TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

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TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

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Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

This article was just published by TidBITS and sent to you at your request.

Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

By Adam C. Engst
http://tidbits.com/article/17644

Has it really been a decade since the last redesign of the TidBITS Web site? (See “Designing a Modern Web Site for TidBITS,” 10 September 2007.) In fact, not everything has remained static over the past 10 years. We’ve moved the site from an Xserve to Rackspace to Linode and continually refined our tools and publishing practices. But at its core, the site has remained largely the same for a long time.

We’re currently working at full speed with our developer, Eli Van Zoeren, to rebuild nearly everything about our Internet presence with the goal of launching in early 2018. That includes the Web site and email issue design, along with our systems for article creation, content management, membership coordination, commenting and community discussion, account handling, email delivery, and more. We’ll be switching Web and email hosts too. Special thanks to our TidBITS members, whose contributions are making this transition possible!

I suspect that why we’re doing this is clear to most people, though perhaps not so painfully obvious as from our perspective. Our current Web site design looks and feels like it’s a decade old, and instead of seeming ironically retro, it makes the site hard to read on an iPhone and hurts our Google search rankings.

Why not update just the site design? Because of how it’s integrated into our Perl-based homegrown content management system, redesigning only the site would have been extremely difficult — it’s all intertwingled.

On the email side, a redesign would have been more straightforward, but we’ve struggled with deliverability problems over the years, so we’re looking forward to reworking our email system so we can outsource it to a company like SendGrid that specializes in sending massive amounts of email. I’ve spent far too much of my life fighting with email — it’s time to let experts deal with it.

Because of being written in custom Perl code, our content management system is brittle and difficult to tweak, improve, or explain to another developer. Even Glenn Fleishman, who wrote it originally, has had trouble fixing problems since so much time has passed since he was immersed in Web programming. So we’re headed to WordPress. It’s not perfect, but it’s robust, well-maintained, and highly extendable. If WordPress is good enough for the New York Times, it’s good enough for TidBITS.

The big win of WordPress is its extendability, both in terms of existing plugins and custom code. For instance, we plan to move TidBITS member management from eSellerate to the Paid Memberships Pro plugin for WordPress, with payments processed through Stripe. (In fact, I set up the TidBITS Content Network site using WordPress and Paid Memberships Pro, so I have some experience there already.) Plus, Eli can write custom plugins for TidBITS-specific behaviors such as building Watchlist and ExtraBITS articles for the email issue.

The big unknown right now is how our article creation process will change. This won’t affect readers, of course, but is how Josh and I spend a lot of our time. We’ve been writing in BBEdit and committing new and updated articles to a Subversion repository that our content management system then reads. Aspects of it are great, but it is finicky to set up and use, which gets in the way of fluid collaboration with writers. Since we already rely on Google Docs for collaborative editing, we hope that WordPress’s Chrome add-on for importing posts from Google Docs will eliminate the need for the copy-paste dance. If that doesn’t work, we’ll try Wordable before investigating a custom solution.

Another advantage of moving to a new system is that it gives us a chance to clean up accounts. Until we sold Take Control Books to Joe Kissell (see “Take Control Books Acquired by Joe Kissell,” 1 May 2017), TidBITS and Take Control shared an account database. That’s no longer true, and we’re taking this opportunity to remove all users whose accounts were associated only with Take Control. We can also reduce the amount of data we manage since TidBITS-only accounts won’t track book ownership.

We’re also hoping to eliminate some confusion that comes about because our commenting system works with TidBITS accounts, but doesn’t require them, and because our Mailman-hosted TidBITS Talk mailing list uses entirely separate subscription accounts. All services going forward should rely on the same account information.

Speaking of commenting and Mailman, we’re replacing both. The commenting system works well but suffers from some annoying formatting limitations and other bugs we couldn’t fix easily, and Mailman requires too much work to maintain. The current plan is to use Discourse for both per-article comments and general TidBITS Talk discussions. Discourse has a Web focus (and lots of interesting capabilities there) while still allowing email-based discussions, and we’ll see how it works.

Running WordPress and Discourse will require separate hosting accounts, but the combination should still be vastly simpler to deal with than our current CentOS-based virtual private server. While I can monkey through many Unix tasks, I find administering a production Unix server highly stressful and time-consuming. We’re running our staging version of WordPress at ArcusTech, which provides a fully managed server, and we’ll install Discourse at Digital Ocean because ArcusTech doesn’t support the Ruby on Rails environment Discourse needs.

