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JayIsPainting @JayIsPainting
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A brief tale if I may. Today is kind of a sad day. In about an hour, my work of almost exactly 20 years gets turned off. Last spring we decided to hand over our company website to a 3rd party for dev & maintenance. "My" website.
As some of you know, I work at Kinnikinnick Foods, 1 of the original gluten free companies. KF was started in 1991 here in Edmonton. My mom was diagnosed with celiac in 1987 & there was nothing much commercially available to eat. She found KF & the products were like nothing else
At this time, I was living in Calgary and while I was making some art, my main thing was in a band, recording and trying to succeed playing original music on the prairies in the 90's.
At the time, I started building a website to promote the band. As far as I know, it was the first website in Canada, possibly North America to offer downloadable music in 1995/96. (the age of 14.4 modems..wheee) I wrote about that here…
By 1997, the band thing was going nowhere & I'd met @KimLincolnMusic (her band opened for ours 😎) She was living in Edmonton & I was making the 300km trip to see her far too often.
Also at this time, my parents were doing a Kiam by buying 50% of KF At the time, it was basically just an Edmonton company with one small Western Canadian distributor
At some family dinner or other, I was talking with my parents about their new venture & I said, hey, you know what...this internet thing...could be a help. The founder had put up a single postcard webpage on a local provider, but it was just a logo & address. I saw something more
So...I moved back to Edmonton in early 1997 and started with the company as employee #7. The IT situation was...interesting. A clunky 386 for creating labels and a Mac for email. That was it.
I knew I had to sort that out before we could get much traction so I contracted my former bands bass player who happened to dabble in Access programming and we built a basic product & order database.
I moved our domain from the postcard site to a site that provided a shopping cart function. This was a CGI based system that was pretty much undocumented...and only accepted passed values & passed results back.
All of the site had to be hand coded. There was no such thing as WordPress and WooCommerce. Every line of code for the first website was created in notepad. (yay?)
Since we made 80 products and resold a bunch of imported European products, managing items for the website was a problem. At the time there were no web products that could interface with a database backend so I did the next best thing.
I used the data that we had input into the access database and wrote a monstrous Word mail macro using mail merge to output individual html files for each product that could be uploaded to the server. I still have a print out. It's about 90 pages of this. 👀
(I'd never written code that was...illuminating)
The second part of the website was building a logistics infrastructure that allowed us to ship our products. That's one of dad's skills and he set up deals with CanadaPost and USPS.
With that in place, our new website went online March 1, 1998 and we became, as far as we know, the first company to ship online orders of fresh baked product (and possibly any food product) in the world.
(btw...just made the DNS switch so it's official)
Our first shipments within Canada started immediately in March of 98 and the first to the US in September of that year. Shipping to the US was another first. I don't believe anyone was shipping online orders of food from Canada to the US until we did it.
This semi-automated system worked very well as far as it went but it was still cumbersome so I started looking for tools that would improve the site. In late found a company called Drumbeat which provided a database connection to a web front end.
I started working with a demo version but it was bought by Allaire in 1999 and the program was mothballed for Allaire's own product Coldfusion.
At this time, companies hosting Coldfusion were starting to spring up so I picked up a copy of Coldfusion Studio and started writing my first web front end for a database, which was Access at the time.
should note that I built 2 iterations of the site between 1998 and 2001 using the gold old macro method
Anyway Coldfusion made life waaaay easier and I got to retire the Word Macros. Our first Coldfusion website went live in November of 2001 as far as I can tell from the Wayback Machine.
By 2002, the company had grown to over 35 employees and the website was almost the exclusive driver of that growth. (well that and product quality) People would buy our products, find them unmatched and spread the word.
At the time we still had limited distribution in Canada and none in the US so the website was -the- place to get our products. By mid 2002, we were shipping 300 orders -a day-.
Then in 2002, we hit the massive roadblock called the US Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. This required every food item moving into the US in any manner to be assigned a Prior Notice Number. Every Item. For Every Shipment.
The only way to get those PN Numbers was to go to the FDA website and fill out a series of web forms for each order. An average order took about 35 minutes and 140 form submissions. (yes 140)
This is fine if you're shipping a truck load a day of $100,000 of 3 different items. If you're shipping 300 orders a day with an average of 6 items...well let's just say it would have looked like this. Our US business was doomed if there was no solution.
I hired someone with some JAVA programming experience to see if we could build a system to automate the web submission process and with the ok of the FDA we began to work on it.
After about 6 months development my guy had built a JAVA app that worked-ish. It was very fragile but we did have it in place in time for the regulations to come into effect in 2003. Shortly thereafter, my guy quit and I was left with a fragile program I knew little about.
Thus began a year or so where I was on call all the time to baby the program when it broke. Which was a lot. I remember spending a full day of my first vacation in Hawaii in a parking lot leeching Wifi trying to fix a problem.
(Turned out the FDA made a single change in the website by adding an extra space in a filed and that broke everything)
Things got worse over time and it got to the point that we accidentally DDoSed the FDA site 3 times because my guy didn't rate limit logon attempts and when things went wrong his solution was to login and try again. Oops.
I got an email from the FDA one day that said fix it by next Friday or else you'll be banned. Since I didn't know JAVA well enough, I started from scratch in Coldfusion which I knew pretty well by that time.
So I stayed home and coded pretty much round the clock for a full week and had a brand new system that worked and was gentle on the FDA servers. (that it took my guy 6 months to do the same...¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
Anyway...last time I talked with the FDA (several years ago) we were the largest single user of Prior Notice Numbers in the world. All our online orders still process there automagically using the code I wrote in 2004.
(that was a bit of a side trip as that part's not entirely connected to the website but it's critical for us)
Anyhow...those 300 orders a day translated into a lot of people going to stores asking for our products. Every single one of our distributors came to us asking for our product. If you are in the food business you know this -never- happens.
Distributor access are a huge barrier to getting even a single product marketed. But the website created enough buzz that we became a must have brand so they called us.
Since those crazy days, our product has become widely available through over 60 distributor warehouse in North America and as such our web sales went from about 90% of our business in 2003-4 to less than 10% today.
'my' website has always been fairly utilitarian but it worked well with lots of useful features. It has never been shiny and visits have been pretty static for the last couple of years so...
we decided last spring to up our website presence and give it a face lift in conjunction with new branding & new direction. I spent some time doing a facelift with some assets but it was apparent given that we were also starting on an ERP implementation, I just wouldn't have time
So in May, we contracted with a local webdesign firm to give us the new website and that just went live about an hour ago. The old website which has been live since March 1, 1998 will be shut off as soon as I'm sure DNS has propogated.
Over the years, something like $50 million worth of sales went through the websites I designed. They were instrumental in taking the company from 7 employees in 1997 to 160 today. And not a single data breach.
So I guess as I said, it's a bit of a sad day...if one can be sad about a website. I'm still here working on ERP but my last update on the work website is done. It's been a huge challenge & I've learned so much.
Maybe I can now update my art website on a somewhat more regular basis (but don't count on it 😉)
One thing I forgot to add for Coldfusion folks was we switched to Railo in 2015 from ACF and then have been running Lucee since Railo was shuttered (in 2016?)
And there we go. Webserver spun down. Pulled the plug.

It's now sleeping with the fishes as it were.

End of an era.
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