Dear Bridge Winners Members,
Three years ago, when I was speaking to my close friend Jason Feldman on the phone, we were discussing how hard it was to find up-to-date news about the game of bridge. After a couple months of planning, we contracted Kitty Munson Cooper to build us a website, which we would use to report news on any events we could. We had seen a lot of sites fail due to lack of upkeep, so we committed to posting a new article every day. We had a lot of great features we wanted to build for the site, but we only had the resources to pick one. We decided that an on-line convention card editor would be a good draw for our site.
We launched the site shortly before the 2010 USBF Team Trials. Using some out-of-the-box add-ons to our website, we did the best job we could of reporting the trials. In the beginning, getting the word out about our site was very difficult. It was mostly our friends in the expert bridge community who we were able to get to join up and comment on our reporting. At some point during the Trials, we wrote about a hand that was played, and something amazing happened. One of the players commented on the report, then another, and another... It was then that we realized the power of our site was not in our reporting, it was in the community.
Jason and I had (and have) very limited knowledge of programming. We added Robert Jungblut to our team, who knew Joomla, the system our site was built on. He later became our social media manager, and still does an unbelievable job of keeping our Facebook and Twitter accounts streaming interesting news and bridge hands. (Follow us on Twitter or Like us on Facebook to take advantage of his hard work.)
The next event we reported on was the 2010 Summer NABC in New Orleans. We recognized that scores for the Spingold were impossible to find. Since we didn't have any financial backing, we had to be resourceful. We incorporated an embedded Google spreadsheet to display the quarter scores on our site. VU-graph commentators now began linking people to our site, since we were displaying useful information that wasn't available anywhere else. As new people linked to our site to look at the scores, the ongoing conversations motivated users to sign up and join the community.
It was late that summer that my poker mentor and close friend Steve Weinstein expressed interest in joining us in our efforts. Steve contributed some excellent articles on bidding theory to the site, such as 1m-1M now what? and I Love Flannery (I'm serious).
In November of 2010, Kit Woolsey offered to start writing a weekly column, Kit's Korner, which has been a cornerstone on our site ever since. We have been incredibly lucky to have his contributions. At around the same time, we realized that our financial constraints presented a need for us to bring some programming talent on board. Two of our active users, Eugene Hung, Senior Software Engineer at IBM, and Ari Greenberg, who works at Facebook (previously BBO and Google) joined our team to help fill the need.
Near the end of 2010, Steve wrote up a hand where Zia and Michael Rosenberg had a disaster. The popularity of that article spurred him and Kevin Fay to create a series on expert-level disasters called Under Further Review. Their first article UFR: Levin Weinstein was, in my opinion, one of the best-documented discussions of a bridge hand in history. A wide range of the world's best players added their commentary to the article.
Steve made another epic contribution to the site soon after his Vanderbilt win in 2011. He published an email exchange with his partner, Bobby Levin about an infamous hand from the finals where both tables bid a grand slam off the ace of trumps. This article went viral, and our membership grew substantially.
We had one other article go viral in the spring of 2011. On the Eve of April Fools we had an idea to post something fun on our site. The Time Has Come, announcing Steve's retirement, was so convincing that it spread over the net like wildfire. Steve had to spend days calming people down who were attempting to convince him to continue playing.
In the spring of 2011, I won the NABC+ Silodor Open Pairs event. I used this milestone as an opportunity to create a new video series, Road to Victory. Using video technology in the series gave our users a great feeling that we were here to innovate the game. This built up a great energy and spurred more comments and content creation by our burgeoning community.
As 2011 wore on, our user base and activity were growing, and our programmers felt hampered by the technology our website was based on. We needed to rebuild the website from scratch, in a technology that would better support growth and innovation. Given our programmers' full-time jobs at IBM and Facebook, it was clear that we could not accomplish this goal with our existing resources. Luckily, Greg Humphreys, then working at Nvidia (now Google) joined as our 7th team member. Greg single-handedly rebuilt our current website, which we launched in early 2012.
An article in the 2012 February ACBL Daily Bulletin spotlighted our site, and brought us a number of new members at all levels.
