Snorkel Spotter v2.0

Snorkel Spotter 2

Santa left Maldives Complete a big present under the code tree this Christmas – a completely re-platformed “Snorkel Spotter”.

An added bonus is that now you can log your Snorkel Spottings with your iPhone or iPad as these are now supported with the Safari browser.

As I mentioned recently, while I started out on an almost ‘completely’ Microsoft platform (due to where I was working at the time), the Microsoft strategy and execution in the Internet arena has been unfortunately pretty dire. Technologies it heralded as the next big thing were often discarded. The latest casualty of their myopia has been Silverlight.

I built the Snorkel Spotter dynamic control on this platform as it was hailed to be the latest thing for web interactivity. Unfortunately, neither I (still subscribed to too many Microsoft kool-aid newsletters) nor Microsoft saw HTML5 coming down the pike.

From the outset, Silverlight was an aggravation for users who increasingly were using non-Internet Explorer (IE) browsers which required a fairly complex installation of a special plug-in to get the Spotter to work. And last year, Google’s Chrome, the most popular browser of all, stopped support for Silverlight all together (even a plug-in wouldn’t work). So, prospective “Spotters” had to find a machine with IE or try to install it themselves (and often companies like resorts look down their computers and don’t let staff install whatever programmes they fancy, especially those downloaded from the Internet).

Enough was enough and I decided to move to the new de facto standard for interactivity – HTML5. Unfortunately, I had a few other projects in the queue (eg. WordPress Migration, Beauty Base launch). And once spec’ed, it took a while to code and implement. Hats off to .Net developer Tapesh M. from Ahmedabad, India who did the actually code migration for me. Microsoft has been woefully remiss in providing any migration tools or even guidance on moving from Silverlight for HTML5 (I spent a month researching it). Anyone faced with this problem should get in touch with Tapesh. He does brilliant work.

The migration has also given me a chance to clean up a few glitches and update some of the data and maps in the Spotter. I hope that the work makes the tool all the more fun and useful for everyone.

Happy Spotting!

Why Don’t I Do It (make money)?

No messge here

“Amateurs in any discipline are the best, if you can connect with them. Unlike dilettantes, career professionals are to knowledge what prostitutes are to love.” – Nassim Taleb

The bigger Maldives Complete gets, the more often I get asked not just “Why do you do it?”, but also “Why don’t you monetise it??” I don’t have any big hang ups about “selling out” or making a return on quality, hard work. But money is simply not my motivation for the Maldives Complete. Every decision comes with a cost (even if that decision does include a pay out). For me right now, the potential benefit simply doesn’t outweigh the costs to me of “going professional” which would entail keeping stakeholders happy, cluttering the screen, and raising questions of objectivity with my readers.

Maldives Complete-ly by the Numbers 4

Maldives Site Summary 2015

7th Anniversary for Maldives Complete. Another year and a bit more “complete”. Not only do I get more and more data for the databases as well as a flurry of new “Best of the Maldives” pieces, 2015 introduced even more major additions to the site…

  • Dive Site Database – Biggest collection of Maldives dive sites on the Internet.
  • Beauty Database – A comprehensive catalogue of the celebrities, models, pageant queens, and lifestyle bloggers with their photogenic portrayals of paradise in the increasingly Instagrammer age. 105 resorts of the 118 active (89%) now feature a fashion beauty who has graced their property.

I also was able to find time and resources to overhaul some long outstanding issues. The biggest was migrating off the Microsoft Community Server (Telligent) blog platform to the more capable and up-to-date WordPress platform. All the changes hit the visitor numbers a bit due to the chopping and changing, but I am hoping the upward growth continues (mind you, the profile has risen to the point that most of the regular Maldives aficionados follow the site around the world and not sure how many more there are). I am currently in the middle of doing a similar migration getting off Microsoft’s obsolete Silverlight platform and moving to HTML5 for the “Snorkel Spotter”. I’ve also tidied up a number of cosmetic and technical issues and am working on some more design improvements in the coming year.

