Site and Tech Updates (May 2016)

Greetings Obsidian Portal Community,

I’ll have to ask your forgiveness for this temporary interruption to our regularly scheduled lineup (and for the unexpected delay in getting it out to you), but it is my hope that you’ll indulge me a bit – and that you’ll find the following site and technical updates to be something that you’re also interested in reading about. It has been right about six months since our last technical update, so I think it’s fair to say we’re due.

Over the course of this week, I had the opportunity to find out what’s been going on behind the scenes, learn more about where things sit with the site right now, and get a sense of what’s coming down the proverbial pipe as time moves on.

A Bit of Background

As a typical user, it can be difficult to gauge just exactly how much (or little) work is being completed on the ‘back end’ of a website. Our view is limited to what we can see and do on the page – and how well the parts of that page are functioning while we use them. Regarding Obsidian Portal specifically, there has been a great deal of rough road following the kickstarter Reforge. What was supposed to be a grand update for the future became a prolonged waiting game, as the deadlines for the stretch goals came and went, things remained or became broken and communication from development shriveled to almost nothing.

With the passage of time came the transition to new site owners, changes and more changes to the tech team, to the community managers, to the community itself. All the while, problems persisted, and the number of ‘visible’ (IE front end) updates were few and far between. The communication we received seemed largely empty of real substance, and time continued to tick on in progressively larger increments. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why many users were frustrated (or becoming so), and beginning to wonder if anyone was even “at home” behind closed doors.

Having experienced all of this firsthand, I was (as you can imagine) quite pleased to hear that John was very interested in addressing the rumors, and increasing communication to the site’s users via the blog. With that said, I offer up this overview of our conversation about the state of Obsidian Portal, and what lies in store.

So What’s Been Going On?

Although it regrettably forced something of a maddening waiting game on the users, the work done on the back end was not something that could be avoided. Just as a building needs a solid foundation to be built on, so too does a website need the code base it is being developed on to be as solid and optimized as can be achieved. As much as we all love Micah for getting Obsidian Portal off the ground and rolling, the methods used to build the site weren’t exactly the current industry standards, and giving the site the overhaul it needed meant working from the ground up.

In talking to John, I learned that this was a pretty laborious project, as the code base and server was quite the mess (and included 23 versions of the website on it). I say “the server” because as it turns out, Obsidian Portal existed on only one web server at that time – a fact that didn’t exactly help in terms of performance for a site of this size, or in fulfilling all of the lofty goals of the kickstarter (as an interesting side note to this, I was shocked to learn that the various stretch goals had in fact been “completed” way back when, but that they were very hastily written, and in such a manner as to be unfit for a production environment).

Listing of Updates and Current Status Stuff

What follows now is a breakdown of various changes that have been made, by category – and with information on the current state of affairs where necessary.

Web Infrastructure:

The entire Obsidian Portal website has been moved to a new web farm with higher performance web servers that are scaleable and have load balancing. The site now uses a high performance content delivery network that provides accelerated content delivery (including to mobile devices). The team has seen performance and up-time increase drastically. The home page now loads in under a second, and the site is in the top 90 percentile of all websites for performance per pingdom. Additionally, Obsidian Portal is realizing 99.95% up-time currently.

Long story short on this category, Obsidian Portal is now in a much stronger position to remain stable, grow and move forward, and continue development today than it was in the past. Much of the behind the scenes work is completed, and we will begin to see more front end, user-visible changes as things proceed.

Email Deliverability:

The tech team has been working hard to root out and definitively solve E-mail delivery issues. Recently, it was discovered that some Emails (such as password resets) were being sent from a dynamic or shared IP. That IP had been blacklisted by some ISP’s (such as AOL) at some point in time during the product’s history. With this found, the tech team made the appropriate change, and those Emails are now being sent using a premium mail provider. Improvements are now being seen (in particular for the password resets that had plagued users).

Moving forward, all outbound mail has deliverability analytics, which allows the tech team to better track, find and solve Email delivery issues. With the recent changes, the delivery rate for Emails is now in the 94 percentile range – and support requests concerning this topic have dropped. Users can also expect ongoing improvements in this area.



The Support Area (Upgrades/Changeover):

As many have noticed, the prior help forums were recently depreciated, and users have been steered toward the new [email protected] Email address. This has been a touchy issue for many, and so the following information will hopefully assuage the concerns that have been expressed thus far and put peoples’ minds at ease.

The previous help forums ran on Tender, which was outdated (both visually and technologically), was not significantly upgradeable, and had fairly limited functionality. It was also discovered that many issues weren’t getting the proper closure and were “left to hang” on the forum-style interface. Additionally, the old system left much to be desired in terms of managing all the support requests, as they had numerous avenues from which to approach (multiple areas in the support forums, the community forums, two Email aliases, multiple social media feeds, other user’s posts). This caused the support staff to be spread thin, leading to missed follow ups.

