The server upgrade - why we did it, what's different, what is coming

Hey everyone,

I've received many questions about why we upgraded the system, and what changes it will bring. Though I have posted about this on and off over the last 6 months, I'd like elaborate here. At the same time, I'll update you on what we are working on, and what is different in this new system.

Why we did it

We built Bandzoogle in 2003. Since then, the fundamental way designers make websites has changed. This new streamlined system, using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) made websites load faster, and also a lot easier to maintain.

Up until the upgrade, our templates were still using the old school way of building pages. They were big and bloated, and every template was coded differently. Even though they looked similar, the code for each one was completely different. If we had to change something across all the templates it took days of work.

Also, the look of the template (like colors) were all hard coded into the page. This had several big implications. First, we couldn't match page features like the guestbook or calendar to the templates, so they were all generic black and grey. More importantly, we couldn't provide you with any options to change colors or backgrounds.

Finally, the software we use to build graphics stopped being made in 2004. It was no longer supported and couldn't handle the amount of load we were throwing at it. We knew any day in the coming weeks it would konk out, making it impossible to make any changes. It also wasn't flexible, to give you the kind of design options we really wanted. It is one of the reasons our templates all share a somewhat similar look.

At the same time, we're getting literally hundreds of emails every month saying how you want more flexibility to create your own designs, or tweak templates, or have designs that are completely different than what is in our system now. With all the factors above we knew we had to change the whole inner workings of our software. So in October 2008, we started full time on creating this new system.

What is different?

Two major things. We are using a completely new system to build graphics, and a new system to generate templates, text, and page features. Thousands of pages of code had to be changed, and your pages now run on half as much code as they did last week.

This new system is trying to emulate the older clunky code style and 2004 graphics engine. It is very close, but you probably notice some differences.

The biggest difference is when it comes to fonts. The bulk of our support requests were something like "my page fonts look different - fix them". Unfortunately, it is pretty near impossible to make the CSS based content fonts look like the old hard coded fonts on a pixel level across all templates. We are close, but if you may notice some differences like more or less spacing, bigger or smaller fonts.

With this trade off, we'll be able to give you tons more flexibility in design. Every aspect of your page features, from the color of blog titles to the size of buttons, will be editable without any code. These options will be one of the first updates we roll out in the coming week. So if your fonts aren't exactly as you like them, you will be able to tweak to your heart's content soon.

You may notice some changes in the graphics as well. Buttons may have a slightly different rollover effect, or the header text will be in a different position. Most templates look pixel perfect, but there are a bunch (which we are aware of) that need some work. Even with a month of testing it was hard to make sure every band name fit into every header perfectly on the first try with this new software. Over the next new days, these issues will be fixed and your images will automatically rebuild.

There were three other issues with the graphics system that we are working on. First, we need to re-add the colorization option for headers. This will happen early next week. Second, there are a handful of template styles that use wrapping text. The new system doesn't currently support text wrapping, so we are looking at ways around this issue. Finally, it isn't supporting gradient effects on your text like the last one did. We are working to re-add this.

We also had to temporarily remove the header/button font size options so that we can optimize their performance. They will be back soon.

In terms of page features, they are all new. Though we got positive reviews their redesign, we did get some complaints about the photo gallery. We removed the options for layouts in that feature, so that it now puts as many pictures as possible in the area available. So if you had chosen 2 columns of photos, it isn't necessarily retaining that format. Why did we do this? We, we will be moving to an "on page" editing system soon. This means that you will be editing your page, on your page, instead of having to click "view site" each time. The photo gallery is the only feature that was storing layout information within the feature itself. We had to get rid of that so that you will be able to drag/drop them on your page to position them exactly the way you want.

What's next?

Though this transition was bumpy, it now opens the doors to many possibilities. We're really excited about what we can offer, and believe that in the coming months we'll be able to give you a much more powerful product.

The first steps for us is to re-add all the old functionality back and give you more font options, so that everyone will be happy with their site design.

Then, we'll be opening up the options in the templates. If you want to keep things as is, you can. But if you want something unique, you'll have to point and click tools to make that happen.

We also have some code in the works to incorporate flash elements into your site, if you would like to.

These future upgrades will be almost exclusively in the control panel, so they will not have the same type of effects on your site that this upgrade had.

I would like to say a big thank you for all the members who have been patient with us throughout the update. It has been difficult, and we understand everyone's frustration with the changes it has brought to sites. We're working overtime to get things back to normal, and to make the "Bandzoogle 2.0" that you have been asking for.

Posted by Chris on 05/10/2009 | 49 comments

Major internal update on Tuesday

Hey Zooglers,

We'll be performing a major upgrade to our internal systems on Tuesday. This is the first step needed to put in place our customizable template system.

There are 3 parts to the upgrade.

First, we're converting all the templates and page features to CSS. For the non-techies out there, this means that we've re-organized the designs in a way that makes it easier to tweak their settings. Some side benefits are that pages loads a bit quicker, and they'll display more consistently from MAC to PC to mobile devices.

Second, we're moving all the guts of the control panel to the Amazon EC2 service. So, instead of a single server to crunch the graphics when you change templates, we now have zillions on tap. You'll notice that anything involving building graphics -- like changing fonts or templates -- is a lot snappier. We also added a nifty "preview" function so that you can see what a new template will look like without disturbing your live site.

Finally, Nick has updated page features (like your guestbook, store and blog) so that they are much cleaner and more uniform. The differences are subtle, but the overall effect is that your site will look more cohesive -- your store will have the same feel as your guestbook and so on. And, each page feature has been customized to look good for your specific template style, rather than having a "one size fits all" approach.

We're excited about these changes; they've been our focus for the last 6 months, but also they'll let us create a much more compelling design system for your sites in the coming months.

While we perform the updates, the control panel will be disabled. Your site should work normally throughout the process. We'll you posted with our progress via alerts at the top of the control panel.

Posted by Chris on 05/02/2009 | 189 comments