Categories
Miscellaneous

Blogging for Perl

I think it was at YAPC Copenhagen in 2008 that a small group of us first discussed the idea of building a shared blogging platform for the Perl community. It was over a year later that we launched blogs.perl.org.

I remember a lot of discussions over that time where we tried to thrash out exactly what we wanted to build. I know that one of my main drivers was that I wanted to replace the journals feature of use.perl. For those of you too young to remember, use.perl was a Perl community web site from the dawn of time. The site ran Perl news on its front page, but users could also have their own journal. For a few years, we had a nice little blogging community on the site. It used the same software as Slashdot and, like Slashdot, was looking pretty dated at the time. I remember being particularly disappointed that you couldn’t put images in a journal entry.

So that was certainly where I started from when planning blogs.perl.org. I wanted a modern blogging platform to replace use.perl. Other people wanted slightly different things. At least one person argued strongly that what we really needed was a nice-looking blog aggregator and that people could do their actual blogging on their own sites (or some other blog provider).

But, as you can see, that point of view lost out and we implemented a full blogging system using Movable Type.

Ten years on, I think that was a mistake. I think that having a community blogging platform for Perl is actively harmful to Perl.

I’ll explain why a bit later, but first let’s talk through a bit of more recent history of the site.

It’s well-known, I think, that the site is not is a good state. I’m happy to explain what happened there, but it’s a long and rather dull story. There have been a couple of attempts to build replacement systems but they both stalled before they were complete.

So we’re left in a situation where the site is broken and no-one really has the time or the expertise to fix it. And attempts to replace it seem doomed to failure.

Earlier this year I decided that the situation was untenable and that I wanted to close the site down. I spoke to Aaron and he pretty much agreed with me. We decided that we’d give people plenty of notice to take their blogging elsewhere and, rather than closing the site completely, we would make it read-only (so all the existing content would still be there). We ran the idea past the rest of the loose “management team” and Aristotle spoke up, saying that he would rather take the site over himself and try to improve matters. And that’s what happened. Over the last few months, Aaron and I have extricated ourselves from running the site and it’s all now handled by Aristotle.

I wish him all the best in those endeavours and really hope he manages to make the site better than it was (he’s already making great progress in removing loads of old spam blogs from the site).

But, really, I think that my original plan was a better idea. I don’t want people to blog about Perl on a Perl community site. I want people to blog about Perl on sites where people blog about other languages and technologies.

I’ve been giving talks about the need for the Perl community to break out of its echo chamber for almost as long as I’ve been part of the community. But I think it’s important. It’s a kind of low-key marketing. If you’re talking about your cool Perl project on a Perl community web site then only people who are looking for Perl articles will find it. But if you blog about it on a general programming web site then a) you’ll get a far bigger audience and b) some of that audience might say “oh! I never knew Perl could do that – perhaps I’ll give it a closer look.”

And that’s why I think blogs.perl.org (and, probably, use.perl before it) are harmful to Perl. It encourages Perl bloggers to blog for the Perl community – when it would be far better to get your blog posts in front of more people. Perl people will still read your Perl posts (through Perlsphere perhaps, or post the link to /r/perl or the Perl Community Facebook group) but other people will see them too. On blogs.perl.org, you’re pretty much guaranteed that only Perl programmers will see your posts.

To be honest, I don’t understand why people still use blogs.perl.org. Until Aristotle’s work bears fruit it’s painfully broken. What do you get that’s worth putting yourself through all of that pain? Why not just blog somewhere else and submit your web feed to Perlsphere? Or blog where other programmers blog – somewhere like dev.to, perhaps (I’ve started publishing my more technical blog posts there).

I think it will be great if Aristotle gets blogs.perl.org working well. I really want that to happen. But it would be even better if he didn’t have to. If people stopped using it; if they went off and started spreading their interesting Perl blog posts all over the web.

Break out of the echo chamber. Find yourself a bigger audience. Spread the word beyond the Perl community.

Or, alternatively, explain to me why it’s so vital that the Perl community has its own centralised blogging platform.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Several Small Bits of News

A few little bits and pieces, none of which justify a blog post to themselves.

blogs.perl.org

Some of you will have seen that Evozon’s grant to replace blogs.perl.org was cancelled a couple of months ago. This made me sad as I (along with the rest of the blogs.perl.org team) really want to see the current, fragile, set-up replaced as soon as possible.

I’m happy to see that a new grant proposal has been received from a team at Booking.com. They want to take Evozon’s work, along with some other improvements that they’ve made in house and complete the project.

I’d really like to see this grant approved and the project completed. Please feel free to add your comment to the proposal.

