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Scheduled end of W8LWX website support, 30 Sept. 2018
Author Post
Fri Aug 03 2018, 06:52PM

Registered Member #1
Joined: Tue Apr 22 2008, 06:38AM

Posts: 170

[For anyone interested in discussing the website transition at the upcoming special meeting on August 22, 2018, I am providing, below, portions of two old e-mails pertaining to that issue.]

Message 1: Six-Month Notice; Need to Rebuild, Rather Than Just Transfer, If Keeping Site

Subject: Vagabond website and webmaster functions (action required by Oct. 1, 2018)
From: Vagabond Webmaster (W8LWX)
Date: 03/24/2018 01:37 PM
To: Harlan Cobert W1HRC, Cathy Melvin KM4OCS, Dave Fleming KE4JHJ

Harlan, Cathy, and Dave,

It's hard to believe it, but I have served as webmaster for the Vagabond net for over six years. The main site, vagabondnet.net, became operational in mid-January 2012. The Back Office, providing added functionality for temp tracking and roster maintenance, went online in August 2014.

For reasons discussed below, I think it's time for someone else to take over as webmaster for the Vagabonds. I don't want to leave the group in a lurch, so I'm giving you six months' notice. My last day as webmaster, and the last for the site as it currently exists, will be September 30, 2018, or whenever you get a replacement, whichever comes first.

I hope you understand that this decision isn't driven by any kind of problem between the group and me. It's just a matter of how I want to spend my time in the future. For several years, I've administered three different ham radio websites (vagabondnet.net, nc4ar.org, and 72chew.net (for which I've also been net scheduler)). It's been fun; I've learned a lot; but it has reached the point of diminishing marginal returns and this is the best time to arrange for replacements in all of those roles.

Unfortunately, there's no easy way to just transfer any of those websites. It's not like scooting over from the driver's seat so someone else can get behind the wheel and drive. The sites are hosted on my personal account, tied to my identity and my credit. I can't just give my log-in credentials on that hosting account to other people to be swapped in as replacement webmasters.

Besides that, it's probably time for a complete revamping of the sites anyway. All of my ham radio sites currently run under a content management system (CMS) called e107, which has never been a very widely used CMS but has always offered lots of flexibility. That's why I chose it. But support for e107 has become spotty over the years. The time will soon come, if it hasn't already, when e107 acquires new and intolerable security vulnerabilities that I don't have the time, inclination, or competence to fix.

[ . . . . ]

For all the above reasons, now is a good time to just start over, building a new site from scratch on a new CMS platform. I'm not the person to do that. I have one more big legal project [ . . . ], and it will ramp up in January 2019 [ . . . . ] So the time for replacement and revamping is now, during the next six months, when I might actually have enough time to help with the transition. If no replacement is in place by October 1, 2018, all of my ham radio sites will just go dark that day.

I do hope that you can find someone who is committed to continuing with a truly independent, non-invasive, homegrown website. My sites don't have any ads and don't do any tracking of users' browsing habits. One of the reasons I haven't quit before now is that I've feared the groups would just take the easy way out. The easy way out is to set up a Facebook page. I can't stop it, but I hope it doesn't happen. If you're on Facebook, you're the product, not the customer. Please don't force our members to become Facebook's product!

I encourage you to start looking, right now, for a new webmaster. I believe there are several other Vagabonds with the necessary skills. I would encourage you, in choosing among them, to choose the one most likely to stick with it for several years.

Once you find a new webmaster, he or she will need to arrange for hosting and build a site. I can provide my replacement with copies of the files that constitute the current site, if he or she thinks it would be helpful to have them. Once the new site is built, I'll need to change the domain name pointers so that vagabondnet.net points to the new site instead of the current site.

Do not delay! It will take time to find a replacement who is both reliable and capable.

I'm grateful for the confidence that has been placed in me, and for the opportunity to serve, these past several years.

John, W8LWX


Message #2: Costs; Site Not Really Needed Anyway

Subject: Further thoughts about the website
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2018, 16:53:23 -0400
From: Vagabond Webmaster W8LWX
To: Harlan Cobert W1HRC


You were asking at breakfast about the costs of the website. One point you seemed to be making was that, if the Vagabonds went back to paying for the website costs that I've been absorbing in recent years, it would be a very substantial percentage of the Vagabonds' annual budget. I agree and would like to provide some further facts and opinions.

As I mentioned at breakfast, there are two distinct recurring costs: the domain name registration (about $40/yr through Network Solutions) and the hosting plan (previously $107/yr; more on that later). Originally, I was reimbursed each year for those costs. In more recent years, I've just been absorbing them.

