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October 31, 2011: Google Adwords: Well, that didn't last long.

Now that The Undermine Journal has a service for sale, I thought about trying Google Adwords to advertise it. I didn't plan on there being some huge advertising campaign; Adwords was just another service to learn about for this project.

The way Google Adwords works is that you provide a list of search terms beside which your ad should be displayed. Those search terms, depending on the competition of other advertisers, have bid prices. As more advertisers want spots next to those terms, the costs go up. If you'd pay at least what the bid price is for a given search term, your ad has a chance to show. You only pay when visitors click on the ads. My initial targets were low: max $5/day spent on clicks. I had a few phrases that would bid up to $0.75 per click, and a couple at $1.00 per click. The majority of my search terms were all the realm names, at $0.50 per click. I'd run with that for a while, and see how much it cost.

After about a week with my one ad, my Adwords console looked a little different:

My ad was disapproved. What did that mean?

Okay, so Google pulled the ad. Why?

"Trademark terms." I'm not surprised, but I can't exactly advertise for this service without referring to WoW. So, I cancelled the account. But in those few days the ad was running, how did it do?

10,000 impressions gave me 11 clicks, which cost me about $8. Probably wasn't worth it. Maybe. If I could continue the campaign, I would have special landing pages for those who come in from the ads, so I can track how long they stay on the site, if they make an account, and if they eventually purchase a subscription. Fortunately, I didn't bother coding all that tracking, so there wasn't any wasted time.

The whole Adwords experience wasn't so bad. The interface was halfway decent, and they had lots of mouseovers, tutorials and videos to help you along. It was a little confused with its recommended budgets (I had to increase and massage some things to get ads to show up) but once you see how the game is played, it's not hard to use. I can see how lots of people can be successful by paying for search results. ;)

Category: General | Posted by: admin | 5 Comments

October 30, 2011: A little downtime, handled well

You may have heard about this weekend's snowstorm in the Northeast. The heavy, wet snow early in the season weighs down trees which haven't yet shed their autumn leaves, causing branches to sag and break, bringing down power lines. Fun.

Our web, mail, and main DB server is hosted at a proper facility by Linode, so the website never fully went down. However, the auction history database is on a dedicated server in my apartment, and there were some power issues from the storm in my area. The server has its own UPS, and the network hardware (cable modem, router, switches) is on other UPSes. At 11:35pm local time, my apartment lost power, and the UPSes kept the auction history database online. The site was still fully operational. At 11:59pm, the UPS signaled to the server that it was low on battery power, so the server started (and completed) a controlled shutdown. At 12:24am, power was restored, and the auction database came back online and started parsing the queued results.

Everything worked as expected. The shutdown and subsequent restart were clean, the database's SSH tunnel to the main server was reestablished, and the retrieval of auction data from Blizzard never stopped. Market notifications were not affected, and no auction data was lost. The only visible downtime was about 25 minutes when the site returned an error message whenever auction history data was queried (which was almost every page). I'm not 100% sure that the error page worked properly, because during this entire time, I was out and had no idea that my apartment lost power. I was pleased that, even though I couldn't manage the event while it happened, stuff worked the way I had planned.

Category: General | Posted by: admin | 1 Comment

October 27, 2011: "How-to" Videos

There's a few videos on Youtube showing The Undermine Journal. I appreciate the work put into those, but there are some misconceptions and vague points in them. Plus, either they gloss over some points, or they're very large and hard to find what you're looking for. I thought that a short series of official videos could help.

Here's the first in a series, a video showing the front page. It's almost 6 minutes long. It's unlisted for now, but if you think it's a good idea, I'll continue the series and have links to it from the site.

I recorded a second video last night for the item page, with two different example items, [Elementium Ore] and [First Mate Hat]. That's a bit longer at 20 minutes or so, and I have to edit it and upload it.

So, what do you think? Good idea? Helpful for new visitors? Could such a video series perhaps answer some of your questions?

This was first posted on the official forum. Reply there or here as you see fit.

Category: General | Posted by: admin | 2 Comments

October 26, 2011: No servant can serve two masters.

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Luke 16:13

Money can ruin you. I was going to write "money will ruin you" but that's pretty pessimistic. Instead of going on a Biblical tangent or perhaps an #occupy tirade, I'll talk about this microcosm of WoW gold sites.

Back in early June, 2011, one gold blogger called out another for crooked behavior in pursuit of money. He claimed, "Money is his only concern." We syndicated both bloggers at the time, and at the time, I decided against the accused, and removed his blog from syndication.

Now, the accuser becomes the accused, as my visitors petition to have his blog removed from syndication for similarly seedy behavior, motivated solely by money. I agreed, and that blog is no longer featured here.

