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Rolling Update Changes - End 01 May 2017

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As part of sweeping changes to be made in the next week, already mentioned in this forum, this is the official post that I will update. I will only update this first post. I will post a new post on the thread, alerting that I have made changes to this post.

I will leave this open for any member to voice their opinion, ask questions, but I will only answer when I have time and I will not debate decisions made. This isn't a negotiation. I will however, try and provide the lay explanation as to why a change is being made (I like non-technical, as I'm sure many other do too).

Changes are going to be progressively made here, whilst simultaneously things are being worked at the development site, testing done there, so forth.

The Why?

Every decision made factors into one of the following three points, all of which are about our majority user base (point 1):
  1. 71% of our audience is mobile users (growing annually),
  2. The features load sacrifice for our mobile users, and
  3. The feature is used by such a small member base, the cost to mobile users is not worth it.
Everything is about our growing majority mobile user base. Desktops are the minority and are no longer an acceptable excuse.

I will ad Googles move to split their index into a mobile and desktop versions, with the mobile index given priority and frequency. Our users find us primarily from Google. More users finding us equals more peer support -- our entire purpose.

The Problems

Page requests - Every unique item on a page requires a request from the server. The server is more than fine in delivering all these requests. A desktop high speed internet connection with processor has no impact on getting these requests fast onto your screen. For mobiles however, every request is problematic. 4G is good, but mobiles are not high power devices as the majority. The iPhone7 was the first phone (being the last model) to equally match desktop processing speed. That is a combination between using a small processor combined with high disk read / write speeds provides the phone its performance benefits to process pages quickly. One phone -- 2017. That's it. That phone base is very tiny in the scheme of the mobile market. Other manufactures have not matched that technology yet, let alone users running out to upgrade their current phone to a high processing phone. The iPhone 7 does not match current desktops / notebooks, but is close to some older model high performers. Until we see such phones in near every users hand, and in realism 5G speeds (faster than most fibre optic landlines), then it is up to a website to be super fast to make loading at devices super fast. Lots of specs at the server don't cut it for mobiles.

The average default page request for any default (stock standard) xenforo software page is less than 20. An important figure to keep in mind reading further and for when I release benchmarking images later in time.

Whilst we use HTTP2 at our server and for the global CDN, that does not mean mobile browsers support it. It also only slightly reduces the overall page size. HTTP2 helps reduce queries to combine many same queries into a single one for faster downloading, minification, compression -- faster user experience.

Page size - The size of the page determines how fast the page is delivered and loaded. As a result, the changes made are additionally aimed at reducing the overall page size.

Caching - Many a person believe caching is the start and end solution of all problems. Well... for desktops, absolutely. They have big hard drives, store lots of cached data and pose the perfect environment for everything static to be loaded locally via your device. Then we have phones. Yes, we now have 256Gb on the latest iPhone available. First time. Again, one device and unlikely most people buy the largest storage phone. Most buy the cheapest, which entails the smallest storage, more often than not. We load our phones with App after App, photos, so forth. Phones have a limited cache compared to desktops, especially the more you use your phone, the more gets dropped from your devices cache. Many often drop caches when you close your browser, to reload everything from scratch on next opening. Mobile browser caches are not the same as desktops. You could otherwise easily fill a gigabyte of your mobile phone in just a week with browsing cache data. We're in a transitional period where we grew web design pages to infinite sizes because desktops / notebooks became so powerful and Internet speeds so good. Then we all shifted to mobiles -- go figure!

Change #1 - Avatars

Avatars are a request intensive problem for mobile users. For each avatar there are three versions, small, medium and large, created and used, depending what page is loaded and how the avatar is used. Small and medium are the ones seen on thread view and thread pages. Large is on profiles only. So lets say two sizes for the majority of content pages viewed.

A thread view page has 40 threads. If each thread is by a different member, that is 40 requests. Then you have that little overlay feature using the last poster avatar. Another possible 40 requests if all users where unique. An avatar only loads once on a page, so if the same user is located multiple times, that reduces requests due to browser caching.