Thanks to everyone for all their support. It seems to just get easier (and more fun) with more resort management, resort staff, guests and other Maldives aficionados forwarding material on a daily basis.

ޝުކުރިއްޔާ (shukuriyyaa)

Non-Dedicated Resort Islands

Maldives Complete - resort finder dedicated

One of the aspects that distinguishes the Maldives as a destination (and often confuses new visitors not familiar with the lay of the land/sea) are the dedicated resorts islands.  On almost all cases, a “resort” and an “island” are a 1:1 mapping.  “Tourists Only” resort islands if you will. Most are so dedicated that they don’t really allow guests to come from other islands or visit from things like passing cruise ships.

This is not always the case, though.  There are a number of hotels and possibly what one might to refer to as “Resorts” on islands that are not dedicated. One big implication for being on a “shared” island (ie.  shared with local population) is that the resort will be unable to serve alcohol.  With its Muslim culture, alcohol sale is only allowed on dedicated islands.  Barefoot has found a way to accommodate its guests with a special “off shore” license for a boat bar that only its guest can access (in essence, a dedicated “island” of a floating craft).

A few new properties have emerged in “hotel” category on a “non-dedicated island” that seemed reasonable to add to the Maldives Complete database.  They are big enough and high enough quality to offer a reasonable alternative to some of the resorts. I have spent time in many of them, visited a few more, and in general have a good appreciation of the considerations for a good hotel from my regular worldwide travel.

I am continuing with my decision to not cover guest houses.  There are so many of them, there is little information on the Internet about them (which I depend on for research), and I personally have never stayed in one so I don’t feel I can offer editorial insights about the experience or what to look for.

Maldives Complete Blog 2.0

Maldives Complete WordPress

 

Hello world…again.

The time has come to retreat from my Microsoft roots and get onto some proper Internet technology to take the Maldives Complete website forward. Much as I appreciated Microsoft’s enthusiasm for all things web in the latter part of my career there, they never quite “got” the Internet. IBM dominated the era of big computing…but never got the PC world despite some brief successes. Microsoft dominated the era of personal computing…but never got the connected world of web and devices despite some brief successes. As a result, most of their technology is in this area is lagging woefully and just becoming a burden to developers like me.

One of their cul-de-sacs was their “Community Server” product. I kind of had to base my blog on this tool since at the time I set the blog up, it was one of the products in my portfolio at Microsoft. But I should have read the writing on the wall when I had to fight the UK board to keep them from shutting down an internal community “social media” forum that they though was a “time waster” (I made the case that it was actually useful from a productivity point of view to get questions answered quickly, that it helped to bring an increasingly disparate and fractured staff closer together, and that it allowed employees to get used this thing called “social” media which was going to be big some day). Soon after, Microsoft ditched the CS product to Telligent who has now sold it off to Zimbra. It’s really focused more on niche enterprise intranets now.

It’s a big step to migrate an entire platform. I have over 6 years and 1000+ posts that had to move. I’ve chosen the now de facto standard for blogging – WordPress. A big shout out to Dimitris P. who did the work extremely professionally, promptly and at a reasonable price (he is your go-to guy for any other blogs that want to move from Community Server to WordPress). I will be tweaking the look-and-feel, a few glitches (eg. the Chinese characters of my Belinda Young interview didn’t come across properly the first time) over the next few weeks. But hopefully, the new platform will be more robust and allow me to present more great posts with richer functionality and more current styling.

Best of the Maldives: Fashion Shoots – Gili Lankanfushi

Gili Lankanfushi - Liza Adamenko

London Fashion Week comes to a close today wrapping up a glimpse of the eye-catching styles in the season ahead. And here too at Maldives Complete, I’ve shared just a small sample of the beach beauties collected as a part of the Fashion Week research. Overall, I‘ve found nearly 200 photoshoot subjects over the past month with the help of the resorts themselves as well as my many website supporters (and more keeping coming in every day now).

