With the distraction of the a looming election, one that is likely to ditch the dead hand of National’s cronyism on our economy and society, I missed that we’d managed to make this site survive and thrive for a decade.
I think that deserves some recognition for the vast effort made by the wide range of authors, moderators, commenters, and the trust that The Standard operates under.
We started work on the site in May 2007 as a trial to see what the toolkit was like, registered the domain name on August 3rd 2007 after there was a bit of agreement on what name to give it, and posted our first public post on August 15th 2007. The site was stashed on an existing windows server and connected to a ADSL line. I’d gotten drafted in because the authors needed someone to get the system up and running.
It was a slow start. In August 2007 the authors managed to put up 37 posts, and there were a total of 29 comments – most posts didn’t get any comments at all. Fortunately I don’t have any readership figures for that period. I just remember that they were rather depressing. But those early authors were persistent.
But by early the following year, the dirty tricks trolls had discovered us. Led by Cameron Slater they descended upon us like a pack of two line idiots – usually braying the same few lines like a demented parrot trying to look intelligent.
Increasing loads forced us to move to a small cluster being run by a sympathetic leftie. It turned out that this was a donation to the NZLP, who having no expertise in how to run computers, had passed control to him for any progressives to use. So I shifted the site to a Linux virtual server down in Christchurch.
It was a pain because we kept growing. But on the other hand this did allowed me to overcome some of the author reluctance to turn away commentary and to start imposing some moderation. Having the political parrots with no intelligence from Whaleoil and the Kiwiblog comment sections ‘expressing’ themselves made them realise that what I’d learnt from Usenet was accurate. Without control, the debate would descend to the lowest common denominator – which was somewhere a lot lower than the casual bigotry of a Leighton Smith radio wankfest that they’d previously envisaged was as low as it got.
The intent of the site was that people would write about how they felt about issues and their knowledge. Both authors who’d put their viewpoint, and the commenters who’d engage in a robust debate – usually starting by disagreeing with the author and everyone else.
Over the years we have 80 authors write something for the site. Some have written a lot. Anthony Robins has written more than 1800 of our 21,800 odd published posts. My total is a paltry 765. Some have written just a few posts. No-one has been paid for any posts.
I am eternally grateful for all of those authors and moderators who, despite the often strong disagreements, have managed to cooperate successfully with each other and keep generating the discussions. I appear to only write english well when I’m mad or irritated (this is quite unlike my behaviour when I write in a logical language like c++) , so I’m quite unsuitable to write a lot of content for this site. But the calm research and writing that is so prevalent amongst my fellow authors alleviates the occasions when I do manage to get irritated enough to vent my spleen in English.
Nor, apart from a few obvious trolls, has anyone been paid for any of the 1.27 million comments left on site.
On average these days we get between 40,000 and 50,000 unique people visiting the site each month. Of these roughly about a quarter are on the site at least once during a week, a quarter are there at least once a month, and about a third are ‘googlers’ who drop in the site for a single page and then drop out. Plus of course there are a hard core of about 4000 who are here reading every day, and the several hundred who regularly comment. While the site may look like one dedicated to comments. The reality is that most of our readers are lurkers.
From a technical viewpoint, we only just kept in front of the technical and financial curve. We’d kept renting space in server farms worldwide. From Christchurch to Utah, to San Diego, to Colorado. Every few years the load on the servers would get too high and we’d have to add capacity, or a whole new machine and just have to move to somewhere that had the capacity at a price we could afford. But the costs in both purchasing and my time just kept rising.
By the middle of 2014 we were running on a cluster of dynamically generated virtual machines in a Amazon Web Services server farm in Sydney, which was only just keeping up with the rising load and was straining out financial resources with a monthly bill that was approaching $1000 per month. This was paid for by advertising on the site, which was failing to keep up with the load.
Maintaining the number of systems in the cluster was getting somewhat expensive, especially since I was just about to start my next paid project. It had a database system, a primary server running NFS (Network File System), and was dynamically creating up to 10 web servers. Too much work, especially for something that I was doing as a voluntary contribution to the political debate.
So when I finally managed to get Chorus to install a fibre connection at my apartment (two years after it arrived in my street), I moved The Standard back into my living room on my old eight core workstation with a large amount of RAM and some SSD RAID drives. The costs plummeted to less than $250 per month. Being local rather than over in Sydney, I was able to debug the traffic load issues far more easily.
These days the site runs on my recently discarded eight core workstation with more RAM and faster drives. The bandwidth has increased from 50 megabits per second to 100 megabits per second, and the monthly cost has dropped to $134 per month – which includes my netflix viewing. The rather hot server heats my apartment in winter.
But I think that overall, this site is likely to be around for quite some time. This month I’m expecting well over 700 thousand page views from humans, with 90% from New Zealand (and the rest mostly from expat kiwis offshore). Next month is election month and I suspect we’ll get well over a million page views. I’m planning on more than 1.2 million. If the load goes up to high, it will startup the backup web system running on my new 16 core workstation – and I may have to open a few windows to let out the heat of the conversation.
Even after National gets turfed because they can’t find coalition partners, then there is a new government to hold to account.
So congratulate those authors for not letting me write all of the posts, and the other moderators who don’t enjoy inflicting (educational) pain on the trolls. And then lets look at the next decade.