Besides requests, each is an image. This adds size. Whilst avatar upload sizes are limited, for a mobile this is still additional data that needs to come down that 3G / 4G connection and load on a tiny processor with limited cache and read / write ability, all in order to load the page on the screen.

Taking all this onboard, this is why all user uploaded avatars are gone. That leaves the site with the default male, female and other icons (these will be male, female and other by weeks end). This changes a pages maximum of 80 avatar requests to 3 (resizing a single type avatar) for reuse.

@joeylittle and I will be working into user info areas, more use of banners.

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Change #2 - Featured Threads

Other than the latest thread posted to the forum homepage, this merely replicates the latest thread inside a forum itself. Its just another system of content that needs to be loaded with little end result.

As such, @joeylittle has proposed much better ideas to me for its use of space to tackle new member welcome type banner / area for them to get the important "get started" type guide information quickly.

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Change #3 - Wordpress / Xenforo Disconnect

The system that linked the article system to the forum system is gone. It caused many a hidden problem, it was buggy and resource intensive. It was nice to see an amalgamation of latest content in one place for quick viewing, but all the same information can be seen via new posts and other search options you can perform yourself (say find all the latest threads only in x hours or days). Discover the power of the search functions you've always had here which is what delivered such content automatically for you elsewhere.

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Change #4 - BBcode Restrictions Removed

The system that limited the bbcode use for some features has been removed. It was overloaded with features not used here, all of which required a considerably large JS file to be downloaded to every users device to help manage the restriction. Because you have something there, does not mean you can start colouring post content.

This is not a creative forum, this is a PTSD community. Such creative liberties with such tools will be edited and removed by staff.

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Change #5 - Conversation Pruner Change

The conversation pruner that runs in the background automatically removes all PC's that have not had any post for 365 days (old setting was 3 years), including attachments. This removes a significant burden within the database and thus subsequent memory management and caching requirements, allowing far more important data to be in memory at all times.

This reduces our DB size and disk size overall, for content that is in essence, non-essential and of a past private nature only. PC's bring no traffic to the site, and whilst themselves are of no burden for load, old stale PC's become a burden to the database size and associated aspects of database size.

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Change #6 - Media Gallery

We've tried all various media options over the years, and none have really been all that successful. Some may have used the media gallery features, but the majority do not. The gallery got an image a day or two apart, here and there. Therefore it is really just another burden on the overall system.

Images are problematic in todays internet. Copyright infringement laws are constantly changing. EU courts and a recent USA circuit decision has demonstrated that websites themselves can be held accountable for copyright infringement where moderation failed to remove a clearly copyright image. No longer are just the uploader being held responsible, but courts are additionally punishing others. How long a decision holds, or whether its relevance is applicable to here, is irrelevant. The point is that people believe there is "fair use" of another's artistic work, and that is incorrect. People believe you need to be given a DMCA or warning of infringement. Wrong again... you can be sued immediately, and this is happening across the world, for infringing another's copyright.

If you do not own the rights to an image, then anything you do with it without consent, is copyright infringement. Even avatars. The EU is one thing, but the recent USA court ruling, a whole different problem. Whilst we're governed by Australian law, and so far here, such ruling only punish the infringer themselves... it will only be a matter of time before such issues become the website owners problem too, where other countries are allowing a free for all in punishing anyone involved.

Once image uploads are enabled again for those with such permission, they will be heavily restrictive due to the growing legal problems surrounding copyright that continue to play-out in courts across the world.

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Change #7 - Tags

Tags are gone. I've let them run their course, tried them, but very limited members use them or care about their use. That makes them noise and code bloat.

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Change #8 - Server Fixes / Enhancements

Server fixes now implemented. Server enhancements implemented. At present all attachments are disabled, except for tickets so attachments can be uploaded to help with issues.

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Change #9 - Style & AMP Installed

The basics for the style are now installed, as you can see. AMP for mobile search is now installed to help with Google mobile search. Modifications are pending at present for both desktop and mobile. Minor tweaking and other modifications are yet to be made.

