USHarbors.com, a website created and run by Rockland based Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine, is taking a step toward putting insider harbor information in the palm of its 4 million users’ hands.
The spin-off business has received a seed grant from the Maine Technology Institute to develop a mobile app. The grant is for $10,000, with a matching grant of $10,000 from the magazine.
Created by members of the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors staff in 2009, USHarbors.com is dedicated to providing enthusiasts of marine-related activities with helpful information, including “free, printable tide charts, onshore and marine forecasts, buoy data, weather radar, a steady stream of local knowledge, and a directory of coastal businesses,” according to the website.
George Eaton, managing director of USHarbors.com, says that in the last couple of years the website has been attracting 4 million users per year, and generating 16-17 million page views. Harbor information is listed for the entire U.S. coast.
With the grant money, Eaton will work with Portland company Big Room Studios to create a proof of concept prototype to demonstrate what US Harbors would look like in a smartphone-centric world, and how the functions of the site can be optimized for a touch interface on a smaller screen.
“We will have a really good look at the information architecture on the website and how it can be rebuilt into this next iteration of its life,” said Eaton. The goal is to “get down to the bare minimum of the website.”
Currently, tide charts are the biggest driver to the website, followed by weather. In designing the app, Eaton would like to include “more of the sensors you can get on a phone,” such as GPS. He would like the app to be able to tell users their location, the nearest harbor, and the tides for that harbor. In addition, USHarbors.com supports local businesses and organizations by providing a local business directory for every harbor it features, and Eaton would like to continue that in the app. Businesses and organizations are encouraged to get a free business listing at https://usharborbs.com/list-your-company.
While USHarbors.com provides information useful for beachcombers, birdwatchers, surfers, kayakers, and fishermen, “this market niche is largely focused on boaters,” said Eaton. “They need to know where they can refuel or buy food. It all ties back to our tagline, ‘tides, weather & local knowledge.’”
Once the app is in place there will be more market research and user research to guide further development. Part of the bigger picture Eaton is looking at is how to expand the brand. USHarbors.com currently provides information about more than 1,200 U.S. harbors. Currently, the website has a strong presence in New England, and Florida and California are big drivers as well.
“How can we be in Rockland with a limited staff and budget and make the most of it?” Eaton said is the question that defines the effort.
Last September USHarbors.com published in Hawaii.
“We don’t have major traffic yet,” said Eaton, “but the entire site has had organic growth. It’s one of the ways we’ve been successful.” Harbors in Alaska are still being added.
A USHarbors app was created almost five years ago but was neglected due to budgets constraints and staff changes. The app was last updated in 2014.
“We want to get back in touch with our users and changing technology,” said Eaton. “I’m keen to make sure we provide the information we do in a way that’s easy to use on the phone.”