Simon: What happens when you can no longer support this site?

by StephaneLaliberte 30 Replies latest forum suggestions

  • StephaneLaliberte

    Hey Simon,

    The recent closure of JWR made me realize that this site may not be eternal as well. A great deal of people attach a lot of importance to xJW Communities and yours is the best.

    This site has played an important role in my life in the last 10 years. From time to time, I look back at old conversations I had, observing how it helped me evolveā€¦ And what about the fact it acts as a true knowledge base for JW related information.

    All this to say that it would actually be difficult for me to see this site disappear in the same way we saw JWR go this week.

    10 years, I guess I started to take this site for granted. Reality is: do you already have plans to have someone pick up this site once you get tired of it all or b) if you get hit by a bus?

  • slimboyfat

    LadyLee takes over. Then it's Ninja, then it's me.

    If we're all on the same bus at the same time it goes to the Governing Body. If they're all dead and/or there is a nuclear winter it goes to Cedars as a last resort.

    Glad to clarify.

  • wifibandit

    I'll host archives or back-ups if needed. The same goes for JWR, if anyone has access to the files.

  • Giordano

    I have removed my ad block for this site so that advertising revenue is available.

    I am also ready to contribute a 5 or 10 dollar monthly fee should it become necessary. This place is worth a lot more to me then that.

    P.S. I have not found the ads to be intrusive.

  • Giordano

    SBF laugh out loud funny!

  • StephaneLaliberte
    By the way, if you accept donations, I will make one. Just tell how and where.
  • StephaneLaliberte

    SlimboyFat, very happy to hear that!

  • Mickey mouse
    Mickey mouse

    Simon has always consulted when considering closing or handing the site on in the past.

  • Simon

    Good questions and I understand you asking them.

    It's hard to predict the future and make absolute promises but I can't imagine ever just shutting the site down without any warning and if it was going to end, would imagine it would be a staged process - initially disable new registrations, eventually disable posting (after a lengthy period) and then have the site read-only for as long as possible. Basically, provide as much opportunity as I could for any transitioning. I can only say I have no plans to shut it down and right now cant imagine ever wanting to shut it down.

    It may be helpful if I outline some of the history and my plans for the site to hopefully give you an idea of where things might be heading as it has a bearing on this.

    The site was originally running on open-source forum software and over time I made various optimizations to it. As it grew, I customized more and more eventually writing my own custom software in order to keep the hosting costs under control. While there are lots of pretty good forum apps they all tend to follow the same approach and architecture and the issues you hit at scale (of both traffic and content) aren't always easy to solve in a cost-effective way and when you get to the stage where a site's hosting alone costs several hundred dollars a month to run ... well, it's not hard to imagine that can become a challenge - there's often a lot of effort and time commitment to manage things before you even get to the community and content itself.

    So a few years ago I started redeveloping the site to run on a NoSQL databases which would remove a big chunk of the hosting cost and complexity (caused by using a relational database). Initially this was MongoDB but then I changed to Google's datastore (Database as a Service). This removed a lot of hosting costs and more importantly the database management issues (cost, machines to run it on, software upgrades, backups). I also switched to their Platform as a Service hosting so I literally don't have a server anymore. It is so liberating - the site scales on demand and adds instances as the traffic grows and removes them as it shrinks. No single server to fail anymore. No OS to maintain. No security patches to keep on top of etc... Again, this needed a re-write and I changed from the .NET software I had developed to one using Python.

    Just removing the technical hosting issues has been a huge win and saves that drain on energy and resources.

    At this stage I'd been focused on the major task of switching the datastore and the software which was a huge task in itself. So some of the features that I wanted to implement took a back seat. I also am always learning about the new platform and software in general and know I can make improvements to it.

    So, the plan now is to stay on Google's cloud platform (which is fantastic) but make some tweaks to the data storage and app layer to take advantage of new technology which will allow us to improve the performance and reduce the costs. At the same time, I'll be switching to some newer front-end web-technologies to improve the performance of the app, especially for people using mobile devices. The good news is that the early prototypes work great and provide an almost complete 'installed-app-like' experience. I'm very excited.

    But that's all technical ... it does feed into the forum itself though.

    Part of the change has been to make the site multi-tenanted. That is, there is a single instance of the service running but I can actually host multiple forums with it. Literally one ... two, a hundred, a thousand ... it really all ends up the same thing. So one thing I'm hoping to do is to open that up as a platform to run sites on. At a more direct level this would allow for instance splitting off things into separate forums (e.g. politics) so sites can focus on their core subject more. People would be able to sign-up and create their own forum too if they wanted.

    Obviously, to provide a Forum as a Service I also need to make improvements to the software for the management side of things. While I can go poke in the datastore or run scripts, someone moderating their own site would need the features provided as buttons etc... Again, I think a lot of forum software could be improved and I'm hoping to add a lot more "community / reputation" based moderation. That is, let people flag things and the software automatically remove or hide things based on the reputations of those involved. Make the forums as community-driven as possible so the moderators / owners just need to oversee things, prevent people gaming the system and not get so burnt out with the issues directly.

    And that's where we are ... I'm working on building that so that the forum(s) will be self-supporting financially though ads and / or fees. At that point I can invite more people to help run the JW forum itself as it will be less effort and would have the tools they would need (and election of moderators etc... could be built in as a feature too). The only thing I would be needed for would be to manage the software service itself but at that stage I'd hope to have more people involved in the development side of things (either commercially or open-source or through interest via other forums) so if that bus did hit me, things would carry on. Obviously, everyone would really miss me ... right? (I have pictures of street parties complete with bunting, LOL).

    Hopefully that helps remove any anxiety people might be feeling about this site's future. There should be some exciting improvements coming soon.

  • Simon

    Ha, just read the comments made while I was typing that diatribe. Too funny.

    One other thing to point out that gives you an idea of what I'm thinking in terms of 'long term future' for the site. While I was working on the last major re-write and importing topics, I tended to only import a few thousand topics which tended to be the early ones. So many times the posts included images as part of the content that, 15+ years later, was hosted on sites long gone which made them disjointed or lessened their value (esp if the image was a snippet of a book quote etc...). One of the things we do now when you include an image in a post is make a snapshot of it so it's preserved for prosperity - so someone viewing the site in another 15 years will see todays topics as they were posted. This also helps prevent the lame trick of people replacing images with unsavoury content and also finding people's location and / or identity by using images as tracking beacons (so good for security too). It also makes it possible to auto-scale images for a device so a 2Mb huge image can be loaded on a phone as a svelte, perfectly sized 2Kb pic instead (with the original available to view if required).

    I'm also conscious of trying to balance making the site self-sustaining and not having ads be so intrusive. The next set of changes will dramatically speed things up and so reduce the hosting costs even further (just more efficient software language and data design) so I should be able to make the ads more subtle.

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