Perl News

Who remembers use.perl.org? For many years it was the best place to go for both Perl news and Perl blogs. The idea behind blogs.perl.org was to replace the blogging part of that site and a few years ago, Leo Lapworth and I built perlnews.org to replace the other part of the equation.

Unfortunately, neither of us really had the time to invest in the site and it never really took off. These days there are plenty of other places to get your Perl news, so we’ve taken the decision to close the site down. The existing stories will remain online and I might replace the current WordPress installation with a static site at some point in the future.

The Perl Conference in Amsterdam

A couple of my recent blog posts have been about deciding what training course to run alongside The Perl Conference (The Conference Formerly Known As YAPC Europe) in Amsterdam.

Unfortunately, my plans had a big collision with Real Life and I’ve realised that it’s just unrealistic for me to have enough time to prepare for the conference. So, sadly, I’ve made the decision that I won’t be in Amsterdam this August.

I’m sure it’ll be a great conference though and I wish the organisers the best of luck with it.

Web Application Development in Perl 6

Gabor asked me to give him a quotation explaining why I had backed his Indiegogo campaign to write a book on web development with Perl 6. This is what I sent him:

I’ve been largely ignoring Perl 6 development since the project started in 2000. I figured that I would have plenty of chance to catch up with it before clients started expecting me to know it. The official release of Perl 6 eighteen months ago means that the time is now right for me to start taking an interest. A lot of the code I write drives web sites, so I want to get up to speed with web development in Perl 6 quickly. That’s why I supported this crowdfunding campaign – I want to read this book and I think that Gabor is the right person to write it.

I think this will be a very useful book. You might consider backing it too.

CPAN Badges

I’m a big fan of the badges from shields.io. I use their CPAN badge on my dashboard. Unfortunately, this badge has stopped working – it just says “cpan | invalid”.

I did some investigation and discovered this was because they use the MetaCPAN v0 API – which has now been switched off. It was simple enough to patch the code to use the v1 API. I’ve sent them a pull request, but it hasn’t been accepted yet.

Categories
Community

The Return of blogs.perl.org

About an hour ago we turned blogs.perl.org back on. There’s also a blog post where we explain what happened in a lot more detail.

If you have an account on the site then you will have received an email explaining what you need to do now. Basically, we’ve invalidated all of the passwords so you’ll need to ask the system for a new one.

Sorry again for the inconvenience. And huge thanks to the rest of the blogs.perl.org team (particularly Aaron Crane) for fixing this.

Categories
Community

blogs.perl.org

It seems that last night blogs.perl.org was hacked. I first became aware of it when someone pointed me at this story a few hours ago. As you’ll see, the contents of the mt_author table have been made public.

We’re still investigating the extent of the hack. But, as a precaution, we have configured the site so that all dynamic pages return a 404 response. This will, unfortunately, prevent you from logging on to the site.

We will publish more information when we have it.

Apologies for the inconvenience.

Update:

  • As I said, the mt_author table was leaked
  • This contains both your username and password
  • The password is salted and encrypted (with crypt)
  • If you use your blogs.perl.org password elsewhere, we strongly recommend that you change it

Update 2:
Here’s a cut-down version of the published data that includes only the name columns. Hopefully you can use this to work out whether or not you have an account on the system.

Categories
Community

Blogs.perl.org Problems

It’s ten days since we announced blogs.perl.org and it still doesn’t work properly.

Our mistake was to launch it on a really underpowered server. It worked fine when there were half a dozen of us testing it out, but when the entire Perl community descended on it to take a look at the site (and to sign up for accounts) the server collapsed under the strain.

All of the problems that I’ve been told about so far have been down to memory allocation issues. The server has 512 MB (corrected from KB – it’s bad, but not that bad!) of RAM and it really needs four times that.

Things have calmed down over the last few days though. I suspect that’s largely because people have lost interest in the site and have given up trying to register. We’ve also switched all of the MT processes to using FCGI. I see that a few people have registered successfully and are posting entries on the site. I salute their persistence.

We have a plan for fixing the situation, however, and that will be put in place over the next week or so. The site will be moving to a new server with a more appropriate hardware configuration. We hope to minimise the amount of downtime whilst this happens.

I can only apologise, once more, for the problems. I hope that once the new server is up and running, you’ll all consider giving blogs.perl.org another try.

I hope it’s obvious, but none of these problems should be taken as a reflection on the quality of Movable Type or the work that Six Apart have done for us on the site. The problems all come down to capacity planning on the part of the people running the project.

Which reminds me – if you’re ever looking for someone to do capacity planning on your web site, I’m not the right person for the job!