Preserving Armchair Arcade: Town Meeting!

Matt Barton's picture

Armchair Arcade is dying and needs your help to survive.

As most of you have no doubt realized, we're been suffering from all kinds of technical problems here at Armchair Arcade. The biggest of these is a surge of "max connections reached" problems with our database. We've been working very closely with our host, Modhost, to resolve these problems. To put it simply, Modhost has been (in the past) very gentle with us when our website went over the limits imposed on database usage, but not any longer. Now, whenever we get too many people using the site at once, we get that nasty database error. According to our stats, we had 3,699 fewer unique visitors last month than the one before, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out why. This problem is killing Armchair Arcade.

There are a few possible solutions to the dilemma. One is that we could move to a dedicated server. However, this costs $165 a month, which is simply impossible for us to fund ourselves. Unless one of you guys (or a few of you guys) are willing to bankroll us on this, dedicated hosting isn't really an option. The second possibility is moving to a simpler CMS, like Movable Type. Modhost assures us that Movable Type would consume less database resources, but we'd lose some of the features of Drupal. In any case, we're about to have to undertake some pretty drastic measures to salvage the site.

Finally, there is some concern that our readership has been steadily declining, and that folks just don't care about this site anymore. Besides a few friends like Oldschoolgamer, most of our posts go uncommented, which is the only way we have of really, 100% knowing that people are reading and enjoying our stuff. Likewise, we are generating much less buzz on other websites than we used to--again, besides a few fantastic folks like SimonC of GameSetWatch, the rest of the world seems to be content to ignore us completely. As for the various tools we have to help publicize the site (the little buttons for digg, del.icio.us., and so on)--well, nobody is using them. Obviously, it does take a little bit of work to click these buttons and help us get some buzz going, and we can't pay you for this work, but I'd like to think a few of you cared enough about the site to chip in just a little bit. After all, Bill, Mark, and I put in hours (probably 20+ hours a week!) working on this site for free. It doesn't seem like too much to ask that a few of you click some buttons and leave some nice comments for us every once and awhile!

The way I see it, the future of Armchair Arcade is really in your hands, now. We're exhausted, and not even sure that what we do really matters anymore. If anyone out there actually enjoys this site and wants to see it prosper, you'd better start speaking up now. Otherwise, pretty soon you'll click the ol' familiar link to Armchair Arcade and get nothing but a "PAGE NOT FOUND" screen.

Speak up and let us know you still care about us! We love this site and all of our readers, but this isn't a one-way street. The time has come for YOU to step up to the plate and offer your support. Please, we need you.

Sincerely,

Matt Barton

Comments

forcefield58
Offline
Joined: 05/19/2006
360 Noise

Mark: I had to post here to tell you about my 360. I had the same problem with the fan making noise like a jet taking off. Since I placed the unit horizontal, no more noise. It is very quiet now. Kind of strange, but true.

And Dragon, you WILL love the 360. I'm playing mostly 3rd person shooters online now and they're all great, from COD3, Gears of War, Prey and Chrome Hounds. Well worth the money!!! And welcome back to the site!!!

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dragon57
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Joined: 05/18/2006
No conspiracy, fact

Mark, I don't think it is conspiracy as much as it is fact. The question really is, do they configure things like that on purpose or by mistake. Some do it by mistake and will correct a configuration error if brought to their attention. Others do it on purpose to do exactly as you say, oversell and force users to upgrade when the shared service doesn't meet the expectations put forth up front.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Drupal, Moveable Type and Performance

Modhost is no more help at this point. They refer to Drupal's database inefficiency and the next best option being to move to Moveable Type. We're stuck with Modhost for at least the next year, so we need something that works within their parameters.

It seems to me, Dragon, that database performance issues are common with Drupal. It seemed like the best choice at the time, but we've had image management problems and certainly performance issues. Moveable Type has been recommended to us as a viable alternative since it performs database calls in a "better" fashion, which would quite possibly eliminate any issues we might have. I'm not sure about the feature-set versus Drupal, but it certainly seems to be blog and image insertion/management friendly.

I don't want to drag our readers/friends through an Armchair Arcade 3.0 switch, but at this point I'd consider doing it if it meant once and for all that we had an easy-to-manage Website that performed well from an end user standpoint. I can't tell you how much time we wasted over the last three years between the two AA sites just doing administration and putting out fires. All I ever wanted was to have a Website that we could whip content up easily and quickly. This Drupal site has been superior to the old e107 site in that regard, but the image management has not been much better and there are definite performance disadvantages.

