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Say It Right Series

"Scheduled Maintenance" - Behind the Scenes

Posted by steve November 26, 2007 in the Group General Discussion.

First off, my apologies for the term 'scheduled maintenance' being used to describe the recent upheavals. That was my idea. As you figured out, the changes behind the scenes were a little more significant than 'maintenance'.

Maybe I should have used the term we have been using internally for the last few months - Project Iceberg. The idea was to upgrade all the systems that are 'below the surface'. In theory the magnitude of this upgrade was supposed to be largely invisible to users.

Of course, the reality is that we've caused a fair bit of unintended disruption. I apologize for this. So let me explain a little more about what has been going on. Here are some of the goals we set for Iceberg.

1) Database Unification: This allows all future services to be tightly integrated.  For example, now you can access ChinesePod content via 88Groups without having to login again. There will be lots of additional benefits from this unification in the future.

2) Extra Content: we've had a lot of requests from users who want to be able to subscribe to extra content. By streamlining the way our internal systems handle lesson publication, we've made it possible to do exactly that. In the future, you'll be able to Bookmark these episodes just like our other podcasts too.

3) Modularity: We've re-designed the site with modularity in mind (the exercises in particular went through a big change). The benefits of this won't be immediately obvious, but we want it to be possible for lessons to be studied 'elsewhere', be that in 88Groups, or Facebook, or on your mobile phone. This is part of 'learning on your terms'. A more modular system also gives us a better upgrade path for making future changes less disruptive.  

4) Group Learning: In addition to these changes, we developed a step towards helping teachers remix ChinesePod materials to create and manage their own learning groups.

In the end, Iceberg wasn't as invisible as intended. There are still some glitches, but we've solved many of the problems created, and the rest will be solved soon, along with some fixes in response to longstanding user requests ( i.e. id3 tagging on "The Fix").

Here are a few updates on places people have had problems:

a) Vocabulary
The upgrade required us to migrate all your vocab lists into the new database. There are well over a million entries, and this is taking much longer than expected, and because it is server-intensive we have put a throttle on it so as to keep system resources free for site use. However, we anticipate it will be complete by the end of the week.

b) Extra Content.
The publication process involved remigrating all of our Extra content. You may have noticed that some was missing recently. It is all there now, along with the migration of all of the old comments.

c) Grammar Guide.
While we loved the content in our grammar guide, one of the weaknesses we noticed was that it was static: an online textbook. In order to help users make better use of the guide, we are going through some backend work reformatting the data in preparation for rolling out a new and improved grammar guide over the next few months. This is probably the biggest negative consequence of the change, but we believe it will improve the useability and usefulness of the guide in the long run, and hope you'll bear with us.

d) Archived Lesson Issues
The upgrade re-imported all of our our lessons into a unified database. As each legacy system worked slightly differently, there may be slight issues that affect different generations of lessons. We're conducting a site-wide sweep at the moment to catalogue any issues with missing or irregular lesson content, in order to get them fixed. If you spot any, please let us know.

Once again, I apologize for the service disruptions, and also for the patchy communications as we dealt with the issues. I guess we are still learning how to develop the site without compromising service levels. Thanks for your patience and understanding though. We are working hard for you.


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