TechCrunch is now at WordPress.com

When did TechCrunch make the move to WordPress.com? I took a look at the top WP.com blogs today, and it was listed there, which means it’s no longer self-hosted, it’s literally at WP.com, under their VIP hosting program.

I did a quick search of their site, but they say nothing about their migration. I can imagine it was a grueling piece of work given the sheer size of the site and their various content embeds, like CrunchBase. With Google’s help, I saw that CenterNetworks wrote a post on 2/8 where they asked and got confirmation that TC is indeed hosted at WP.com, so it looks like they migrated sometime in late January or early February 2010.

I completed my own migration to WordPress.com (albeit not under their VIP program) on January 31st, and support from WP was very hard to come by during my migration. Perhaps they were busy at work on the TC migration?

Back when TechCrunch was a smaller operation, they were hosted at Media Temple, and were continually running their banners on the site. Then they moved to the RackSpace cloud, presumably after they outgrew Media Temple’s Nitro service. Apparently RackSpace no longer sufficed, for whatever reason.

What I do know is that WP’s own VIP hosting program is a compelling choice for those who need that kind of horsepower. Pricing begins at $500/month, with a one-time setup fee of $1,500, and your site will pretty much be able to handle any kind of traffic that comes its way.

WordPress.com gets more expensive

Ever since I learned about WordPress, I thought it was the coolest blogging platform, and the more I found out about the WordPress.com network, the more I liked the options they offered their users. To this day, I regret not having started to publish directly on WordPress.com instead of doing it on my own with a self-install of WordPress, but each path has its pros and cons. Incidentally, I discussed them (the pros and cons) at length with WordPress staff recently, and may put together a guide to switching from WP.com to WP.org and vice-versa, at some point.

One of the things I really liked about WordPress.com was the 5GB space upgrade, which, among other things allowed me to upload videos that would be transcoded and played directly inside the blog. For $20/year, it was a great deal. I never got to use it on my own blogs, which were and still are self-hosted, but I recommended it to clients and friends. I liked it because the video player was and still is integrated into the blogging platform. This saves the user the hassle of uploading it to a different video sharing site, then putting the right embed code into the blog post.

Now, sadly, that option is gone. I received an email from WordPress today which announced the arrival of a formal video upgrade option, called VideoPress, at a cost of $60/year. Like other video upgrades on the market (such as Vimeo’s own Plus program), VideoPress allows the upload and streaming of SD and HD video. The price is also the same.

wordpress-upgrades

I can understand this change though. According to WordPress, allowing people to upload videos under the regular 5GB space upgrade was a testing ground which allowed them to figure out what they needed to charge long-term. After all, HD video eats up a lot of space and requires a lot of processing power to compress, not to mention the bandwidth needed to stream it. Here’s what Matt Mullenweg, WP’s founder, says in a response to a question about the price tag:

“We try to run every part of our business in a way that’s sustainable and supportable for the long-term. By charging a fair amount for a superior service we can continue to invest in expanding the feature to be a great option for high-end video, just like WordPress is a fantastic option for high-end blogging. (And you wouldn’t believe how expensive it is to host and stream video, which is part of the reason we’ve waited to launch this until now, we’ve been working at getting the costs down.” [source]

Now when you realize that both WordPress and Vimeo charge $60/year for HD video uploads, think about YouTube, and the astronomical expenses it has to eat up every year because it doesn’t charge its users anything to upload gobs and gobs of video.

I looked at the specs for the video sizes of the new WordPress Video Player, and there are three of them: 400px (SD), 640px (DVD) and 1280px (HD). That’s plenty for live streaming. I do wish there was an option that would let the video authors allow downloads of the original video files, like Vimeo does it.

The upper limit on a single video file is 1GB, although it’s not hard-capped like at Vimeo. WordPress will let you upload 1.5-2GB files, although they say results may vary and uploads may die out if your connection is slow.

One thing I’m not clear on is the space allowed for the uploaded videos. Is there a weekly cap, like Vimeo’s 5GB/week limit, or can we upload as many videos as we want? And if so, what’s the total space limit allotted to us when we purchase the upgrade? Is there a special cap, separate from the standard space of 3 GB per blog? Or does each video count against the total space allotted to the blog? Because if that’s the case, that would mean VideoPress is going to be more expensive than Vimeo Plus, since users will need to purchase space upgrades for their videos in addition to VideoPress.