Frankly if we don't get this all sorted out soon, either by "fixing" Drupal or moving to a better 3.0 site, we may have to see about hooking on with someone else instead of doing this on our own, which has its own set of significant disadvantages.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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davyK
davyK's picture
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Joined: 05/21/2006
It would be a great shame to

It would be a great shame to see the AA site fade away. As most of you know I've been around since the old e107 days and to be honest, preferred the format and look and feel of that site.

I'll clarify this. I dislike the default theme you get with this site - I find it confusing and tedious to navigate. I have my preferences setup so that its far more easy to read - but for visitors this could be an issue.

I also preferred the "issue" and forum format of the original AA - no matter how rare issues were they were great and the forums were lively enough to keep going between them. I've said this before so I won't belabour the point. I'm getting on (40) and set in my ways and I know what I like - a simple site with nice articles and an intelligent forum are what I want. I had that with the old AA. I know you all had huge problems with content management so I know you had to move - but I suspect it is technical issues you had then and it is technical issues you have (albeit of a different kind) that are giving you problems now.

My guess re your technical problems is that it sounds like your database or application is holding onto connections (or sessions) for too long. A session needs to "time out" after a period of inactivity (say 5mins with the user not clicking on anything). If not, then your web application will use up its pool of resources and give you the problems you state. A session is deleted when the user clicks on "log out", but it will hang around taking up memory otherwise (sessions are created for anonomous users too - that may need looking at).

I have noticed this problem with the new AA site - but just pressing F5 (refresh) solves it. Maybe a simple "Press F5" message on the error screen would help if you can't solve the session timeout problem? That page could even have a little bit of JavaScript which would auto-refresh (though that won't help with certain types of browser, and the auto-refresh route might generate even more requests when the site is under pressure)

Maybe the stats don't back up my argument, but I don't think AA has recovered yet from the move. I don't like the blog style format and the posts seemed to dry up and all we were getting was newfeeds from other sites - something AA wasn't about originally (I know there was a news section but it wasn't dominant).

I'd love to see the old issue + forum format return but given changes in circumstances in the mods' lifestyles and the technical overheads/problem which will demand even more of your time, I'd say a scaling down of your ambitions would be needed.

It would be great shame to lose this part of the retro community. Despite my gripes I still visit here (not as reguarly as I might have done) and I still enjoy coming here....and yes, I STILL haven't finished anything worth submitting!

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Old Debates

Such great discussions! I'm really glad to see us returning to our old ways and talking again as a community.

The main problem seems to be that Bill, Mark, and I are writers, not web programmers. Sure, we like to dabble with code and experiment on a constant basis with technical stuff, but that's not our strong suit. At any rate, it starts to seem counter-productive when we're wasting hours and hours trying to get some part of the website to work, when we could be putting that time into writing a new article. I've personally put in hundreds of hours trying to get this site to work as well as it does, and believe me, it's been painful.

E107 had some good points, but it was a pain to get articles looking right. We had to do all sorts of tedious work behind the scenes getting them up, and it just wasn't a valuable way to spend our time. Starting off, we had Buck, Seb, Cecil, and David to help get these things looking sharp, but we all know what happened. Bill and I got left holding the reigns. Given a choice between giving up on AA and forging ahead as best we could, we chose to forge ahead, though we knew we'd likely encounter problems we didn't know how to solve.

Now we're at another impasse. Should we dive in again with a whole new system (Movable Type), hoping to God that it'll do the job as advertised and won't force us to waste countless hours trying to maintain and tweak it? I don't think I have the heart to go to all that trouble, just to find out a month later that we've still got the mysql max connection errors. I think that would be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

As for the forum issue, that's an old one. Basically, we never intended to be a forum site. If we had, we'd have installed phpbb2 and been done with it. However, we intended to be an online magazine, and only added the forum for kicks. That changed a bit after Monroeworld forums shut down, and we got a lot of folks migrating over. As far as I know, most of these people have shifted back to Monroeworld forums. At any rate, with Neo we went back to the drawing board and decided to abandon the issue format in favor of "blogging," though we wanted to offer it in a feature article and review format that could eventually be compiled into issues retroactively. We also wanted to channel all of that "forum energy" into comments on our articles and posts, so that we could always have a vibrant community. We definitely don't want forums that draw attention and/or energy away from our focus pieces. There's also an obvious point--there are so many other forums out there. Anyone can set up a phpbb2 site dedicated to retrogaming. You don't need us for that. What we can provide is writing talent and our knowledge of games and computers technology and culture.