I’m also a big database guy. Structured information allows for dissection and interrogation. So in addition to the Resort Room Type and Dive Site databases, I have now started a “Beauty” database with over 200 entries. Details on not just the names, provenance and resort of the highest profile and most dazzling photo shoot subjects, but also information about their Wikipedia, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles. It all makes for some intriguing analysis which I will be sharing in the coming months.

I also categorised the subjects by “profession”. Most were “Models” (obviously for photoshoots), but others we other celebrities…

  1. Model – 128
  2. Blogger – 39
  3. Actress – 28
  4. Athlete – 12
  5. Singer – 5

The professions a bit of an arbitrary distinction as oftentimes prominent Athletes become Models, Models become Actresses, Actresses become Bloggers, and so on. I have a few examples where the person has all five listed in their biography.

I was struck by the prominence of the “Fashion Blogger”. I had no idea there were so many out there. I had no idea they were so popular (judging by their social media numbers). You obviously need to have a little something to say to be a fashion blogger. But the two primary prerequisites seem to be (a) you need to be female (I did not come across a single male fashion blogger), and (b) you need to be attractive (I did not come across a singe fashion blogger where I thought, “well, her readers must be following her for her writing skills…”).

Knowing the resorts of the shoot and the names, my first step today was to add a picture to the standard Resort Profile of a featured photoshoot beauty (bottom right-hand corner). Of the 121 active resorts, I have at least one fashion shoot example for 73 of them.

A few highlight stats to mark the end of #LFW2015. The top of the league table is Gili Lankanfushi. Gili benefits from their hosting the Kingfisher Calendar shoots which brought a fair number of models to its beaches. But its popularity extends to all sorts including this week’s “Pirate Model”, La Carmina.

The UK led the country league table which is probably a function of the destination’s popularity among press. One of the major tabloids, The Daily Mail, runs a regular feature on celebrity holidays and regularly sends big names to various resorts in the Maldives.

The two models featured today showcase the top two resorts (Gili Lankanfushi and LUX Maldives) and the top two countries (UK and Russia) though in swapped orders (I couldn’t find examples of UK models at Gili and vice versa.

Resort League Table

  1. Gili Lankanfushi – 12
  2. LUX Maldives – 7
  3. Per Aquum NIYAMA – 6
  4. Velassaru – 6
  5. Anantara Veli – 6
  6. Taj Exotica – 5
  7. Huvafenfushi – 5
  8. Paradise Island 4
  9. Sun Siyam Irufushi – 4
  10. Four Seasons Kuda Huraa – 4

 

Country League Table

  1. United Kingdom – 22
  2. Russia – 16
  3. India – 14
  4. Australia – 14
  5. USA – 13
  6. South Africa – 12
  7. Ukraine -6
  8. South Korea – 5
  9. Italy – 5
  10. Denmark – 4

 

LUX Maldives - Chloe Lloyd

1000+ Dive Sites

Dive site snap

This week I crossed the 1000 dive site mark – 1077 to be precise. Thanks so much to the many dive centres and marine biologists who have helpful shared their knowledge and material with over the past weeks me to allow me to consolidate it into the interactive platform.

I’ve not just added material, but I’ve also enhanced a number of aspects of the interface as well.  Especially if you are going to be packed with comprehensive information, you need to make it easy to navigate and access.

For example, the most common layout for dive site maps on the Internet is to number the dive sites, and then place the numbers on the map and then have a key off to the side saying which dive site is which number. If that wasn’t challenging enough to have to look up everything, the numbers aren’t laid out in any semblance of an order so you are having to hunt and peck to find the location of a specific dive site “Where’s Wally” style. The Maldives Complete maps have interactive labels, so a browser search will take you right to the dive site you are seeking amidst the constellation of choices in front of you on the atoll map.

