laughably unscalable, using flat text files for both user account information and statistics storage, and spawning a separate process (fly) to create the counter images. Amazingly, the approach of storing just the last 1000 hits was, for most users, enough to support a report spanning several weeks!
Hitmatic has come a long way since February, and we have made a number of revisions and updates behind the scenes on the statistical and administration side of the service - increasing the level of cross platform support, updating the FAQ, troubleshooting problems as they arise. We hope you have found the service reliable and easy to use.
A high level of customer support is our priority. We really appreciate your feedback - please keep sending in your comments and suggestions on how we can improve the service. Should you encounter any problems using the service, we do recommend you consult our documentation / FAQ before you email us - our FAQ is kept up to date as new issues become apparent, and you will often find the answer you are looking for straight away, rather than waiting for us to reply. We do aim to reply to all emails within one day, and we have been more than 90% successful in achieving this so far.
We're proud to fly the Union Jack so-to-speak, an it is great to see that so many of our customers are from the UK, but is also fantastic to see how far around the globe Hitmatic reaches - at the last count Hitmatic serves members in more than 80 countries, with a strong presence naturally in North America.
We quite like the way Hitmatic is non-commercial and not over subscribed - its reassuring to know that so many of our new customers have been referred to us by a friend and that so many of you own your own domain name - we can't be going too wrong! Without advertising Hitmatic can grow cautiously, allowing us sufficient time to maintain both the system and our high level of customer support.
Hitmatic is a free service, and we hope to keep it that way. However, in order to support Hitmatic, and to provide some of the additional features and functions that are expected of a fully functional internet tracker, we have launched an additional, new service called HitmaticPlus (Hitmatic+). We don't expect this service to appeal to everyone, but we would hope that it would better suit some of our business and high-activity members. For more details see the HitmaticPlus part of this site.
Please be aware than in order to keep Hitmatic efficient, we shall be deleting accounts that have not been active for longer than 3 weeks. If you want to keep your counter but are worried that it might not get a single hit in a three week period, just make sure you visit the login page and check your stats once in a while - this keeps your account active even if it's not recording hits. You can delete your account at any time by visiting:
May we take this opportunity to thank you for using our service.
The Hitmatic Team
HitmaticPlus increased the capacity of the user logfile to a heady 5000 hits, not to be sniffed at a time when the average "webspace" measured only a few MB. Perl 5 was now the standard, but the Hitmatic system remained firmly old-style procedural code. One noteworthy feature of the HitmaticPlus reporting system was the ability to perform trend projection into the future! Payment solutions were limited in those days and to keep costs down we had to settle on just a single "product" and price, which was £45 for one year of HitmaticPlus service.
The past month has perhaps been our busiest yet. We started September with the launch of HitmaticPlus, and ended it with a complete move to a new host server, as we had outgrown our bigwig.net free account.
We have made a substantial investment in Hitmatic's future with the purchase of some server space in Florida USA and the registration of the 'hitmatic.com' domain name. This new server is connected via multiple DS-3 links, totalling a maximum of 300Mbps - yes, that's equivalent to about 10,000 normal modems working in parallel. It's linked through redundant lines to the AT&T / UU.Net Internet Backbone.
So, we have 'left home' from the UK, but for Hitmatic 'there is a place that is forever England' - even if that place happens to be sitting inside some small corner of a large metal box in the Sunshine State. Maybe one day we will be able to return to the UK with a mirror site, but in the meantime we know you will all enjoy the benefits of this high speed connection and improved reliability.
In the last few days at bigwig.net, their server really started to feel the strain of doing something it wasn't intended for - i.e., supporting Hitmatic. This resulted in a number of members complaining that their counter wasn't generated, being left with a broken image. We now believe that this was because each hit caused two server scripts to run in close succession, so the server simply could not handle all the requests - particularly at peak times (~10 hits per second). However, we are forever indebted to the bigwig.net team for helping us launch the service, and we still believe they offer the best ISP service in the UK - we still use them regularly for dial-up access.
We hope that the inconvenience caused by these changes will be greatly recouperated by the increased reliability and speed of the service, and the knowledge that Hitmatic has a much more secure long term future.
Thank you all for using Hitmatic, and for your comments and suggestions. We hope that you will continue to use our service - and tell your friends!