Now, it's worth knowing that Markco, who recently caused the second blog in this story to cross the line and be removed, sold that blog for a significant amount of cash. This didn't escape my notice. I thought, okay, so that blog is a pillar in the community, and I don't want to belittle the creativity and work behind a successful gold blog, but it's a blog that sold for fifty thousand dollars. Here I am, with this project with many satisfied users and unique offerings, and I'm just covering my costs with donations going downhill. What was I doing wrong? A tweet from him started the thought process behind the recent subscription idea that became reality. Don't sell yourself short, find what makes you unique, and charge what it's worth.

I don't regret the decisions I've made this month regarding the site. This service will help cover costs better, now that I have a more predictable income. I may have been disappointed when money never rolled in, but I've learned so much about this process, about communities and business, and about myself, as cheesy as that sounds. I'm facing conflicts I've never thought about before. Some users were very upset about the new charge for the service, and I had to figure out how to handle that. I'm not sure I've done a great job with that. But it's a learning process, and I've learned a bunch so far.

And today, I learned, don't take the money too far. There's a line you shouldn't cross, and it can be difficult to see. You risk betraying the community, and perhaps even yourself.

Category: Money | Posted by: admin | 2 Comments

October 24, 2011: Subscriptions: Before, During, and After

Oct 4: Pose new subscription policy on devblog. The response was actually reasonable. I don't expect everyone to agree with the plan, but I think it was pretty straightforward and that helped acceptance.

Oct 10: I start working on the code to support the policy. The changes include: set up a new Paypal account, set up a new bank account (to get the Paypal account all kinds of verified), remove the donate page, add a few columns in the database, change notifications not to send unless there's an active subscription, write the pages to accept and process subscription time, set up the Paypal button, test it out in dev.

I could go on and on about how I tried to get Amazon Payments working again, but that just upsets me and you've heard it already. I really wanted Amazon to work, because lots of people have shopping accounts with them, and it shouldn't be difficult. But they have at least two different kinds of payment processing, and the one that applies to my situation doesn't have a working sandbox. The whole site is more confusing than it ought to be, which doesn't give me any confidence in the product. I didn't even look at Google's offerings, since, what do they offer that Paypal doesn't?

Oct 13: Implement new subscription policy. I should've posted it here on the devblog, but forgot.. so here it is.
Two of our most popular features are the Market Notifications and Seller Notifications. These tools watch the items and sellers of your choice, and upon every scan of your Auction House, record when the market conditions are exactly as you specify.

We also provide an EMail and RSS service that can announce these notifications to you, to keep you informed as soon as the market changes. Notifications are sent to any verified EMail address, and can also be read from any RSS client. Sent messages are always saved in the "Messages" box at the top of the User Controls page.

To provide this EMail and RSS service, we now ask for $5.00 USD for 60 days worth of notifications. This small fee helps to cover the expenses we incur in providing all of The Undermine Journal's services and information. This service replaces our donation option.

Readers who do not pay for the EMail and RSS service can still use Market and Seller Notifications to create a "watch list" on their User Controls page, and that list (and the pages of those watched) will continue to display when your market conditions occurred. However, to receive these notifications in a "push" fashion, via EMail and RSS, you will need to subscribe to the service.

Update: For an added bonus, with this service, subscribers can watch up to 500 item conditions, up from 300 for non-subscribers.

All current users of the EMail and RSS service will receive 10 free days of service after this announcement. We thank you for your support, and we appreciate your patience as we work to support this new payment arrangement.

There was some discontent in the forum, but that's to be expected. My responses there are pretty much all I have to say on that. But, monetary reasons aside, I did learn a lot about the responsibility and even the coding involved when one wants to sell a service online. Donations didn't technically need to be tracked, or be prompt, but payments for this service do need to be processed in a timely manner. That involved some additional changes from my previous Paypal donation setup. So at least this step continues to fulfill my reason for having The Undermine Journal: to learn more about providing web services.

Oct 23: Ten days after the announcement, and nobody has EMail/RSS notifications for free anymore.

Oct 24: It hasn't been 24 hours yet, but I've received no confused grumblings from folks who may not have read the page. There are already a decent number of customers, and I thank them for their patronage, but I won't lie, it isn't the number of customers that I had hoped for. Maybe it'll be a steady stream over the next week or two. One can hope. At least those folks that paid are getting their money's worth, since most of their previous competition who also got notifications pushed aren't getting them anymore. Maybe lots of people used it, but didn't really find it useful. I don't know.

There are a couple other things I can now afford to try in this grand experiment. First, I've set up an account at MaxCDN. This Content Delivery Network is already in place as of this afternoon, and will make static content load more quickly for anyone a few hundred miles outside of NJ (which is where the main TUJ server is located). West-coasters and EU users should benefit the most. Admittedly it might be a minor benefit, but it'll take some strain off of the main server and let me configure and play with a proper CDN. It's pretty neat, so far.

I'm also thinking about buying some ads with Google AdWords. They can get expensive and I don't want to spend lots, but it'd be something new to try, if only for a month or two. It makes more sense now than ever before, since I now I have a service for sale. Just to be clear: thinking about buying ads, which will show up on Google search pages and in ads on other sites. I'm not going to put ads on The Undermine Journal. Ads still suck. I'd just like to figure out if they suck on the buying end. Still need to see what my customer base looks like over the next week or two before I do that.