For example, a user would shell out $60 for VideoPress, then soon find out they’ve filled up their 3GB quota, and need to purchase a space upgrade. It’s not hard to imagine one would need about 15GB or more per year with HD video, and that would mean an additional $50 on top of the initial $60, bringing the price tag to $110. This point definitely needs clarification, because it just wouldn’t be fun to get taxed twice for it.

I do like the nice gesture on WordPress’ part, where they gave existing users of the space upgrade and the video player a free VideoPress upgrade for a year. Had they not done that, the transition would have been too jarring for them, so kudos to WordPress for putting money aside and thinking about the user experience.

Flash Player 10 breaks teh internets

Shortly after upgrading to Adobe’s new Flash Player, version 10, I noticed I could no longer upload photos to my blogs. And I also noticed that FriendFeed’s image uploader didn’t work the same way. I didn’t relate that to the Flash Player upgrade at first, and tried to rule out problems on my own machine. Then I did a bit of research and discovered that others were in the same boat.

Quoting from this thread on the WP forums:

“The new Flash version 10 is incompatible. The latest version 9 of Flash is what you want. There will be a workaround (ugly hack) for this in WordPress 2.7. But since the problem is actually with Flash 10 itself, stick with Flash 9 for the time being. Hopefully, WordPress 2.8 will get rid of the Flash altogether, since Adobe has made it clear that they consider this problem to be a security fix.”

On FriendFeed (FF), people complained about image uploader issues as well. In that same FF thread, I found out that Adobe archives their old versions of the Flash Player, something which is not readily apparent on their site, nor easy to find. I also found that I need to uninstall Flash Player before downgrading — should I decide to do it — using Adobe’s Flash uninstaller.

Now, we’re faced with an issue: stay with Flash 10 and a non-working image uploader on WP sites, or downgrade to Flash 9? I’ll let each of you decide what to do about that. Since there appears to be a security issue in Flash 9, it’s not something you should take lightly, but at least you’ll have options.

You may think I’m joking in my post title when I say that the new Flash Player broke the internet. Not necessarily. When you consider that there are about 3.8 million blogs at WordPress.com, and at least a few hundred thousand self-hosted WP installs from WordPress.org, that makes over 4 million websites whose WP Image Uploader broke when Flash 10 was released. I’m not sure how many FriendFeed (FF) users there are, but there should be 100,000 or more by now.

The FF developers came up with an alternate image uploader fairly quickly when they discovered the problem with Flash Player 10. WP is going to release a workaround in WP 2.7, then possibly do away with Flash for the Image Uploader in WP 2.8. WP also has an alternate way to upload photos, through the old, form-based browser uploader, where you can only do one photo at a time. That’s what I’ve been using while I wait for the new version of WP to come out.

Still, when you consider that over 4 million internet users were negatively impacted by this new version of the Flash Player, that’s not a number to take lightly. I do wish Adobe had worked with WordPress ahead of time to make the transition smoother or to offer them some sort of workaround. I found out about this the hard way, and my guess is you did, too. That’s not the ideal way to do business when you’ve got Silverlight nipping at your heels.

Cannot change WP theme if Turbo mode is enabled

I’ve been wondering what sort of bug I’ve had in my WP installs for the last few weeks, and only now figured out what’s going on.The Turbo mode for WP is done through Google Gears. There’s a bug in the Turbo mode that will not allow you to change your blog’s theme. It works by not displaying the “x” (Close) or the “Activate …” options in the DHTML layer that opens up when you preview a theme.

Try it out if you want. Enable Turbo mode, then go to Design >> Themes and click on a theme that you’d like to preview and possibly activate. It’ll open as a full page instead of opening in a separate layer above the regular page, and the option to activate it will not display. In essence, you’re locked out of switching themes. You have to hit the Back button to get back to the Admin panel, else you’re stuck in a Live Preview mode.

This has nothing to do with file permissions, as I originally thought, or with corrupt theme files. No, it has everything to do with Turbo/Google Gears and the way WP implemented this. It’s a bug that needs to get fixed. The only way to enable theme-switching for now is to disable Turbo mode. After that, things work just fine.

This bug is present even in the latest WP version, 2.6.3. I hope it gets fixed soon.

