One has to have some trust. If you are in need of any of these services from a third party, you are going to have to hand over credentials, in order that your site files and/or database can be accessed. An administrator or founder account on your software may also be required. With these, much harm can be done. Improper or inadequate storage of these credentials could also cause harm, if these credentials fall into the wrong hands, for example, if they are shipped-off a malware infected computer.
Who to trust? Only you can decide that but I do urge you to thoroughly research whoever you consider. Look for examples of their work. Look for recommendations. Ask people you know. How long have they been around?
Risks can be reduced by:
- Backing up your files and database immediately before handing out credentials.
- If possible, make a separate account, which you can either later delete or change the password on.
- Change the password before handing it out and then change it again after conclusion.
If you are unable to do any of the above, then you really do need more trust and you should take your time about finding the right person.
While this site is geared towards forums, I will also consider installing other software, such as a Content Management System (CMS) usually alongside. Popular examples may be: WordPress, Joomla or MediaWiki.
- You have made your choice of forum software based on your needs.
- You have purchased a domain name for your site.
- You have made a choice of host for your site based on your software requirements & expected traffic and have your DNS pointed to it.
In most cases, I will decline to install any software, unless I am satisfied that you will implement adequate spam protection within 2 days of initial setup. Believe me, within 3 days, you will be overrun with spambots, if you don't. These will trash your reputation before you even get going. Once they start, they will not stop. When they are successful, they will try all the harder.
Installation services are not limited to just installing the basic software. I want your site to be successful and I want you to have an easy job managing it. Towards this end, I will additionally install an adequate form of spam protection no, a CAPTCHA is not an adequate form of spam protection as well as any hardening, which may be prudent for your security and optimization of server resources. I may also create and tune a robots.txt file to ensure search engine robots crawl your site efficiently and effectively.
Methods vary depending on the software involved and are usually multi-tiered. I will not discuss these publicly as that simply tells the opposition what they have to try and beat. My belief is that bona-fide human visitors should benefit from 90% of the server's resources and not the bots. Yes, this can also save in server costs.
Installing software on a server usually requires:
- Creation of a database.
- Addition of a database user.
- Ability to upload files.
In many cases, this means access to your web hosting's Control Panel e.g. cPanel is required. Please change the password after completion, unless you require further services.
It is strongly advised to keep your forum software up to the latest version. Version upgrades frequently include security patches, as well as bug fixes. Once these vulnerabilities are discovered, hackers tend to try and exploit them. The second reason to keep up to date is that it often works out less costly in the end.
Upgrading software can be tricky and the amount of work involved can vary dramatically. Methods differ from one software to another and it may even break things. With that in mind, be assured that I will backup both your files and data immediately prior to starting work, as the upgrade may need to be reversed. Obviously, this means I will require access to both files and database (FTP & phpMyAdmin) and credentials for these will be required.
It is important to establish your current software version and any modifications, which have been added, as well as what the current version of your software is. Single level upgrades, with minimal modifications are the easiest, therefore quickest and least costly.
I do try, wherever possible, to carry out any work that may affect your members at a quieter time. I also try to keep the forum operational as much as possible. For example, a simple phpBB upgrade takes around an hour and can be done in-situ. I would put the forum offline for approximately 3 minutes. Please note that phpBB2 to phpBB3 upgrade is more like a forum conversion and may require multiple stages and fix-up to complete.
Some upgrades require a complete, fresh set of files. This means that any modifications will be lost and compatible replacements need to be sourced and added to the new version. There are a couple of approaches that can be used here and both basically involve cloning the forum or recreating it. This can be done either on a local server, then the files uploaded after checking or side-by-side with the original forum. I prefer the latter, if at all possible, because that allows the owner and staff to check the result before it goes live to the members in its rightful location.
Plugins, modifications and styles tend to be version specific. It is important to check that these either are or can be made compatible with the latest version of main software. Having said that, a combination of modifications may have worked quite OK with one core and not the latest one. These issues may be able to be resolved and they may not. A compromise may have to be found.
A small number of forum software upgrades act in a manner where the old data is imported or converted into the new installation. Unfortunately, this does either mean downtime or lost posts. The length of time taken for this depends both on the software concerned as well as the quantity of data involved. Each case should be looked at individually because it may be possible to migrate the data in two stages, hence reducing the downtime.
Our needs often change as our forum expands and matures. Perhaps we seek options not available with our current software and we choose to change the software. Perhaps your current software is no longer being maintained or is being withdrawn. Perhaps your server's Operating System has been upgraded and you find this has caused issues with your current software, e.g. a PHP upgrade. This is not as simple a task as connecting your new software to your old data; your data needs to be converted into a format useable by your new choice of software.
