Saving money was a top priority for Steve Oldfield and Gary Johnston when they set up Swapserve.com. While helping other people to save money by providing an online swap shop, they minimised their own costs by using free downloads and manuals to set up the site, writes Roisin Woolnough.
"I suppose the multi-coloured swap shop run by Noel Edmonds and Keith Chegwin in the early 1980s must have planted the seed," explains Oldfield. "We got to thinking about how expensive computer games are and how quickly kids tire of them. So why not swap them instead and save yourself a fortune?"
Site members can swap, sell or buy goods and services through the site and, for ease of use, there is also a postcode search facility so people could do transactions in their local area. The site only took about five weeks to design from functional schema through to database and technical design. Development took about four months.
As both of them are mainframe contractors, Oldfield and Johnston had to learn some Web skills before they launched in May this year. They used PHP as the development language.
"Coming from a Cobol background, PHP looked easier to pick up than Java or ASP," says Oldfield. "It can also be downloaded free from the Net, complete with manuals."
However, in retrospect, Oldfield thinks they should have gone for Java or ASP, if only because it would have made their skills set more marketable for future work.
For the database, the contractors chose MySQL, because they needed a platform that could handle large volumes of traffic.
"We have volume tested the site with 100,000 items on the database and it delivers great performance. Also, it too is free to download," says Oldfield. "It can be run on your PC and there is 24-hour support available via e-mail from its creators - amazingly, free as well!"
The site runs on a Pentium 400 running RedHat Linux and Apache, hosted at Webfusion. Swapserve.com is not that heavy on graphics, but for those they did use, Netstudio was the tool.
Security and session management caused the most problems. Oldfield says it took a while to establish exactly what security features were needed and how to build a code that would recognise when a visitor is logged in. But, everything went according to plan, time and budget - unlike a lot of IT projects he has worked on, says Oldfield.
Name: Steve Oldfield
Job title: IBM contractor
Qualifications: BSc Hons degree in management science
IT skills: PHP, HTML, MySQL, Cics, Cobol, DB2, Oracle
Hobbies: cricket, golf and cars
Favourite pub: The Stretton Fox, Appleton - but almost any is fine
Favourite film: Zulu
Favourite book: anything by Wilbur Smith
Oldfield on Oldfield: modest brilliant genius
This was first published in October 2000