The Hitmatic Team
In November, the introduction of pay-per-click advertising from Teknosurf Inc. brought an unexpectedly high yield for the first few weeks and spurred us into the introduction of NetCensus, a section of the site offering aggregate statistics representing our entire sample of internet users. At the same time, we began to discuss the possibility of re-organising Hitmatic to include adverts on the user's pages, in exchange for a far more powerful system, including multiple page & path tracking. This concept was further developed during many late-night ICQ sessions and became a bid to match the capabilities of Hitbox.com, one of the oldest and strongest players in the market.
Eventually, full-size banners and pop-ups were dropped in favour of a small image button that compared very favourably with Hitbox's own system, and the final system was released in late March. With a substantial selection of small pages replacing the original statisical report, advertising impressions jumped quickly to around 4000 per day, which allowed us to move over to FlyCast as our primary provider. Although the campaigns average above $3 net CPM, we are currently running at below 30% sellout, with the rest being redirected to Burst! for an average of $1 net CPM.
The possibility of our own dedicated server is becoming more and more feasible, and many ideas for new revenue streams have yet to be explored. Meanwhile requests for help are still reaching our inbox at the rate of about two per day, but after a considerable amount of hard work tweaking the documentation and the system's own output it looks as though H4 is now very close to cruise altitude.
Hitmatic 4 was the first to have logging code written in C, compiled locally on R's laptop (RedHat 5?) and uploaded to CWCS' shared server. This was a much more complex system all round, introducing visitor tracking, code for all pages (not just the homepage) and storing data in a proprietary binary format across multiple files.
Along with a new site design in blue/grey livery, version 4.2 introduced Professional and Enterprise editions of the service. An accounting script runs daily to update each user's statement and collect payments from their credit cards using WorldPay.
Automated billing using FuturePay was a major step forward, and the ability to charge a variable monthly amount based on usage remains the foundation of the current system. Incredibly, the statement and billing information was still being stored in flat files at this stage.
UK2 offer a dedicated RaQ3 for only £25 per month - a deal which arrives just in time to rescue Hitmatic from the muppets at CWCS. After ripping out the Cobalt bullshit we are left with a lean linux machine that includes a custom Apache module to do the logging. Transfer to the new server is entirely transparent to the users and goes without a hitch.
Finally the chance to integrate with the web server and avoid the overhead of spawning a separate process for each CGI request. Still writing to multiple files though.
Nasdaq burst its bubble in April and advertising revenue took a dive. Pro and Enterprise customers keep the money rolling in, and negotiations with Web Alive (Australia) for a reseller scheme spur on the introduction of Version 5, with an updated storage scheme utilising database-driven accounting and, just like the old days, only one data file per user - a major speed/capacity improvement. Path tracking gets an overhaul and is now IP-based with cookies as backup.
MySQL gets its first outing in production, storing user account and billing information. Log data gets combined into a single file, giving better performance but even more horrendous C code to perform the byte-shunting. Corrupted accounts weren't uncommon.
January 31st brought some turmoil with the complete demise of raq605, aka www.hitmatic.com - and thanks to the amazing support at UK2, we had no idea when the machine would be restored. After a couple of days of downtime it became clear that a new hosting provider was in order, so we took the plunge with a spanking new RaQ4r from Dedicated Servers. Having RAID storage and a SLA should make life a little more comfortable, albeit ten times more expensive than before.
Almost at the same time, we were let down by FreeParking who screwed up the DNS for hitmatic.com even before raq605 went down. Once the UK2 machine had finally been restored, we ditched FreeParking and Hitmatic became a proper self-contained network - bart.hitmatic.com handling email and DNS, and lisa.hitmatic.com bearing the full brunt of the growing web service.
All this excitement spurred a new round of planning and several extended lunches in the Cock & Camel, leading to the introduction of GBP accounts and the phasing out of free signups. These features and some long-overdue cosmetic tweaks have finally set us up for some decent UK-specific advertising, starting with .net magazine.
Over 6000 free accounts were finally jettisoned on June 1st 2002, resulting in around 50% reduction in server load and a good number of last-minute conversions to paid accounts. Alas, the lack of a freebie service hit our already poor signup rate, and £1200 worth of advertising in .net had zero effect.
Summer came and went with finals, punting, drinking, road trips, and other entertainment taking priority. Hitmatic's next update came mid-December with a new-look statistical report and various other tweaks, including a quick 'n dirty refer-a-friend scheme which is proving far more useful than conventional advertising. GoogleAds came and went. Next stop, some simple ads in the back of the muppet press, courtesy of Paragon Publishing.
