GuildPortal Dev Blog

Updates from Aaron Lewis, GuildPortal Code Monkey

Posted 10/27/2012 4:38 PM by Aaron Lewis. 1538834 reads. Share:

10/27 Update - Activity Wall

The Activity Wall, a new widget, goes live today! It's like the walls you'll find commonly on social networking sites. It's what the old Status Updates widget was kind of trying to do, only it does it a lot better. It could also be looked at as a replacement for shout boxes altogether, since it supports media.

In order for people to post to it, they'll need to be granted higher than public/applicant access to your site. Here are some of the features:

Posting

The familiar WYSIWYG editor is used, only in a slimmer version. Tools available for now are: toggle full-screen edit mode, spell check, some formatting, insert link, insert image, and insert video (from either YouTube or Vimeo). You may find the area too small to work with, especially if you're inserting big images or videos, so make use of that full-screen toggle on the far left!

Adding Video

Adding video from YouTube or Vimeo is easy. Just go to the web page on YouTube or Vimeo where the video is shown, copy the address, click the blue Play icon to the far right in the wall editor, and paste the URL. Hit your tab key and you'll be presented with a preview of what it'll look like in your post, along with some options.

Most of them can be left alone. The one you want to pay attention to is "Play the video automatically on load." You'll probably want to un-check that box, else risk the wrath of guildies opening the page with the wall on it, getting hit with all kinds of videos starting to play at the same time!

The Next Thing

Sample wall postOnce you've added your text/video/images, click the post button and boom -- there you have it. Emoticons are automatically parsed based on defaults and/or any custom emoticons the guild uses. Clicking on the name of the poster displays the standard drop-down menu for doing things like viewing their profile, visiting their blog, chatting with them if they are online, and all that good stuff.

Images

Know how sometimes, you can put an image in a post or a news item and if it's too big, it'll stretch out the page, wrecking the design? Well, I think I've got that figured out now (and with all the layout possibilities there are due to customization, and the fact that IE ignores max-width unless everything's set a particular way at the parent level, it took a while -- that, and I'm dumb as a rock)! Anyway, when you post an image to the wall, it'll now do its best to fit inside the available space, without stretching things out. Notice: if your browser is way, way old, it'll probably be icky like before. So with a large image (the one shown is actually around 1200 pixels wide, in a widget that's about 700 pixels width), here's what a well-behaving browser will show (minus the purple arrows I thought were neat while putting the screens together in Fireworks):

But hey! What if the image is gigantic because there's that much going on? Easy to do with something like an in-game screenshot. And you might want to see it full size. No problem! You can click any images on the wall and they'll open up all sexy like in a gallery-type scroll view dyno-resizing nifty thingy. Stuff. Whatever you wanna call it. Hey, I'm not a writer, k? Anyway, it's got arrows (way better-looking than my purple ones up there) that you can use to move between other images on the wall.

The Morning After (after you post, I mean)

There are a few things at the bottom of each post. People can click on Comments to show comments or add their own. The date and time of the post has been sacrificed in a pagan ritual, making way for the more friendly "how long ago" display. There are tools to delete the post if you're a Super Admin or the original author, and if you're the author you can edit the post, too.

The comments are pretty simple. Not much to explain there. I thought about spinning it so they sounded all complicated and neat and shiny, but... Yeah. No. Oh, and both of those posts are from me. I talk to myself while testing, and for a reason I cannot fathom, I always revert to a despicable sub-set of the English language.

Future Enhancements

Instead of cramming the thing with everything I could think of, taking ideas from some of the major social sites out there, I decided to hold back and push it as it is now. I'm counting on feedback to direct the decision making when it comes to further enhancements for the wall. After all, there are things I found that I like which a lot of you might really not, and there were some features the big boys are sporting now that I really find... icky (who says "icky?" I do!).

So let me know what you would like to see done moving forward. Maybe WYSIWYG editing of comments instead of the simple type-and-hit-enter behavior it has now? Or automatically-entered posts by the site when people apply, add a shout, post something in the forums, add a news item, create a new raid, add an image to the gallery (all linked automatically to the source item)? Anyway, let me know!

Chat Updates

When someone requests a one-on-one chat session, you will now hear a... beeping thingy. Useful if you have more than one browser window open, are looking at a different screen, or have your head spun around facing behind you, like that girl from the Exorcist. I do that sometimes. Don't judge me!

