Site/list upgrades (and possible downgrades)

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#1 Wed, 2012-08-08 14:52
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Site/list upgrades (and possible downgrades)

It's been over a year and a half since we put the Saturn List on outerspaceways.info. There have been a few snags along the way but for the most part I think it's gone well. I very much hope that you agree. The switch from a pure mailing list to a mailing list attached to a Web-based forum seems to be mostly well-received and I was pleasantly surprised not to have any complaints about the change directed at me.

In that time there have been a couple of unexpected outages on the server I rent for the hosting. These were sometimes as long as a day and frankly I've lost confidence in the hosting company I was using. I want the Saturn list (and the other sites I host) to run smoothly without a hitch.

So I've gotten a new server and I have for the past few months been paying for both the new one and the old one. During that time I've been moving sites from the old server to the new. Outerspaceways.info is one of the last to go.

A year and a half can be a really long time in software years. In that time the software used to make the site run has been updated along with the modules that perform various functions. In about another year these versions will become unsupported so I'd very much like to get stuff up to date.

Unfortunately one of the changes is that the module used to communicate between the mailing list software and the Web forum software has itself ceased development. The maintainers found a security problem and stopped distributing the module entirely. It doesn't look likely that it will be updated and I am concerned about continuing to use it if it has a known vulnerability.

Furthermore, maintaining two pieces of software that have an uneasy relationship with one another is a bit of a tricky task. When something goes wrong it's often hard to tell where the problem lies. I hate it when a support request comes through and I'm not easily able to address the issue. And there are some things (like file attachments and formatting changes sent by email) which never quite worked as well as I'd like.

The site can continue to run on the old server for a while and I am not in any way backing out of my offer to host the Saturn discussion. But some changes are going to have to come eventually.

I think we will have to choose between the mailing list and the discussion forum.

Here's my preferred plan: migrate off the mailing list to the Web-based forum entirely. I can set it up so that the Web-based forum does most of what the mailing list already does—new posts can be emailed to members, and probably we'll even be able to keep the ability to post to the site by email. I think we can even keep a digest mode, but I'm not certain of that.

What we would lose is the ability to administer subscriptions by email. We would stop being able to send an email to subscribe or unsubscribe. One would have to go to the website to turn email notifications on or off. There's also a certain romance in having a mailing list instead of a web-based forum. Mailing lists are old-skool, and I know I have an emotional attachment to keeping old-style maiing lists alive.

However, I think it's more important to keep Saturn going in the forum format that people tend to be more familiar with. It's easier to find things in the archives (though search itself is broken right now—that's something I'd like to address in the upgrade) and I think less cumbersome than a mailing list.

The alternative would be to go back to being a mailing list only without the Web forum. Things would basically go back to the way they were before the move. I think that would be too bad, and I think that more people would be disappointed than the other way.

There's a third alternative, which is that I could do the development work to get the module that bridges the site and the mailing list secure, working again, and compatible with newer versions of the site software. However, that is a lot of work and I don't really think it's worth the effort.

I know some people like the forum format a lot, others like the forum format but wish I'd do a better job of maintaining it, and probably some people are ambivalent. What I'd like to know is whether anyone has strong feelings about the way to proceed.

I volunteered to take over the list and added the web forum as a bonus. I don't want to bait and switch the community by backing out of hosting the list. If there is a strong objection to moving completely over to the web-based forum, I'll find another way. I'm even willing to put the work in to keep things exactly as they are (but with updated software) if there is a strong desire in the community to keep the mailing list software running and not just use the email features of the forum.

That's why I've written this now-lengthy post. I'd like to know what you think and get my marching orders from you. I have my opinion about the best path forward, but I won't do it "my way" unless there is something close to general consensus that it's the best way to go.

Of course, I'm happy to answer any questions about the proposed options and I'm open to other solutions.

I'm sorry to veer away from actual Ra-related content, but it's the future of this community so it's pretty important to get it right.