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-22

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-08

A few suggestions for FeedBurner

FeedBurnerI’m a very happy user of FeedBurner, the wonderful feed management service from Google. I’ve been using it since early 2006, and I log on multiple times every day to keep track of my feeds. I’d like to talk about some features and options that I’d love to see on the site.

Ability to splice multiple feeds without having to add them to a network or put them in FAN. I’d love to be able to have a single feed that combines all of my content, without having to go through what I’m going now, which is to create a feed network, add my own feeds to it, and burn that feed to a feed… I know there are other services on the web that do this, but I’d rather be able to do it through FeedBurner.

Ability to splice external feeds (ones not burned at FeedBurner), into a single FeedBurner feed. This would work sort of the way that Jaiku or TwitterFeed work, in the sense that I’d take my feeds with very few subscribers, like my Twitter feed or my Vimeo feed, and add them to my single feed without needing to “burn” them as separate feeds at FeedBurner, and having them show up under My Feeds. I’m not really interested in managing those feeds at this point — I just want to add them to my single feed.

Better revenue reporting from FAN (FeedBurner Ad Network). I never know how much I’m getting, because the figures are just approximations, and the pay is somehow always less than what’s indicated in the control panel. AdSense always reports my revenues correctly, Amazon does it too, but FeedBurner always leaves me wondering how much money I’m going to get. Maybe I just don’t know where to look, but believe me, I’ve looked all over the place. There’s only one place where revenues are reported centrally, and then there are ad revenues for each individual feed in FAN, and still I don’t know how much money I’m making with my feed ads.

Ability to “refresh” feed flares. Old feed flares display with old preferences, so I have a ton of flares showing up for older posts. I understand that they’re cached, and they have to stay cached, because it would be murder on a database if the flares would be constructed dynamically for every feed item, including the older ones… But I’d like to have a manual “refresh” function for the flares, that would let all of the old posts and old feed flares inherit the most recent settings for my feed flares.

Ability to separate feed flares from the ads. I’d like to display the feed flares at the top of my posts, for example, and the ads at the bottom. Right now they’re together and there’s no way to display them but right next to each other.

The SmartCast feature is a bit confusing. Either I’m the one that doesn’t get it, or it doesn’t quite work as advertised. Here’s what it says on the site:

“Makes podcasting easy in feeds that normally cannot support it. Link to MP3s, videos, images, and other digital media in your site content and SmartCast creates enclosures for them automatically. Optionally adds elements required for a richer, more detailed listing in iTunes Podcast Directory and sites using Yahoo Media RSS.”

When I took my podcast feed, which is a simple category feed from my blog, and turned on the SmartCast option, enclosures for the media files linked from each post weren’t turned into enclosures. The iTunes elements were added to the feed, but it still didn’t become a feed that I could subscribe to from iTunes, so I gave up on it.

Now, a little more than a month since my last podcast, I see that I can subscribe to that feed in iTunes, and the podcast downloads just fine. But only the last item shows up instead of every single episode, or at least the last 10 feed items, which is the standard. Why? And why didn’t it work when I first turned on SmartCast for this feed? I can’t help but be confused by this. SmartCast can be a very elegant and easy way to turn a normal feed into a podcast feed, but it looks like it still needs some work.

Photo Splicer only works with the Flickr ID. The Photo Splicer option says I can put in either my Flickr user ID or my screen name, but it really only works with the User ID, which is annoyingly hard to find on Flickr. It would be nice if the User ID would be automatically looked up if I entered my screen name.

I know the FeedBurner folks will read this. They’re very conscientious and follow up on these things. I don’t want special treatment, but it would be very nice if they could consider my feature requests and see what can be done. FeedBurner has my thanks for a wonderful service!

Photography, take two, part three

This is Part 3 of an ongoing series of posts that outlines the work I do behind the scenes to improve my blog’s content. You can read Parts 1 and 2 as well.

I continued my work of replacing photos hosting with third party services with self-hosted ones. Here are the posts I modified:

This last post doesn’t use any photos, but I did re-edit it to make it easier to read:

As a matter of fact, all of the posts included here were either re-edited or re-written. I said it plenty of times in the past, and I’ll say it again: I want to have top notch content on my blog. I only wish I had more time to go through all of my older posts and delete, combine or re-write as needed. When I look back at some of my earlier posts (from early 2006), I cringe. They’re very short, mostly linking to other things or quoting extensively. That’s not the kind of writing that represents me. I’ll do my best to edit them as time goes on.