Typical GP Chat

Also, on-demand playable sound effects have been fixed in guild chat. Type /sounds for a clickable list of the currently available ones. In addition, lots of little bugs and stuff were fixed.

Other Stuff

  • Many widgets have had their displays cleaned up a little. There will be more of this going forward, as we move to a more universally clean (and still customizable) theme format. This is primarily being done to enable us (and you) to create much higher quality themes than is now possible. We will be making use of HTML5, CSS3, and responsive design principles.
  • Quirky behaviors in some of the style editors have been un-quirkified.
  • Your hamster has been watching you with malice as you sleep.
  • The ability to add an image to a post via link instead of the image manager has been restored.
  • Many other bug fixes.

Posted 7/30/2012 4:22 PM by Aaron Lewis. 146180 reads. Share:

What was done:
  • The password reset e-mail was made to include the account names.
  • Header elements (H1, H2, etc) were set to no padding, causing them to appear flush with the sides of the widget body. Padding was added so it's not so ugry.
  • A bug causing the "additional options available" prompt to vanish when adding a new widget has been fixed.
  • A global guild bar (aka GloBar) has been added, which shows the count of members in the guild chat room, provides a list of everyone online, and shows how many unread web-mail items you have. You can disable it in your Profile settings if you don't dig it. Customization options are on the way!
  • Guild chat room UI bits are all expando-flexy now, so you can resize it to your liking.
  • The admin command /roomname in guild chat now works.
  • Apparently, Verizon is mysteriously cutting off e-mail-to-text service for random subscribers, making it impossible for our notifications to get through. If you're a Verizon subscriber and your texts from GuildPortal are not working, head over here for information on how to make sure the e-mail-to-text service is activated: http://support.verizonwireless.com/faqs/TXT%20messaging/faq_vtext_website.html
  • The news category selection drop-down, which appears when editing or adding a new news item, now sorts and also shows the associated image that will be automatically placed within the new item's body, if there is one configured for the category.
  • A bug causing the shout box to behave like a brat in certain situations has been fixed.
  • Several of the third-party components we use have been updated to their latest versions.
  • The alert window, which appears when a guild mate logs in, has been fixed so that it never shows white text on the light gray background.
  • Shouts were caching too long, so you wouldn't see them if you refreshed the page immediately after adding one. This has been fixed.
  • Member titles, set in member admin, have had their allowed length increased to 1,000 characters (5x what it was before).

Posted 5/22/2012 10:56 PM by Aaron Lewis. 241419 reads. Share:

Note: If you do not want to read through this whole post and just want to get to your mobile site, the address is your.guild.domain/m. For example, if your sub-domain is icanhaz and your primary domain is guildportal.com, your mobile site would be at icanhaz.guildportal.com/m
Phone showing GuildPortal Mobile I've been mostly working on support tickets and this nebulous thing I'm calling GP-5 (shhh, Sandy would be furious if she found out). Also, Sandy and I are really going to put our heads together to come up with something for the progression widget. However, with all this stuff going on, we managed to get something pretty neat out the door for those of you who use a phone to check up on your guild forums and web mail...

Now, a lot of people already know that GuildPortal can notify you of things such as when new web mail arrives, an event/raid is starting soon, whether someone replied to a topic that you are subscribed to, when your (or others, if you're an events admin) event/raid status changes are sent to your SMS-capable phone. Also, admins can be notified the instant a new applicant signs up to the site.

For those who didn't know about this feature, open Profile from any guild page, then click Text Messaging to set up your cell phone provider, number, whether notifications are enabled, and which types of notifications you want to receive.

Okay, this next part is a relatively big deal for us. If you go to your site's domain (like http://admins.guildportal.com) and add /m after it, you will be on a site that has some functionality of your full site, but has the added benefit of being much faster to load. So, if you're a member of the Admin Help Community, head on over to http://admins.guildportal.com/m right now on your phone and check it out. If not, try your own guild's domain.

