Part of my webhosting woes of late is that, like Wordpress, my blog software (Serendipity) is horribly dependent upon massive amounts of database interaction. A few hits and suddenly your server starts leaking smoke and your webhosting provider shuts you down. This is obviously not optimal, and a big part of the reason I made the switch to Dreamhost's Virtual Private Server platform in the first place. Dreamhost's VPS came with its own host of problems, but needless to say, database server overloading was still somewhat of a problem there. (Actually, I maintain that it is MORE of a problem, but that's something you'll have to take up with your helpful Dreamhost Support staff -- you know, if they ever get back to you.)
Because this is such a problem on Wordpress there are quite a number of different plugins to alleviate this, all of which have pros and cons, meaning that it takes some research to determine how best to go about caching your content. Being a lesser-used platform than Wordpress, Serendipity doesn't have quite the number of solutions to help cache the content and relieve the database server from some of its tireless work, so I set about trying to come up with a solution.
While reading up on some of these plugin-based solutions on Wordpress's platform, trying to see if there was some technique I could move over to Serendipity, I stumbled across an ingenious idea:
Squid is designed to sit between your browser and the rest of the internet, efficiently caching content so that your browser doesn't have to re-download it all the time, effectively "speeding up" your internet connection. This is especially helpful in a network situation where you have a number of people using the same internet connection. When Bob loads up the day's LOLcats, squid will cache them locally so that Steve's computer doesn't have to download them yet again. Pretty common setup, and very effective at what it does.
Anyway, someone far cleverer than I realized that one could use squid the other way 'round: by running it on your web host, intercepting every incoming request seeking content from your site. Squid will happily pass requests through to the web server, where content will be fetched from your database. But if squid knows it has a recent copy in memory, it will send that back to the browser instead, never letting it touch your webserver -- and thus any databases -- saving yourself some pretty significant amount of RAM and CPU.
I'm here to report that it works like a charm. Granted, there are quirks -- like comments not immediately displaying -- but that's a trade-off I'm more than willing to make.
If you'd like more information, here are the instructions I followed to get this setup running on my new host: Reverse Proxying with Squid.
If you're out of the loop -- and I suspect that you are -- then you're not aware of the big Johnson & Johnson "Camp Baby" conference that's taking place this weekend in New Jersey.
Essentially, Johnson & Johnson is hoping to get some good "blogblicity" from some high-profile "mommybloggers" by flying them out, putting them up in fancy hotels, picking them up in fancy GM SUVs and presenting all sorts of mom-related forums and panels and things. I guess they'll probably show off some new products and whatnot, and hope to recoup all the costs of putting on such a shindig by the word-of-mouth that will inevitably spread around the various mommyblogger circles. Or spheres. Or whatever we're calling it now.
There are several funny things about this though:
1) Johnson & Johnson made quite the snafu when they announced that mommybloggers would not be able to bring their babies to "Camp Baby." This resulted in spheres of fury the likes of which the world has never seen, with wave after wave of interconnected communities of high-profile mommybloggers vowing to not only not participate, but to never again buy a Johnson & Johnson product. And worse: to recommend to their faithful readers that they not do so either. The jury is still out on the possibly irreparable damage to the mommyblogosphere; it was neatly cleaved in twain by the rift between those bloggers participating and those that aren't.
2) A good number of these mommybloggers are a members of the BlogHer ad network, which has a rule stipulating that you can't blog about things if they happened as a result of payment or promotional material by a corporation. Meaning: none of these BlogHer mommybloggers can actually blog about any of the things that they saw or did with Johnson & Johnson unless they specifically disable the advertisements on their sites for those blog articles/feeds. And they are GIRLS, so you know they don't know how to do that, right? ;)
Anyway, I've been seeing reports of all the fun times the mommybloggers are having via some of my contacts on the inside, and it sounds like Johnson & Johnson have gone all-out to make this bloggy get-together a great time that will be shared by all involved. The rest of the world just probably won't get to hear much about it. Now that's what I call planning.
You create things because you want people to see them. Rather than expending energy trying to prevent some people from using the things you create in some way you don't like, just look at it as it really is: people are seeing your work. Whether they're hotlinking your images, stealing your post content, or sharing clips from your tv show on YouTube, eyes are seeing your work. Isn't that the entire point?
Encourage people to use your work. Creative Commons licensing anything you create is the best and most-effective way to get large amounts of people to see it. If you're a photographer, consider licensing your images such that bloggers, painters, filmmakers, artists, etc can use them without having to jump through hoops.
Don't sweat the numbers. Many of the blogs I read have lately been almost completely devoted to talking about how great their Technorati score or their Google PageRank or whatever is. Why does this matter to you, and why do you think it would matter to anyone reading your post? Sure, it's good having a high-profile site, but if all anyone can ever find on it is stuff about how high-profile it is, nobody wins.
