Interview: Derek Liu, Gaia Online Anime Community
General Board administration
What made you choose phpBB, and are you happy with your choice ?
Yes. phpBB rocks. Iíve learned so much from phpBB I canít thank the developers enough.
Did you program all board alterations yourself or are you using public mods or hacks ?
A little bit of everything I guess. There isnít one mod where I install every line of code, while there isnít one script that I havenít left alone. If there is something I donít need loaded, I take it away. Like wise, Iíve added a lot of codes for features that I implemented around the site. At the same time the numerous mods spun tons of great ideas everywhere that I could never have thought of if I went with a single forum package.
Some posts in the forums have more than 50000 replies, that is more posts than on 99% of internet's message boards. I guess your are experiencing terrible load and bandwidth problems. how much do you have to prune posts and users to help with that issue ?
The database server needed upgrading constantly. At first it was to allow for more connections, then as we gotten more posts, each page took exponentially longer to load. While bandwidth could be solved by just paying our ISP, the load on the database server had been a problem. Luckily Iíve came up with a few changes in the database queries recently that should be able to let me keep growing the database without much degradation in speed.
You probably had to tweak a lot phpBB, mysql and more generally your server configuration. On which side was it the easiest to improve performance ? Was phpBB easy to modify to suit your needs ?
On the php side of things, improving the performance of the scripts seem to yield a linear increase in speed, while I can always drop in another server to handle the load on handling php web pages, so itís not a big deal. Itís the tweaks in the SQL queries which yielded terrific improvements in speed. phpBB is easy to modify. Itís well structured so itís easy to read and understand.
Iíve been gathering notes on some of the major changes that I made on a thread on the phpBB forum. Donít know how many people would benefit from it, but I just needed to do my bit in contributing back to the community.
How do you handle the search feature on you boards ?
Cripple it. (lol) After some serious thinking Iíve thought of a few ways that will truly make a fast search engine, but itíll take tremendous time involvement in writing the code to support my theories that have yet to be proven. So in return I setup a lot of filters to index only posts within certain criteria from size, location, number of replies, to only making the first 100 words searchable, etc. The main goal is to keep the search table having less than ten million entries so it wonít bog the server down while maintaining a level of usability. The wordlist table also includes a post_id field that allows me to prune it when the time comes. Though I think a more permanent solution is to gear up with a real search engine like Google. No matter what I do the search engine will never be 10% as good as what a real search engine can do.
"Anything free is great! Users pay not in money but in sharing experience and submitting contribution plus ideas to constantly improve itself"
In your opinion, what are the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of phpBB ?
Why is phpBB so great? Anything free is great! ^_^ Users pay not in money but in sharing experience and submitting contribution plus ideas to constantly improve itself. Even if phpBB is poorly written, with all the user input it has the potential of being the best forum out there. But phpBB is NOT poorly written, it is a beautifully crafted piece of software and the latest version looks even more promising. The greatest weakness to any software that is so versatile is the sacrifice in speed. Though I often wonder if phpBBís concern in speed performance is related to php or SQL related issues.
Many features such as the handling of user sessions had already been switched to cron jobs to reduce the systemís load. Most of these changes are pretty much behind the scenes so the user wonít really notice the changes from a regular forum. Those jobs include pruning, updating of ďdynamicĒ data such as post and user count, etc. There were no milestones because the bottlenecks that we came across were never anticipated. We just went through phases where the server was running slow, me making some changes to speed things up, then days or weeks later weíre running slow againÖ and the cycle just repeats itself. Yes, Iím very inexperienced. ^_^;
Did you have to promote your website, or did your members generate enough publicity by themselves ?
We did promote our site. The forth month after itís debut we handed out a lot of postcards to anime fans on the two biggest anime convention that we attend annually. We also have an ad in a comic book thanks to a good friend in the business. Other than that, the growth had been pretty consistent, and doesnít seem to be particularly affected by the advertisements. Just goes to proof that Iím not a good marketing guy. ^_^ It seems that the growth of Gaia relied mainly on the word of mouth from our users.
What have you learned from administering the Gaia boards ?
To put into the simplest terms, I learned that everybody deserves the same level of respect. To discriminate in accordance to a userís level of etiquette had been my mistake in the past and working on Gaia let me place a high level of control over myself to be an admin thatís fair with everyone. I didnít realize any of the essentials by myself. Itís all from insights handed down by my friends who I developed the site with. Technically I learned an immense amount of php, MySQL, DHTML, and server administration. The structure of phpBB also taught me a lot in terms of writing structured and optimized codes.
Has the rapid and impressive success of your site brought to you job offers, unexpected partnerships or extravagant propositions ?
One can always dream. ^_^ We havenít gotten any offers so far. We started the site as a labor of love and today it still is. Iím hoping for the day that weíre big enough that we can start getting support from large sponsors so that we donít have to worry about covering costs. Until then, though weíre growing, weíre still pretty tiny compared to successful ventures on the net.
It is written on the home page of the website: "GAIA Online is currently in the Alpha Testing phase". Well then it is a hell of an alpha phase, do you have many plans for the future and evolution of your community and can you share some of them with us ?
Right now weíre still on alpha development, meaning that we havenít got our basic features done yet. The basic features are stuff that arenít necessarily tied in with the forum itself. One of which is a chat environment that Iím developing, for example. When weíre ready to freeze the major features and start debugging them, thatís when the work on the gaming aspects will begin. Weíll then be on beta stage as far as the site goes. Thatís when things are going to be interesting for our users. Everyone on the forums are hungry for activities. I just canít wait to tell them that every character that theyíre customizing actually contains an array of stats, and you can build your character in ways that not only affects your performance in the activities, but theyíll also influence the features that theyíll get on the site also. -_^
Thank you Derek !