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timewarp

IT maintenance

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timewarp

Whenever the squirrels take over, there is a discussion about IT on the backup server. I thought it might be worthwhile taking it to main AVEN.

What can we do to help making AVEN work better?

One thing is the infrastructure, with limited resources and all that.

Another thing is how the site is maintained. From what I've heard, it's more or less a one person job here. I do not even remotely want to criticise Cole, but from other - much smaller and less complex - organisations I'm used to having an IT team. I'm very, very certain that amongst the more than 80000 AVEN members there are more than enough people with sufficient IT skills and time to help.

Personally I've never encountered an IT system that I didn't eventually manage to handle, provided there's enough documentation and time to learn, and I know quite a few people on here who are also sufficiently computer-literate.

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Robin L

It all comes down to funding. If AVEN is able to fundraise enough money for a full time tech admin and a dedicated server, instead of the server paid by and maintained by volunteers, things will definitely be better. It's quite difficult, though. We already burn a lot of the money on WorldPride and various other vis/ed events.

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timewarp

I'm not talking about paying somebody, I'm talking about volunteers amongst AVEN members.

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Robin L

I'm not talking about paying somebody, I'm talking about volunteers amongst AVEN members.

Well, if we never fix the server undercapacity issues, it really wouldn't help much.

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timewarp

Well, there are two ways of looking at it:

1. The server is too small.

2. The workload is too big.

(1.) can only be solved with money. (2.) can be solved by managing the workload.

In any case, a system should never allow a workload that leads to a crash.

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Telecaster68

Does anyone know how much money it would take to buy more capacity?

People have mentioned AVEN isn't allowed to take donations for some bizarre legal reason. Anyone care to explain?

Could there be a way of distributing capacity across bits of serverspace AVENites might have available?

How about crowd funding?

It seems to me that accepting the forum will continually fall over and begging everyone to be patient till a clearly overstretched Cole can sort it out is just going to alienate members and probably give Cole a nervous breakdown. It's just not sustainable.

What are the admins actually doing to sort this out, beyond handwringing?

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Wineblood

Well, there are two ways of looking at it:

1. The server is too small.

2. The workload is too big.

(1.) can only be solved with money. (2.) can be solved by managing the workload.

In any case, a system should never allow a workload that leads to a crash.

Or 3 : the software that is running the AVEN site isn't robust/optimised enough. I work in software and there's always room to improve and squeeze more juice out of something.

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Jayce

I thought we already have a tech admin? Im so bad at remembering names but i am very sure there is one on Aven.

Im just saying this as the IT dummy i am but im doubting if a whole team of volunteer IT staff would make a difference. I come from a site that has developers,tech staff and all that jazz and they still have downtimes and sql issues.I think donating would be a good thing so they could invest that money in getting a better dedicated server and software.But like i said before: I have no knowledge on this stuff at all but this is what i have experienced before. Im glad that if there is downtime we at least have a backup board to go to.There were sites i have joined that had none of these things and you just had to wait untill they were back up again.

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Telecaster68

Cole is the tech admin, and she's unpaid so everything falling on her shoulders isn't very fair. All sites do go down from time but AVEN is down for hours every few days at the moment, it seems.

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timewarp

I thought we already have a tech admin? Im so bad at remembering names but i am very sure there is one on Aven.

Im just saying this as the IT dummy i am but im doubting if a whole team of volunteer IT staff would make a difference. I come from a site that has developers,tech staff and all that jazz and they still have downtimes and sql issues.I think donating would be a good thing so they could invest that money in getting a better dedicated server and software.But like i said before: I have no knowledge on this stuff at all but this is what i have experienced before. Im glad that if there is downtime we at least have a backup board to go to.There were sites i have joined that had none of these things and you just had to wait untill they were back up again.

Depends on what those people do. Maintenance does not mean waiting for the system to crash and then reboot it.

There are tools for finding the bottlenecks, and there is always a way to fix them. Either, as Wineblood said, by improving the software, or by using other tools to control the use of the software.

But it can only be done with a proactive approach. First step is to have a team of people who are competent and willing to do so. That should be absolutely feasible. Next is to monitor system performance and see where and when the troubles occur.

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Lusnaofer

If crowd funding is legally doable, I think that's a great way to explain to people what's needed and why, and maybe they'll be more likely to contribute a bit if they understand it and will see results. There will be trackable progress for backers and a responsibility for the people making the changes to report back to them.

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Serran

People have mentioned AVEN isn't allowed to take donations for some bizarre legal reason. Anyone care to explain?

It's a tax thing. Any donations given right now go to David's personal account, so all those lovely IRS rules apply. If AVEN becomes a non-profit like they are trying to get done, they could take tax-free donations.

As for how much it would cost to upgrade, I don't know. But, I am sure we could come up with it, whenever AVEN can take donations. Lots of people want to donate, we just can't at the moment.

I think the reason they only have one tech is because Cole is known by David. Giving that much access to people he doesn't know well would be risky.

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timewarp

I think the reason they only have one tech is because Cole is known by David. Giving that much access to people he doesn't know well would be risky.