The mobile site was written on jQuery Mobile, and so it should support the following devices with no problems (although not all the bells and whistles may be there on older devices -- like mine. Iphone 1. I swear it's gas-powered.):

The so-called "A-grade" browsers. Full enhanced experience with Ajax-based animated page transitions.
  • Apple iOS 3.2-5.0 - Tested on the original iPad (4.3 / 5.0), iPad 2 (4.3), original iPhone (3.1), iPhone 3 (3.2), 3GS (4.3), 4 (4.3 / 5.0), and 4S (5.0)
  • Android 2.1-2.3 – Tested on the HTC Incredible (2.2), original Droid (2.2), HTC Aria (2.1), Google Nexus S (2.3). Functional on 1.5 & 1.6 but performance may be sluggish, tested on Google G1 (1.5)
  • Android 3.1 (Honeycomb)  – Tested on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Motorola XOOM
  • Android 4.0 (ICS)  – Tested on a Galaxy Nexus S. Note: transition performance can be poor on upgradeddevices
  • Windows Phone 7-7.5 – Tested on the HTC Surround (7.0) HTC Trophy (7.5), LG-E900 (7.5), Nokia Lumia 800
  • Blackberry 6.0 – Tested on the Torch 9800 and Style 9670
  • Blackberry 7 – Tested on BlackBerry® Torch 9810
  • Blackberry Playbook (1.0-2.0) – Tested on PlayBook
  • Palm WebOS (1.4-2.0) – Tested on the Palm Pixi (1.4), Pre (1.4), Pre 2 (2.0)
  • Palm WebOS 3.0 – Tested on HP TouchPad
  • Firebox Mobile (10 Beta) – Tested on Android 2.3 device
  • Chrome for Android (Beta) – Tested on Android 4.0 device
  • Skyfire 4.1 - Tested on Android 2.3 device
  • Opera Mobile 11.5: Tested on Android 2.3
  • Meego 1.2 – Tested on Nokia 950 and N9
  • Samsung bada 2.0 – Tested on a Samsung Wave 3, Dolphin browser
  • UC Browser – Tested on Android 2.3 device
  • Kindle 3 and Fire - Tested on the built-in WebKit browser for each
  • Nook Color 1.4.1 – Tested on original Nook Color, not Nook Tablet
  • Chrome Desktop 11-17 - Tested on OS X 10.7 and Windows 7
  • Safari Desktop 4-5 - Tested on OS X 10.7 and Windows 7
  • Firefox Desktop 4-9 – Tested on OS X 10.7 and Windows 7
  • Internet Explorer 7-9 – Tested on Windows XP, Vista and 7
  • Opera Desktop 10-11 - Tested on OS X 10.7 and Windows 7
"B-grade" browsers  Ehanced experience except without Ajax navigation features.
  • Blackberry 5.0: Tested on the Storm 2 9550, Bold 9770
  • Opera Mini (5.0-6.5) - Tested on iOS 3.2/4.3 and Android 2.3
  • Nokia Symbian^3 - Tested on Nokia N8 (Symbian^3), C7 (Symbian^3), also works on N97 (Symbian^1)
C-Grade Basic non-enhanced HTML experience that is still functional
  • Blackberry 4.x - Tested on the Curve 8330
  • Windows Mobile - Tested on the HTC Leo (WinMo 5.2)
  • All older smartphone platforms and featurephones – Any device that doesn’t support media queries will receive the basic, C grade experience
There is a feedback button there in your member screen. Please feel free to use it. We would love to hear back from you on this. We will no doubt be adding more features (right now, only mail and forums really work completely, oh and the welcome message, underneath the user's start page for the guild).

For more information on graded mobile browser support based upon JQuery Mobile (which we are using for the /m functionality of your sites) library, click here.

This is not the regular update. There's just been enough testing that I'm comfy letting you all know about it. :)

Posted 4/16/2012 4:32 PM by Aaron Lewis. 143499 reads. Share:

Today's update includes the following:
  • A rendering fix for the iPhone (things were getting squished!).
  • The addition of tagging functionality to the custom status change notifications for calendar events. You can now include [username], [eventname] and [eventdateandtime] in your notifications, and they will be dynamically replaced in the messages that are sent out to the recipient.
  • A bug that caused the custom emoticons section of the control panel to go all whacky has been fixed.
  • Forum icons now align more towards the top, by the forum title. This will help with forums that have a lot of sub-forums.
  • Sub-forum icons will now show up when viewing them alongside the topics listing of their parent forum.
  • The standard roster will no longer show characters without names.
  • The control panel has been cleaned up a bit.
  • Blogs now support custom CSS + HTML.