A rare update to mod_hitmatic this month, with the introduction of IP address to country mapping. The lookup table, which we unscrupulously ripped out of a random ASP plugin, is now stored in a nice Berkeley DB b-tree table. Hitmatic also goes P3P-compatible, in the vain hope of circumventing IE6's anti-cookie measures.
With the help of NetsoftGlobal, an embarassingly cheap Indian web design firm, Hitmatic finally got the corporate look complete with pictures of random women looking artistically into the middle distance.
Also of note, ABCe accreditation involved actually meeting the bastards in our "offices". Thanks to some new business cards and a rented room from the Clarendon Centre, the illusion went down pretty well...
Hitmatic Audit (version 7) broke from the Perl tradition and used PHP to produce reports. At this stage PHP had been the latest and greatest for a couple of years and it seemed appropriate to make use of it. In the end, apart from some nice graphical charts, it was a dead end - PHP fatally blurs the line between business and presentation logic, and these days is purely the preserve of hobbyists and one-man shops.
With Bart's 3-year lease from UK2 drawing to a close and HostEurope's poor service, this month saw three new servers ordered and configured. Bart and lisa move to 1&1, hosted in Karlsruhe on the Tiscali backbone. Meanwhile, homer joins the fray to host Hitmatic Audit at UK2. All three machines are significantly faster than anything hitmatic.net has seen before.
Has it really been a year? Hitmatic Audit has yet to perform any ABCe work, but luckily a certain US customer has been keeping us profitable on that front. Over the summer Darius joined the team to provide some sales and marketing input, and this month sees the rollout of Hitmatic Version 8, with a new front site and completely overhauled back end, using the Berkeley DB data store. Version 8 is available in Basic and Pro varieties and offers customers the chance to get real financial data into their referrer / search engine analysis, along with numerous other reporting enhancements. Marge.hitmatic.net is the latest hardware addition, running the new code on Slackware 9.1.
Version 8 owed some of its best technical / architectural features to R's day job. First, no more messing about with proprietary file formats - use a tried and tested database product as the back end. Second, re-organise the reporting code along the Model-View-Controller paradigm. This meant that supporting PDF and Excel generation no longer required a massive case-n-paste job.
Err... has it really been two and half years!? After a painful few months with Berkeley DB, the penny finally dropped in January 2005 and we switched to MySQL, treating it as a simple key-value data store. But this sowed the seed for version 9, a much more elegant beast. The rest of 2005 came and went, with a couple of offline test machines "itchy and scratchy" added to our inventory and various tweaks to support revenue tracking in EROL stores.
November 2005 started a new era with the signing of a sales commission agreement between Hitmatic Ltd and 'Hitmatic Solutions Ltd', aka Darius and Xavier. 1st January 2006 brought the introduction of VAT on UK and European accounts, with a corresponding upgrade to the billing system to support proper invoices in PDF format. The rest of 2006 was mostly plain frustrating, with the Solutions boys bringing in a few accounts but still finding the larger accounts elusive, despite a few valiant near misses. One noteworthy success was ticking off our first ABCe audit, gaining our two-star accreditation in the process.
March 2007 and finally version 9 went live after a gestation period of over a year. The plummeting costs of modern-day hardware, and some new tricks picked up at the day job, meant that for the first time we found ourselves sitting on a "real" star-schema data warehouse, with all the reporting simplicity that brings. But as ever, it's not technology that makes the money...
So, a star schema, but still very home-grown reporting on top, still predominantly written with mid-nineties style procedural Perl code, albeit reasonably well architected and organised, within the limits of the language. At various times R had considered porting to Python, or J2EE, or even .NET, but the fact is that modern web frameworks wouldn't really change or help with the core application. Next stop, more of a business intelligence -style application, with reports defined as 'documents' well away from the actual code in the best traditions of full-blown BI tools like Crystal Reports. I guess there's life in Perl yet.
Hitmatic's final three years were quiet ones, with little in the way of new business other than the occasional ABCe audit. A good amount of debt-chasing and account cleanup, combined with a gradual reduction in the number and cost of our rented servers, meant that Hitmatic remained profitable long after it had stopped being interesting, so it was ultimately a relief to shut down the service for good in June 2010 - having achieved more than eleven years of operation.