Ads (almost always) make you focus your content on getting more readers and/or selling more ads. If you want to create things and get people to see them, then great... that's what blogging is for. Sure, you might be able to make alittle cash by adding advertising, but I submit that pretty much every blog I've subscribed to that has added advertising has turned into a blog about how to get more readers to read, how to get more backlinks, how to get higher in search rankings, etc. In short: making money with your blog (almost always) turns your blog into a blog about making money with blogs about making money with blogs... I was interested in what you had to say before, but you're losing me with all this making money stuff.
Every so often, tell people about it when you like what they're doing. A few years back I got an email from someone I really looked up to telling me really nice things, and it really meant the world to me. When you get an email or a comment or something from someone who has been inspiring you, it can really make a difference in someone's life. That sounds really sappy and silly, but when the person in question spends a bunch of time on a blog or something, it's obviously important to them. I'd consider that part of their life.
Don't participate in memes. You just end up with posts like this one.
Success is a hard thing to measure; many people who blog seem to be under the impression that having high rankings and making more money is the important metric for how successful they are at what they're doing. Me? I don't have a lot of readers, I've never done anything with the intention of increasing any rankings, I post almost entirely stupid things -- yet I get feedback from people all over the world, have forged quite a number of internet friendships as a result, and am consistently blown away at the number of people out there that I'm reaching (I don't even really know how many it is, but I do know it's a heck of a lot more than I ever expected it would be).
So yeah, I'd call that successful. Those 6 "secrets" are the most important ones to getting me to where I am, so I hope this is what Matthew was looking for.
[still one-handing it, but i'm getting slightly more accurate and a litttle faster... maybe soon i'll tackle the shift key]
ive got lots of friends in the blogging business, and it seems not a day goes by that someone doesn;t come up with a new crazy scheme tto raise the profile of their blog so thatr their ads are worth more.
one of the most popular of these schemes is a recent one involving technorati 'favorites' exchanging. people post an entry begging people to favorite them on technorati, prmosing that they'll then reciprocate the favor.
in theory this is an interesting idea, except for the fact that it is manipulating technorati's ranking system. technorati is going to catch on to it pretty quickly, but in the meantime your blog's profile can skyrocket. except for one little thing: the ranking is done as a percentile. as you start helping to increase the rankings of all the people helping you incerease your rankings, your standing us going to actually suffer for it. you've moved up -- but so has everyone else.
so in the end you may get some new friends out of it, but really you've just wasted a bunch of time and effort -- and corrupted technorati's valuable ranking algorithm in the process. if everyone is manipulating the system, the system becomes worthlkess.
don't break good things just because you might get something out of it. internet curmudgeon out.
Two years ago I decided that I needed to switch out my archaic "category" system on this site for a more dynamic "tag" system. Adding categories is a pain, meaning I never have an appropriate one for anything I post. Tags make all sorts of amazing stuff possible. In short, it was a "no brainer," really.
The only problem was that I had a wealth of posts back then, and I didn't look forward to having to go through and tag them all. So I didn't switch over. Because it would be too much work.
It's now been two years and like 600+ posts later, and I actually got around to doing the bulk of the work today. I got it to automatically populate my existing categories into tags, so every post has at least one tag it belongs to, but I've been going through and adding more appropriate tags as I find them. This is a real pain in the butt, but I feel it is well worth it.
The moral of this story? If you think it's going to be too much work to do something now, just imagine how much more work it will be when you actually get around to it.
UPDATE: A lot (most) of my old posts are very poorly titled, so as I go through tagging them I'm trying to fix those as well. This will probably cause them to come through your feed reader again, so I apologize if you've seen them before. Many of you haven't, though, so I don't feel too badly about it.
I have a really big favor to ask: Could you all refrain from putting TV spoilers in your blog posts and titles of blog posts so that those of us who cannot stay up late enough to watch shows in real-time will still enjoy them the next day when we watch them on our PVRs?
This is specifically directed towards Battlestar Galactica, but I can imagine that there are other shows people might be upset about having spoiled as well.
All day going through my Google Reader subscriptions I kept coming across titles and posts saying things like "Frak!," "Frack!," "Frakk!," etc, and I had to work pretty hard to avoid reading anything else in them. This also means that anything insightful that you said about BSG will most likely be lost forever as I'll never be able to go back and find all those posts again.
Seriously, it's bad enough that Ron Moore has spoiled some of it for me in his podcast ( and even worse still that SciFi spoiled some of it for those who don't listen to the podcast ) without having to carefully read through my mountain of blogs to just enjoy the one show I care about.
I've been preparing for some time to write a long treatise on the evils of "partial-text" RSS feeds, and how I think everyone should switch to "full-text" feeds instead. I was going to point out that requiring people to actually come to your site to get the content is soooo 1999, and that the only conceivable reason for doing so was to improve your ad revenue. I'm not against ads per se, I just don't think they ought to inform your decisions on how your readers read your site.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there are peope who actually prefer to subscribe to feeds that don't contain the full text of articles. Presumably this is so they can more easily skim the content they don't want to read. It's not my cup of tea, but I now recognize that insisting that everyone use the type of feeds I like is pretty short-sighted. Now I'm going to argue that anyone providing RSS feeds of their content really ought to provide both a full-text and a partial-text feed, allowing the subscribers to make this decision.