In contrast, the new system combats these problems by collecting all support requests into a central repository. Regardless of where the user started, their request is filed with all the others. They get back an auto-generated reply letting them know their request was received and that they will be contacted by support staff. The support requests have category designations to better leverage the support staff, a ticketing ID system so that nothing gets left hanging, and tracking in place to ensure that not only are the tickets responded to, but in a timely manner.

The last point to mention on this topic is that nothing is being lost, or swept under the proverbial rug. Support staff members are triaging and sorting through the backlog of issues from the old help forums. Users should remember however, that those forums represent every help request over the last several years, and so it’s a bit of a process to comb through it all, organize and see which issues are still outstanding. A new support request form is in the works; and you can see the work in progress below:


Click to see larger size image

The Community Forums:

Obsidian Portal’s community forums are, in a word: old; very old – at least in terms of the software they run on. Vanilla has come a long way since our forums were created. The support team has begun taking steps to clean up and organize the forums, apply a bit more moderation where needed than in the past, and prepare for a move to updated forum software.

The Blog, COTM/COTY, etc..:

Being the third major component of Obsidian Portal (alongside the main site and the forums), Words In The Dark (better known as simply “the blog”) has not been forgotten. This is after all, the home for our many wonderful articles, and the stage upon which we showcase our Campaigns of the Month and Year. Firstly in this category, I’m happy to report that the month display issue for the Campaign of the Month has been resolved, and going forward the selection committee need only notify support of the winning campaign, and all of the displays, titles, badges and such will be taken care of.

Additionally, the blog has been moved and is now being hosted on a 10 core server setup – which has resulted in a solid overall performance boost (this is actually the reason this article is late in coming out). A sort of spring cleaning has also commenced, with older items being shifted into more of an archival position so as to make room for new stuff that will be coming out. If you have any ideas or questions on this blog front, please drop me a line.

What You Can Expect in the Coming Days

Media Library/File Management:

There is a new/expanded media library feature coming, which will be located in the main navigation area of each campaign (aka the tabs). The new “Files” tab will allow users to more easily track their storage usage and better manage their campaign files (and yes, I said files, not just images- PDF’s, Video’s, etc.) with viewing, upload, download, delete and so forth. The work in progress looks something like so:


Click to view the bigger image


Secure Socket Layer (SSL):

Work continues to resolve various SSL issues that users have experienced when working behind a firewall at school or work. The tech team has been working hard to get this fixed and will continue to do so. If you don’t know what this means, the short and sweet version is this: SSL is a standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a server and a client—typically a web server (website) and a browser; or a mail server and a mail client (e.g., Outlook). You can thank DigiCert for that concise explanation.

Inner Council Collaboration:

The team is currently working with the Inner Council on a number of issues at various stages. This includes things like the badges initiative, DSTs, COTM/COTY, blog updates, and more. Solid traction is in the works for these various items. If you’d like to know more or have input you’d like to provide, please feel free to get in touch with a member of the Inner Council. For reference, your Inner Council members are:

Myself (Kallak), twiggyleaf, wolfhound, ChainsawXIV and Keryth987.

Kickstarter Items/Stretch Goals:

A point of longstanding issue for older users, the various items announced during the Reforge kickstarter event have essentially been in limbo for quite a while now. As I mentioned earlier in this article, a version of these items had been created in the past, but they were in all realism not suitable for implementation, and as such were never released. Having said that, the goal of making the new features from the kickstarter come true has not been abandoned, and wheels are turning on this front.

John and I are already beginning to get coordinated so that more details surrounding these items can be released in our next Site and Tech Updates blog post. While I would have loved to be able to give you more on this in THIS blog post, I believe that the stretch goals and features contained in this really deserve their own update post, and so they will have one. Stay tuned on this, lots more to come.

Bug Fix Listing/Changelog:

All of the items addressed here (both in terms of “has happened” and “on the way” items) are in addition to a countless number of smaller resolutions to issues that have been addressed along the way. While obviously Obsidian Portal still has some ground to cover in order to reach where we would all like it to be (both the users, and the team on the back end), some pretty great strides in the proper direction have been taken, and John has pledged that both he and the techs are committed to keeping the strides coming, and working to keep the community more informed, so that the dark days of the post-Reforge uncertainty can be gone for good.

While the blog has started undergoing changes (and will continue to do so), it remains the place where technical updates will be posted. To this end, a Change Log page has been created that will serve as the primary location for the various “patch notes” as updates are released. This page will begin receiving information for the users starting with the next update push (which John has informed me is extremely close, probably within the week). Be sure to check back on this soon.

Thanks for Making it to the End

So yeah, this post turned out to be quite the monster, but I hope you found it worth your time, and I hope I’ve gotten answers to as many of the looming questions as possible. I’d like to thank you all for reading, thank the team at Kaleidoscope for keeping Obsidian Portal alive, and thank John for taking the time and making the commitment to give the community something it has so desperately been after for so long. If there’s something you’d like to hear about in our next update, you can message me and I’ll find out everything I can about it for next time.

All the best,

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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