A small Google Milestone

24 03 2007

For the very first time today, Train Spotting World has acquired a Google Page Rank rating. It’s on the main page, but only in the http://train.spottingworld.com version, not the one with the “Main_Page” suffix.

We’re rather pleased about this because it means that the site is being indexed well and crawled well by Google, and, by implication, by other search engines. Where Trains goes, Planes will follow. Hmm, that looks like appalling grammar.

What this means to our users and visitors is that better search engine listing means more visitors, which means – because of the power of crowds – better information, better news, better spotting reports.

So, this is cause for a minor celebration.

Promotion and expansion

20 03 2007

I’ve been concentrating on Train Spotting World with promotions.  I think it’s mainly because it came first.  It’s also by far the largest spotting or fan community worldwide for large pieces of hardware.

While I’ve been doing that, Bernd has been tuning the  advertising that funds us to be more relevant and actually add value to the pages rather than just generate a few cents per click.

We’re in pretty good shape, performance-wise, too, now.  We’ve discovered that every little tweak of a software settings file  empties all the database caches.  That’s not particularly helpful, especially during the setup phase, so we’ve disabled that element.

This means I can start to concentrate on promoting Planes.  I’ve done some already, but it is also interesting to see how it develops under “Google Power”.  Planes is just under half the size of Trains, so will feature less well in Google.  It also came later, so is taking what feels like ages to be spidered.  In reality, of course, it is taking the usual length of time any new site takes.

Interesting visit patterns

18 03 2007

Weekends are slow.  That is wholly unsurprising and wholly surprising, partly because of the time of day when traffic arrives.

At a weekend people are out, doing their thing.  They aren’t at home on the computer.  Me, too.  And weekdays people are at work.  Yet the greatest number of site visits happen during office hours.  The world has a lot of people who are bored witless at work!  But it surprised me, nonetheless

Development of Community

17 03 2007

I should know this already.  Communities take time to build, and they need evangelists and builders.  Find two or three of these and the on-line community is assured.  In my heart I knew it.  I think I’m just impatiently wondering when it will happen; after all, we’re over a month old!

What I didn’t realise is that there would be resistance  to the project.  In truth that should not have surprised me at all, but my enthusiasm was larger than my realisation.  Wikis can be terrifying, and I think we have one or two people terrified and one who started preaching against.

I find wikis easy, but maybe that’s because I’ve been playing on Wikipedia for a fair while.  Anything we’re used to comes naturally once we’re used to it.  Driving a car was really hard until it wasn’t hard any more.

I also find it very easy to adopt a new resource.  if it’s useful,  I’ll have it.  I’m not hugely conservative, you see.  I look for value, and I use that value.  But not everyone is like me.  Rail and Plane fans are no exception to being “not like me” – they are just ordinary folk with a special interest and enthusiasm.  Some have spent years building up the most amazing collections of photographs and spotting reports and stories on their own websites, and some of those see us as an intrusion.

So I’m using this blog as an apology to them, because intrusion never was and never will be our intention.  We’re not competitive and we’re not competition.  We’re very much like a public noticeboard:  You can pin things on it, you can read things, or you can walk by without caring.  If enough useful things appear on the noticeboard you’ll stop and read, but you may never, ever pin up a notice of your own.

All we are is an asset for fan communities worldwide.  We’re as useful as people make us, as authoritative as people make us, and as fun as people make us.

What is obvious to me is not obvious to you

14 03 2007

Last evening I met a “Wiki-Virgin”.  He’d no concept of what a wiki is and needed help.  So many things that were obvious to me were wholly not obvious to him.  And why should they be?

We “experienced wiki users” have probably cut our teeth on Wikipedia, and done our best, and learnt by experience.  But how many people have looked at Wikipedia and said “Yeah, right, if you think I’m editing that, then you have another think coming!”  It’s actually sometimes quite daunting.

Is this a problem we need to solve?  or is it something transient? Will people jump in and play, or is it off putting?

The outcome is a pretty good initial article about rotary snow ploughs (okay, plows) , followed by a little work by me to show my new friend the way it might be enhanced.  and he’s going to upload some pretty spectacular pictures this evening, I hope.

We need a week’s more data

14 03 2007

We have been tuning and tuning the site and software, and we’re pretty much tuned to the hilt as far as our current server goes. We need another week’s worth of data points to be sure of the class of server we migrate to when we migrate, but we know we’ll outstay our welcome on the server we share at present.

That’s the thing, you see. We share a server, and the mediawiki software is a huge eater of resources. Now, while the share of resources we have is limited by the environment we live in, shared servers work by selling the same resource several times over, on the basis that no individual site will use its share to the full.

We’re using our share to the full. It’s hardly surprising, because, between the two main wikis that are live currently we have over fifteen thousand pages in the database, and we’re serving and storing some large pictures.

So we’re gathering data about performance, we’re benchmarking on an offline server to see how performance enhancements relate to a dedicated server instead of a shared one, and we’re looking at the balance sheet to make sure we take a server that is within the advertising revenue that funds the sites.

We’re set to move in a few weeks, and we think performance, since it is on a par with Wikipedia at present, is acceptable for that timeframe. But it isn’t wonderful, and we’re aiming higher.

Oneida derailment & fire – Trains

13 03 2007

Investigators from the National Transportation and Safety Board found a suspect piece of track while investigating Monday’s train derailment and explosion, officials from the agency said at a news conference at Elm and Fitch streets this afternoon.

What am I doing? The answer is trying out the link from Digg to my SpottingWorld blog, simply because I want to see what it looks like

read more | digg story

Well, we are getting there with tuning the sites

11 03 2007

We’re set up for when we need to migrate to a different class of server, and we ought to have an excellent speed increase at that point. Because these sites are very much hobby sites they have to fund the migration themselves, so we have to do our best with the performance we have now. But plans are well afoot that we will be able to move forward after a few weeks with our current server setup.

Migration to a new setup is not a criticism of our current and excellent server company. We simply have created sites that have a different footprint from their plans.

Wikimedia is like a Tango

11 03 2007

Every time the lead pulls his partner into an embrace, or struts, the partner resists, in a tango

So it is with wikimedia software.

Bernd has a small fight on his hands right now. We added a new extension: When a new user joins they are welcomed on their talk page, and an interface is created to their “yet to be created” blog.

We had an error on a hew user’s registration and that point us to the fact that nothing was being created in the log files nor in the RSS feed for the new users.

Like all good Tango dancers he is leading his partner firmly and will prevail. Like all good partners she is resisting him, firnly and theatrically.

Of servers and speed and stuff

9 03 2007

We’re getting there.  That is to say we are understanding the environment we’re using better.  We don’t normally go for virtual private servers, we prefer dedicated machines, but, at the start of a project, we cut our coat to suit our cloth, and we happened to have a shedload of space on a VPS and so used it.

What appears to be happening is that our VPS is often very idle, but the VPS itself gets swapped out of RAM onto disk fairly often.  And we’re told that the Virtuozzo environment we’re inside is not very good at optimising disk I/O, so we are “disk bound”, which is very much like constipation

We currently have “half a VPS” with our ISP and performance is back to the standard it was earlier this week.  We’re a but “chunky” to mount on a server.  Wikimedia software is not gentle, but we have enough grunt for now.

We’re looking at tuning our environment, probably over the weekend, since most spotters are out spotting at weekends.  I say “we”.  I sit and watch while Bernd does that stuff.  He knows what he’s doing and I just marvel.