Web designer who developed an interactive map of the petrol stations in and around south London during the petrol shortages says he doesn’t mind that so few paid for his efforts
Hywel Thomas is a web designer, based in south London, who says he was “dumbfounded” by the response he got from developing a simple idea to deal with a common problem facing millions of people around the capital: where to buy some petrol.
Yet despite his page being visited by, and helping millions, Thomas got paid just 300 quid for his stalwart efforts. “Hywel the Fuel”, as he should be known, says he doesn’t mind.
“The love I have felt from people finding fuel to drive to hospital, visit loved ones and even funerals made it very special,” Thomas said. “I had a ball.”
At the end of September, like so many people, Thomas, who runs ZiggerWebDesign.co.uk, had read the stories in the newspapers and on television about the queues forming, the closed forecourts and fights breaking out between frustrated, fuel-thirsty drivers.
The national fuel supply crisis, you might be forgiven for thinking, could have been something where the multi-national oil companies, the likes of BP, Shell or Esso, could have got their digital teams to pull together some kind of information package or even an app. Perhaps the mega-billion retail businesses, such as Tesco or Sainsbury’s, could have done something similar, to help direct their customers to outlets where there were supplies.
Some might have suggested that the government, our government, could have offered some help and support to the public and industry. But then this is the government that spent £37billion on a covid track and trace system that has never worked, so why would we expect them to do anything that was helpful or worked?
Instead, it was left to a community-minded individual, who for a couple of weeks after setting up his solution to a nationwide problem, says he was working 18-hour days, from 7.30am to 10.30pm, to manually key-in the information updates he was receiving from the public.
“I thought that I could help by throwing up a quick website which showed the fuel status of the garages around the area,” Thomas has explained in a post on his own site.
“I created it using my favourite website system – Webflow – set up a quick database of local retailers and started reporting on their fuel status and inviting people to report on garages in their area.” Thomas shared it on a few local groups and Facebook.
“I sat back and had supper.”
It soon took off, more than Thomas might have ever imagined.
“I started receiving updates, a lot of updates in fact, so I sat down and updated the site with fuel statuses and new stations.”
With reports being logged from 3am the following morning, “things went mad”, Thomas says.
“Over the coming days I was receiving reports every few seconds, I had to type like a madman, using Google Maps to confirm reports, addresses and map links. I also started using the live reporting in Google to confirm and update the reports.
“Google Analytics confirmed I was getting 34,000 visits a day and, over the next few days this increased to 550 people on the site per minute.”
Thomas carried out a couple of technical tweaks, and recruited the help of a couple of other experts, Gellert Kiss and Jonathan King, and started using a Google map along with colour coding to make it easy to show what’s available.
“I was dumbfounded,” Thomas admits.
“By the seventh day the site had received 1.2million page views, 90 per cent of it on mobile phones.”
But last weekend, Thomas decided to pull the plug – and “freeze” the page.
“Things have quietened. Fuel is now getting into petrol stations and the site is receiving fewer hits.
“More importantly for me, though, is that the reporting has reduced considerably. This means the data is now out of date on most sites around London and the southeast. To me, this doesn’t seem right.
“Although I am still getting more than 100 visitors per minute, they are seeing old information. I updated the page for the last time on Sunday afternoon and put a notice up saying so.”
Over a 10-day period, the millions of users of Thomas’s site had paid him just £300 – at a fiver a time – in “coffee donations”, an optional donation for accessing the information, surely an object lesson to online workers in this time when too many expect to get something-for-nothing.
Thomas says he doesn’t mind.
“People are lovely. People are community-spirited. The site was supposed to be a small local site but pulled in huge numbers of people. Local Webflow and non-Webflow specialists provided their help free of charge. My wife was a star.
“Was it all worthwhile? Yes. Despite being paid very little for my work, I had a ball.
“Perhaps my reward will be in search engine heaven, but the love I have felt from people finding fuel to drive to hospital, visit loved ones and even funerals made it very special.”
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