In the end, we’re looking forward to providing you with a Web and email presence that’s more visually appealing, mobile friendly, and modern. It will also be simpler — we plan to drop features that no longer make sense or that require too much work. For instance, the hard-wrapped text versions of the email edition require a lot of hand-coding while writing, complicate the email management interface, and look lousy in most of today’s email clients. Simultaneously, though, it should become easier for us to add new capabilities because we’ll have a platform that supports tons of plugins and that many developers understand.

You will certainly notice these changes, and you may need to log in to your TidBITS account again, tweak email filters, or make other minor adjustments to how you interact with TidBITS. But we’ll do our best to alert you to important things in advance and make the transition as easy as possible. We hope that you’ll appreciate all the changes from the front end as much as we’re looking forward to the new back end.

Post a comment

TidBITS members can unsubscribe from just-published articles at http://tidbits.com/subscriptions. TidBITS Talk readers will need to create a filter to delete these articles.

Article copyright © 2017 By Adam C. Engst . Reuse governed by Creative Commons License.




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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

Jerry King
I wish you well. NMUG blew about $20,000 trying to move to Wordpress. 

Now instead on 1, lots of manual processes, we have 3 manual systems that are unsynched.  I’m retiring from club stuff at the end of the year. Hope my follow up team survives. 


Jerry 


On Nov 20, 2017, at 6:27 PM, TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:

Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

This article was just published by TidBITS and sent to you at your request.

Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

By Adam C. Engst
http://tidbits.com/article/17644

Has it really been a decade since the last redesign of the TidBITS Web site? (See “Designing a Modern Web Site for TidBITS,” 10 September 2007.) In fact, not everything has remained static over the past 10 years. We’ve moved the site from an Xserve to Rackspace to Linode and continually refined our tools and publishing practices. But at its core, the site has remained largely the same for a long time.

We’re currently working at full speed with our developer, Eli Van Zoeren, to rebuild nearly everything about our Internet presence with the goal of launching in early 2018. That includes the Web site and email issue design, along with our systems for article creation, content management, membership coordination, commenting and community discussion, account handling, email delivery, and more. We’ll be switching Web and email hosts too. Special thanks to our TidBITS members, whose contributions are making this transition possible!

I suspect that why we’re doing this is clear to most people, though perhaps not so painfully obvious as from our perspective. Our current Web site design looks and feels like it’s a decade old, and instead of seeming ironically retro, it makes the site hard to read on an iPhone and hurts our Google search rankings.

Why not update just the site design? Because of how it’s integrated into our Perl-based homegrown content management system, redesigning only the site would have been extremely difficult — it’s all intertwingled.

On the email side, a redesign would have been more straightforward, but we’ve struggled with deliverability problems over the years, so we’re looking forward to reworking our email system so we can outsource it to a company like SendGrid that specializes in sending massive amounts of email. I’ve spent far too much of my life fighting with email — it’s time to let experts deal with it.

Because of being written in custom Perl code, our content management system is brittle and difficult to tweak, improve, or explain to another developer. Even Glenn Fleishman, who wrote it originally, has had trouble fixing problems since so much time has passed since he was immersed in Web programming. So we’re headed to WordPress. It’s not perfect, but it’s robust, well-maintained, and highly extendable. If WordPress is good enough for the New York Times, it’s good enough for TidBITS.

The big win of WordPress is its extendability, both in terms of existing plugins and custom code. For instance, we plan to move TidBITS member management from eSellerate to the Paid Memberships Pro plugin for WordPress, with payments processed through Stripe. (In fact, I set up the TidBITS Content Network site using WordPress and Paid Memberships Pro, so I have some experience there already.) Plus, Eli can write custom plugins for TidBITS-specific behaviors such as building Watchlist and ExtraBITS articles for the email issue.

The big unknown right now is how our article creation process will change. This won’t affect readers, of course, but is how Josh and I spend a lot of our time. We’ve been writing in BBEdit and committing new and updated articles to a Subversion repository that our content management system then reads. Aspects of it are great, but it is finicky to set up and use, which gets in the way of fluid collaboration with writers. Since we already rely on Google Docs for collaborative editing, we hope that WordPress’s Chrome add-on for importing posts from Google Docs will eliminate the need for the copy-paste dance. If that doesn’t work, we’ll try Wordable before investigating a custom solution.

Another advantage of moving to a new system is that it gives us a chance to clean up accounts. Until we sold Take Control Books to Joe Kissell (see “Take Control Books Acquired by Joe Kissell,” 1 May 2017), TidBITS and Take Control shared an account database. That’s no longer true, and we’re taking this opportunity to remove all users whose accounts were associated only with Take Control. We can also reduce the amount of data we manage since TidBITS-only accounts won’t track book ownership.