Better video

I’ve wanted to be able to post the videos I upload to Vimeo on my blog for some time, but the WP video plugins just hadn’t caught up. I’m glad to say that I found one tonight. It’s called, appropriately enough, WordPress Video Plugin. It’ll work just great for most people, so I encourage you to try it out.

I wanted to take advantage of the full width of my blog’s content column, so I modified the Vimeo code to make sure that my videos get sized to a width of 550 pixels and also stay centered.

I’m happy to say that I really like the results. You can see the modified plugin in action on these three posts:

Since I record my videos at a resolution of 640×480 pixels, it’s only natural that I display them at the maximum width possible on my site, right?

Something happened to ComeAcross

Something really good, that is. Over the weekend, I worked on improving the site functionality and on presenting a unified front, so to speak. I eliminated some sections, created some new ones, deleted tons of categories, and introduced some new feeds. The best way to explain it is to show you a screenshot of the sidebar. Have a look at it, then scroll past it to read the details.

The new ComeAcross sidebar

First, let me explain why. The gist of this effort is simple, at least to me. I’m trying to build an online brand, and it’s no good to have my online properties looking scattered and isolated, even when they’re part of the same brand. Second, I needed to value my work a little better, and to present it in ways that are easier to digest. I have a ton of content, but it’s not easy to find. I write on many subjects, but most people aren’t necessarily interested in all that I write. Add to that my constant lament about having too many categories, the release of WP 2.3 which allowed for native tagging, and finding John Godley’s awesome Redirection and Headspace plugins for WP, and it all adds up to some serious blog work that I’d been aching to do for some time.

You may remember I had other site sections just a little while ago, sections such as Blog, Photos, Videos, Podcasts and Faves. Those were located on individual sub-domains. ComeAcross resided under Blog, my photos posted to Flickr or Zooomr resided under Photos, and my videos posted to Vimeo or YouTube resided under Videos. The ComeAcross Podcasts resided under Podcasts, and I was using a podcasting platform called Loudblog to publish them. The Faves section displayed my Shared Items from Google Reader. But the problem was that all of these sections were separate. They were part of the same brand, but to search engines, they were different properties. I needed to bring all of my online content under one fold. I decided to do away with all of the subdomains and integrate everything into my blog, and that’s just what I did. I thought long and hard about this, and realized it was best to have everything under one roof, even though that meant my podcasts wouldn’t have a dedicated podcasting platform.

You’ll notice I’m advertising multiple feeds in the Meta section. I’d been sitting on some really good feed URIs from FeedBurner and not really putting them to good use. After re-categorizing my posts, I was able to re-dedicate those feeds to the my various categories, in order to allow you to subscribe to whatever interests you. I’ve got the main site feed, the comments feed, the articles feed, the photography feed, and the podcasts feed. It adds up to more choice for the reader. Incidentally, mouse over the articles and photography feeds, and look at the URIs. Isn’t that awesome? Can you believe I actually have those URIs? 🙂

Related to the feed changes mentioned above: my apologies to anyone currently subscribed to the following feed: feeds.feedburner.com/Information. I’ve been using it for my podcasts, but changed my mind and decided to use it for my articles instead. I know there were some diehard subscribers who stayed with that feed even though I put out no new podcasts in over a year (!), and they’re probably pretty confused right now. If you’re one of those, many thanks for sticking with me, and I’m sorry for switching content on you like this. The new feed for my podcasts is: feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul-Podcasts. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m working on a new podcast which I’ll put out soon (this month). 🙂

This brings me to the Categories. At some point, I had over 60 categories for my posts. What I was really doing is using categories as tags, and I shouldn’t have done it. After upgrading to WP 2.3, I decided to use categories as categories and tags as tags. I deleted almost all of my categories, and ended up with only five: articles, photography, podcasts, ideas and announcements. Now each one of my posts goes into only one category. Since I’m using tags as well, you can explore ComeAcross via categories, then click on the tags that interest you to get only the posts that you want. (I haven’t tagged all of my posts yet, that’s an ongoing process. I’m also displaying a tag cloud at the bottom of the sidebar, but I’ve got to work on the formatting of that text. I’m not quite happy with how it’s getting displayed. )

Finally, have a look at the Archives section. This is a small change, but it makes a big difference to the reader. I’m only displaying the years for my posts. This allows you to get a better idea right away of the spread of my content, and to explore the time period that you’d like to see. I still need to do some work on Archive and Category browsing, and on the Search results page.