Fortunately, a great number of converters are available for the most common forum software. There are pitfalls though. A converter may only partially complete the job. Perhaps converting to a common middle brand of software may get us where we want. Sometimes, there is no direct path for conversion. This does not mean it is impossible.
Converting a forum from one software to another does mean "dead time" in the middle. Because the process takes time, either the forum should be taken off-line or posts will get lost. Sometimes, just informing your members what is happening and when is enough. How much time it takes is entirely dependent on: what you are moving from, what you are moving to and how much data you have.
Don't despair if a conversion path does not seem possible. If the data is stored as text, it is almost always possible but the amount of time spent in doing so, could be considerable. Please do not be overly concerned about cost here. Yes, it may take a heck of a lot of work but I do like a challenge and I do like learning new things. In short, I would reduce the costs to a hopefully affordable level.
This almost borders on migration. Migration can be used when the data is not readily accessible. For example, it is perfectly possible to recreate a Yahoo! Group in forum format, if someone were able to send me a copy of all the notification emails. ProBoards allow users to export their own data but not forum administrators to export the full forum and it is perfectly possible to stitch this all together again into forum format, if you can get sufficient data collected. There are plenty of options available to you, which I will not cover in too much detail here but do feel free to contact me and ask for my thoughts on a move.
Moving a Forum to Another Hosting
Moving your forum from one host to another may be necessary from time to time. Perhaps your host is under-performing, overcharging or does not offer what you require.
Moving your site from one host to another is not a particularly hard job but does require careful planning, full credentials for both hosts in advance and the ability to communicate backwards and forwards as it is happening.
You may want to maintain the same domain name and just change hosts or you may find yourself in a position where you also have to change domain name at the same time. These require different approaches. If you know how to change the DNS with your registrar, great but do make sure you are available to be able to do this on demand. If not, I will also require login credentials for your registrar.
The size of your forum is important. The smaller and quieter the forum, the more options there are. Depending on your hosts, it may be possible to keep your forum live and active all the time. Whether this is possible depends on a number of factors and having credentials for both hosts well in advance. I will need to set various things up and perhaps even test before I can give you a concrete answer on this. It is only really practical to do this with larger and active forums. Sure it could be done circumstances allowing with smaller and less active forums but it does involve more work and hence cost. Smaller and less active forums are usually better just cloned from one host to another. Yes, this does mean a few posts may get left behind, unless you close it down. Talking to your members in advance often helps smooth this over.
When changing hosts, it is generally not a good idea to tell a host you are moving before you have actually successfully done so. There are risks involved with doing this, which could render your site unuseable for days. Just avoid it, if at all possible.
Integrating Forum Software Into a Website
Forums and websites can feed each other. You may just wish a few pages to supplement your forum or the forum may be supplemental to your site. Your site may be static or it may be dynamic like WordPress. Essentially, these are two entirely separate things. To the visitor however, these should appear like one and transitioning between one and another, should be clear, simple and consistent.
In order to achieve this, common factors are required. It may be as simple as adding a common logo please do not refer to this as a banner or more extensive, like having a common header, footer and perhaps sidebar.
I will not design this for you but I am willing to make one look like another or both look in a format you provide or can show me. If you need a designer, I can put you in touch with one.
Software can often be quite basic and we may find that we need additional features or functionality. A common example of this may be a form of spam prevention. Most forum software has a range of modifications available, enabling us to do this.
Modifications can be referred to as MODs; the capitalisation is to distinguish between a modification and a moderator. I will often refer to modifications as MODs.
Forum software is designed to work as a unit and it can almost be guaranteed to do so. MODs on the other hand are usually written by third parties and by their nature are intertwined with the basic software, disrupting the original unit. MODs are generally vetted and approved, depending on your chosen brand of software. This is good because if something was likely to become broken or cause a security issue, then it should not be offered and used.
Before choosing any MOD, it is important to verify that it will work with the current version of software. When software is upgraded, old MODs can break it, if a form of incompatibility is created.
It is also important to understand that one MOD can affect the operation of another MOD. The common result is not just a feature not working but some or all pages either being blank or showing a 500 error. It is not always possible to make them play nicely with each other.
I will avoid installing modifications, which have not been tested and approved with the current version of the core software. This is not a hard and fast rule but it does help ensure it should work correctly, once the time and effort have been expended installing it. It is up to the MOD author to resolve any issues with the MOD itself and while I will take a look at trying to make something work correctly, it really is better if the author does this themselves. The author should support their own MOD.
