Laura Scott: BlogHer, pingVision & Drupal – Part 2

Laura Scott, President of pingVision LLC is a graphic and interactive media designer with a background in print production, television and web. On the eve of the 2006 BlogHer conference and just after upgrading the BlogHer site I posed some questions to Laura and she has provided some great insight. This interview discusses a little about Laura, Drupal and her work with the BlogHer community site.

This is the second part of the interview. Part 1 is also here on Performancing. If you’d like clarification from Laura on any of the points feel free to ask them in the comments and Laura and I will do our best to get you an answer.

How did you get involved with BlogHer?

You may or may not have heard about all the hoopla that happened last year when some major bloggers basically said that no women worth reading were blogging, and that women bloggers weren’t worth reading. “Where are all the women bloggers?” was the plaint from one guy — which was, of course, a ridiculous question to anyone who was actually paying attention to more than their own echo chamber. About half of all the bloggers blogging are women, but you don’t see them in the ubiquitous Top 100 lists and those kinds of things. There are lots of reasons why, and many viewpoints, and I won’t go into that here. But the question seemed to keep coming up every few months.

So early last year, when I saw Lisa Stone and Elisa Camahort’s blog posts where they were musing about throwing a conference to celebrate women bloggers, I thought it was a great idea and I emailed Lisa encouraging her to go for it. As it turns out, I was but one of hundreds of women, and some men, apparently, who loved the idea of such a conference. Lisa and I emailed each other over the months as they were getting the first conference set up.

For the first conference, we hosted an online chatroom using a Flash-based application, as sort of an annex to the actual conference. The software was pretty basic, but we wanted something that would be easy for people, including n00bs, to use, without having to download programs and learn about IRC and all that. It was a lot of fun. We had women all over the world participating in online discussions that roughly paralleled the panel discussions at the conference itself.

After the conference, we approached BlogHer with the idea of building a new community website based on Drupal.

What has your role been since then?

We’ve been web designers, developers and admins for the site. The development has been frozen for the most part since February. After the conference, we’ll be able to do a proper profiling and analysis for an upgrade and addition of new features. I can’t say more about it at this point.

[Greg’s Note: That’s a good hook – I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how BlogHer grows.]

What was it that convinced the women at BlogHer to migrate their working site to a new one? And what has the reaction been to the updated Drupal site?

They knew they needed something more. They were using a Typepad blog for disseminating information — which was very effective. But to build a community, it seemed that Drupal was the natural choice.

I think the main reason was because that’s what I was pushing for. With another developer, they might have gone with another of the main Open Source CMSs. I don’t know.

Any special Drupal modules you implemented, or created during the site implementation?

There were quite a bit of little module hacks — mostly to customize the user interface. A lot of these changes we could have implemented using the locale module, but not all, and we were concerned about the hit on performance with such an approach as the site scaled.

One of the main features of the site is the blogroll. This took some custom queries to the database, drawing on weblink data, and presenting that info in different formats, from “most recently added” lists for each category to paginated alphabetical listings. This is the kind of thing that we hope to roll into a module as a complement/enhancement to the links module package, but we haven’t had the time yet. The upgrade migration path from the weblinks module in 4.6 to the links modules in 4.7 is not quite there yet, so we’ll probably start by helping out with some coding there, although it may be easier to try a migration into CCK and put the displays together using views. We’ll be looking into it after the conference.

Can you quantify the growth of the site in terms of users, nodes, popularity?

Since the site launched beta at the end of January, over 4,000 people have registered and submitted over 4,000 links to the blogrolls. There are over 7,000 nodes on the site. And it doesn’t seem to be slowing down — in fact, it’s picking up. Right now we’re seeing over 16,000 unique visitors a day, and they’re sticking around, looking at many pages per visit, according to the stats. And they’re posting a lot in the forums and comments. Not bad for a site that’s not quite six months old!

What was the tipping point where you decided to get new hardware for the site?

We had a bit of a learning curve here. Lisa, Elisa and Jory may not have been surprised by the traffic — after all, they’ve always been in the middle of the BlogHer phenomenon — but we were not at all prepared for the level of interest the site would garner right off the bat. We had developed the site on a shared server, which probably was a mistake from the start, but this company had been fairly reliable and we had other sites hosted with them that were routinely hitting 10-20,000 pageviews a day without a hiccup. But we had a lot of problems, with multiple crashes. As it turned out, the culprit was a spammer on another site sending out gobs of emails, which kicked up the server load, which had a cascading effect upon BlogHer.

We ended up having to migrate to a virtual dedicated server in a hurry — like overnight — because the web hosting company decided to shut us down, and would not upgrade us because they had cancelled plans for offering dedicated and VPS hosting, which is why we had gone with them in the first place. That was crazy. So one night we had to make a quick migration. We worked with Firebright on that, and they came through for us that night. However, over the following weeks we still had crashes, and found corruption in the database. Once that was fixed, things started to stabilize … until a few weeks ago, as traffic started to push the envelope of the server resources we had dedicated for it.

Because we all expect BlogHer to grow, especially as their Ad Network expands, we thought it was best to scale up in a way that makes it easier to continue scaling. So just a week or so ago, we made the jump to a multi-server setup, again with Firebright.

What is the configuration of the site now? (e.g. multiple web servers-single database server VS. multiple web, multiple read only database).

We’re running on a 1+1 setup: one dedicated web server and one dedicated database server, and are poised to move to a load-balanced setup when the time comes. Once we’ve had time to profile the site and run some optimizations, we’ll have a better idea of what that next step will be, and when.

One thought on “Laura Scott: BlogHer, pingVision & Drupal – Part 2

  1. Interesting series! I love such success stories and I love to get some background info.

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