The servers have been stable for a while now, and we're starting to shift gears to looking into features. Our biggest effort has been around researching themes systems, so we can upgrade Xanga’s default theme system to be more flexible and powerful. Here’s what we’ve learned:
* Mobile-friendliness: Providing a mobile-friendly version of themes is key. A key question is how similar the mobile theme should be to the desktop theme. A lot of themes out there don’t have any similarities at all - it can be tough to make mobile and desktop themes match.
* Header editing: A lot of people want to be able to do something basic, like edit the header area without having to touch any code. Bonus points for being able to easily upload a header image!
* Module editing: Another common feature request is the ability to add and edit modules with basic HTML.
* One theme versus lots of them: With all the features to support, it’s better to have one theme versus lots of them. That means that the one theme has to be pretty flexible though, which is a bit tricky.
* Tradeoff between Flexibility versus Ease-of-Use: It’s easy to provide flexibility by itself, but hard to provide a flexible theme that’s easy to configure and doesn’t require knowledge of HTML/CSS.
* Security: We’ve looked at a lot of the themes out there, and many of them have huge security holes in them, so that people’s data can be easily compromised! This has ruled out a lot of the turnkey solutions out there, alas.
We’re currently researching theme systems out there, and seeing how they do against these criteria! Let us know if there are any theme systems out there you’d like us to look at, and we can share our thoughts/evaluations in our next post.
We’ve been experiencing some higher levels of bot traffic on Xanga lately, which have been keeping us very busy. Bot traffic can cause the servers to get slower (or worse, to be inaccessible), so we wanted to share an update on what's going on and what we've been doing to address it.
1. LOTS OF BOTS
There are a growing number of "web crawler" bots that are trying to crawl our site, and sites in general. As Wikipedia puts it, “a Web crawler is an Internet bot that systematically browses the World Wide Web, typically for the purpose of Web indexing.”
It used to be that only large search engines like Google or Bing could afford to buy lots of servers and storage, and crawl websites. But the rates for servers/storage have come down a lot lately, and we’ve noticed a big increase in bots and web crawlers. Social media is also a big contributor: every time someone pins a post, Pinterest sends a bot to crawl the page being pinned. With all the pinning going on these days, Pinterest is sending a lot of bots out there into the world!
As a result of all this, bot traffic is way up on the web and it’s been putting a strain on our servers. We should be fine for now - and when bot traffic gets especially bad, we tweak our network settings to prevent the bots from overloading the servers.
Server maintenance is proving to be a lot of work though, so we’re looking find other ways to address the surge in bot traffic.
We experience Denial-of-Service attacks from time to time as well. (“In computing, a denial-of-service (DoS) or distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is an attempt to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended users.” - Wikipedia)
Recently we were the inadvertent target of a DDoS attack on our servers. Our webhost had a bunch of random servers compromised by a security vulnerability known as Shellshock. Our servers were not compromised (we had patched them immediately after the security vulnerability came to light), but some hackers used the other compromised servers to attack another set of servers on our web host.
Even though we weren’t directly attacked, the compromised servers caused significant congestion on our webhost’s network - and that congestion caused our servers to be unable to reach the Internet. So Xanga went down for about 2 hours.
By the time we had figured out what was going on, the webhost had resolved the issue on their end. And with some server tweaks on our end, we were able to once again get out servers connected to the Internet. Our webhost has made changes to make sure that this won't happen again, and we will continue to monitor for server vulnerabilities so we can keep our servers safe.
Just wanted to share a little bit about the sort of server maintenance we’ve been doing a lot of lately. Next up, we’re pulling together our thoughts on some of the top feature requests, starting with how we might upgrade our customizable theme system.
We want to thank everyone for being there for us. Without your involvement, we wouldn't be where we are today.
Here are a few of the things that we've been working on over this past year:
* We built out a new server system, and migrated thousands of websites over to the new servers
* We fought off ongoing DDOS and brute password attacks that were slowing the site down
* We've made further upgrades to our server setup over the past six months, to use new more powerful servers as they became available.
* We're planning one more server upgrade later this year, to take advantage of better and cheaper server systems that have become available.
I mentioned previously that we've migrated all Premium users and campaign contributors over to the Xanga 2.0 servers.
In addition, we also have prepared downloadable archives for the ~2 million Xanga blogs saved on our servers... specifically:
* We generated blog archives for every Xangan who has signed into the site in the past 5 years, as long as they have more than two subscribers (to rule out spam).
* We also generated blog archives for every Xangan who has signed into the site in the past year, and has at least ten blogs overall.
We are currently working to make these archives available asap to all of our users (for free, of course). We've been working on this all day, and hope to have it available soon. There will be two ways to retrieve your data.
1) Once we launch this feature, you will be able to sign into Xanga and download the archive (for free) from the link at the top of your dashboard, or
2) Upgrade to Xanga 2.0 and we will upgrade your blog to the new servers using the data in the backup.
Let me know if you have any questions!
ps We've been tuning the servers all day to run faster... let us know if you can feel a difference in the site speed!
You can use the same username and password that you're used to, and it should work!
2. CHECK OUT YOUR BLOG
If you are premium or participated in our Xanga 2.0 campaign, your blog should be in the same location! For example, my blog is here: http://john.xanga.com
If your blog appears, you should be able to go to your dashboard and start blogging! Your blog should even look similar to your old theme. (If it looks a bit off, let us know here and we'll take a look!) http://help.xanga.com/forum/themes
Either way, you should be able to check out your Reading page under your dashboard!
It's a great way to find updates from your subs and friends! Speaking of which, we made some name changes related to subs and friends, to help make it a bit simpler and more intuitive... you can read about the name tweaks here!
ps Thanks for your patience everyone... we will find a way to make it up to you!!
pps We are now officially in phase 2 (of four) of the Xanga 2.0 launch!