We’re also hoping to eliminate some confusion that comes about because our commenting system works with TidBITS accounts, but doesn’t require them, and because our Mailman-hosted TidBITS Talk mailing list uses entirely separate subscription accounts. All services going forward should rely on the same account information.

Speaking of commenting and Mailman, we’re replacing both. The commenting system works well but suffers from some annoying formatting limitations and other bugs we couldn’t fix easily, and Mailman requires too much work to maintain. The current plan is to use Discourse for both per-article comments and general TidBITS Talk discussions. Discourse has a Web focus (and lots of interesting capabilities there) while still allowing email-based discussions, and we’ll see how it works.

Running WordPress and Discourse will require separate hosting accounts, but the combination should still be vastly simpler to deal with than our current CentOS-based virtual private server. While I can monkey through many Unix tasks, I find administering a production Unix server highly stressful and time-consuming. We’re running our staging version of WordPress at ArcusTech, which provides a fully managed server, and we’ll install Discourse at Digital Ocean because ArcusTech doesn’t support the Ruby on Rails environment Discourse needs.

In the end, we’re looking forward to providing you with a Web and email presence that’s more visually appealing, mobile friendly, and modern. It will also be simpler — we plan to drop features that no longer make sense or that require too much work. For instance, the hard-wrapped text versions of the email edition require a lot of hand-coding while writing, complicate the email management interface, and look lousy in most of today’s email clients. Simultaneously, though, it should become easier for us to add new capabilities because we’ll have a platform that supports tons of plugins and that many developers understand.

You will certainly notice these changes, and you may need to log in to your TidBITS account again, tweak email filters, or make other minor adjustments to how you interact with TidBITS. But we’ll do our best to alert you to important things in advance and make the transition as easy as possible. We hope that you’ll appreciate all the changes from the front end as much as we’re looking forward to the new back end.

Post a comment

TidBITS members can unsubscribe from just-published articles at http://tidbits.com/subscriptions. TidBITS Talk readers will need to create a filter to delete these articles.

Article copyright © 2017 By Adam C. Engst . Reuse governed by Creative Commons License.



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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

adamengst
Administrator
I wish you well. NMUG blew about $20,000 trying to move to Wordpress. 

That’s always a worry with major Web redesigns. Luckily, we’ve worked with Eli in the past (on the Take Control site) so I’m confident it will happen, and at the quoted budget. I won’t say that it will absolutely happen on time, but all signs are good right now. :-)

cheers... -Adam 




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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

Alexander Forbes

On Nov 20, 2017, at 4:49 PM, Adam Engst <[hidden email]> wrote:

I wish you well. NMUG blew about $20,000 trying to move to Wordpress. 

...That’s always a worry with major Web redesigns. Luckily, we’ve worked with Eli in the past (on the Take Control site) so I’m confident it will happen, and at the quoted budget. I won’t say that it will absolutely happen on time, but all signs are good right now. :-)

cheers... -Adam 

Congratulations Adam and all the staff. It is a big job and commitment, but worth it. On a much larger scale than my own website, you more or less echoed my chosen paths since 1996 through plain HTML, style sheets, spit-pane sidebars with manually entered link lists, and even Perl-generated pages and loaded templates.

One of the biggest pains was creating a new style and deciding how far to propagate it. What about that 1992 auricle on frobisher widgets? Does anybody really read that page at all any more?

I went with Wordpress around the turn of the century, customized some PhP and wrote some more, whose a WordPress layout I never changed again. I converted “core” pages over to Wordpress, and stored all other and older html pages in “legacy articles” links. I never looked back, and have never been disappointed. We look forward to the new TidBITS site!

Cheers,

Alex




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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

John Robinson-3
I like subscribing to different blogs at Wordpress, but I don’t receive all blogs I subscribe. I have gone in and individually enabled to receive the blogs as soon as published, but only a couple of them actually reach my mailbox.

Once I cancelled my wordpress account and resubscribed with a new account & new email address, but it was the same, I can only get a couple blogs to email when it publishes. Each subscription has been individually set to email me when they publish, but they don’t.

I don’t know why this happens, you have to pay for Wordpress support, so I just gave up.

Sent from JRs iPad Pro 

On Nov 20, 2017, at 6:41 PM, Alexander Forbes <[hidden email]> wrote:


On Nov 20, 2017, at 4:49 PM, Adam Engst <[hidden email]> wrote:

I wish you well. NMUG blew about $20,000 trying to move to Wordpress. 

