Happy Birthday (or is it anniversary?) – to us!

From us to you – a very big thanks!

A mockup of our new look front page - coming soon!
A mockup of our new look front page – coming soon!

No cake, although maybe we should take a leaf out of  the Dudley Caving Club’s book and arrange for some! November marks the second anniversary of Darkness Below going live, and we’d like to mark the occasion by thanking every single person, caver, mine-explorer or cave archaeologist, that has helped us by contributing stories, news and posts over the last two years! There are far too many to name here but we’ve tried to thank them individually on our Contributors page – if you’ve helped your name should be on there – if not, let us know!

We’d also like to remind everyone that we would love to have your help to bring more news to cavers – news about any aspect of underground exploration, cave archaeology, cave science or anything else that’s relevant to holes in the ground. We are also looking for help on a regular basis, we have lots of unpaid roles available! In particular we are looking for someone to help us with the graphics content on the site, and also for editors from other countries who could update us on news in their areas. If keeping abreast of caving events around the world appeals to you we would love you to take over running our events calendar. There are lots of tasks we don’t have time to do on a regular basis, so the more help we get the better the site will be!

We also we thought it was time we told you a little more about what we hope to achieve and a quick summary of how we’ve done over the last two years.

Why and how?

Around three years ago we began to discuss launching an online caving news site. At that time the only active news site was http://cavingnews.com/, and we felt strongly the UK needed a news site of its own – we had no desire to compete with what we thought was a successful US site although we later discovered the site was actually based in Canada and incredibly run by just one person – who had done an amazing job for several years.

By summer 2015 we had put up a dummy site, found a name and a format we were happy with and we went live in November. By coincidence a few months earlier, Caving News stopped posting new stories, which accidentally left us as the main (English language) caving news site worldwide. We also decided to include other underground activities, such as mining. At the time we weren’t expecting a huge reaction, so we were fairly surprised when within just three months it became apparent that our new hosting site offered nowhere near enough bandwidth to meet the number of visitors we were attracting and in January 2016, just three months after launching, we upgraded our server package to deal with demand.

We decided early on that we should keep the site non-commercial. There were several reasons. We all have other commitments, and weren’t too sure how much time the site would need. We didn’t want to feel forced to spend time on the site because we were answerable to advertisers. We also felt that the site should be able to take a position on issues such as conservation, as they arose, again without worrying about the effect this would have on revenue. And of course in the early days we simply didn’t expect to be successful enough that advertisers would be interested!

We are lucky that the four of us have similar priorities when it comes to caving. We share a view that we should support caves, caving and cavers, but in that order. In other words we’ll do everything we can to promote all three, but if we feel that the actions of cavers threaten the future of caving, or that the future direction of caving will impact the conservation of caves, we’ll say so. Sometimes of course that view is controversial, it’s a long term view and at times others will think differently.

By remaining independent and non-commercial we are able to support the great work done on our behalf by our national and regional bodies, such as the BCA, the CNCC, CSCC and many more, all run by hardworking volunteers, whilst remaining free to criticise or suggest alternatives when we feel something seems to be going wrong or could be improved.

Most of all, though, we want the site to report exploration, scientific and archaeological work, great caving and mining stories and good news!

How are we doing?

 

How successful are we? This year the site has seen roughly double last year’s traffic. So pretty good. In 2016 we had around 100,000 visits and so far in total we’ve had over 300,000 visits from over 140,000 individuals, viewing over 1.1 million pages and over 5 million hits. Initially most visitors were from the UK, but somewhere between a third and a half of all new visitors now come from elsewhere in the world.

 

We also have data, courtesy of Quantcast, showing that around a third of site visitors are female, and oddly, considering the widely held view that caving has an ageing demographic, that only 10% of visitors are aged over 65 compared with 16% aged 25-34!

They do also tell us what type of cars you like and if you went university. How they know this sort of thing is a mystery to us but they do say more of you are interested in science than society news!

And before I go back to the day job…

On a personal note I’d very much like to thank my three fellow editors, Linda who has crafted far more stories than the rest us, and Graham and Peter – two cavers who can spot a typo at forty yards. If you do spot a typo in a Darkness Below article there’s a fair chance I rushed it out without running it past them first!

Hopefully, with your help, we can continue to build on all this over the next few years!

Tony Brocklebank.