The fact that I was incurring about $150/yr in website costs doesn't necessarily mean that, going forward, it would take $150/yr for a similar website. I tend to be very intolerant of low-quality solutions and prefer to pay more for solutions that won't cause me future problems. Therefore, I always use Network Solutions for domain name registration even though there are people out there who offer similar services for much less. GoDaddy is one example. Beware of those low-dollar registrars, though -- some don't give you full control or full ownership of the name, and even if they do, it would be a real problem to have your domain name registrar go bankrupt (or just disappear into the night), which Network Solutions is unlikely to do.

As for the hosting plan, the $107/yr included an annual fee of $24 for the privilege of having a dedicated IP, which isn't strictly necessary but can be handy. The other $83/yr was for basic hosting services. If you have a shared IP, which is the norm, your site can end up getting blacklisted because of the behavior of the many other sites, totally unrelated to yours, that happened to be using the same IP. It's sort of like having your electricity shut off just because someone with the same last four digits in their account number was shut off for nonpayment.

Those were the prices in past years when the site was hosted by SuccessfulHosting, which insisted on a separate hosting plan for each domain. In 2017, SuccessfulHosting announced that it was getting out of the hosting business, so I had to move the site to a new host, SiteGround. SiteGround does things differently: I have a single plan, which I can use to host all of my sites with different domain names. I paid $215 for that plan last September, and it is currently being used to host sites for five or six different domains.

Just as there are el cheapo domain registrars, there are also el cheapo site hosts, and even "free" ones. Be warned: you get what you pay for. The cheap/free site hosts provide a much more limited range of abilities, often restricting you to a few templates for throwing content up. Customizing is limited or impossible, and doing the kind of freewheeling coding that now enables net controllers to enter temp check-ins is not possible on the cheap/free hosts. You have to be really careful in selecting a host.

So you might be able to do this for substantially less than $150/yr but I don't know how cheap you can go before running into problems.

My personal view is that the Vagabonds don't really need a website at all. The website has been used in four ways:

a. As a tool for net controllers (for roster look-up and temp tracking, mainly). -- This can be done, and prior to 2010 was done, by other means. Direct e-mail can get the job done. The VB Logger also can fulfill many of the same functions and was specifically designed to be a stand-alone, non-Internet tool.

b. For interactions between members (via forum posts, for instance). -- In actual practice, members have not made very frequent use of such capabilities. Instead, to the extent that the forum gets used at all, it has tended to be used disproportionately by a very small number of members. This has been the pattern on all three of the ham radio websites I administer -- so much so that, on 72chew.net, I actually ended up shutting the forum down [ . . . . ] In short, most ham radio operators either aren't very interested in making posts on website forums or don't have the necessary computer skills to do it.

c. As a place for members to find announcements and information about the net. -- But in my experience, this capability is very seldom used by more than a tiny fraction of members.

d. As a calling card, aka advertising, for people who don't already know us. -- I know that some people have learned of us via the website and gone on to get their ham licenses. On the other hand, anyone who has a ham license and lives in the local area will find it hard to avoid us anyway!

While I'm proud of the website and have done my best to make it fun and useful, the fact is that it is a very small part of what makes the Vagabonds what they are. Indeed, there are some [ . . . ] who would argue that the website detracts from what the Vagabonds are, because it adds too much complexity. I think it's at least plausible that fear of the complexities of the website may have deterred some people from serving as net controllers.

One thing I know for sure is that the website frequently puts me in the position of being the bad guy in a struggle between precision and casual fun. A system that works demands precision, but a system that relies on human beings to input data will always fail from a lack of conscientiousness or care from time to time. I'm tired of being in that position. I don't really want to be Principal Rooney to everyone else's Ferris Bueller. I just stumbled into that role, after spending almost all of my previous life building things (computers, cars, legal arguments) that didn't require other humans' cooperation in order to function properly. I'm hoping to stumble back out of it.

I certainly won't feel bad if the current website ends up not being replaced at all. I think the overwhelming majority of Vagabonds wouldn't even miss it.


John, W8LWX
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Mon Aug 06 2018, 02:17PM
Vagabond 228
Registered Member #11
Joined: Tue Jan 10 2012, 06:08PM

Posts: 28
Hard to believe there are no responses to this post except for Harlan.

W8LWX has put a great deal of work into the website.

I guess it comes down to whether or not the current crop of Vagabonds want the site to continue and what they're willing to invest in it one way or the other.

Odd to see the lack of concern on the website itself.


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Wed Aug 22 2018, 04:47PM
President 2017 - VB 671
Registered Member #205
Joined: Fri Jun 13 2014, 03:54PM

Posts: 44
I use Yahoo Groups and Groups.io and both serve well as a scaled down web presence without the need of maintenance. Since items like NCS scripts and Pledges change infrequently, they could be posted there. The email group contacts could be used by both general members and groups or teams for schedule distributions, etc. Its fairly flexible and would the Vagabond needs well. Just a suggestion.
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