Good news: the forums are back! The bad news? None of the data from the old forum could be migrated due to the failed upgrade that tanked them in the first place. If you want to post on the forum, you’ll need to re-register an account. If you want to maintain anonymity, make sure you use an e-mail address not tied to a Gravatar, otherwise it will display.
As of tonight, Free UTOPIA! now runs on WebFaction, a new hosting provider. Basically, I got sick of the downtime and system maintenance at my old host and thought saving $30/mo on service would be a nice side benefit. As part of the move, I’ve updated the theme to a newer version and updated a number of plugins. If you notice anything wonky or non-functional, please let me know.
I made a few changes to the settings in Apache today to try and resolve some issues with memory usage. If you notice any odd behavior from the site, please let me know.
Also, my virtual server will be moved on Friday from a hosting center in St. Louis to one in Dallas to resolve some problems with frequent downtime. I’ll be updating the DNS entries in advance, but you may experience a few days of site unavailability in the meantime. If you do, just be patient as the DNS changes work their way around the Interweb.
There really isn’t any nice way to say it. UTOPIA’s new website is about as bad as the old one. Updates are infrequent and hard to find. Some sections available on the old site have never materialized on the new site. And playing sound the minute the page loads violates Web Design 101. The new site is the same as the old site, just with a fresh coat of paint. I say this in an open forum not just to complain more loudly, but because I think UTOPIA could use suggestions from all of us. Here’s my list.
Get rid of the new website. Replace it with a real CMS like WordPress or Joomla. Custom themes for either rarely go over a grand and both systems are very easy to update. As a bonus, the built-in RSS functionality ensures that we stay up-to-date without having to go back and pick through the site a few times a month. That’s really irritating.
Update it frequently. Task someone with updating the site at least twice a month. More frequent is better, but I’m figuring you need to start with a low bar. An inactive website makes it look like you have an inactive organization. That doesn’t help the oft-repeated myth that UTOPIA is dead. Post anything. Press releases, maintenance announcements, success stories… it really doesn’t matter so long as it’s topical.
Purge the superlatives and marketing-speak. There’s stuff posted up there that’s either technically inaccurate or just plain loopy. Examples: “You also own your UTOPIA”, using “you’re” in place of “your”, “until the speed of light is surpassed”. It’s kind of sloppy and I’m sure that you can get a few guys in the office to cook up something a little better.
Be more open with data. Hiding data doesn’t help, it hinders. When the UTA, “Reason” Foundation, or any the other anti-UTOPIA entities speak up, we’re usually left with a bag of nothing in defense. Provo, for all of its failings, did a great job of providing regular and accurate data so that everyone (including myself) could measure the performance and offer up suggestions. On that note, I would strongly recommend getting it together on the service checking tool. It’s been well over a year since you started on it and plenty of other businesses have such features. The missing minutes from the board meetings are also a big black eye.
Get social. There’s no fan page on FaceBook and no Twitter account to proactively respond to complaints. This is 2009. Take the time to setup and use these tools. They may not reach the majority of your audience, but they make a world of difference in terms of image.
Have some suggestions of your own? Drop them in the comments section.
This week has presented some unique opportunities for me in regards to FreeUTOPIA. Over the course of the two-plus years that I’ve been posting, I’ve met many people involved with and interested in UTOPIA including service providers, contractors and even opponents. It has not only provided unique insights into how the project functions; it has also provided a pretty strong professional network. With goods but affordable websites and a good host, which I found at this Hoster’s low-cost hosting guide.
On Monday, I was approached with an offer to do part-time consulting work for a UTOPIA independent contractor who also plans to pursue work with several other fiber optic systems. Their proposal was that I spend a couple hours a week putting together a “reading list” of what’s happening in the telecommunications space to inform UTOPIA staff of industry developments and help keep the project on-track. This feature will also be published weekly on this site (I’m gunning for Saturdays) under the Broadband Bytes banner while looking at fantastic themes for photographers. Jonathan Karras and Mike Taylor will still be contributing authors on the site, though they will probably tend more towards traditional articles and essays.
I was also asked by an author at a national telecommunications magazine to consider petitioning the magazine’s editor for a position as an article contributor on subjects related to fiber networks in Utah. Paid or not, I’m interested in bringing more information about UTOPIA to a wider audience and followed his advice to inquire about it. We’ll see if it goes anywhere.
So does this mean I’m selling out? I hope not. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I have been steadfastly opposed to running advertising on Free UTOPIA since it benefits me and me only. I don’t want the site itself to be a revenue generator no matter how tempting the paycheck may be. I don’t, however, have any problem with offering paid consulting services to contacts I’ve made via all of this work that I’ve done. I won’t lose any sleep at night over accepting this offer and aside from who’s writing most of the Broadband Bytes features, it should be the same old site.