The more MODs a site may have, the more troublesome and time-consuming it will be to upgrade the forum. This is worth bearing in mind too. Keeping things as simple as possible, is always good.
The amount of time spent installing a MOD can vary between a few minutes to over an hour, depending on its complexity. Installing all MODs at the same time works out more cost-effective as some of the basics overlap, e.g. obtaining credentials, setting up software, backing up the files and data, etc. Installing MODs likely also require some downtime. It may be better to confine this downtime or series of downtimes to one period, causing the least disruption to your members. As with upgrades, I will try and do these at quieter times for your site.
Having defined MODs at the outset of this section, there are modifications which I consider almost too trivial to qualify for the full name of "MOD". Small code edits or additions, I almost overlook but some may refer to these as full blown MODs. This could be as small as changing the separator in a page's title.
So, before you get your hopes up or start adding 100 MODs to a forum, please make sure what you choose will actually work and it is kept as simple as realistically possible. Yes, I could test MODs for you but I would have to charge for this time, whether successful or not and charging for something that does not work out, does not sit well with me.
Customizing and Creating Styles
I am not an artist or a designer but I do have a good eye. If you are in need of one, I can put you in touch. Beware though because the whole process could work out very costly as it can take a long time to completely create a custom style. Instead, I suggest searching for one or more that meets some of your needs and then modifying to suit. This I can do for you.
Styles sometimes referred to as themes or templates are usually version specific. The templates are integral to the operation of your software. If your software uses skins, a skin is not a functional part of your software and, while something may look odd, it shouldn't break it. Styles can usually be upgraded, so they are compatible with your version of software but the further apart the version numbers, the longer it will take to update. With major version changes, it may not be possible to upgrade a style and instead a new one will need to be used, customizing it to your needs.
If you observe successful forums, you will notice that they only use one style and keep that style for many years. Add to this the fact that a style needs to be upgraded at the same time as the forum software and you will easily see that multiple styles is not the most cost-effective way to go. I do agree that supplied styles can be very boring and it is good to individualize a forum but my strong advice is to stick to a single custom style and keep it right up to date with your software.
Strictly speaking, you should not need this service as software does not suddenly break. There is always a cause or a reason but this may not be obvious. Common reasons include: a MOD which has become incompatible with your installation, a failed attempt to add a MOD, a syntax error made, while editing something, etc. Really, you should be aware of what likely caused the issue. It may also be that your host has upgraded something and this in turn caused your forum to malfunction. e.g. a PHP upgrade performed by your host causing inability to login with SMF 1.1.x.
This almost makes troublehooting a catch-all service. Something is broken and you would like it not to be.
Sometimes troubleshooting can be quick, sometimes it can take hours, sometimes it may even be impossible to resolve and either a compromise or workaround solution may be required. Usually, it is not possible to know how long it will take.
Perhaps the cause of flaky behavior or reports from members that they end up somewhere unexpected is that your site has been compromised and malicious code added. Something like this needs both a swift diagnosis and action taken. The first thing I am going to ask for is a copy of your latest backup. Have you got one? Is it recent? Sadly, I often find the answer is no. Your members need protected from the malware and so does your site's reputation. If a swift resolution is not possible, then your site may have to be temporarily closed. Options do exist to apply your data to a clean and fresh set of files but the malware may in turn affect them. Options also exist to clean the affected files and later restore them. While you may be able to ask your host for a restoral, that will depend on whether they have one, how current it is and how long it will take them to perform the restore. Inevitably, there will be loss. Cleaning up what you have, usually incurs no loss of data or file changes. Additionally, finding and preventing the cause is an important task to ensure this does not recur however, it is possible that on a shared hosting, the cause is not with your own installation and prevention is then the responsibility of your host.
If you choose to use this service, expect me to want to have a look at things before I can give any estimation of cost. I may even be able to resolve the issue for you, as a part of that initial investigation. If I find malware of any sort, I will not delay by taking time out to inform you, if I can resolve the issue swiftly; instead I will just get on with it.
Mostly troubleshooting and repair go hand in hand, as it may take some alterations to track down an issue, which in turn resolve the problem.
Data Backup, Restore or Recovery
Please do not rely on your host to either: have a backup of your site, have a recent backup of your site or act swiftly. A great many times I have seen this fail or incur huge loss. Instead take your own backups and keep copies in different locations. I can assist with this by creating an automated backup system for you, if your host accomodates or allows. It will then be up to you to take local copies for yourself. If you have a recent backup already on your server and need to restore, this is quickest possible method.