...That’s always a worry with major Web redesigns. Luckily, we’ve worked with Eli in the past (on the Take Control site) so I’m confident it will happen, and at the quoted budget. I won’t say that it will absolutely happen on time, but all signs are good right now. :-)

cheers... -Adam 

Congratulations Adam and all the staff. It is a big job and commitment, but worth it. On a much larger scale than my own website, you more or less echoed my chosen paths since 1996 through plain HTML, style sheets, spit-pane sidebars with manually entered link lists, and even Perl-generated pages and loaded templates.

One of the biggest pains was creating a new style and deciding how far to propagate it. What about that 1992 auricle on frobisher widgets? Does anybody really read that page at all any more?

I went with Wordpress around the turn of the century, customized some PhP and wrote some more, whose a WordPress layout I never changed again. I converted “core” pages over to Wordpress, and stored all other and older html pages in “legacy articles” links. I never looked back, and have never been disappointed. We look forward to the new TidBITS site!

Cheers,

Alex



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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

Alexander Forbes


On Nov 20, 2017, at 6:01 PM, John Robinson <[hidden email]> wrote:

I like subscribing to different blogs at Wordpress, but I don’t receive all blogs I subscribe.

Perhaps someone whose blog is hosted on WordPress’s server can help you, or someone who subscribes to WP blogs there. I run my WP installation on my independent host server. I have one friend who moved his WP site there, and it happy there (no ISP charges). I visit it from time to time, but I don’t subscribe to any site.




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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

@lbutlr
In reply to this post by TidBITS Articles
On 20 Nov 2017, at 16:27, TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:
> We’re also hoping to eliminate some confusion that comes about because our commenting system works with TidBITS accounts, but doesn’t require them, and because our Mailman-hosted TidBITS Talk mailing list uses entirely separate subscription accounts. All services going forward should rely on the same account information.

If you're unifying this, please be sure to allow a different email address. I know I am not the only person who uses a special email account for mailing lists.

--
Apple broke AppleScripting signatures in Mail.app, so no random signatures.




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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

adamengst
Administrator
In reply to this post by Alexander Forbes
One of the biggest pains was creating a new style and deciding how far to propagate it. What about that 1992 auricle on frobisher widgets? Does anybody really read that page at all any more?

Bringing our entire archive forward is absolutely going to happen. It would be nice to get all the TidBITS Talk archives into Discourse too, but I don’t know if that will be possible. We’ve lost a few chunks of TidBITS Talk every time we switch software, but I think I probably have it all somewhere.

cheers... -Adam



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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

adamengst
Administrator
In reply to this post by @lbutlr
On 20 Nov 2017, at 16:27, TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:
> We’re also hoping to eliminate some confusion that comes about because our commenting system works with TidBITS accounts, but doesn’t require them, and because our Mailman-hosted TidBITS Talk mailing list uses entirely separate subscription accounts. All services going forward should rely on the same account information.

If you're unifying this, please be sure to allow a different email address. I know I am not the only person who uses a special email account for mailing lists.

I can’t promise anything, I’m afraid — maintaining multiple email addresses for the same account isn’t something that WordPress does natively as far as I’m aware, and this is exactly the sort of feature we built in the past that caused a lot of support load later on. Worst case, you’ll need to use the mailing list address for both TidBITS and TidBITS Talk.

cheers... -Adam



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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

David Ross
In reply to this post by Jerry King
When?

Just curious. Things change rapidly these days.

On 11/20/17 6:46 PM, Jerry King wrote:
> I wish you well. NMUG blew about $20,000 trying to move to Wordpress.
>



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Re: TidBITS: Next-Generation TidBITS Infrastructure in the Works

David Ross
In reply to this post by John Robinson-3
Sound like you're talking about things at Wordpress, the hosting site
for many Wordpress blogs. What Adam is taking about is using the
Wordpress system/software and hosting it somewhere else. It can all get
a bit confusing with the name overlaps.

David

On 11/20/17 8:01 PM, John Robinson wrote:

> I like subscribing to different blogs at Wordpress, but I don’t
> receive all blogs I subscribe. I have gone in and individually enabled
> to receive the blogs as soon as published, but only a couple of them
> actually reach my mailbox.
>
> Once I cancelled my wordpress account and resubscribed with a new
> account & new email address, but it was the same, I can only get a
> couple blogs to email when it publishes. Each subscription has been
> individually set to email me when they publish, but they don’t.
>
> I don’t know why this happens, you have to pay for Wordpress support,
> so I just gave up.



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