Feedback on WildSnow Reliability

Post by blogger | November 13, 2008      

Everyone, now that we’ve put much of our site redesign and back office tweaking to bed, I’m wondering how reliable we are. I’ve got a site monitor that logs on every 5 minutes and is reporting 99.99 percent reliability, but it only goes to the top level and looks for a string of text, it does not act like a real person clicking links and drilling deeper.

I just got an email from a gentleman who wrote “Lou, Lately (last couple weeks) I have been having sporadic trouble with your site. When I click on the “read more” link I get an error message (“Can’t open the page” or something like that).” If anyone else has this problem and can let us know we’d appreciate it. Just leave a comment or email us. If possible, please let us know exactly what error message you’re seeing and approximately how long you were on the homepage before you clicked the “read more” link.

(As an aside, remember that clicking on the post title does the same thing as clicking on the “read more” link. So if you do have problems, try that as well and please let us know the results.)



15 Responses to “Feedback on WildSnow Reliability”

  1. Andrew_L November 13th, 2008 5:30 pm

    Hey Lou,

    I think the “reliability” number as measured by downtime is the wrong thing to focus on. Every hosting co is going to go down now and then; no one will hold that against you (as long as it’s suitably rare). I’m more interested in speed, ie load times, and everytime I visit, WS is very fast. Your comments screen loads right up, I don’t get funny errors, and the pages don’t tend to hang in the middle before they finish loading. So, thumbs up from here (via FireFox).

  2. Clyde November 13th, 2008 5:34 pm

    I’m not getting any error messages. But of the 100 or so RSS feeds that I follow on Google Reader, yours is the only one that doesn’t play nice (on a Mac with Firefox and Better GReader add-on). Instead of letting me read the entire page within the reader when I click on a post, Wildsnow hijacks the browser and takes me to your site. With all the others, the entire page opens within the reader. This really doesn’t help you as far as page views goes (and I block all the ads anyhow) so it’s more of a nuisance that actually discourages me from reading posts. Just FYI.

  3. C. Lowe November 13th, 2008 6:08 pm

    +1 on the RSS issues. The feed doesn’t seem to work well in my NetNewsWire (NewsGator) reader and I pretty mich only read news through RSS these days, except for WildSnow of course…

  4. Lou November 13th, 2008 6:26 pm

    Clyde and everyone, here are the two alternate URLs for my feed. Clyde, please let me know if they both have the same problems for you, I can’t replicate here. Perhaps I should run out and buy a Mac (grin).

    Also Clyde, I only publish feed summaries (simply to prevent content stealing), so perhaps your reader is configured to go to source if it only sees a summary, or something like that?

  5. Lou November 13th, 2008 6:30 pm

    Andrew, thanks for the feedback. Nice to get some good news. And yeah, I’m not focusing on the “reliability” number as reported form my uptime service, but it’s the first thing to get under control when making sure a website works. it’s the foundation. Also, I actually do still have server glitches we’re trying to iron out. They happen at night during low traffic times for some reason and are of short duration, but everything needs to be scrutinized if a website is going to work. The uptime reports help us with this.

  6. Sam Reese November 14th, 2008 12:57 am

    You can generally specify which page you want your uptime checker to go after, and if you are using something like Nagios, you can put shell variables into it. Your site is pretty easy to drill through with variables, as gives the page, so you could put together a simple script that checks two or three content pages within a set of article ID’s.

    Do you know if your co-lo does some caching, to reduce database loads? If you are using some caching, you should drill through the site to check uptime, if not, don’t sweat it, or put a html comment (<!– ) somewhere at the top with a message that you search for, so a 404 error, or other page misdirect won’t be uptime.

  7. Lou November 14th, 2008 4:40 am

    Thanks Sam, the monitor I’m using is pretty basic but it does check for a preset text string on the homepage. If it doesn’t find that string it counts it as an error. Thus, it’ll count it as downtime if I display an error page. Which is good. It also will go to any URL specified, but won’t simulate a user drilling down, though perhaps your script idea would work for that. I’ll check into it. I’ll also check on the caching. Thanks for the tips.