Some brands of forum software offer a backup facility from the Admin Control Panel. These are usually very basic and functional if your database is not large. It is possible for such a system to appear to create a backup for you and yet for that backup to be incomplete. It is also possible that any built-in restoral facility will fail, if your database is large.
Restoring a database should not be taken lightly. You are definitely going to lose data. Instead, it may be possible to repair your data, enabling you to carry on either with minimal or without loss. Careful assessment is required before any action is taken. Additionally, the database you intend replacing, should be backed up before any restoral. It is likely possible but may not be practical to recover the lost data and merge it back in.
Attempting to restore a large database on your average server can be troublesome. Servers have limitations in place, which may prevent full import. You end up with less of a database than you started with! If this happened to you, I can help you. Upload your good copy of your database to your server and contact me. If you want swift action, include credentials.
If you lost data somehow, it may be possible to recover it. For example, if your host has the MySQL binary log both enabled and accessible to you, it may be possible to recreate your data.
If you act swiftly, you can recruit your members' help by asking them to put their browser offline and save any cached pages they may have as "HTML only" in a folder entitled the name of their browser, e.g. IE11 or FF30. Using Google's cache, other pages may become available, that can likewise be saved but again it is helpful if these are stored in a folder by browser, with an additional label, e.g. Google. Do not forget that Bing also provides cached pages but search engine cached pages can begin to disappear after a couple of days. Finally, there is the WayBackMachine. Yes, I am saying that I can create categories, forums, topics, posts, members, etc. from saved HTML files. I am not saying this is either an easy or inexpensive thing to do but you may find yourself in a position where that is your only option and you are willing to recover what you can.
Cached data, will take a while to collect and the sooner this process is started, the more that is likely to be gained from it. Please contact me, once you have this underway and I will see if I will be able to assist you with this. Additionally, please let me know what brand of software you are using and its version. Organise your members to zip their folders and send them to you. In turn, you can upload these to your hosting, where I can later retrieve them. To be clear: do not email them to me. Do not be concerned about duplication. This is inevitable and I will remove 100% duplicates, when discovered. Because I will process these files all at the same time, a decision has to be made when to start this process because any later findings will have to be processed separately. As the whole process may take a week, doubling this time is not reasonable.
I hate to see forums lose their data and I really quite enjoy doing work like this. It may be intense and at other times have long delays. I will cut costs, just to get the job done for you.
Administrator or Server Services
I don't like making choices or recommendations for people because I may never gain the full set of requirements, the requirements may change or the item supplied either changes or another supplier provides better at some future point. The choice and decision, I will always leave up to you. I am however happy to assist in the process by narrowing a choice or acting as a sounding-board for ideas. For example, I will not recommend a host but I am happy to tell you that this site, support forum and many others are hosted on Dreamhost (unspoken, try it for yourself and see what you think). I will not choose a domain name for you but I can make some helpful suggestions on what to do and what not to do. e.g. avoid the word "forum" in the URL.
Perhaps you want to run a website or forum and either cannot or do not wish to deal with the routine tasks of keeping your domain name registered, hosting paid for, excluding bad bots, taming good bots, looking after your AdSense account, if you have one. This can amount to a huge amount of time, depending on circumstances or a little time here and there, so each case is individual and requires discussion followed by agreement before we embark on this.
Most people will only want a part or parts of what may be entitled Webmaster Services. For most, if there is a server issue, that will be down to the host to resolve. However, what may appear to be a server issue may well not be. The most common cause of a slow server is being overrun by bots and spiders. If these have never ever been tamed, up to 80% of a server's resources can be clawed back. Some people may just be told by their hosts that their site has outgrown their hosting and they need to upgrade. Some people will do just that rather than resolve what is causing the slowness.
Knowing how to speak to hosts can make a big difference. A vague support ticket filed will take a while to be responded to and then really nothing can be answered because they have been given nothing to go on. They are not mind-readers and do not have all day to guess. The response will either be vague in return or asking a whole series of questions. If these questions are answered in the inital ticket, there is every chance the issue is resolved before that ticket is replied to.
These services likely include timeous software upgrades and clearing out the security risks associated with any obsolete files, users or data. Broken links do your reputation no good whatsoever, and these should either be fixed, 301ed or removed. Redirecting WWW to non-WWW or vice-versa, could double your ranking if both exist. Occasionally testing and optimising your database/s will ensure things run as fast and smooth as possible.
Being a webmaster is not a "throw it up and forget it" job, it is a continuous and often daily essential chore, keeping everything in the best way possible.