Wotsit's Format first opened in October 1996 although the idea for the site came to me much earlier when I struggled to find decent file format information for a music program I was writing. When my ISP announced that from summer 1996 all accounts would have 5Mb of webspace the idea for a file formats site started to take shape.
The initial site contained about 30 popular file formats that I had found from various sources online and was hosted at archive.wotsit.demon.co.uk in the free space offered by my ISP. The name Wotsit's Format comes from this address, the wotsit part being what came into my mind when asked for a hostname.
The site soon gained popularity amongst the programming community and started to grow as people started submitting more information to be shared with other programmers. This growth caused problems with hosting the site on my ISP's server, not because of the space required but because of the traffic levels. At this time my ISP had a limit of 25Mb/day after which sites are placed on a 'resources limited' server so that they do not adversely affect other sites, they also imposed an absolute limit of 100Mb/day which if exceeded would result in a site being shut down. Wotsit's Format got very close to that limit!
In late 1997 I appealed for help in hosting the site and very kindly Simsware Inc. (archive.simsware.com) offered to host some of the site for free on their server. This enabled the site to continue growing without the danger of running out of bandwidth. This arrangement worked very well until mid 1998 when it became apparant that the continued growth of the site needed a better home with much better bandwidth and connectivity.
The only way I could do this was to have the site hosted on a commercial server so the wotsit.org domain name came into existence in April 1998. Up to this point running Wotsit's Format had cost me nothing more than my time however the commercial server fees meant that I would have to find a way of generating money from the site in order to keep it going... Advertising!
Yes I know banner adverts are unsightly and I much prefer sites without them but it is the only way I found to generate money towards the site hosting fees. The wotsit.org design thus has banner adverts at the top of every page where hopefully they do not intrude too much.
Up to this point Wotsit's Format had been a simple static site with lists of file formats arranged by category however finding information wasn't easy if you didn't know what category I had put it in. To get around this problem the site was completely re-designed in July 1998 to be search engine based to make finding anything extremely easy.
Also in July 1998 Wotsit's Format began collaborating with gameprog.com as our target audiences were extremely similar, this has in turn led to the gamedev.net concept of today.
Although the site was hosting banner adverts it still was making a loss even though the traffic levels were steadily climbing. After investigation I found that several other sites were linking directly to files hosted on in the wotsit.org server space and so everytime someone downloaded one of those files they bypassed the advert pages which keep the site going. To stop this loophole I had little choice but to introduce the download blocking script that will only allow people to download files if they follow a link from a page on wotsit.org. Unfortunately many download agents do not pass this information and even selecting 'save target as' in Internet Explorer is blocked by this script. The site is now making a small profit though which I am planning to invest in advertising the site and attracting more visitors - the more people that use the site, the more information people will be able to share.
Today Wotsit's Format is one of the main sources of file format and data format information online and is even used by programmers from some of the major software companies (although they are very reluctant to submit their own file formats).
There are currently over 550 files online for download as well as links to numerous other sources of information. The many thousands of visitors per day keep the site going and every week I receive numerous additions for the site. Without the support of the users of Wotsit's Format the site wouldn't be here today!