That's the typical point where a growing organisation that was originally very small runs into trouble. Small organisations usually do the exact opposite of what you need to implement a working management system. A task shouldn't depend on a person, but on its definition. You need good standard operating procedures, so the person following them is replaceable. From my experience as the quality manager of a small company I know that this transition is painful and difficult, but it has to be done.

About access: there is no such thing as "that much access". You can define rights for users and also for groups of users. Limited access to whatever part somebody is working on is totally sufficient.

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Serran

I think the reason they only have one tech is because Cole is known by David. Giving that much access to people he doesn't know well would be risky.

About access: there is no such thing as "that much access". You can define rights for users and also for groups of users. Limited access to whatever part somebody is working on is totally sufficient.

Limited access is still access to potentially sensitive information, also can sometimes come with side effects that the person giving the access didn't predict (one site allowed access to part of their files to someone, but the person found a small weak point in their security blocking him from the rest, exploited it and got the sites source code, which made the owner even more paranoid and the site largely staff-free for a year). And you wouldn't be an employee, with a contract and a professional record... but volunteers, with no real consequences if you decide to abuse your powers. It causes people to become hesitant to provide even limited access to people they do not know very well. I wouldn't be surprised if it's the main reason David hasn't accepted any of the offers of technical help in the past.

Now, granted, a properly set up system would be "no one has more access than I say they can" and abuse would be extremely hard to do. But, if that isn't set up, or the place doesn't have confidence in their ability to put that into place, there is a certain amount of trust required.

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timewarp

I think the reason they only have one tech is because Cole is known by David. Giving that much access to people he doesn't know well would be risky.

About access: there is no such thing as "that much access". You can define rights for users and also for groups of users. Limited access to whatever part somebody is working on is totally sufficient.

Limited access is still access to potentially sensitive information, also can sometimes come with side effects that the person giving the access didn't predict (one site allowed access to part of their files to someone, but the person found a small weak point in their security blocking him from the rest, exploited it and got the sites source code, which made the owner even more paranoid and the site largely staff-free for a year). And you wouldn't be an employee, with a contract and a professional record... but volunteers, with no real consequences if you decide to abuse your powers. It causes people to become hesitant to provide even limited access to people they do not know very well. I wouldn't be surprised if it's the main reason David hasn't accepted any of the offers of technical help in the past.

Now, granted, a properly set up system would be "no one has more access than I say they can" and abuse would be extremely hard to do. But, if that isn't set up, or the place doesn't have confidence in their ability to put that into place, there is a certain amount of trust required.

There's no difference between an employee and a volunteer. If you don't set up a written contract, you still have an oral contract. As this is an online community it's far more likely that there would be written evidence after all.

The trust issue is exactly why the transition to a more professional system is always difficult for any small organisation. Everybody who's ever been sufficiently involved in quality management knows about it; and nobody has ever come up with an easy solution. The difference between a small business and AVEN is most likely that David is even more in love with his organisation than the typical small business owner with his business.

Having admods also requires a certain amount of trust, and giving new users the right to start a new thread is downright risky. So in terms of trust, a first step has already been done.

May I also quote Mr. Spock. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." In this case it's 80000 against 1.

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Janus DarkFox

huh is Cole the only person paying for the site maintainence?

If not, if money isn't a factor, typically anyone can maintain any site with granted web maintainence rights, otherwise it takes an extrodanary amount of trust which isn't freely given to anyone.

Some others could send in a formal CV/Resume to the sites owner and he could grant that level of access.

The site, if policy and technology grants, at the web level could be maintained in mutiple levels, such as one handle the code, communications, databases, security, the system and its design could really be done by a team.

If granted someone like me, being Infomation Systems oriented can handle its SQL information and maintain or design for database level changes, or changes granted from Admod policy, making sure such transistion goes to plan or come up with a plan under limited means that may not have been discovered or realised yet.

Cole is an exceptionally busy person, otherwise not the owner unless that changes, who else other the David Jay or Cole is in control of the highest level of web access?

What can it take to trust a team of such access? Can the public even be able to vote on that?

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Serran

I think the reason they only have one tech is because Cole is known by David. Giving that much access to people he doesn't know well would be risky.

About access: there is no such thing as "that much access". You can define rights for users and also for groups of users. Limited access to whatever part somebody is working on is totally sufficient.

Limited access is still access to potentially sensitive information, also can sometimes come with side effects that the person giving the access didn't predict (one site allowed access to part of their files to someone, but the person found a small weak point in their security blocking him from the rest, exploited it and got the sites source code, which made the owner even more paranoid and the site largely staff-free for a year). And you wouldn't be an employee, with a contract and a professional record... but volunteers, with no real consequences if you decide to abuse your powers. It causes people to become hesitant to provide even limited access to people they do not know very well. I wouldn't be surprised if it's the main reason David hasn't accepted any of the offers of technical help in the past.

Now, granted, a properly set up system would be "no one has more access than I say they can" and abuse would be extremely hard to do. But, if that isn't set up, or the place doesn't have confidence in their ability to put that into place, there is a certain amount of trust required.