Some of the V2 enhancements include…

  • Marine Protected Areas – I’ve added all the Protected Marine Areas highlighting both their areas and dive site labels/links found in the MPAs.
  • Profile Link – Version Link from Resort Profiles to Dive Site and to Dive Maps
  • Drill Downs – I’ve added a number of more drill down sections in atolls where concentration of dive sites in certain areas make it too hard to distinguish them at the default zoom. In particular, there are “region” maps for…

A few more fun stats about the dive site population. First of all, here are the most common dive site “types”…

  • Thila – 232
  • Faru – 104
  • Kandu – 92
  • Giri – 67
  • Reef 63
  • Corner – 56
  • Point – 32
  • Channel – 17
  • Rock – 17
  • Garden – 13
  • Wreck – 10
  • Wall – 5

And just as there are more than one “High Street” in England, there are more than one “Kuda Giris” in the Maldives ocean. Sometimes a popular site name is found in multiple atolls, but sometimes a single atoll will have the exact same dive site name in two places (eg. “Kuda Thila” in the North Male atoll). So make sure you know which one you are going to!). The top favourite dive sites names are…

  • Coral Garden – 9
  • Kuda Giri – 8
  • Kuda Thila – 7
  • Bodu Thila – 6
  • Shark Point – 5
  • Aquarium – 5
  • Bodu Giri – 5

My 6th Tour of the Maldives is coming up next week (stay tuned for details) and this trip should help me gather up even more material on dive sites across the Maldives, but especially in the two remote atolls I am visiting.

Dive Sites Complete

Dive Sites Complete

Announcing the Dive Sites database and *Complete* interactive guide.

When I first started Maldives Complete, it seemed like the only information available on the Maldives was for divers and honeymooners. As a result, I veered away from those topics and focused on less catered for subjects like families as well as unusual activities and offerings. I am obsessed with snorkelling and this has brought be closer to the diving domain. Increasingly, however, I am receiving more and more diving enquiries and am finding it hard and harder to find comprehensive diving information in structured, interactive resources.

The primary source for dive site information has been the hard-copy books which are extremely well done. But they add a fair bit of weight to the baggage and aren’t the easiest to navigate. As with the proliferating resorts, one of the biggest problems is being spoiled for choice. There are 100+ active resorts, but there are 10 times that number of dive sites (at least).

The main sources of research have been the following in particular (and the featured dive charts are kindly used with permission and the source is linked to in the profiles)…

And after several months of research and coding (with big help from my ace assistants Emma Barnes and Grace Bolton), I have now scratched surface with a credible v.1 database with over 500 dive sites. Specifically, the new section includes…

  • Number of Atolls covered – 18
  • Number of Dive Sites – 552
  • Number of Dive Charts – 243

Here is the number of dive sites included by Atoll…

  • Baa 31
  • Dhaalu 5
  • Faafu 53
  • Gaafu Alifu – Dhaalu 34
  • Haa Alifu 33
  • Laamu 14
  • Lhaviyani 22
  • Meemu 54
  • Noonu 31
  • North Ari 55
  • North Male 89
  • Raa 3
  • Seenu 16
  • South Ari 44
  • South Male 45
  • Thaa 1
  • Vaavu 22

The exercise has also surfaced some other interested statistical tidbits about the Maldives dive sites (at least the sample set I have at hand)…

  • Resort with Most Dive Sites Nearest: Filitheyo – 53. This stat is primarily down to the (a) great information from Werner Lau who operates out of Filitheyo, and (b) the fact that Filitheyo is the only resort in the entire Faafu atoll so it pretty much has the atoll to itself.
  • Most Common Dive Site Name : “Kuda Giri” – 6. You will see that sometimes I parenthetically appended the atoll name to the dive site name. This was done to make the site name unique since multiple dive sites used the same name.
  • Most Common First name: “Bodu” – 13.
  • Common Type (eg. “Thila”, “Kandu”, “Corner”): “Thila” – 112.
  • Longest Name: “Kanandhou Kaleyge Galha” – 23 letters.