With than in mind, I've now updated the site with new badges and new 'autodetected' feeds for browsers that can handle them. I'll also be updating the UI of the site to reflect the fact that pretty much anything can be read as an RSS feed, but in the meantime, any feed on the site can now be made a partial-text feed by simply tacking on "?partial" to the end of the url.
I did this by mucking around with the actual guts of my blog software, but for those of you who don't want to (or can't) engage in this type of haxoring, I suspect that there are 3rd-party feed services one could install. I know when I was looking into aggregating my feeds into the Nyquil Network feed, 95% of the different feed manipulator services I tried only generated partial-text feeds, so it ought to be a snap to get one of them to make you such a feed. Maybe Yahoo Pipes?
Will people subscribe to these partial-text feeds? I really doubt it, but they're there should someone want to. I'd hate to find out that someone who might otherwise be interested in my drivel was turned away because they couldn't subscribe the way they want. I know that I've sure unsubscribed from people for not using full-text feeds, so I think this is a wise step to have made.
Thoughts? Problems? (Oh, also: apologies to anyone whose feed reader caught me in the middle of haxoring. All sorts of crazy stuff was happening for a while there.)
It seems to me that the point of Digg -- and by extension, any of the different social network aggregators -- is to provide a mechanism for a community to discover things that are of interest to other members of said community. Someone submits something, and other users who agree that it is cool go ahead and "digg" it, increasing its profile in the network, thus drawing in more eyes. This creates a layer of trust among the community; if a bunch of people dig stuff, chances are you might like it too. People involved in said community know the sorts of things they want to digg, and have mechanisms allowing them to easily do so when they come across something they want to share. This may be browser extensions or bookmarklets or what-have-you, but I maintain that active Diggers don't need a little button on every one of your posts to digg you.
So therefore, the only purpose of including said buttons is to incite people -- people who otherwise wouldn't be bothered -- to go ahead and digg you. I mean, it's just one click right? What does this accomplish? Well, in the short-run it might get a few more eyes to see your content, but in the long-run what it accomplishes is a dilution of the network. If suddenly a bunch of people start digging your content because it's easy rather than because it merits digging, pretty soon the whole system is going to break down. Who wants to use a social network where everything anyone ever creates gets submitted? Not me.
(But in full disclosure, I don't use any of those social networks now. I just see the value they currently hold, and understand that this value will very quickly dissolve with sudden influxes of uninteresting content.)
Sure, everything is of interest to someone -- the fact that a handful of people see my content attests to this -- but I can't imagine submitting any of it "to the masses." If you're creating something that you think is diggworthy, then by all means throw a link in and beg people to digg it, but automatically doing that on everything you create is just plain arrogant. Chances are, many people who might otherwise digg you will not do so because it seems as if you're begging for it. I submit that by putting said links in, you are begging for it.
My first shorter rant on this subject incited Matthew from eJabs.com to comment that he thinks I may have a point, and that he may consider getting rid of his automatic digg links. The fact that he took time out to tell me what he thinks and that he may change his site as a result of it suggests to me that it'd be OK to use his site as an example. Take a look at this:
That's what's at the bottom of every single one of his posts. Clicking on any one of those little icons will submit the current post to a different social network aggregator site. This may seem like a pretty extreme example of this type of pandering, but I see it pretty frequently. I bet you do too. I was going to link to a handful of them, but decided to just use the one person I've heard from as an example. (Matt, I like your site and am not picking on you!)
So I guess what I want to ask is: when you view content and see links like that, do you click them? Why would you expect that anyone else would either?
I get fairly frequent trackbacks posted to my site from spammers. The blog software I use (serendipity) is very smart about spam detection, and generally does a great job preventing anyone but me from seeing these trackbacks, but they're annoying nonetheless.
This afternoon I took a look at my email, and this is what I saw:
Those are all emails from my blog to me, telling me there are new trackbacks that it thinks might be spam, and that I have to explicity say 'allow' if they arent. Well, all 50 or so of them are the same exact spam message about a prescription drug, with the words 'lol, great post' before them. Like I wouldn't notice.
I just tweaked the template for my site layout to no longer display email addresses of commenting users (the ones who enter one). I have no idea why this wasn't the default behavior to begin with, but now the comments are displayed like most other sites. If you specify a homepage, that link will be used to display your name. If not, there will be no link. You can now feel secure in putting your email address there; I'm the only one who will see it, and you can have replies to your comment automatically mailed to you.
Sorry for the prior inconvenience this may have caused anyone who entered their email not expecting it to be displayed.