Kaplak.com wrecked, blog down

As you will know if you’ve been following my FriendFeed lately, Kaplak.com and all subdomains suffered a a major wreck when the server crashed due to the change of some hardware. What was worse is that the latest backup of the database turned out to be 3 months old :

I’ve now managed to reconstruct the lost articles on the blog – now in a new home at http://blog.kaplak.net (hosted by Slicehost) as well as the lost comments, partly thanks to Google’s cached versions of the articles, partly thanks to Backtype for comments to the latest article which was not cached by Google. Unfortunately Backtype doesn’t carry the accurate timestamp information of posted comments, so the timestamp information on those 6 comments remains permanently lost. But it’s a small price to pay in order to recover almost all Kaplak Blog data.

Over the course of the next half year or so I will begin to redefine the purpose of Kaplak (a process already in the works). To a very large degree I will have my hands full as a teacher of history and media studies – especially as someone learning and aiming to become a good teacher. But for one thing, I still very much want to maintain and improve my web building and web developing skills in my spare time. And for the second, I still want to explore the problem we set out to solve (“helping niche producers have an easier time connecting with their markets”), which in turn have shown to be a wide set of interwoven and ongoing challenges to be worked with continuously rather than just one problem to “solve”. In other words, the Kaplak site will take form and shape again, as we continuously rebuild.

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Work in the Kaplak Labs These Days

Thought I’d share a few notes on the things we test in the Kaplak Labs these days. Kaplak Labs is simply a WordPress based site in our WordPress MU powered setup, on which we test themes and plugins before we employ them on other sites. Right now I’m preoccupied with setting up a filtering process for Kaplak Stream. This filtering process aims to sanitize feed items and add some stuff to each item, which improves it’s chances for survival in the stream :

  • Retrieve all tags/categories from posts and create new tags/categories if they don’t exist.
  • Semi-automatically tag/categorize all feed items. Sometimes feed publishers don’t tag/categorize posts very well, and even a well-tagged/categorized item may have new meaning in a different context. We use the Calais Autotagging plugins for WordPress to do this, for the time being.
  • Convert all categories and tags to categories only, to keep things clean and simple. We actually treat categories as tags, though. Because WP categories is the more widely used functionality of WordPress of the two, we’ve decided to go with categories over tags.
  • Add link to the item source directly in the feed item content, to make sure (sort of) that it stays with the unaltered post when it is fetched and possibly re-published from the Kaplak Stream.
  • Cache all images locally to improve performance and avoid traffic spikes on source sites, when subsequent sites fetches images all way back from the source. Kaplak Stream hosts all images (for which we will probably be using Amazon S3) to ensure their availability for all sites which fetch items from the stream.
  • It should also filter out spam and duplicate items. We still have to sort out however, what happens if an improved version of a post gets fed back into the Stream. Ultimately, we’d like users to be able to tag and categorize items according to the contexts they use them in, and be able to retrieve these back into posts in the stream.

In the process of setting this up I discovered Yahoo Pipes, which looks like a very useful tool taking in an amount of data (in a feed format), manipulate it and spit out a new feed. Experimented a bit with it, and found it a bit tricky to actually create something useful, but will no doubt give it some further attention. We may be able to use it for something.

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Taking a Deep Breath

Preparing a battle plan for integrating WordPress µ (or MU) with our network of sites. I will commence the execution of this plan at a non-disclosed time sometime in the near future. The Kaplak Blog and Kaplak Wiki will remain online but the site in our root will be completely removed and therefore unreachable. This in effect terminates the old Kaplak site in favour of a complete WordPress µ install. We will work from there to rebuild the root site with new texts and the subsite network reachable from subdomains to kaplak.com, which will be known as the Kaplak Stream.

I’ve never done an install of WP µ before. I’ve performed lots of installs of web software before, but I have no prior experience with µ. Installing web packages I’ve usually taken the backups I felt were necessry but otherwise simply plunged ahead and learnt from my mistakes. I’ve always learned to prepare mentally for a one way process of steep learning dotted with the occasional tumble, which makes me spend days beforehand searching for other users’ experiences. A little planning and knowing the road ahead doesn’t hurt. So I’ve spent a lot of time these past days reading up on other people’s experiences and problems, to get an idea about what to expect. Unfortunately, what we’re doing with µ doesn’t seem to be the usual thing – so we will no doubt learn things the hard way, either way.

Here’s what the general plan looks like right now :

1. Install WP µ package in our root
2. Create the pages we need to make the root site functionable
3. Create the initial round of subsites we need for archival purposes. Every external service we use will be set up to feed a site of it’s own. I.e. all of our bookmarks will be archived from delicious, all our tweets will be archived from Twitter, and so on.
4. Install and make sure WP-o-matic (or another appropriate automatic RSS feeder) is acting up to speed. WP-o-matic should be fully compatible with WP µ.
5. Feed our archived streams back into one major subsite channel, which will be the Kaplak Stream, as well as to other subsites to which they are of interest.

This completes our first setup and the site is functional. It only starts getting interesting, though. Next, we generate any subsite we wish at a particular time by feeding it the appropriate RSS lumps of interest. For this work we will use Google Reader to begin with, with it’s built-in tagging option, which makes it easy to generate new feeds from existing RSS feeds. Each subsite aims to sell preferably one product only, or a very limited range of products. To begin with, these will be products made available via affiliate programs such as (but not limited to) Amazon Associates, eJunkie and RedAntenna, depending on the product. These sites need not be popular, nor updated or visited frequently, but will seek to stay highly focused on their subject of interest, in order to offer as rich a context as possible when they are visited, commented upon or linked to. This makes it easy and valuable for related sites and communities to tap into these streams, as they build up lasting value.

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Widget Test

Testing embed of early widget version, just out from the lab :

Great, it seems to embed fine! Now, looking forward to play some more with it, with input.

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