Right now the profiles are quite basic. They include…

  • Dive chart (where available)
  • Atoll
  • Nearest resort
  • Alternative name(s)
  • Features (eg. cave, wreck, creatures)

All of the material is far from perfect.

  • Polish – Not all of the graphics are perfectly aligned/sized/etc. Some people look down their noses at Maldives Complete’s rough hewn design. It stands in stark contrast to the slick (and all too often useless) websites of many resorts. I’ve resisted exhortations to “polish” the site with a glossy look and feel. I have neither the money nor the graphics ability to do so really. Furthermore, I have bit of aesthetic preference for the simpler layout and style. I prefer to think of it as “artisinal”. J
  • Precision – I toiled for a long time at the outset about the degree of granularity to have in the interactive map. Zoom in and you can’t get a sense of everything at an easy glance. Zoom out and you can’t get precision or a sense of the surrounding area. I think I got the balance right in the end, but if anything I ended up sacrificing precise placement of dive flags for ease of at-a-glance navigation. You can drill into very close-up looks at the dive areas and their topology using the British Admiralty map DeepZoom feature of the site.
  • Completeness – Help me! My aspiration is *complete* and I am aware that I have rippled the surface of dive sites and information about them. If you would like me to add a dive site or materials about one already included, please contact me.

I may extend the profiles to more information if (a) there is demand from website visitors, and (b) there is help from local resources to supply the information.

Which brings me to the final points. I have a number of principles that guided the development of Maldives Complete, and those have led me to not just adding dive site information, but *how* I added it…

UNIQUE – First principle of Maldives Complete is to only add data and functionality you can’t get elsewhere. I follow Seth Godin’s marketing precept, ‘Don’t be the best one, be the only one.’ If someone else has the information or material, then best just to point to that rather than add a “me too” capability (and the profiles point directly the top dive resources on the web to help people find more detail about those dive sites at the web sites that focus in on them).

The interface for the material is a uniquely interactive map of every atoll. The other dive maps (eg. MondoMaldive, Maldives.at, Werner Lau) don’t cover ALL the atolls. They cover about a half dozen atolls. Maldives COMPLETE has 18 of the 22 main atolls (and I will be doing research to get dive site locations for the other 4 over the next few months).

Also, the existing dive site maps use a numbering key which means that you have to reference the name at the bottom which is all a bit cumbersome.

I’ve also based the catalogue on the British Admiralty Maps which provide comprehensive topological information and a range of depth measurements. All of the other maps are a simplified atoll layout just showing the islands. The maps also have the added advantage of being consistent with the longstanding Maldives Complete feature of the “Deep Zoom” map which allows people to examine certain areas with great clarity and detail.

UTILITY – For everything I add to the website I ask, “Is it useful?” As a result, I didn’t add a number of pieces to the Dive Site information that I could have. For example, I have passed on…

  • Pictures – Some dive site guides have pictures taken from the sites. But frankly, they are all close-ups of various fish and features that could be anywhere.
  • Depths – Frankly, the vast majority of the Maldives dive sites are all between 5-10 meters going down to around 20 meters. It didn’t seem worth the effort to catalogue the minor variations and few exceptions. Star rating
  • Ratings – These vary but include overall quality of dive, sometimes a special rating for snorkeling, or sometimes a difficulty rating.
  • Visibility
  • Descriptions
  • Accessibility

USER-SUPPORTED – The best part about Maldives Complete is the extensive support I get from fans around the world you appreciate it and help plug gaps in data and information. A good chunk of my “Best of the Maldives” features are nominated by readers and most of the few percent of pictures I am missed are supplied by guest. I am hoping that dive centres, marine biologists and supportive guests will help me build the catalogue especially with the addition of dive charts.

(I guess one could say that it’s all about yoU !)