Posted 4/7/2012 4:15 PM by Aaron Lewis. 26324 reads. Share:

GuildPortal has just been dramatically improved when it comes to using custom HTML + CSS. First, we've added a "Navigation" selection in the Control Panel (under Custom HTML). Clicking that takes you to three editors. You can modify the code that is output before navigation items (pages on your site), the code that is output for navigation items, and the code that is output after navigation items.

Once you specify the code, you can then use the Full Page custom HTML editor's new tag, $block[nav=html], and your pages will be rendered as the page loads, using your mark-up.

Also, three more tags have been added to the Full Page HTML: leftwidgets, centerwidgets, and rightwidgets. You no longer have to stick with designs that render the main widget body in a tabular format, and can control exactly where your widgets appear.

A new option has been added that prevents GuildPortal from rendering any style information based on your point-and-click settings in the Style Tools area of the Control Panel. This makes it so the only style info comes from your custom CSS, without any interference from GP, except for a few helper rules for margins and the like. You can enable this option in the Control Panel by expanding Custom HTML, selecting Custom CSS, selecting the Full Custom CSS tab, and checking the box at the bottom that says "Disable all GuildPortal CSS Output".

Finally, editors for all of the custom HTML, custom CSS and custom Javascript selections in the Control Panel have been enhanced with the CodeMirror editor, which provides syntax hilighting and automatic tag completion.

These enhancements, in combination with the already existing Banner, Footer, Widgets, and Full Page custom HTML and Custom CSS, provide complete control over how your site looks. Now you can bring your favorite templates from anywhere -- and there are a lot of free template sites out there. Oh, hey, and if you find any really great ones and port them to your GuildPortal site, share them, it's easy! Just open the Control Panel, expand Style Tools, and then click Share Theme.

Here's a snap of a theme developed using custom HTML and CSS from a freely-available one meant for a completely different system:

Posted 8/26/2011 2:04 PM by Aaron Lewis. 135191 reads. Share:

The new Site Mods system goes live with today's update! From the Control Panel, select Site Mods. From there, you can install them on your site, or even author new mods for others to use. A mod is any combination of HTML, Javascript, and CSS code that come together to enhance the functionality of a site it's installed on. They can be full-blown widgets, or code that makes snow fall down the screen during the holidays. They can even have configurable code so that authors can provide variables that an admin installing a mod on their site can change in order to customize how it behaves.

Widget authors can create widgets, and when they make changes, they create new revisions. Each mod (and further revision of the mod) will be reviewed by GuildPortal staff before being made available for installation (although the author of the mod may always install the latest revision, even if it's not approved, in order to test). Mods can also be given star ratings and comments by the community! After many years of awesome admins providing guides and help when it comes to extending the functionality of GuildPortal, we're offering this in hopes of making that development (and deployment) process much easier -- we're looking at you, Mottie!

Of course, for the scripters out there, the jQuery library is already available, and you can easily use it from your javascript code in your mod! Also, we look forward to providing service end-points that return JSON or XML guild data that can be easily consumed by a mod using simple jQuery get requests, and sample code to go along with it. Think of it as a light-weight API for writing your own widgets or extending GuildPortal to your specific needs, and then getting massive kudos for doing so.

Now, aside from that excitement (can you tell we're excited? huh??), we also pushed the following changes with the update:
  • Sign-ups may now be deleted by event admins directly from the sign-ups listing when viewing an event's details.
  • Aion integrated rosters are now working again.
  • Buncha other stuff for support tickets.

Posted 7/29/2010 1:38 PM by Aaron Lewis. 6000 reads. Share:

Forum and topic listings will now show the thumbnail image of the most recent poster next to their name link. This can be disabled by an admin by clicking the Edit button at the bottom of the forum widget and then clicking Display Options.

Only thumbnail images that were uploaded via the characters/settings page will display. Images that are hosted externally will not. This is for security, as browsers (like Chrome) are sometimes blocking pages that have images on them which are hosted on domains with a bad rep. If your thumb is hosted elsewhere and you would like for it to show up, right click and save it to your hard drive, then upload it in your Characters/Settings page.

The custom HTML editor in the Control Panel for banner, footer, and widget areas has been updated to occupy more of the available space, and the font size has been reduced a bit so that you can see more of your code at once.

When creating a new Ventrilo server, you now have the ability to specify which codec you would like for it to use.

If you try to edit the Footer Text under Style Tools, but you have Custom HTML defined for it, the Control Panel will now let you know, providing a link where you can either disable or edit your Custom HTML.