I’m constantly working to improve ComeAcross, because I really want it to grow into a useful, well-read source of information. Here are just a few of the posts that talk about other changes and progress I’ve made:

Catching a code injection hacker in the act

Several days ago, I installed the Redirection plugin from Urban Giraffe. It’s truly awesome, in more ways than one. John Godley, you are an amazing programmer! As I re-arranged the categories on my blog, I tracked the 404 errors through the plugin. On Saturday morning, I noticed the following bit of information in my log:

You can click on the thumbnail to view the screenshot at full size. Look at the entries for IP address 65.90.251.169. Notice something peculiar? That’s a hacker trying to inject malicious code into my pages. He was trying to call to code contained in a text file by the name ide.txt located on a possibly compromised domain.

First, I checked out his domain, new-fields.com. It looked legitimate. The text file was another story altogether. Have a look at the screenshots above. I also saved the code to my computer in case it ends up disappearing from the hacker’s website.

I tested the code, and it looks like some pages from the podPress plugin are targeted or affected — at least that’s what the error message given by WP referenced when I ran the code. I had that plugin enabled at the time, and I’ve disabled it since. It seems that the code tries to modify one of the header.php pages, along with checking disk space (?). So I thought, let me find out who this hacker is. Apparently, he’s from Napperville, IL, US, or at least that’s where his IP address lives.

What’s more, I thought it’d be interesting to see who owns that domain name where his text file resides. It turns out to be one Samir Farajallah from Dubai.

So what we’ve got so far is some dude in Dubai who owns the domain where the malicious code resides, and some hacker in Napperville, IL, trying to exploit my blog using that malicious code.

Wait, it gets better… On Saturday evening, I have another look at my blog’s 404 log, and I find that some other hacker from Vietnam (IP address: 203.171.31.19) is trying to hack into my blog using that exact same code, but this time the text file’s located on some domain in Argentina. That last link leads directly to the text file with the malicious code, but it’s harmless if you browse it. It only works if you run it as PHP code, like these hackers are trying to do.

So far, it looks like I’ve got two hackers, who may or may not be working together, using the same malicious code, located on two different, possibly compromised domains, and trying to modify my header files, possibly to insert code in there that will display splog content or some other stuff.

Update: It looks like three more hackers are trying their luck today, on Sunday morning, 9/30/07. Their IP addresses are 65.98.14.194, 66.79.165.19 and 66.11.231.48.

What I can tell you is that they haven’t been successful. I checked all of my files, and none of them have been touched. Everything’s fine. At this point, I’m not going to waste any more of my time trying to hunt them down. If I see that the attacks continue, I’ll notify my web hosting provider, along with the hosting providers of the other domains, and I’ll also notify the ISPs who own the IP addresses used in the attacks.

My thanks go out to John Godley for the wonderful Redirection plugin. I wouldn’t have been able to catch these hackers without it. I don’t often check my 404 log files, although I should.

I’ve been working in IT for 13 years or so. Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m too honest for my own good, but I’ve stayed away from this hacking business, and I’ll continue to do so. It’s just not a sustainable lifestyle. I believe that the bad stuff you do in life will catch up with you sooner or later. It’s inevitable. These hackers will get what’s coming to them, and I won’t even have to lift a finger beyond what I’ve done so far.

The winner of the "Object-Oriented PHP" book drawing

Trevor Carpenter… is Trevor Carpenter! I announced the drawing on Tuesday, 9/25, and the deadline was the evening of Friday, 9/24. I’m going to mail the book to Trevor shortly.

Trevor has a few websites, and they’re all worth mentioning. First we have his personal site/blog, then his photoblog, called CamarilloWalk, his professional photography site, called Scribe Photography, and finally, Photowalking, a site dedicated to photowalks. Anyone interested in organizing such events can request an author account on the site and write about them there. The goal is to turn the site into the main place to check for group photowalking events in one’s local area. Pretty cool!