Maldives Complete-ly by the Numbers 3

Maldives Complete numbers

 

 

Maldives Complete’s sexennial…6 years on and even more complete than ever. Well, a 0.1% more complete (from 98.4% last year to 98.5% this year). The challenge is the new resorts coming online. While I am able to track down missing material for some longer standing resorts, new resorts opening presents a whole new slate of things I need to find for a complete profile.

I am once again marking the milestone in true business review fashion with a look at a Harpers Index sampling of stats which tell its progress…

  • Resort Numbers – Despite a surge of newly announced resorts, the number of active resorts has stayed stable with as many resorts going out of commission for refurb as came on line.
  • Room Types – Big surge in .
  • Best of the Maldives – Resort with most Best Of’s Published – One & Only Reethi Rah 30 (2013 = LUX Maldives 30). Resort with most Best Of’s Drafted – Soneva Fushi 69 (2013 = One & Only Reethi Rah 55).
  • Visitors – The top search terms are specific names of resorts (“Kurumba” – especially “day trip to Kurumba” and “Amilla Fushi” top the list), but topical searches have once again risen to the top such as “bed decoration” and “best house reef in the Maldives”.

This year has not seen any particularly significant new features or addtions to the site. I have focused on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for once to make it easier for people to find the website. I get lots of emails of people saying “Thank goodness I finally found your website.” The money at stake for expensive Maldives holidays mean that lots of travel sites invest heavily to appear at the top of search results crowding out smaller sites like Maldives Complete with less money to spend on such techniques. I’ve cleaned up a few fundamentals like proper tagging and the like, but the biggest impact on ranking are inbound links. So if ay fans of the site out there want to help out, if they can arrange any links to MaldivesComplete.com, that would be the most gratefully received contribution. I’ve also cleaned up a few cosmetic details (cross-browser font compatibility especially on Mac browsers has been a headache).

As it happens, I have a number of exciting bigger developments in the works for 2015…

  • Turtle Database collaboration with MarineSavers at Four Seasons.
  • Dive Site Database
  • Snorkel Safari Treasure Hunt (!)

Maldives Tour 2014 – Day 1: Male Arrival

Maldives Complete Tour 5 Male arrival

Tour #5 begins. I’ve set off on my 5th tour, our 13th trip to the Maldives overall. After this tour, we will have visited 55 resorts in total. The focus of this journey across paradise is the Gaafu Alifu (first time) as well as Baa atoll (we have toured here before but there are a number of new resorts as well as a couple we missed last time).

Gaafu Alifu, it turns out, is the world’s largest atoll. It has really come to life in recent years with a number of premium resort developments. It is known to have dive sites that rival the famous Ari atoll.  It is also primarily accesses via a domestic flight (instead of a seaplane or speedboat).  Some people are put off by seaplanes – they are very noisy and they are smaller which can make people ancy about flying more uneasy.  Unfortunately, seeing the Maldives from above, with this mottled tapestry of blues and greens is one of the great thrills of any visit.  If a more conventional flying machine makes this part of one’s journey a bit more enjoyable, then a domestic flight with a more ‘conventional’ aircraft might be just the thing.  It is a full 48 seater turbo-prop.  It flies a bit higher altitude than a seaplane, but you still a treated to a spectacular view of the Maldives seascape.

When I arrived, I spent my first day in Male catching up with a number of Maldivians who have been very helpful supporters of my work. I pitched up at the best “remote office” in the world at Traders Hotel with penthouse suite view, delicious food and drink, and a spa to freshen up before my meetings. I’ve yet to try the rooftop pool, though definitely on the Maldives bucket list.

I met with my longest standing industry supporter, Aminath Hudha who is working for a resort broker. She reports that business is strong across all areas (making her life very busy). I also met with people at the Ministry of Tourism who are enthusiastic about the site (so much so that they stayed quite late for our meeting on a Ramadan day when government offices shut at 2:00 pm).

Ramadan greetings, Maldives.