Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Where Do We Go From Here? A Possible New Home For This Linux And Unix Blog

Hey there,

As promised today's post is going to be more of a toe-in-the-water Opinion/Editorial piece and (after reading, before reading or anywhere in between) if you could answer the new poll on the right hand column, we'd greatly appreciate it. Depending upon what the community wants, we may be making some drastic changes in the way this blog works and is presented (Nothing bad - our opinion - rather different for the better). Skip to the SUMMATION line if you don't want to read all the nitty-gritty details (this post is running over 2000 words in length before proofing).

PREMISE: Our main issue is that we're seriously considering moving away from Blogspot and transitioning our blog to an independent URL (e.g. http://www.linuxandunixmenagerie.com and/or http://linuxandunixmenagerie.net or http://linuxandunix.net which we've already snatched up). That being said, we want you to know that we're not considering this arbitrarily or on pure whimsy ;) The following is a listing of some of our reasons for considering this move.

1. COMMENTS AND DISCUSSION: This has been a big issue over the year and half that we've been operating and, although the point has become belaboured, we do understand. As things are today, we only accept comments via email for 2 reasons:

a. To avoid comment spamming: This was a problem when we first started out because too many unmoderated comments about porno, violence, drugs, alcohol and everything else reprehensible to Google ended up on posts about "How to change directories" and the situation was unacceptable. Of course, Google would notice and we'd have to worry about getting that NC-17 intro page they put up on some blogs.

b. To avoid comment spamming in Moderation: Same problem as above, except that the exact same situation ends up existing even when you decide to moderate your comments. Assuming that Google's bots are crawling your blog (which they, essentially, own), they also crawl the category, tag, etc directories, including the ones with comments waiting to be moderated. We can't control it because we can't modify the robots.txt file (or upload a .htaccess file) and, inevitably, we'd get a polite email about how we're not supposed to have any pages that violate Google policy, etc, because they crawled our posts (waiting to be moderated and, of course, rejected) before we could read them.

Email was a great solution for a while, but - as some of you out there may know - doing comments by email (although safer, since Google doesn't crawl our email account) is a burden. Now that we've been up for over a year, and this is our 452nd post, we get a lot of email and some of it gets lost in all the non-blog garbage mail. We leave spam filtering off so that we can be sure we don't delete any legitimate mail from users/readers of the site. This results in longer and longer wait times for responses and, sometimes, missing emails altogether until a future date when we circle back around and find a few that slipped by. Most folks are appreciative that we get back to them at all (though it may be months after the original email comment was sent - while other folks are getting same-day service), but it's becoming unacceptable to us.

Allowing moderated comments would relieve some of the pressure on us (allowing users to suggest and provide opinion - even argue if they want ;) and make the site much more organic and natural (since, as things stand now, we have to receive an email, reply to it to get proper attribution permissions and then manually post the comment to the end of any particular post). If our site was not on Blogspot, and was, instead, hosted on our own domain using an entirely separate service provider (not another blog hosting solution like WordPress.com, etc), this part of the site's functionality would improve significantly.

2. SCRIPTS, PICTURES, VIDEO AND OTHER ATTACHMENTS: Currently there is no way for us to make this work to our complete satisfaction. We believe that you'll agree that this is the case, also. For instance, just one such embarrassing moment appeared in our post on really simple steganography in which we posted a series of jpg images to illustrate how easy it was to hide a message in a picture. Although Google allows uploading of jpg's and gif's, it changed all of our original pictures into bmp's, and also our second batch. Of course, this conversion completely ruined the hidden message in the picture's binary structure since it was re-encoded! Video corruption has also been an issue so, when we do that, we host it on YouTube.

A much larger part of this issue is that this site contains a lot of scripts and, given the formatting options we have available (and no ability to attach text files or PDF's, etc), the process of transferring them from the site to your editor of choice can be extremely painful. For instance, if we don't want our code to all push to the left and look like garbage, we have to use the <pre> and <blockquote> tags in the supplied editor. However, as you may have noticed, if you just copy and paste the code from the web page to your editor of choice, it pastes the entire thing as ONE LINE!!! Of course, this makes sense since we're using the <blockquote> tag to retain formatting and indentation, but some of our scripts are very long and reformatting them, again, on your own machine can be a gigantic pain in the arse. We, of course, can access the original text and copy/paste it that way. However, in the instances where we don't have direct access to the admin interface for the blog, the following trick works (although you still end up jumping through hoops):

1. Pull up the page, with the script you want to use, in your web browser.

2. Save the file as a single web page.

3. Open that web page up in any editor that supports divs and/or tables (MS Word or Wordpad, Open Office Writer, etc).

4. Then copy and paste the code portion into a simple editor (like vi or notepad). Note that you shouldn't just resave your web page as a document, as this will also copy all the formatting markups, which is the same as copying/pasting that single line of garbage code by copying/pasting from web browser directly to editor.