  8. db November 14th, 2008 8:45 am

    Best site of its kind! Never had a problem navigating.

  9. C. Lowe November 14th, 2008 9:10 am

    Thanks for the updated feed URLs. The first seems to work great and displays all all content (post, images, comments, etc) in my reader. Now, WildSnow will be read daily along with all of my other feeds.


  10. C Dawson November 14th, 2008 9:51 am

    Hey Lou, never have any problems at this end. I’m able to fly in and out of all the links with no problem. And all the changes are fantastic. Keep it up.

  11. Jess Downing November 14th, 2008 10:02 am

    Yes Lou, you should get a Mac…. I use the Flock browser for my RSS and haven’t had any issues.

  12. Clyde November 14th, 2008 1:24 pm

    No change in behavior. Something is different from other blogs that publish summaries though. With those, I can click the title and it opens their site within the reader window. With yours, I’m taken out of reader and to your site. So now, if you don’t grab my interest with the first three lines of text, I won’t bother to look at the rest. Before I might have looked anyhow because there are sometimes good tidbits later (news summary for example). I’m sure I’m a tiny minority but just keep in mind that a lot of people with only use blog readers. Cheers!

  13. Lou November 14th, 2008 6:31 pm

    Clyde, I truly appreciate getting an idea of how you web browse, as it keeps me trying to improve things! I’ll work on the issues you pointed out. Lou

  14. adeger November 15th, 2008 12:47 pm

    Wow, a real can of worms because the term “site testing” or “site reliability testing” is so awesomely vast in its possibilities and interpretation. Since I run into this just about every day as part of my job (both collecting data and writing scripts to test for site availability and take appropriate automatic actions) I’m going to make the following two points:

    1) The more rigorous the test, the less you’ll be able to compare them to anyone else’s numbers. Three nines is great for this type of site as measured by the type of testing you’re doing (looking for a string on the home page) but expect that number to go down should you start scripting a “click through” or transactional type of test. Ironically, when you start doing these types of tests you see more problems, fix them faster (than most other sites) but your overall numbers go down because you’re looking for (and probably finding) more problems–more problems than those “other guys” anyway.

    2) For a better reliability test (but again will probably get you worse numbers) consider a separate “health check” page. This would be a page that for a sanity check, self-checks your site’s home page as you’re doing now, but also self checks any major site subsystems (or anything else) that are required to keep your site running (e.g, check a backend database connection, check that the RSS system can be read from, etc). Either report the results of each or overall site home page and subsystem responses as HTML strings or different HTTP return codes (200=all good, 201=1 error, 202 = 2 errors, 500 = major problems). The page could even have some fancy script to automatically alert you if/when (major) problems occur. Ours does and annoys the heck out of us but about every 1 in 3 or so times, saves our backsides.

    Just for reference big firms have server farms behind load balancing switches which access a health check page as I’ve mentioned (along with other health checks). What’s nice about these arrangements is that when a server starts acting up, the load balancer marks it as unhealthy and disallows any more traffic to/from it until all of the health checks start passing again. That’s why I say your site is doing great at 99.9% availability. The big guys, with all of the big iron I’ve described should really be getting 4 or 5 nines availability.

    Here’s a pretty good listing of a lot of testing/automation resources for the type of stuff we’re talking about. I think I include it mostly to back up my claim about how vast the field is:

    (I can’t speak to too many of these, since I mostly script in native Python sometimes with the Pamie module).

    Thanks again for the site; I usually don’t have too much to add, since I’m either usually less experienced or way too late to throw my 2 cents into the discussions but today’s discussion was right up my alley.

    And…I’ve always thought performance was adequate if not downright snappy (note that web professional jargon).

    All the best!


  15. Lou November 15th, 2008 8:06 pm

    Adger, thanks! Beyond reliability, I do try to keep the site latency down to low levels so it’s snappy. Seems like that’s just a courtesy I can offer all you guys, rather then loading it up with cute gewgaws that slow it down. Amazing how much tempting junk their is out there for WordPress blogs — all in good fun till it kludges your site down, introduces a security issue, makes your next upgrade impossible, or just breaks everything the moment you install it!

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