The disappointment of family and friends whose birthdays he forgot was the inspiration behind www.datereminder.co.uk, James Phillips' Web site, writes Martin Couzins.
Phillips explains, "Datereminder is a free e-mail reminder service that alerts users to important upcoming events such as birthdays and anniversaries. The user receives an e-mail reminder two weeks prior to the event, then again a week before and on the day. The e-mail reminder contains gift suggestions which are tailored depending on the occasion and the age/gender of the subject of the reminder."
The idea has been a great success, with 4,000 users already signed up and 100 new users logging on each week.
In the four months that it took him to design and build the site Phillips used a wide range of skills. The main tools were Active Server Pages, VB Script, Visual Basic 5.0 and SQL. Phillips says the most time-consuming part of the programming was writing NT Service, which is used for sending e-mail reminders. The Web front-end work he discovered was "relatively straight-forward".
The site sits on a Windows NT Server 4.0 SP6a, Internet Information Server 4.0 and SQL Server 6.5. Phillips says his main reasons for choosing Windows were ease of database integration, support of Active Server Pages, ease and availability of support and its sound cost-effectiveness.
And when pushed on stability issues, he says, "I have never experienced any problems." Phillips always saw the site as a low maintenance service and for this reason he designed the system to be fully automated "so no manual intervention is required". An NT service has been developed that runs each night generating and sending the reminder e-mails.
Although the site is up and running, Phillips continues to build on it. "I'm adding the facility for users to change their e-mail address. Users change jobs and service providers and need to update their contact details if this is to be a service they can use for life," he says.
Also, Phillips says users have asked if other dates such as car tax renewal can be included as a part of the service. He says this might happen in the future, but his main aim has been to keep the site as simple as possible.
Simplicity is working though. The regular flow of new users to the site means the projected profits are looking good.
When asked about the kind of skills needed to set up and develop a site from scratch, Phillips offers this advice, "Think about marketing. You can build the best site ever but without marketing it's like building a hotel in the middle of the desert. You must also build roads to your hotel."
The site is hosted by Phillips' cousin, who runs a Web design agency. "Since the system is fully automated I don't need to be anywhere near it."
Name: James Phillips
Educational qualifications: BSc computer science
IT skills: VBScript, Visual Basic, SQL
Hobbies: Eating, socialising, rowing
Favourite book: Papillon by Henri Charriere
Favourite pub: Fitzherbert Arms, Swynnerton, Staffordshire
Phillips on Phillips: ambitious, impatient, inventive