Another gripe we have is that we can't include these scripts as attachments for easy download. This would make it so that the scripts would look nice on the web page AND you could download a clean copy and work with that directly.

Moving to our own blog host and domain would allow us to have greater control over the contents of our posts and, in the process, increase their accessibility for you, the reader. If we make this move, we would be able to host all of our own video, pictures, scripts, PDF's and any other multimedia content locally and provide download links for your ease of access and use. It would also allow us to create a "sister site" to the blog where we could provide these downloads on another domain (or subdomain) on the same server, where you could go to find scripts and download them (while obviating the need to host some stuff on SourceForge, which we haven't made public yet because it's just one more thing that we don't have the time to babysit - nothing against SourceForge, of course; it's just impractical to begin managing yet another site in order to keep this blog going). This move would also allow us to host our own CVS repositories and script updates in a more efficient and cohesive manner.

3. BRANDING AND SEO: This one shouldn't be of concern to a majority of readers (by which we mean anyone but the staff ;), but having a site with a domain name that comes somewhat close to the name of the site makes more sense. We're actually indexed very well by Google (Thank you :) and realize that the move would cause us to drop down more than a few pegs (at least for a while) but we can't honestly reconcile this site's Blogspot subdomain name (linuxshellaccount) with this site's actual name (The Linux and Unix Menagerie). Also, having our own site would allow us to include "Terms Of Service," "Privacy Policy" and other such necessary pages in a much less awkward way.

SUMMATION: Again, your input is valuable to us. We appreciate each and every one of our readers (even the ones who think we're a bunch of idiots ;) and want to know how you feel about this proposed change. If you have the time, consider this: Would you prefer that we remain on Blogspot and maintain the status quo or would you prefer that we move to our own self-hosted domain and provide you with a much greater level of service and accessibility that, quite frankly, we feel all of you deserve?

Please take a second and check a box in the poll on the right column near the top and let us know how you feel. We greatly appreciate your input and "will" consider it when making our ultimate decision. Seriously, if everyone wants us to stay on Blogspot, we'll stay here, even though it makes some of what we do more difficult (for us and for you), because the bright side to keeping things the same is that hosting on Blogspot doesn't cost us a dime (only our time and effort).

Also, if we do decide to make this change, and you would like to be informed of our new address, rest assured that we would update all of our social bookmarking sites, forum signatures, Technorati, LXer, etc, and try to work out a deal with Google where we can forward the linuxshellaccount subdomain to our new domain for a while. We would also provide a separate "one-shot" mailing list that you could subscribe to so that we could send you a notification of the new site's address and other details to make your experience more enjoyable and/or efficient. Also, although we have a "Missions and Policies" statement at the top right of every page, we don't have a separate and specific privacy policy listed. However, we can guarantee you that, if you were to sign up for our notification list, we would send you an email with all the information you need, at the time of the move, and never mail you again (except under special circumstances - read on). It's our unwritten policy (actually written in most of our email replies over and over and over again ;) that we will never use your email for any sort of advertising, we won't sell it, we won't trade it, we won't use it to SPAM you with updates about the site (You can subscribe to FeedBurner, on any page, for that ;) and we won't ever write you again unless you initiate contact (whereby all the aforementioned principles still hold true, except for the one where we say we won't ever write you again. We will, however, never reply more than once to any email sent to us). Also, to be clear, if we provide a form whereby you can sign up to be notified of the site's URL change, you will not be signing up to a "mailing list" (insofar as that term is used in Internet Marketing circles). You'll only be adding your name to a list of emails that will be mailed to once, and once only. To carry the analogue just one step further, you will be "unsubscribed" the moment that email is sent. You won't have to jump through hoops or click any back-links to prevent us from bothering you in the future ;) We don't like getting scammed any more than you do and guarantee that your anonymity will not be compromised unless you want it to be. We hold your right to privacy as sacrosanct and will not pull any other email-list stunts that we haven't thought to list here. We have no interest in making your life any harder or filling your email box with ludicrous pap. ...however, if you want to learn how to turn your PC into a self-operating virtual ATM using our proven turnkey system that allows you to make millions while you space out watching TV... ;)

We hope this post has effectively covered what we are looking to do to improve the blog for your ease-of-use, enjoyment and utility and look forward to tallying your poll results. As always, you can send us a comment (via the "Send Me A Comment" link at the top right of every page) regarding this post, just as with any other.


, Mike

Please note that this blog accepts comments via email only. See our Mission And Policy Statement for further details.