If you imported a theme through Control Panel > Style Tools > Browse Themes, it would not previously bring over the dynamic text banner settings, in order to avoid overwriting any existing banner. Now, it still doesn't overwrite your actual banner, but it will bring the settings over into your Banner Builder in order to make it easy for you to create a new dynamic text banner with the intended style set forth by the person who created the theme.

Posted 7/22/2010 2:29 PM by Aaron Lewis. 10058 reads. Share:

We've been pretty busy over the past week! Here's a list of some of the things that have either already gone live or are going live with today's code push:
  • 28 new themes have been added!
  • A problem with the signature generator import galleries redirecting to the guild home page has been fixed, and the signature generator has had some neat new features added to it.
  • Importing a theme was automatically centering the banner, even if that was not how the theme was configured. This has been fixed.
  • Auto-forum posting of applications, where an admin had previously (at any point) checked the box to disable it, remained disabled and the box wouldn't show as checked when they went back, so they were unable to re-enable it. Those who were affected will need to go back into the Application Questions area of the control panel and re-enable it by un-checking the box.
  • Integrated rosters for DAOC have been updated to work with the new XML structure that Mythic is returning, and they have been updated to have all the features of the integrated rosters of newer games (client-side filtering, sorting, and an updated appearance).
  • When applying a theme, users have the option to send a quick "thank you" note to the author of the theme. If you like their work, let them know!
  • When sharing a theme, custom HTML for the left, right and center widgets will now also be exported as part of the theme, and applied to any site that imports the theme. Previously these elements were not applied, so only simpler themes could be shared to their full effect.
  • Custom CSS additions are also now copied when sharing a theme. Keep in mind these are just for the "CSS Additions" part of your total custom CSS configuration. Total CSS replacements are not copied. CSS Additions only add on to the existing output, they do not completely replace it.
  • If you have supplied custom images for your tabs, you now have the option to have them display even when using the "Side Nav" type of navigation. Click the "Display Tab Images Inside Side Nav" checkbox in the Control Panel, under Style Tools > Navigation Style (make sure you have Side Nav selected from the drop-down list at the top). This will display the images vertically (top to bottom). Full default/current/hover functionality is supported.
  • Many, many new sets of forum icons are available. You can get to them via Control Panel > Style Tools > Forum Icons. Select from the "Available Sets" drop-down box and click Preview to check them out!
As always, thanks for choosing GuildPortal!

Posted 7/6/2010 1:54 PM by Aaron Lewis. 5962 reads. Share:

Guild newsletters are now available! As a site admin, to enable and configure your newsletter, open the Control Panel and select Newsletter from the left menu. Users who wish to receive your newsletter will need to enable Guild Newsletters in their Characters/Settings page and be associate-level or higher in your guild. Moving forward, we might change this to being enabled by default, but for the moment we're making it opt-in to avoid "spamming" a whole lot of people at the beginning.

Some might have noticed a lot of ninja-enhancements going live over the past weeks:
  • When editing a page's properties (Control Panel > Pages & Content > select a page and then click the Page Properties tab), you now have the option to specify a hover image, in addition to the previously available default and selected images.
  • The Banner Builder (Control Panel > Style Tools) has an additional effect that you can apply to the text called "perspective." It renders the text at an angle (which you can also specify using the slider).
  • "Nav Bar Builder" and "Navigation Type" have been combined into "Navigation Style" (Control Panel > Style Tools). You can now select the type of navigation you want your site to use (Nav Bar, Side Nav or Standard Tabs) and the interface will show the appropriate options.
  • The Content Boxes (Widgets) styling options now allow for an icon to be shown in the header, without the need to provide custom HTML.
  • The Forum Specific style tools now use the updated gradient generator/guild storage image picker, so if you're using images you've uploaded through the file manager, you won't need to go back and forth, copying and pasting URLs. Many image fields throughout the Control Panel have been updated to use this tool.
  • You can now provide hover state images for the following forum icons: reply, quote, edit, and delete. In addition, pre-set forum icon themes are now importing all of the images they should. Check it out in the Control Panel, under Style Tools > Forum Icons.
  • The signature generator, available in Characters/Settings, has been cleaned up, had some effects and options added, and has been given some more images that you can import from the gallery. If you have any packs of thumbnail images or backgrounds that you'd like seen added for your game, please let us know!
  • The GPHelper add-on for World of Warcraft now imports bank items into more appropriate categories.