Basically, my thought was that we'd try to emulate sites like Kotaku and Joystiq, which seem to have extremely active commenting on their posts and always something fun and interesting to read. The only difference would be our focus, of course, which is "retro" perspectives and commentaries on gaming and computers.

During the holiday break, I'll try to go back to work, either working to enhance Drupal or perhaps starting over with Movable Type. At any rate, we won't rest until we've got a 100% working site that is at least painless (if not pleasurable!) to access. The only thing is, I'm going to be let down if you guys don't speak up with your ideas and thoughts on how to improve the site. You've all been very patient with us, and very loyal, but don't forget that we need you also to be honest with us.

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Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Response to DavyK

The only major change between this Drupal site and the e107 was the focus on blogs on the front page rather than a focus on the current issue. We never actually dropped the idea of issues - it was just a question of time, which should free up within six months - and we also still left in the forums. So, in essence, all the same functionality of the old site was left in - it's all here now - save for a shift in "news" and other posts to the front page. It was up to the community to decide how they wanted to use the sites. We don't actively post in the forums simply because we post meaty stuff in our blogs. It's the same basic effect, save for commenting and tracking differences.

If we do in fact to move to a final 3.0 version of Armchair Arcade, it will follow the same format as this, though I hope with a more intuitive interface and better commenting/quoting. Issues certainly aren't "dead", nor are all the other ideas.

I understand your frustrations - there are even more behind the scenes - but, as always, we're making a genuine effort to balance back and front end needs.

If there is a 3.0 - which presumes that Drupal is unfixable - we do hope you and others help us make it something you really want.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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dragon57
dragon57's picture
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Joined: 05/18/2006
In the end, I hope

In the end, I hope everything works out and the problems are identified and addressed. I suspect a lot of the problems relate to how Drupal is configured on the hosting service. I have seen many Drupal based sites that are very responsive and I never have problems with so I know it is possible to use Drupal and not have problems. The best example I know if is Leo Laporte's TWiT site http://www.twit.tv/. It is fast, looks good and seemingly problem free.

dragon57
dragon57's picture
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Joined: 05/18/2006
One other thing I forgot to

One other thing I forgot to mention. Movable Type does cause a smaller hit on resources in general versus Drupal. Having said that, if your provider has 'oversold' the shared server, you may still run into a database related set of problems. Have you asked them to move you to another shared server or is that out of the question?

number6
number6's picture
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Joined: 05/20/2006
Hey guys. Long time no post

Hey guys. Long time no post from me. I lurk here from time to time. I never really have much to add to your well written articles so I just take in the vast amount of info. Thanks by the way for being so thoughtful in your articles. It's great to read what you guys post. I think I may have tried to comment once or twice in the recent past and had problems with the connection.

Sorry to hear about your recent server problems. I don't know too much about Drupal myself so I can't really suggest what the problem could be with the database connections. I did a little poking around on the Drupal tech forums and noticed that a lot of the suggestions for tuning database performance were for Linux based systems. This assumes you have access to the Linux system files on the host and I am sure you have no such access. Unless your hosting provider is willing to make system level adjustments I am guessing Drupal will not work for you.

As far as website usability feedback is concerned. I like the format of the site for reading the weblogs, but I do believe changes need to be made if you want more user interaction. All I can say is the comment system needs to be a little more user friendly. The forum software that comes with Drupal is a big let down compared to the original AA forum. You might as well not have included it. Just my opinion there. If the commenting system was a little more forum like I think you could get more feedback. I have no idea what software they use on slashdot, but that kind of format would be easier for more people to interact with your articles I think.

Anyways that's my 2 cents. Thanks for all your efforts in the past and hopefully you will continue AA for a long time.

- Eric Feliu
aka number6, entexman

mikegupta
mikegupta's picture
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Joined: 06/17/2006
Hoping for the best

Hi Guys -

I figured if I see number6's name on here I have to chime in as well (LOL). Been a while since I commented, but I still come here on a religious basis everyday. I have been receiving database errors in the past couple of weeks.

Would you guys be open to a PHPNuke solution? I've used that as a web designer, and it such an easy to install solution, uses a MySQL database and basically maintenance free. It probably does not have the extraordinary features Drupal or others have, but if you guys want to keep things as simple and with the lowest overhead possible.

If you guys want to set up a donation system I'd be more than willing to donate. But then that has its own set of "taboos" with it I guess as well.

I am hoping for the best for AA, I am sure this is just going to be a little bump in the road. We will be laughing about this in a year.

-Mike Gupta (PearlJammer)

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