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Change #10 - Chat

Chat has been removed from the forum home for mobiles only. Tablets and larger no change. Chat is accessed by the chat menu option on a mobile, thus reducing non-specific noise from screen real estate on mobiles for the forum home. Some minor tweaks to features.

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Change #11 - Page Length

I have changed the page lengths to minimise mobile viewing / scrolling problems that occur due to the often length of posts here. Thread view pages are reduced from 40 to 25, and threads themselves, posts are cut from 25 to 12, per page. Shorter scroll, more pages.

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Change #12 - Titles

Due to many an objection over the years about the automatic capitalisation of words in titles and how that impacts shortening and such, I have changed titles to what is called "sentence case" which refers to only the first letter being a capital, then everything else lowercase. Members have expressed this issue over the years, and how they would rather abbreviations being lower case if anything, and making more sense (which I do agree with). Finally made that change.

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Change 13 - Significant Minor Option Tweaks

Far too many to mention, but I have tuned the available options. You will see some new things, moved aspects that show differently, you may discover things you haven't had access to before, you may find extensions / reductions on existing set limits.

I will go through options and user group permissions at the end of this and list the current important settings applicable to users.

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Change 14 - Styling

I have made pretty much all the changes that I plan to make with the style. You will notice things are slightly different in a mobile within portrait to landscape, and certainly compared to desktops. As for background colour, I did play around with it, but honestly, the last 3 styles used white backgrounds, I see no reason why this one is suddenly causing issues. It looks clear, sharp, bright, for reading across all devices and screens tested. I think some of the issue may be that screens on newer devices are so good, they're simply too sharp when used with exactly what I'm aiming for here, being clear, clarity, easy to read contrasts.

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Change 15 - Premium Membership

I am very aware that some of the features offered to premium members, I have removed. Replacement of some nature sounds obvious, however, I'm also not going to rob Peter to pay Paul, and undo the entire purpose of these changes. Saying that, I'm not silly, and I have been enhancing premium member existing upgrades, such as 7 days has become 14 for edit and delete, image upload size has been upgraded to 10Mb so there are no issues for direct uploading from phones, and more. Don't be fooled that a 10Mb image is what we store or deliver to the user, it isn't. We allow it for simplicity sake. We optimise it down to a much smaller image on upload, then the Cloudflare service changes it again into the most proficient format and size based on the device calling the image from their cache (jpg, webp, png, et cetera).

I plan to add more features back to premium over the coming weeks, though I want to ensure that the features added are not load bearing on others, nor mobile devices.

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Outcome Results

To begin sharing some data on before and after, which everyone should be experiencing significant loading improvements, desktop and mobile:

Forum Home Before:
  • Requests 40
  • Page size 650kb
Forum Home After:
  • Requests 25
  • Page size 390kb
Thread View Before (no ads):
  • Requests 68
  • Page size 710kb
Thread View After (no ads):
  • Requests 26
  • Page size 400kb
Given Thread Before (no ads):
  • Requests 53
  • Page size 730kb
Given Thread After (no ads):
  • Requests 28
  • Page size 490kb
These changes have shaved up-to 800ms from requests. The average benchmarks measured so far are around 500ms improvement. Half a second doesn't sound like much, but that is at the server. At your device, that can equate to further improvements depending where you're located in relation to a CDN server farm. On a mobile, that can be a second or more faster on a slow connection and older device.

An A/B Benchmark, using 200,000 requests at 500 concurrent:

Before scores for forum home:
  • Time Taken - 47 seconds
  • Time per request - 230ms mean average
  • Connect time - 415ms average
  • Processing time - 120ms average
After scores for forum home:
  • Time taken - 30 seconds
  • Time per request - 77ms
  • Connect time - 60ms
  • Processing time - 15ms
Once again, for mobiles, time into the server and out, return trip, under decent load, is up-to 7x faster processing than before. Less load, less connections, equals more traffic passed in a shorter time. Faster page load at the device.
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Wha? Heh. Mumbo jumbo to me, so it will be an "acceptance thing". I'll stay on the fence and "hope" for the best.

If I lose my avatar it will be uncomfortable but it is or has been a progression anyways... just don't be giving us any stupid image things at all then. Just our name.
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