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ISPreview Site Service Status Updates

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Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
01/03/2011

Began work on the new CMS design last month and so far we've made reasonable progress. I started out with quite a radical re-design but have decided to scale back with something a bit more simplistic and recognisable for the new front page style, largely because of a concern that existing users might have found the new layout too difficult navigate.

We'll also need time to adapt to the new technology and, with the old CMS being past its sell-by-date, I don't want to have to delay the new site due to a learning curve. As a result our new preliminary front-page will be very similar to the current one, albeit with new features and flexibility.

I hope to start work on the technology side this month, which will contain quite a steep learning curve as we'll need to find ways of bending the CMS to our way of doing things. I've also begun preliminary work on our future forum upgrade by testing the new vBulletin4's systems and styles.

Needless to say that the new vB is a mess of settings and a lesson in how giving too much control over too many things via an editor can make even simple tasks a lot more time consuming to perform. Jelsoft has also made the vB nav menus a lot more tedious to move around. We want a forum that plugs comfortably into our design without much hassle and it looks like vB4 can't do that without a lot of work. God only knows why they made it so tedious, vB3 was fine. By contrast vB4 just wants to dominate everything.

So.. back to work on articles, CMS and forum software. Behind the scenes 2011 will be a busy year.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
19/03/2011

I've had to put the CMS work on hold during March after Jelsoft announced that their vBulletin3 series forum software had reached its "end-of-life" (i.e. no more primary updates). I had originally been hoping to avoid upgrading to vB4 because of its performance issues and customisation complexity.

As a result of all this I've been forced to divert March's attention to preparing vB4 for ISPreview and, after much struggling, I ended up throwing out most of vB4's ugly navigation bar and writing our own from scratch. vB4 is also quite confusing for members to use, so we've simplified it all. ISPr vB4 should look more integrated than the current forum.

The good news is that most of this work is now complete and I'm content with the outcome. We had hoped to launch the new forum upgrade this weekend but sadly the review system integration has been broken in the latest vB release and that needs fixing first.

We hope to get vB4 live before the end of March and will then return to CMS work. I've done my best to fix-up vB4 from its ugly default and I'm a lot happier with it now. At launch we'll disable some of the new features just to see how it plays with our server and will gradually add them in, along with tougher anti-spam protection, as time progresses.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
18/04/2011

The new forum has gone live and went off without any major hick-up's. We've also moved to improve the anti-spam security and will be keeping a close eye on that. Some spammers still get through but far fewer this week than before we enabled some of the new features.

I'm now off on a much delayed honeymoon over Easter and as a result anybody emailing the editor might have to wait awhile longer for a reply. Luckily the internet means that I can keep up with some of the usual news coverage and maybe some other things, but everything else (CMS work etc.) is on hold now until May.

Upon return my first port of call will be to move ISPr onto a more powerful dedicated server.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
11/05/2011

With Easter, a honeymoon and the royal wedding all out of the way we can now finally get back to our normal day-to-day operations. The immediate focus now is on migrating ISPreview.co.uk to a faster dedicated server, one that should be able to handle our new CMS.

We expect to begin this process next week and it may result in some minor disruption to certain services, although in truth I'm not 100% sure which will have problems and which won't. Major upgrades are never easy but the general downtime should be virtually invisible.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
27/06/2011

I'm pleased to report that the migration over to our new server appears to have gone off without any major fires :) . Still, there are some issues. For example, the new dual-core server doesn't have the best software setup and as a result it's not making effective use of both cores. This means that the site might actually appear to be running a little slower than before when we had a single core setup, which is most annoying but solvable.

We've also been busy upgrading, one by one, all of the websites systems and software to make sure that everything is up-to-date. The forum was done this morning and ISP listings last week. Next up we have to apply the latest review system update, which is usually more of a headache due to our extensive customisations.

Meanwhile our new Content Management System (CMS) work is moving along slowly, largely because we decided to switch CMS at the last moment. Unfortunately the new CMS turned out to be poorly designed for a news site, thus we're going back to our original choice.

Aside from upgrades and CMS work, we're also due to start on our next ISP Listings database refresh. We expect to start that very soon and it usually takes a couple of weeks to complete.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
09/09/2011

It's been a couple of months since the last status update and since then we've been busy updating some of the sites content, writing articles, getting the annual ISP interviews ready and planning out what to write over the XMas period. We also completed the ISP Listings database refresh.