Posted 2/2/2010 11:26 AM by Aaron Lewis. 125909 reads. Share:

Prior to today's push, you had two options: 1) go with the stylesheet output that was based upon the settings in the control panel, or 2) supply a complete CSS replacement of your own.

Now, you have a third option; you can specify CSS Additions.  These take the standard output from option 1 above, and add new rules you supply.  They can be entirely new, perhaps for custom elements you use in something like a free-form HTML widget, or they can be used to override only specific elements from the default output.

The interface for working with CSS Additions is in your Control Panel, under Custom HTML and Script.  Click Custom CSS, and then select the "CSS Additions to Standard" tab.  Further information is provided there.

Last week, we ninja-patched in a new feature that can be accessed from the Custom HTML and Custom CSS sections of the Control Panel.  A link is available that lists the current, standard GuildPortal CSS classes.  It provides a pop-up window that you can keep open while you're working with your custom CSS or HTML, and clicking on most of the listed CSS classes provides a brief explanation of what they are used for.  It's there to make custom CSS authoring a little easier.

Some may have noticed that the editor has also had an update.  Many issues with the previous version are ironed out with the new one.

Finally, aside from bug fixes (in response to support tickets) in this update, the Control Panel's left pane is now collapsible -- using the slider bar's arrow -- so that whatever section of the Control Panel you're working in can be expanded further, giving you more room.

Posted 11/6/2009 7:12 AM by Aaron Lewis. 5853 reads. Share:

A new widget that lists items that have dropped on raids, newest first, has been added.  You can head to your Control Panel -> Site Pages and select a page you'd like to add it to, then click the Add Widget tab.  It's listed as "Recent Raid Drops."

Also, the WYSIWYG editor has had some selectors added along the top, for you to select different modes that might make more sense, depending upon what you're editing.  For example, for most content, either the Wysiwyg/Html or BbCode modes make the most sense, BbCode being your best bet if you're posting from most mobile devices.  

However, if you're making use of jQuery or applying some other neat effects to your site (as an admin, since only admin-level content enables it), the Raw/Script view will help immensely.  It applies no formatting, so it won't strip it out, or in any other way mess around with your custom code.

Posted 10/21/2009 2:37 PM by Aaron Lewis. 124968 reads. Share:

Quite a lot going out with tonight's code push:
  • Cookies!  We're not sharing them, though.  You can have the rest of the stuff on the list.  They're soft and gooey, by the way.
  • Sent items will correctly display read/unread status moving forward.
  • The topic tools drop-down menu will now work correctly for all items.
  • The WYSIWYG editor will no longer strip out script tags when moving between Design and HTML modes.  Keep in mind that it will strip out script tags if you are not editing an administrative-level item, such as a welcome message or Freeform Custom HTML box.
  • Forum searching will no longer only search the first forum in the drop-down list.  In fact, the drop down list has been tossed into the back of a van and... well... we probably won't hear from it again.  By default, forum searches now cover all forums the user doing the searching has access to.
  • The web-based mail center has had the UI updated some.
  • Problematic text in the descriptions of members contained in the GPHelper LUA file should now .. not be problematic.

Posted 7/23/2005 4:21 AM by Aaron Lewis. 144605 reads. Share:

We've recently finished our latest hardware upgrade -- this one affecting every bit of hardware we've got running over at RackSpace's data centers in Texas.  New database server (monster thing), web, and firewall upgrades are done and the migration of code and data took a total of about 6 hours.  The DNS stuff took a bit longer for those living in parts of the net where updating of name servers takes longer than others, but overall it was a smooth move to the new boxes and data center.

We can't express how grateful we are to the members of GuildPortal who are spreading the word in their games, directly leading to more people signing their guilds up for hosting here.  This is especially important to us in the new games that come out, when they pull in people who have played no previous MMOG and hence, have not heard of us.  World of Warcraft is a prime example of this.

That said, though the traffic is increasing, it's not necessarily leading to a proportionate increase in the subscribers compared to the sites being used.  In essence, our costs rose dramatically with the upgrades (check out RackSpace's prices for an idea -- they're one of the best, but their pricing reflects it), but our ability to cover the costs hasn't necessarily risen in proportion. 

That's OK!  As long as the service pays for itself (and for food, etc.), it's all good!

But now a shadow looms on the horizon.  Our old friend Sharbel at GuildWizard needed more time to focus on other business, and sold GuildWizard to IGE.  Well, actually, he sold it to OGaming, which is owned by IGE (info: 1, 2, 3).