Later in 2012, we added Bidding Problems. We thought our community could use an quick way to post polls about bridge hands. We were right, and their popularity exceeded our expectations. Our users very quickly pounded our site with tons of bridge problems; to date, over 2000 hands have been posted by our members. Bridge problems threatened to drown out our regular content, spurring another major home-page redesign which was completed earlier this year.
Our growth was becoming an organizational nightmare. Support emails, feature requests and bugs were piling up. Polly Siegel, a former engineering director at HP with a background in online scholarly publishing from Stanford, had been helping us for about a year. She officially joined up as the 8th member of our team earlier this year. Polly joined Eugene in the never-ending effort to edit content and help manage our efforts, and created her own column geared towards aspiring players: Diamond in The Ruff.
This year we also entered into a partnership with The Common Game. They run tournaments across hundreds of clubs, all playing the same hands. This seemed like an amazing opportunity to use the power of our community to start discussion threads on the deals played by thousands of players every day. We created a section of our site where the hands from the Common Game are posted after each session, allowing players who play live at their bridge club to come home and discuss the hands they played with our expert community after the game.
In spite of the fact that we had 3 programmers on the team, we still could not keep up with the various programming needs of the site. We took on our first paid employee, Stephen Drodge. He has been instrumental in making performance enhancements to the site. You may have noticed how quickly the site was running during this year's Spingold. His improvements are helping us manage the huge increases in traffic in our stride.
So now here we are, in the summer of 2013. A short while ago we reached an unbelievable milestone: 10,000 members. While we always had hopes of growing this big, we never dreamed it would happen so quickly.
If I could change one thing about our site, it would be the atmosphere. While our front page is filled with expert commentary, a majority of our members are novice and intermediate players. We need our community to be careful of the content and tone of their posts. When I ask people "Why don't you ever post on Bridge Winners?", the answer is always the same: "I'm afraid." For those members who post negative and/or condescending comments, lighten up! The only way we can create a positive atmosphere on this site that encourages newer players to post questions and problems, is if we collectively strive to choose our words more carefully. I really hope that everyone in the community can take the time to think about how a newer player would feel before you comment, rather than assume the poster is an expert who thinks they are right.
We have recently encountered a small number of situations where users have engaged in back and forth personal arguments. Our policy thus far has been to not get involved in censoring content. The time involved on our end to monitor and react to these situations is overwhelming. While the discussions do not reflect the Bridge Winners team or the majority of our community, users who see these exchanges may be deterred from contributing to our forum. To help us cope, a couple months of ago we decided we needed a better solution. We have designed a new flagging system to allow our users to decide what is okay and what is not. In the coming weeks, you will soon notice a new link to flag a comment. You can use this link to bring up a list of reasons why you believe the comment is inappropriate. Comments which receive enough flags will be hidden. Users who continually get flagged will be given suspensions, and if they continue abusing their privileges they will be banned. We will also track abuse of the flag button. Users who repeatedly flag content inappropriately will cease to have their votes counted. Ahhh... growing pains.
So what now? We need to make money. Our team puts in an insane number of hours planning new features, dealing with issues, creating content and being a part of our discussions, all as a labor of love. Except for a small amount of revenue from our Bridge eBook store, the site does not make money. We all love the game, and our shared passion has built this site into something that was desperately missing from the bridge world. Although we have some fantastic ideas for features that we can build for the site, for the most part, they will not generate revenue. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to prioritize features that can get the site an income so we can continue to grow.
We have made a decision to create products to help players improve their game. In our opinion, while there is sensational content out there for all levels, few of them are harnessing modern technology. So we have begun planning a set of educational products that we hope can generate us enough revenue to allow us to employ people full time. We are excited about what we are working on and will do our best to continue to improve our site during the process, but please bear with us during the coming months as we work hard to release the products.
In closing I'd just like to thank my fellow team members, and our incredible community for all of the content that you create and your patronage of our site. The growth of this site is something that I personally am so proud of, and you as our members should also be proud. Without you this site would not be worth visiting.
Plus... it's free!