Now our focus has shifted back to the new Content Management System (CMS) work, which was hit by another delay after we decided to put our chosen CMS software on-hold and return to give Wordpress another try. The reason for this is primarily because WP 3.2 was released and brought with it some changes that make the system much more viable for our needs, not to mention that it's free :) .

As a result we're now re-learning WP and running some practical tests to see if it can do the job. So far the results have been promising and thus we've opted to continue developing with it. Progress has been good but as ever the difficulty will be in finding ways to perform more complicated tasks and we've yet to cross that bridge.

Meanwhile I'm growing ever closer to concluding that at some point in the future we will need to completely abandon the current vBulletin 4 forum software and adopt Xenforo instead. vB4 has been difficult to work with, doesn't render well under different browsers, is slow, tedious to integrate and simply doesn't meet our needs. By contrast Xenforo is very easy for people to use and it's fast. The CMS work comes first but after that we may return to look at this.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
12/10/2011

I'm pleased to say that we made significant progress on our new Content Management System (CMS) during September. The new front page is now coming together and we understand WordPress enough to do most of the job.

Right now the only things left are predominantly formatting related, such as with trying to find the best way of displaying top news articles. We want to do something fresh but at the same time we don't want to waste too much space to cosmetics, especially when our site needs to be kept simple and bandwidth light for those on slower connections.

Browser compatibility testing is also a huge headache. It use to be that adapting a site to IE was the pain but now we're finding more problems with Firefox and Opera's rendering. Both of which make some odd decisions about how certain CSS should be rendered, especially with regards to FORMs.

In any case I've had to take a break from the CMS until mid-October as we need to finish up some new pre and post-XMas editorial content (articles). We should get back to it later this month and through November. I hope to start putting the final site together very soon.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
03/11/2011

Since the last post we've finished up our XMas content run and have gotten back to the CMS. I'm pleased to say that 95% of the new format / style is now done and we're into the final bug fixing stage, which can take awhile. So far everything is looking good and we hope to offer a preview in the not too distant future.

After that we'll need to bring the style and CMS together, which can either go very quickly or take an age; depending upon the complexity and system requirements. Getting everything to work together is always a headache. The good news is that the finish line is now in sight and a new look front page and news/article style will soon arrive.

It's possible that we could get this done before XMas but our target is still early 2012, due to seasonal workloads all competing for our time.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
06/12/2011

Time for a quick pre-Christmas update.

The good news is that our work to integrate the new front-page and news article style into our new CMS setup has so far gone extremely well and is now about 75-80% completed. The last 20% is always the toughest part as it involves fixing code bugs and style errors, which often crop up between different web browsers and can take a ridiculous amount of time to pin down.

Progress remains good but we'll probably aim for a late-January or February 2012 introduction as, even once completed, there will be a huge amount of images and related content to stuff into the database before we can begin using it. Time constraints mean that some features probably won't make the release but we will continue to improve the new site and style throughout 2012.

Anyway, back to work..
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
11/01/2012

A quick status update.

During December 2011 we were more or less able to complete the new CMS and related style design, I'd say that's 100% done now (need to do some more web browser compatibility testing though) and as a result we're just left trying to solve some last minute bugs and to add a few missing features. All that is on hold for a week or so while we do our usual update sweep of the ISP listings and then we'll get back to it.

At present the biggest issue left to fix is that of image management. ISPreview.co.uk deals with thousands of images, so getting the CMS to do things the way we want has been somewhat of a pain. We're currently exploring several solutions, one of which looks like it might work but first we have to solve an issue with thumbnails showing instead of the full picture and vice versa.

I'm not completely happy with the new style because it looks a bit ugly when rendered under browsers like IE8 or older, which for some reason were launched without support for a few pretty basic CSS3 features. God only knows why Microsoft keeps doing that. Anyway most of you use Firefox, Chrome, Opera or IE9 so this shouldn't be too much of an issue and the layout is no less functional under older browsers.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
04/02/2012

The ISP listings update was completed without any trouble and we've also been able to iron out the main bugs in our new CMS. As a result we've started readying the system for launch, which has involved needing to update several hundred images to higher resolution versions and all sorts of other time consuming things like that. I still can't put an ETA on when this will happen but "very soon" is accurate.. we're just polishing it all off.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
23/03/2012

March has certainly been a very busy month. After a lot of effort we were finally able to launch the new CMS and front page, albeit not without a bunch of problems to contend with. It still needs some work, polishing and improvement but the bulk of the job is done and we can now finally get back to doing other things alongside our usual general site improvements.

