The Driver Ed Forum business development progress
In the spirit of open exchange, I'll be documenting how we grow The Driver Ed Forum here.
We launched this site a little less than a month ago. We felt that there was a need for an online national forum to discuss driver education in the US. We're targeting two audiences.
One is driver ed professionals—instructors, program managers, private school owners, state administrators.
The other audience is anyone interested in improving their driving skills. This audience includes parents who have teens starting to drive.
Our goal is to provide valuable content for these two audience for free. We want to help people better understand driver ed, how it works, and its value.
Ultimately, we want to do our part to help save lives by sending better drivers out onto our shared roads.
The forum uses an open source bulletin board application called NodeBB. The NodeBB stack is hosted on an Amazon Web Services Lightsail virtual private server. It stores all posts in a MongoDB database hosted on the cloud by mLab.
As the technical lead for the forum, I had initially installed it on the cloud hosting service Heroku. But I quickly learned that that wasn't such a great idea. NodeBB saves plugin settings and media files on the local server file system, not in the database.
Every night, to help maintain the integrity of the system, Heroku restarts all its hosted applications automatically. Unfortunately, during the restart, Heroku deletes all the "ephemeral" files linked to an application, that is, anything not part of the initial install or the database.
So the effect for NodeBB is that all the plugin settings (say, to use emojis or embed YouTube videos) get wiped out, as do all profile pictures and any other files stored in the local file system. Bummer.
So I decided to move the forum over to Amazon Web Services, which doesn't schedule automatic restarts every night. Having a virtual private server is just about like having your own real server, except it's on the cloud and easily scalable.
Spreading the word
A couple weeks ago, using the email automation platform Mailchimp, I sent out an invitation to join the forum to the 170 people who attended the ADTSEA conference this past summer in Sacramento, California and gave an email address to the organizers, which they generously shared with all attendees. (ADTSEA is the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association.)
I was a bit worried that the email invite might be seen as spam. I reassured all recipients that it was a one-off thing. Response rates were very encouraging:
I also emailed all my driver ed instructor colleagues at PCC. In addition to inviting them to join the forum, I encouraged them to consider using the forum as way for students in their courses to earn extra credit. We'll be posting ideas on how to do this as they come to us in the Teaching Driver Ed section.
Our next outreach initiative is to run some Facebook ad experiments—targeting parents of teens about to get their driver permit or license.
I'll report here on the results of those experiments here in a couple weeks.