There's no difference between an employee and a volunteer. If you don't set up a written contract, you still have an oral contract. As this is an online community it's far more likely that there would be written evidence after all.

I guess that depends on how you do the volunteer "hiring". But, would volunteers be willing to sign a contract? Submit to a background check like an employee? Offer references of character and skill? Actually reveal personal information, rather than just being a user name? Do an interview with David? I doubt the "oral contract" could be proven by the forum, as AVENguy and InsertUserName said they agreed on this on a forum would not be much use. But, a recorded conversation on phone/skype, sure.

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WünderBâhr

I think it would be useful if a board member clarified a few things in this thread, so people understand why and how things are done, if possible. May as well come from the actual decision makers, no? And considering that this has been a frequently asked question over the years, perhaps creating an announcement/update thread in Site Info about such occurences/organization-related things could be useful to point to when applicable. Just a thought. :)

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Telecaster68

There are plenty of models of volunteer contracts, it's a trivial issue. It's starting to sound like the real block is David not wanting the inevitable loosening of his direct control that would come with a wider group of people getting involved with the running of AVEN and the whole thing becoming more formalised.

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Tanwen

I think it would be useful if a board member clarified a few things in this thread, so people understand why and how things are done, if possible. May as well come from the actual decision makers, no? And considering that this has been a frequently asked question over the years, perhaps creating an announcement/update thread in Site Info about such occurences/organization-related things could be useful to point to when applicable. Just a thought. :)

Very much this. If DJ, Coles or the other board members just once would answer the question, it would put an end to the speculation.

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Serran

In short:

  • Many of us are getting annoyed with the frequent downtimes and slow periods.
  • Some of us want to help with the underlying matters (financial or technical) but can't.
  • Some of us are wondering what the problem actually is and why it keeps coming back every year or two. It's not like AVEN's usage doubles every year or two.

I am annoyed with them as well, honestly. :( I would totally donate if they let us.

There are plenty of models of volunteer contracts, it's a trivial issue. It's starting to sound like the real block is David not wanting the inevitable loosening of his direct control that would come with a wider group of people getting involved with the running of AVEN and the whole thing becoming more formalised.

There are, though, there are working ones and non-working ones. I've seen a lot of websites fall to accepting a team of volunteers and not doing it right, allowing them to essentially destroy it rather than help. Of course, also seen them fall for not correcting technical issues that drove members away. But, having seen both, I can see why it's a hard decision to make. Going from "one person run operation" to "collaborative team effort" is a tricky transition for a first-timer. And, I think this is probably David's first large website like this.

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timewarp

There are, though, there are working ones and non-working ones. I've seen a lot of websites fall to accepting a team of volunteers and not doing it right, allowing them to essentially destroy it rather than help. Of course, also seen them fall for not correcting technical issues that drove members away. But, having seen both, I can see why it's a hard decision to make. Going from "one person run operation" to "collaborative team effort" is a tricky transition for a first-timer. And, I think this is probably David's first large website like this.

Also for that more organisational aspect, there are people here who can help at a professional level. David doesn't have to go it alone. We just need information, and he needs to be willing to accept help, otherwise we can't help.

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Tanwen

Many moons ago when AVEN was much younger, there was an appeal for people to donate $10/month towards server cost. They only need enough to cover server costs. So, a bunch of folks got together and did it. I dropped out accidentally - I had to change my debit card and didn't realise that would break the link with my Paypal account; so I've absolutely no idea where things stand at the moment.

There has been much talk over the years about AVEN becoming an NPO and the last I knew it was almost there but again I've no idea how things stand now. I've no idea why it's such a closely guarded secret - maybe not secret but no-one who knows sees fit to tell the membership and I have to ask 'Why'? Why will no-one tell us what is happening?

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Coleslaw

Okay, forgive what will likely be a double post, but I'd like to say I've seen this thread and am crafting a lengthy response. I'd like to offer as much transparency as I can, as I understand there are some deep frustrations here.

-- Coleslaw

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Telecaster68

Thanks Cole. Appreciated. I think we're basically trying to nudge in as helpful a way as possible.

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Telecaster68

Any progress, Cole?

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Telecaster68

Just to be clear - this is in no way to have a go at Cole. I'm sure she's juggling lots of things and doing her absolute best.

But - the lack of response from AVEN mods and admins to the questions that one of them has admitted are pertinent says a lot about their attititude or ability. Or both.

That said, I do notice AVEN hasn't been down for a few days now, so maybe that's where efforts were being focussed.

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Robin L

But - the lack of response from AVEN mods and admins to the questions that one of them has admitted are pertinent says a lot about their attititude or ability. Or both.

It's not that we won't answer. This is simply not our job. We can not make decisions on the AVEN server, only the content on the AVEN forum itself.

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Telecaster68

(a) Cole's role is technical and said she'd respond, but hasn't been able to yet.

(b) That response in itself helps the rest of us understand the situation. It would've been useful a lot earlier.

© Does that mean AVEN as a organisation has absolutely no way of even hearing practical suggestions from its community?

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