The next primary focus will be upon upgrading our reviews system and the discussion forum; we may look towards switching forum software completely as vB4 isn't very good, although that will require a lot more work. We also want to expand and improve upon our current ISP Listings system.

Elsewhere keep an eye out for some new Special Editorial articles during the Easter Week ;) . We've got some interesting content going up.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
19/05/2012

It's been awhile since the last update and that's because we've been working hard to improve the sites content and upgrade all of its systems. Happily I completed the upgrades on Friday, when our vB forum was moved to 4.1.12, so please let me know if you spot any bugs as we made some small style changes to fix a few of vB's classic CSS alignment problems (not completely resolved but I get tired of having to fix another firms mistakes hehe).

In the meantime we've been planning out new content and in late May or June I'll move on to expand the ISP Listings system, as well as running another update sweep of the database (prices, product checks etc.). At this stage I'd rather not say what we're doing but it's a logical progression that will give people more information about the latest services.

Unfortunately it hasn't all been plain sailing and just over one week ago we suffered a raft of technical problems. Firstly a server configuration error prevented any links with a minus-hyphen in from working (this was to fix a known 0-day PHP exploit), which broke our ISP listings system and old news system (not to mention a lot of other sections) for 2-3 days. Needless to say we weren't happy with the hosting firm 1&1.

On top of that the above mistake also made it easier for a notoriously crafty exploit to hack the website and insert evil JavaScript code into many of the files. Sadly popular websites do get hit by these things and it took time to clear, although luckily I was already in the middle of upgrading our systems and thus had current backups to hand.

Readers who use AVG will have been alerted to the problem, although unfortunately AVG aren't nearly as quick to correct their database as they are to identify a problem. As a result a lot of you have kept getting warnings about the site, which is rather misleading and out of our control. AVG should have resolved it by now but they're being somewhat slow..

Anyway.. back to work :) .
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
03/07/2012

Sadly we lost a lot of spare development time in June after a server software upgrade added to our recent technical woes by breaking several of the websites critical systems for a week. At least half of the issues could have been avoided had our host let us know about a few vital configuration changes. Some of the related issues remain but the bulk of ISPreview.co.uk now functions once more.

Back to development work. At present we're working on a refresh of our ISP Listing system and once that's done we'll need to run an update sweep of the database to make sure that all our prices and service details for various packages are correct and current. We do this all the time anyway but full update sweeps are also necessary and sometimes pickup changes that we might have otherwise missed. I'd like to get this done before the end of July.

On top of that I'm debating whether or not to adjust the border style on our front page. Now this is far from a major adjustment but sometimes small changes can have a big impact and thus require careful consideration. At present we use a SHADOW border around the boxes but this can slow scrolling on slower mobile devices, fails to look the same in all browsers (a few use too much blur and can annoy the eyes) and it doesn't work in old browsers (leaves the boxes looking ugly/bland).

A simple solution would be to replace the shadow with a basic dotted dark-grey border, which seems to look reasonable, is easily done, renders fast and has no compatibility issues. I'll probably ask readers for feedback on this later once I have more time to contemplate the two different looks.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
03/08/2012

Finally got the revamped ISP Listings system finished and updated, although it took me almost two weeks to realise that I'd failed to upload the new ISP Detail pages for our Satellite and Fixed Wireless ISP listings.. ehumm :) . Not sure quite how I missed that.

We're now looking towards testing some other style changes around the site, general systems updates and content development for the last half of 2012. After a hectic first 6-18 months it's nice to finally get back into a more normal cycle of work.

This effort to refine the look, feel and interactivity of ISPreview.co.uk will probably take us into 2013. But for now.. back to the Olympics :) .
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
08/11/2012

It's been awhile since my last update, mainly because I've been so busy writing new content and refining the CMS (you might have noticed a few small style changes here and there). On top of that I've been planning out what improvements are needed for 2013 and there's a lot to get done, mostly with regards to bringing more of the sites content into our new content management system.

