Site HistoryChris Ryan  <email@example.com>
The site has been a labour of love, and a much bigger success than I expected when I launched it in February 1999. But how did it come to be? Here is a brief history.
I began working with the Web quite early, circa 1994. I had a bit of personal info posted, along with my resumé. But I saw the value and possibilities of sharing information that was less personal and of greater general interest. I thought it was a shame that the instrument disappeared. As an original Chroma owner, I was always a bit nostalgic about it. Something the Canadian distributor wrote me after the Chroma was discontinued stuck with me, a claim that activity surrounding the instrument had not stopped. I had been in Ken Ypparila's short-lived "Chroma Cult" group of the mid-1980s, which being long before the wide availability of e-mail, was brought together by postal mail. But activity did stop. And then analogues became extremely unfashionable.
I had also been thinking for some time of developing some editor/librarian software for the instrument. (I still am — I'm working on something for Mac OS X.)
I began thinking about a Chroma site circa 1996 (I took an early stab at a single page that December), and advertised the fact with a short blurb on my site in 1997. Someone e-mailed me some time in 1998 I think, saying they'd been waiting, and where was it? I finally put together the first version of the site in one straight twelve-hour stretch, on February 20, 1999. I just sat down and did it. I don't remember eating or even having many bathroom breaks. When I was finished I felt quite a sense of accomplishment. The site was just five pages.
I announced the site in a couple of Usenet news groups and went to bed. The next morning, I was very pleased to see the counters going up.
It's important to note that I really believed that the site would be a backwater where a few lonely Chroma owners would occasionally show up to download some patches. I had no expectations that anything much would come of it. I probably thought I was pretty much "done."
But then, the visitors kept coming. And then increasing. I started getting feedback. And submissions. And suggestions. I submitted it to what would later become DMOZ, and the search engines started to pick it up. It became cumbersome to do mass mailings to the increasing number of Chroma owners I had been in touch with. So I put in quite a bit of effort to produce the second major version of the site, which launched in June of 1999 and included the mailing list. You can read about the evolution of the site over the years on the Site News page.
I started to ask for — and receive — permission to publish old reviews. Keyboard was the first to grant permission, and this greatly enhanced the value of the site. There was the instrument registry (which passed 200 instruments, not including the Polaris, in the fall of 2006). The mailing list continued to be active (176 messages in 2000, 262 in 2001, and a steadily increasing number of subscribers). I interviewed Philip Dodds (the product manager for the Chroma at ARP and CBS/Fender). And it just snowballed. By 2005 and 2006 there were over 600 posts to the mailing list, and over 38,000 visitors to the site in 2006. See Site Statistics for more information.
I also realized that it was not just owners who were visiting. I initially thought patches would be the big draw and the central piece of content. In fact, I have had far fewer patch submissions over the years than I'd hoped I would. But owners were looking for documentation and technical information; and it became obvious that many visitors were not owners, and were interested in the historical information. And, as the site grew (to over 240 pages by 2006!), it cast a wider and wider net; there are visitors who find the site searching on an obscure electronic component, or an owner's name, for instance.
I've received a lot of positive feedback over the years; here is a sampling.
"Probably the best for specialised vintage synth support in the world." – Richard Lawson, RLMusic
"There's really no equal that I know of in the realm of synthesizer sites." – Chris Now (Chroma owner), Digidesign
"The Chroma site through the years has been invaluable to us Chroma owners. The truth is, had this site not been available, there would be a lot of Chromas resting in their cases." – Jerry Leonard [21030100++]
"Probably the most comprehensive and active site dedicated to a given synth." – Matrix (matrixsynth.blogspot.com)
The site was selected as the Electronic Musician "Web Site of the Month" for February 2000:
Chris Ryan's Rhodes Chroma SiteEnthusiasts of the vintage Rhodes Chroma programmable analog synthesizer should check out [www.rhodeschroma.com]. The site includes Chroma patch downloads and conversion utilities; a list of manuals and how to get them; and information on parts and service, Chroma patch storage and editing software, and MIDI retrofit kits. You can also learn about the Chroma's history, link to related sites, browse through For Sale and Wanted postings, and connect with the online Chroma community through the site's mailing list. Ryan's site can be easily navigated by means of the cool "Chroma membrane switch" section selectors. EM editor and long-time Chroma Cultist Steve O. highly recommends this site.
Projects like the CC+ amaze me: and thinking back to that distributor's comments, I can say that I have played a significant part in rekindling activity surrounding the instrument.
In many ways, the site has become for me a test bed and learning tool for Web design and development. The topic is perhaps less important than it was initially, though of course I'm still very keen on the Chroma.
I continue to be surprised by the site's relative popularity. This is, remember, a pretty obscure topic: a keyboard synthesizer that was manufactured more than two decades ago and of which probably only about 1500 were produced. Yet I get thousands of visitors a month. It honestly wouldn't surprise me much if, tomorrow, visits dropped off and it died!
I think the same could be done for many other instruments. It just takes time: a lot of time. Both in terms of the day to day — and I've tried to keep up once-a-month updates, but there is always incoming info like mailing list posts and registry entries, etc. — and over the long term. It would be pretty tough to get, say, an OB-Xa/OB-8 site to where the Chroma site is now in anything less than several years, unless it was a full-time job. (I don't feel guilty at all taking donations, which at least cover hosting costs.) But I am surprised that, apparently, no one has done the same for any other keyboard synthesizer.
I have done a bit of thinking about what will become of the site in the longer term. At some point it will be "finished," for all intents and purposes. The amount of historical information is finite. The mailing list will probably keep going. But then, slowly but surely, over the years and decades the individual instruments will die, parts will become more difficult to find, and the service techs skilled with the Chroma will retire.
Decades? I rather humourously thought to myself once a few months back, "Hmmm, in the year 2101 there will be a problem with the way the site is built." (rhodeschroma.com/?id=2101 is the registry page for the lowest model number, so December 2100 or rhodeschroma.com/?id=2100&month=12 will be the last mailing list archive before a collision occurs!) But more seriously, I have an enormous resource here, with a corresponding amount of value, I think, in many different ways. I should probably put it in my will, and even arrange for someone to continue it. But, who knows? Maybe in ten or twenty years I'll still be running it, and there will be no more mailing list posts, and no more visitors. And, one day, it will quietly disappear from whatever the Web has, by then, become.
At least I will know that the Chroma had a good second run.