Finally, having some thoughts about market indices. Check out the thread, and add your 2¢.

Category: General | Posted by: admin | 2 Comments

October 04, 2011: Subscription idea, simplified

I've thought about subscription services before, and received a bunch of fun comments. It usually boils down to two things: recurring subscriptions are messy from a logistical standpoint, and asking for money to supply data from Blizzard gets messy from a legal perspective.

Market notifications are very popular. The Undermine Journal has generated almost 40,000 market notification messages in the past week. Looking at AHSpy and wowTrader, they both mention doing notifications in mid-summer but neither has released it yet. I don't think market notifications are that difficult to implement, especially once you've committed to supporting all AHs in a region, and you use the Blizzard APIs. Sure, there's a bit of fiddly front-end work, but it's not hard. I wonder why they haven't done them. In fact, both sites are very quiet after some impressive progress in the spring. (Not that it's been a noisy ruckus here, I'm aware.)

I propose that market notifications go behind a short and simple paywall. Just notifications. The addon, the Market API, the 1-hour chart resolution, sold item reporting: all these things stay awesome, free and unique as they are. To set and receive market notifications, the price is $5 for two months. With that, you can watch up to 300 items and up to 20 sellers, just like today. You'll see on your user control panel the date that your notifications will cease. When you have 1 month or less remaining, you can purchase another two months. Legally, technically I'd be selling notification services, like a for-pay RSS or E-Mail client. All the data I get from Blizzard is still on the site; you'd pay for data parsing and push notification.

Before you argue that $5 for two months of notifications is too much money, and it should stay free, consider the following. The Remote AH is more expensive, for starters. Many folks pay $37 or $27 or $77 for gold guides, and how many of those gold guides have info that you can find online, and probably direct their users to check out The Undermine Journal as part of their strategy anyway? There are good guides out there that are worth the money, and they cost about what a year of notifications would cost you. Not to mention bots that exist that are completely against the terms of service. There's an auction house bot, that you can find with a very obvious Google search, that charges $7/mo. It looks very good, and it has happy customers, and it's been around for a long time without Blizzard shutting it down. It's more effective than what the legitimate tools allow The Undermine Journal to do, so I understand why it would cost a bit more. My point is, $5 for two months isn't unreasonable.

This idea is still just an idea, and not a definite plan. I look forward to hearing any comments. And I challenge AHSpy, wowTrader, or any other site to provide market notifications by the end of October. That would shake things up a bit. :)

Category: Money | Posted by: admin | 9 Comments

October 04, 2011: Humble Pie, perhaps

I recently whined about antivirus products and their incompatibility with this site. I searched Google to confirm my suspicions, but everything told me that those antivirus products that actually sniffed traffic would remove the header that would allow gzip anyway. So it shouldn't be some weird gzip/chunked issue. I decided to look at my code path for non-gzip clients.

My initial method for sending gzipped content closely followed the "Other Method" listed here. Basically, use ob_* methods to buffer the output, then when the page is completed, if the headers from the browser indicate that gzip is supported, gzip the contents of the buffer and push it to the browser. It was more involved than using a handler closer to the web server instead of in my own code, but I liked knowing exactly when gzipped content would be sent.

However, upon reading the notes for ob_end_flush(), I saw that there may be multiple output buffers, and they should all be flushed in a loop. I didn't use nested ob_start()s, so it was probably unnecessary, but this uncertainty about the buffer behavior upset me. Since zlib was already installed in my php environment on lighttpd, I decided to use ini_set to enable zlib.output_compression when I wanted output to be sent gzipped.

Long story short, I stopped hammering the screws in, and decided to use a screwdriver. Gzip compression is turned back on for clients that support it, output buffering (within my code) is disabled, and hopefully those issues won't reappear.

Category: Technical | Posted by: admin |

October 04, 2011: While we're on the subject,

If anyone wants to throw $50k at me to purchase this site, I'll entertain the offer. I'll just be over here, sitting by the phone...

Category: Money | Posted by: admin |

October 01, 2011: Stop using proxies and anti-virus products that suck

I've been getting more reports of pages getting cut off. The pages look like they're loading fine, then just stop for no reason before the entire page is loaded.

It turns out that shoddy anti-virus programs and proxies are usually to blame. They like to examine content before it hits the browser, and they get confused, probably when the server sends the combination of gzipped content encoding and chunked transfer encoding. They'll unzip the first chunk, approve it, ship it to the browser, and when the second chunk comes along, they forget where they were in the unzip, and throw up their hands in despair. It's bullshit, because proper browsers who can handle these encodings (which speed up downloads, which speeds up response times) send the right headers and display these without a problem.

So I turned off gzip, at least until I figure out a way to sniff out these misbehaving tools and send uncompressed content only to them. The site will be slower for everyone because some people have poor software that doesn't play nice.

Category: Technical | Posted by: admin | 1 Comment