Most recently the server was upgraded, although this partly resulted in a 2 day outage due to technical problems at the host and some unexpected disruption from Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately the upgrade became a necessity after the hard disk and RAM began to show signs of failure (well you can’t keep a server live for two years and not expect problems). In the end it was easier to swap the physical server for a new one than to get the individual bits replaced.

Suffice to say that 2012 has been a busy year. We started it with a site that looks very different from the one we ended up with but I’m pleased that the work is now complete, at least on that front. Going forward we envisage further improvements to the ISP Listings system, CMS and the growing possibility of new forum software (I was going to use XenForo but the developers seem to be abandoning it).

In the meantime it’s back to content generation and I’ve got a lot to write before Christmas.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
14/01/2013

Hope you all had a good Christmas break. I must admit that the slow two weeks over XMas and New Year is always a welcome break from the usual grind.

Anyway I spent most of last week planning out our content, surveys and strategy for the coming year. The main focus in 2013 will be upon further integration of the CMS into our site, content development and a possible change or upgrade of forum software (I'm going to hold off on that for a bit to see if vB5 improves, otherwise we may switch to IPB or something else).

But before we can get into that we need to run our usual update sweep of the ISP Listings database, which will ensure that all our prices and information are bang up-to-date. As usual we expect this to take two or three weeks to complete as it’s a fairly extensive process.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
22/03/2013

So we got all those plans and ISP Listing updates done as planned during January 2013, now on to other things.

There's been an interesting development over the past few weeks, which we weren't expecting, that might affect our upgrade plans for the discussion forum this year. At the end of last year we'd more or less given up on a migration path towards XenForo because of an on-going lawsuit by 'Internet Brands' (vBulletin's new owners) that seemed to be killing it off.

XenForo is a lovely and fast piece of forum software, which was created in England by the people who did the excellent vB3, before IB took over and damaged it with vB4 (what we run today) and destroyed what was left of that with the latest vB5. Thankfully a surprise emerged at the end of Feb 2013 when XenForo announced that IB's lawsuit against them had been settled and development would restart (it had been on an increasingly uncertain hiatus for the best part of a year).

Suffice to say we're very pleased with this news and will pause our alternative plans in order to see how XenForo develops. If the community reignites back to life around it, which is already happening, then I suspect we may take this direction. It's a faster and more attractive solution then vB4 or vB5, though a big thing for us will be its ability to integrate with ISPr and the anti-spam tools (these days all web-based software requires strong anti-spam measures).

Moving forum software is also more complex for larger sites like ISPreview.co.uk as it will require us to re-code some custom modifications, which can be both time consuming and quite expensive. At least with XenForo we already have a path mapped out.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
16/06/2013

We just completed another update sweep of the ISP Listings database and are also testing some new anti-spam measures on our discussion forum, which so far appear to be working quite well (as usual the spammers will probably adapt.. eventually).

Otherwise we're busy preparing to make an upgrade to the discussion forum software (this is just a vB update and not a move to XenForo, that will come later) and likewise our review system has another update ready. Unfortunately a bug with the integration between these two systems has delayed the work but that has now been semi-fixed so we should be ready to push them in soon.

The main work right now is focused on re-doing some of the content in other sections of ISPreview.co.uk and integrating them into the CMS system that we launched last year. The ground work is done but quite a few sections need to be re-written first and that takes time.
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
13/09/2013

It look a lot longer to fix the integration bugs between the forum and latest review system code than we were expecting, while a separate problem with the latest vB4.2.1 meant we've had to do a lot more general testing. Anyway so far everything looks good and we hope to upgrade those two systems before the end of this month.

In the meantime we've put our revamped Broadband Technology page online, which now includes regularly updated core statistics about the UK market.

http://www.ispreview.co.uk/broadband.shtml

Elsewhere we made several changes to tackle forum spam and so far they seem to have worked, which has hopefully also pleased our visitors and members.

Unfortunately I've had a lot less time than planned to work on future developments, which is due to a forthcoming house move that's taking up a lot of my family's time and has put some of ISPr's bigger projects on short-term hold until we've shifted at the end of this year or early 2014.
 
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