Phase 1: Data Migration Phase 2: Site Tuning <---
Phase 3: Feature Prioritization
Phase 4: Building Together
The next month or two of work on Xanga 2.0 is going to be busy, so we wanted to share with everyone a roadmap of how we’re thinking about things... if you're interested, you can read more details about the 4 phases here
The next month or two of work on Xanga 2.0 is going to be busy, so I wanted to share with everyone a roadmap of how we're thinking about things!
We're dividing the work on this project into four basic phases.
Phase 1. Data migration
As described here, we've imported over every account that we have on Xanga over to the new system so that anyone who could sign into Xanga can still sign into Xanga 2.0. (Try it here!) We've also imported over everyone's subscribers and friends, so that if somebody was subscribed or friended to you on the old system, they're now following you on the new one too. And f you had turned on privacy features like friends lock, then we imported that over as well. Same goes for Signin Lock, RSS feeds being on or off, and search engine accessibility. We've also migrated over everyone's photos (25 terabytes+ of data).
Finally and most important of all, we've imported over 2 million blogs from the old system. If you are premium or if you pledged to our campaign, then we've already imported your blog posts into Xanga 2.0. If you don't fit into the category but you've been active on the site in the following ways, we've created a backup archive of your blog data and can migrate you to the system if you'd like. Continue reading →
Over the years, we've gotten a lot of questions about what the difference is between Subscribing to someone and being Friends with them. As you guys know:
* You Subscribe to someone when you want to follow all of their updates on their blog.
* You Friend someone (and they friend you back) to create a closer relationship. Friendships also control privacy features (like Friends Lock) and are two-way relationships: you can't just friend someone... they have to agree to friend you back.
Both features let you do some pretty cool things. So we made a list of what we like most about them:
* The ability to easily see someone else's updates
* The privacy of being able to approve people before they can see your content.
That said, it definitely confused people that both features did something similar and yet had such different names... and also that there was no one place to manage them both. So we addressed the first by tweaking the name... and renamed subs and friends into a single feature called, you guessed it, Following and Approved Followers.
It really works very similar to how Xanga worked before, but with just a new name:
Ok our last minute checks have been going well, so we're going to start the migration to Xanga 2.0 in a few hours!
We will be taking the site down at midnight tonight (EST)... we'll be physically moving our servers tomorrow, over the course of the day. We will be working on the migration over the weekend... and will be posting updates on the migration to Twitter here:
We've made a lot of progress on the Xanga 2.0 data migration!
* We've created backups of ~2 million Xanga blogs. If you've been active on Xanga in the past 5+ years, we've most likely archived all of your posts and are ready to migrate you over to Xanga 2.0 (details below).
* We've also migrated over every photo that's on our servers now to Xanga 2.0 (~25 terabytes).
* We've moved over every single user's login and their subscriber/friend relationships.
* We're gearing up for the move in the next few days...
The technical work around the site migration has been intense, and we've had our heads down working like crazy on the tech side of things. With the deadline imminent though, I wanted to come up for air and give everyone an update on where we are with both the Xanga 2.0 site migration and the fundraiser.
XANGA 2.0 SITE MIGRATION
Thanks to the hard work of our engineers, we've made tremendous progress in migrating our backend to WordPress!
You can see just how far we've come in the following video I just pulled together. It shows my computer screen as I browse all of the blog posts we've imported for my own blog at john.xanga.com.
We have now successfully moved over all of our user accounts into the new Xanga 2.0 system, so that each and every one of our current users will be able to sign into the new Xanga. We have also successfully imported the blogs of all of our current premium users... and are now working on importing the blog posts of people who have pledged to support our fundraiser. (If you haven't gotten an email already asking about which accounts you'd like to migrate over, you should be getting one very shortly!)
We are also migrating over every single photo that's on our servers now, which has been a ton of work. As part of that, we've been able to set up a cluster of media servers that we can use to serve photos moving forward. We'll also use these servers to serve everyone's avatars, which we are moving over as well.
There have been a huge number of technical hurdles that we've had to figure out, and it looks like we are in the final stretch! It's taking us a little longer than we had hoped, but we were also able to negotiate an extension of our current lease at our networking facility... so we have an extra month (until the end of August) to finalize this transition.
We will know more on the remaining technical issues shortly, and then we will be able to set a final date for the changeover.
At this point, we are just a few thousand dollars short of raising $50,000! We can't thank you all enough for your incredible support and bringing us so close to our target of $60k. I have decided that if we can reach $50,000 in total pledges, then I will personally put in the next $10,000 that we need to reach our target.
I spoke to Crowdhoster and they suggested that the easiest way to achieve this would be to lower the campaign target to $50,000. They also pointed out that if we wanted to, we could enable members to continue to pledge towards the campaign in August so that more Xangans could still migrate over to Xanga 2.0. At the current rate of funding, we are on track to hit $60k before the end of August - which is great. But we'd love to get started buying a bunch of additional servers before then, so my contribution should help get things moving asap! Since we will continue to have everyone's data available in our networking facility through the end of August, leaving the campaign open for extra time made a lot of sense and we've gone ahead and enabled that.
Right now, we are at $47,770... which is just $2,230 awayfrom our target of $50k. We still need your helpto reach our campaign target of $50k, so please consider contributing today!
Quick note: no credit cards will be charged until we hit our target of $50,000! Once we hit that target though, your credit card will be charged at the time that you make a pledge towards the campaign. Just wanted to make sure that the mechanics of the fundraiser were clear, so that there wasn't any confusion.
Thanks to the everyone who has pledged to our campaign and who is supporting Xanga 2.0! We can't thank you enough and are excited to bring the new site to life soon!! If you'd like to join Xanga 2.0, you can sign up here: