How fast your server is really does make a difference

If you follow me on twitter, you may have seen me tweet this:

Here’s how that came to be.

I wrote a post last week. You may have seen it. It was about gender issues in Magic the Gathering. It was extremely geeky for a variety of reasons and I was pretty proud of it. I wanted to share it. Trouble was, every time I did — including the moment I hit post — the server locked up with a memory overload and the site went down. It was crazy. And it’s not like it was ever hitting the maximum amount of memory on the VPS, either. It would peak at about 800MB, but I was paying for 1000MB. I kept rebooting, it would be up for a while, then it would peak out and die again. And I know what support would say, because I’d gone through it all before: “you have too many plugins active, disable some of them.” I tried that.

Luckily, I have this friend Mike and he works at Bluehost. He was talking about their hosting one night at a WordPress meetup and it didn’t sound horrible. He offered to get me a trial code for a VPS so I could check it out. Migrating hosting is a pain, so after he did, I admit, I sat on it for a long time. Like 3 months long. But after last week, I decided to give it a go.

Let me tell you, the difference between the two servers is phenomenal. Nothing else changed in terms of my setup — I still have all the same plugins only now, this time, I set my site up as a WordPress multisite so all of my sites can be under one roof (I’m not quite done migrating everything yet). But the biggest difference was this blog — which was always the problem child — screamed on the new server. I couldn’t believe it. The server setups themselves were pretty comparable in terms of resources and memory, but the difference was night and day. I had just come to accept the fact that my sites would be slow and that’s the way it is, but this new server proved me dead wrong.

But the real point I want to make here has nothing to do with good hosts or bad hosts. Well, not directly. It’s that, having a fast — or fasterserver matters. Not for Google (though it does), not for your visitors (though it does for them, too) but for you. When my server died every time I hit the publish button, it made me not want to hit the publish button. So I didn’t. Having a reliable and fast box to host my site makes me much more inclined to actually use my site(s).

So thanks Mike. Thanks Bluehost. Now I can use my blog again. :D

Do we really need comments anymore?

Once upon a time, comments were king. The number of comments you got on a post not only represented the conversation surrounding that post but also measured its impact. This inevitably led to ways of gaming the system — spammers used comments to implant their backlinks to their black market viagra sites, and would-be and/or fake blogging mavens used them to artificially enhance their own reputation by having posts with seemingly lots of comments. (I regretfully admit that I’ve been duped in the past by fake commenters masquerading as different people. It happened on this blog, even — though ultimately I was able to root it out by identifying two, similarly-named free email accounts and an identical IP address.) Blog comments suddenly became more about the numbers and less about the discussion.

Newer, minimalist blog platforms (like Medium, Ghost and Dropplets) don’t deal with comments at all, instead encouraging users to continue the discussion where it’s actually happening (or more likely to happen) — Twitter. A while back, I wrote a mod for Dropplets (now, sadly, outdated) that would embed a Twitter search widget that displayed the conversation in a comment-like area if tweets referenced the blog post. I’m on Twitter a lot and — thanks to the fact that TweetDeck chirps at me whenever I get an @ mention — I see replies sent to me on Twitter faster than I would see them otherwise (on my blog, via email, etc). Twitter isn’t great for long discussions, but it’s fast, it’s simple, and it’s good enough to say “hey, you wrote this post over here? Well I have a post over here that responds to that” if you’ve written something that required more than 140 characters to explain. And today I read that Popular Science disabled comments because reading comments from other users had the undesired effect of polarizing the audience before they even read the article.

I admit, sometimes the comments are the best part of the article. But usually that’s at the expense of the commenters (unless you’re looking at Gizmodo or Slashdot or BoingBoing in which case it’s a fight for who can be the snarkiest). For us normal folk, why bother with comments at all? Why not just drop them and take the conversation to Twitter?

This has gotten me thinking, especially since the comments on this blog are something I often think (and sometimes worry) about and, really, what’s the point? This will never be a high-traffic blog in which case the numbers don’t matter — be they sharing numbers or comment numbers. And interacting with a real human — as opposed to writing a reply to someone’s comment that they may or may not ever see again — in more-or-less real time on Twitter is a lot more appealing to me. So, I think I’ll be looking for a plugin that replaces the WordPress commenting system with a link to discuss the post on Twitter and if that doesn’t exist, I may well just write my own.

This is why I read Chris Lema

chrislemaIf you asked me a year ago who Chris Lema was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. My experience up to that point was a brief mention by my friend Josh at Event Espresso that his was a blog worth reading. Chris tweets a lot — one of my biggest turn-offs when I am looking at people to follow on Twitter — and his blogged looked like business, marketing and strategy stuff. At the time, I didn’t look any closer than that. Sure, it seemed like he was Kind of A Big Deal, and lots of WordPress-types followed him, but that’s not really my bag, baby, so I moved on.

Then Chris was on the DradCast and later spoke at WordCamp Miami (which was livestreamed), and it was there that he blew my mind in his description of his hiring process and setting up a situation where your applicant is going to fail, and deciding whether to hire them based on how they failed. It was a process that mirrored my experience with the Automattic interview and trial process that I’d gone through not too long ago. (Yes, I interviewed and trialed for Automattic. Suffice to say, if I had gotten the gig, I would have blogged up to high heaven about it. Instead, I think of that as the first attempt of however many it takes. And now that I know the rules of engagement, I can be better prepared for next time.)

So, I started following Chris on Twitter. I still don’t RSS his blog because, honestly, I rarely look at my RSS feeds anyway except to see if there’s a new XKCD. But I have a couple services that suggest stuff for me to read based on who I follow or what other stuff I read, and that’s how I came across his post on the best tools for your website.

The man knows how to tell a story

In college, I was in a storytelling seminar. Partially I enrolled because storytelling, to me — especially at the time — was code for role-playing, and I knew the person leading the seminar — a former student — used to role play. But he was also an amazing storyteller. We had pseudo-tribal bonfire gatherings where we started a bonfire, played drums and danced, and told stories in the traditional Native American sense. We had our own oral tradition, tall tales of the Tree of Many Things and the White Buffalo. (Our war cry/chant was “BUFFALO!” — you really need to hear the story to understand. And even then, it’s pretty random. Just go with it.) And when Ben told the stories, people listened. He was easily the best storyteller in the community.

I say this, because — despite the fact that my Storytelling class had nothing to do with role playing — I know a thing or two about crafting a story, about building the plot and engaging your audience. The class was largely about storytelling in the oral sense, but the same rules apply to writing — at least if you’re writing in a certain style.

Chris is a storyteller. Rather than writing a dry blog post about tools, he opens the post with a story about paintballing. The common theme is being prepared (or unprepared), and the actual tools he talks about, don’t come in until the tail end of the post — a brief top 10 list with no real elaborate description behind any of them.

THAT, my friends, is why I read Chris’ blog. Because it’s the exact opposite of what I thought his blog would be when I first went to his site a year ago. It’s not dry, marketing and business school stuff (I mean, I’m sure there’s some of that stuff in there, too), it’s stories. I went paintballing once, too. I was the same age as the 10-16 year olds he described and it was in a big, converted warehouse, with forts to climb on and hide in and walls to hide behind. It was the paramilitary wet dream of a 10-16 year old who grew up watching G.I. Joe cartoons and it was awesome. Anytime anyone talks about paintballing, it grabs my attention, and the metaphor he uses to tie it into starting a blog works.

Go read Chris’ blog. Read his post about the best tools for your site (which is secretly just a post about paintballing). Do it now. You can thank me in the comments.

2012 review and resolutions for 2013

I don’t tend to do these resolutions posts because resolution posts are things you do when you can’t set your own goals and feel the need to announce publicly something you plan on doing to act as an impetus for actually doing it (by shaming you into doing it since it’s out in the public). But I recognize that stating your intentions publicly can help to make those things happen and also it provides easy blog-fodder and one of my resolutions is to freaking blog more.

2012 Review

Between posts originally authored on this blog, my Kickstarter campaign for The Signal, posts on Museum Themes and Plague Music, and my Tumblog wht.the.fsck, I wrote a total of 99 posts with a grand total of 25,269 words. However, out of all those posts there were only 5 comments.

(all yearly stats came from my Updated Blog Metrics plugin that’s a fork of Joost de Valk’s Blog Metrics plugin)

In 2012, my most popular blog post was still my Gun Porn (Borderlands) post, which is just evidence of how much you can draw traffic if you use “porn” anywhere in your post title, regardless of actual content. Second place went to my now 3 year old post on MusicIP vs. WinAmp’s playlist generator. I don’t even use WinAmp anymore, am not even on Windows anymore, so that tells me that not much has been done on WinAmp in that time, which is also pretty sad. My third most popular post, though, was actually written last year. It was this post on getting Sublime Text 2 to run on older versions of OSX. Considering most of my popular posts are a few years old and my most popular post is solely for the “porn” in the title, this is actually pretty cool and emphasizes the point that when you write good content, people come. So write more.

Goals for 2013

I’m breaking this down into various, topic-based sections. Here we go.

Blogging

  • Write more posts
  • Do more food blogging (also: cook more)

WordPress stuff

  • More WordPress tutorials
  • More WordPress documentation

(I’m already planning on doing WordPress videos for @pluralsight and I’m going to be working on the WordPress Theme Development handbook, so I’m already in a good position to do this.)

  • Go to (and speak at?) more WordCamps
  • Get (more) involved in the community
  • Update Museum Core
  • Update Hello Ziggy and finally add it to wp.org
  • Update and release the various CPT plugins (artists, releases, reviews, products…)
  • Finally build and update the new theme for this site
  • Do more WordPress themes, both for Museum Themes and WordPress.org (1/month, goal)

Music

  • Make it.

Not make it like “make it in music”, just make more music. Been on a major hiatus after my PC died. This year there’s no excuse. Whether that means I’ll be doing RPM this year, I’m not sure, but I’m at least planning on being available for collaboration projects.

  • Convert all CDs to digital and archive in boxes

Other stuff

  • Move sites to a new host

As much as I’ve been happy with the support at my current host, I can’t help but notice that my sites all load slowly. Need something faster and/or more able to take the load.

  • Go to more RSL games
  • Follow and post crazy stuff to WTF Soccer?
  • Cook more (see also: do more food blogging)

I’ve actually found a few things I like making and have made changes that weren’t awful. Also:

  • Start a pinboard on Pinterest for food stuff

I should probably stop now before this list gets too long. I think that’s enough for one year. Maybe one more thing:

  • Have more fun.

Post a Week 2011: Blogging year in review

This year, I participated in WordPress.com’s Post a Week Challenge.  Well, how’d I do?

I was using Joost de Valk‘s Blog Metrics plugin, but that only tells you how you’re doing overall and how you’ve done in the last 30 days and, while I could have logged how many posts there were on January 1 and compared it against how many there were on December 31, I, uh, didn’t.  So, instead, I forked his plugin and modified it to use a ‘year’ query instead of a ‘month’ query.  It seems to have done the trick, although the results are a bit inconsistent…

According to Blog Metrics, I’ve published 200 posts this year.  This is across all blogs/sites (not including the super-secret blog I started over the summer) and also includes 3 posts by my wife on our kidsblog.  When I went through the posts and manually added them up, I got 196, so, we’ll say that I published 193 posts over the last year and assume that maybe the Blog Metrics plugin is including posts in the trash or something like that.

77 of those posts came from this blog (which covers the 52 I would have needed to create to “pass” the Post a Week challenge), and 62 came from my Tumblr blog (which aren’t really posts, so we could, feasibly subtract those from the total, but, according to the rules of the Post a Week challenge, photo blogs/posts still count, so we’ll include that stuff).

This is still quite a bit higher than I expected.  Let’s look at what I wrote about in the last year. I:

…and that’s not including stuff that I was writing about on my WordPress theme development site, web design studio site, or netlabel site.  So, I guess that does count for quite a bit.

Next year, I plan on not being subscribed to the Post a Day updates, and doing much of the same sorts of stuff I did this year.  For anyone who stuck with this blog this year, despite it’s complete lack of focus in any one particular area, thanks for hanging around, see you next year.