Daily Archives: October 1, 2008

AOL Journals, 2003 – 2008

America Online has decided to pull the plug on AOL Journals, the blogging initiative I was a principal of for four and a half years, effective at the end of this month, and some of the folks who had journals there (or still do, for the next month) have asked me if I have any thoughts on its demise.

The major thought is that it doesn’t actually come as a surprise to me. AOL Journals, like a number of AOL initiatives of the time, was something of a member retention maneuver: i.e., a product to give to members so they wouldn’t leave the service and go somewhere else. Since that time, however, AOL has moved toward advertising as a revenue model, so member retention initiatives don’t really matter much anymore. I personally can’t remember the last time I actually signed on to AOL; I don’t know that an actual AOL client actually exists anymore. But I do visit AOL-owned sites with advertising on them (most notably Engadget); I don’t suspect my pattern of use is remarkable.

And the fact of the matter is that while AOL Journals did have a core, committed community, that community was far smaller than the ones on other blogging software, like LiveJournal or Blogger. That didn’t put it in good stead when it came to advertising revenues (AOL started putting ads on AOL Journals a couple of years ago); there’s no point putting ads where not a lot of people are going to see them. Basically, once AOL threw its lot in with advertising as a primary revenue source, AOL Journal’s days were numbered.

This happened before with AOL; when AOL switched over from an hourly rate to a flat monthly fee, a lot of areas on the service disappeared because their business model was predicated on the previous way of making money. There were lots of complaints then, too, but at the end of the day AOL is a business and acts that way, whether the year is 1996 or 2008.

I do feel immensely sorry for the AOL-J community there, however. My understanding is that AOL is going to open up a migration path for AOL Journals to another blogging service (it looks to be Blogger, which makes sense because Google — Blogger’s parent — is a stakeholder in AOL) so people who want to keep blogging can port the contents of their blogs there and keep going. But make no mistake that it’s going to tear up the community, since people who port over won’t necessarily know how to find each others’ blogs immediately, and I suspect more than a few of these folks will either mess up the transition (one of the attractions of AOL Journals was its simplicity of use, much like the attraction of AOL in general) or simply decide not to blog anymore. It’s disheartening to be thrown out of one’s home, even if there’s somewhere else to go.

So: Not surprising, but sad all the same. I hope all the folks still on AOL-J find new homes and keep in touch with each other, and find some way to keep their community going. I think some of them will.

Two Charitable Things

Two people I know are pimping charities recently, so here’s a shoutout to them:

1. My pal Chad Orzel is trying to raise $6K for DonorsChoose, an educational charity, and he’s willing to dance like a monkey for your pleasure in exchange for your cash. Go here for all the details.

2. Mary Robinette Kowal is trying to help a friend who needs socks for at-risk teens. Yes, socks. Don’t laugh: it sucks not to have them, especially when everything else in your would has turned to crap. So if you’ve got socks to spare, here’s a place they can go. (Quick Update, 10:44am: MRK’s site is a bit glitchy at the moment, so if you can’t get through, try again a little later. Even Quicker Update, 1:18pm: MRK says it’s fixed)

Helping either of these would be a fine way to start your October.

Hosting & Tech Geekery

I’m going to talk technical neepery here, so if that doesn’t interest you, you’ll probably just want to wait for the next entry.

So, yesterday marked a year of using WordPress, and generally speaking it’s been a pretty positive experience. The last month I’ve been encountering problems with internal server errors, but I have a more than sneaking suspicion that this relates to my host provider not to WordPress itself. Some of you may recall that I found out some time ago that the reason I was having so many problems with Movable Type here last year was because 1&1 put a time limit on the length scripts could run, which inevitably caused problems with the software. I rather strongly suspect that something similar is happening again, as there’s no other reason the site should be choking and crawling as much as it is — the last month was down about 7% in terms of traffic from some of the earlier months, and had no “big posts” that would have caused congestion. So it’s not the software, I suspect. It’s the hardware.

This pretty much confirms that (dramatic but real sigh) I’m going to have to find another hosting home for Scalzi.com sometime in the near future. I do have some interesting options, which I will be pursuing, and which could possibly ultimately be of benefit to me and the site. But it’s still a pain in my ass, and it’s a shame, since up until the last month or so I’ve been generally happy with 1&1. But me having server errors every single day for the last month and them unable or unwilling to do anything about it is just not acceptable.

I don’t know that this should mean anything to you in the short run, since I don’t intend to make any moves on the site until I know where I’m going and until I can build out the backend so that when the domain transfers, you the reader have a fairly seamless experience with it (i.e., no wondering where all the content went, etc). That takes time and effort, and as long as I’m going to do all that, I might as well try to do some improvements on the site as well. So don’t expect massive changes instantly, but do expect some changes, possibly by the end of the year.

In the meantime, I’ll be doing what I can to lessen calls to the database, which will probably cut down the server errors a bit. The first step is that for the short term at least I’m going to close comment threads older than 14 days. 99% of comments on a post happen within the first three or four days anyway, so by and large I don’t think people will have a problem with this. But it will make a difference in the backend, since then people can see cached pages. There are other things I will tweak as well, if I can. Basically, I want to make sure you don’t have a problem getting to the site and working with it. In the short run, this means throttling the back end as much as possible. Alas.

So that’s where we are on the tech front of things.