Typically, when you have a new product (it's not new, but its ownership is), you have a couple options when you want to generate some traffic in an already-saturated marketplace.  1)  You make it SO good that nothing else compares or 2) You offer it for free for a limited period of time.  With IGE/GuildWizard, it looks like they've gone the route of #2.  It's clearly a market share grab, and while it might sound a bit repugnant to some, it's standard fare and commonly practiced.

Now, what's scary?  The best product doesn't always necessarily win.  If you have a major financial backer (like IGE), you can hire a huge staff of programmers and throw them at it.  The product itself doesn't have to be good enough, initially, to pay for its own development, because your other product lines (selling in-game items, currency, and accounts in IGE's case) can cover the costs for as long as necessary.  Offer it for free, and you're a double threat.

Add to that the other heavily-trafficked sites owned, such as OGaming.  Leverage the traffic there (by means of ad banners directing people to the GuildWizard service), and now you're getting people who've never heard of your competitor (GuildPortal).  If they're not the comparison shopper types, they may never hear of or visit any other product.  Grab a big enough market share, and you may never actually need to improve the product at all.  One day, turn off the free offering, start collecting the data that guild owners are entering (like quest or item information, including drop locations and frequency), and you've got a guild hosting product that will not only stand on its own as a revenue generator, but it could also act as a data source for your game information/news sites (OGaming), and as a pretty decent reference when your staff of item/currency farmers (IGE staff) are looking for good spots in the games to monopolize spawns in order to sell items for real cash.

It all sounds a bit like conspiracy theory, and maybe it us.  But it also sounds like good business, if "good" means "revenue generating" and nothing else.

Why is it scary to GuildPortal?  Well, if they've got unlimited resources to throw at grabbing market share, then we may have something to worry about.  As I said before, the new upgrades to the service are extremely costly, and we don't have other marketing channels that can fund GP -- it's been self-funding since the day it went live.  It had to pay its own bills, and it had to do so by being a good product.  MMOG players are some of the most technical, skilled, and demanding customers I could ever imagine.  They've led us to creating a product that meets their needs, and we're grateful beyond words for that.  Hopefully -- in this case and in spite of a plethora of examples to the contrary in every market -- the best product will win.

Anyway, this isn't a press release or official statement from GuildPortal.com or Axiom Shift, LLC.  It's just my blog.   

Posted 12/22/2004 10:53 AM by Aaron Lewis. 27715 reads. Share:

Looks like there won't be any escape from Microsoft this year, as far as the server platform and development tools are concerned.

Every once in a while, I pay a visit to the “other” operating system, Linux.  I've tried different distributions: SUSE, Redhat and Mandrake.  A couple of days ago, I tried out SUSE and Redhat again, using Microsoft Virtual PC 2004.  They don't support running Linux in Virtual PC, but it works and it's actually pretty nice.  You don't need a dedicated box just to play around with alternatives.

The installation for SUSE was problem-free and much faster than Red Hat.  The end result, after about an hour (I didn't allocate a lot of RAM to the instance), was a very nice install of SUSE with KDE up and running with no problems.  Red Hat, on the other hand, didn't like the emulator's chosen video card.  I should have done research before-hand -- turns out Virtual PC supports 8, 16 and 32-bit color, but the auto-detect in Red Hat defaulted to 24-bit, which I accepted.  Not really Red Hat's fault, but with an installation that took three times as long as SUSE, it was irritating.

On both distributions, I started by installing MySQL.  Relatively painless with the RPMs being readily available.  I didn't allow the MySQL packages to be installed with the core operating systems, since I wanted the latest version.  Configuration was a different matter, however, as both distributions defaulted to not allowing the local machine to login to SQL.   I found instructions for setting up access on a website (not MySQL's), but for SUSE, the package to install the Query Analyzer (or whatever it's called for MySQL) simply didn't work.  It had dependencies that returned no matches on the web.  I tried Google, RPMFind, and some other RPM search engine I've forgotten the name of.

Red Hat's RPMs for MySQL worked great, so in Red Hat I could actually run queries with a graphical tool that made life a little easier.  In SUSE, it was command-line queries.  Fine. 

Apache was a pretty clean install, but for the latest version's RPM (2.0), I had to grab it from an RPM search engine since it wasn't linked anywhere on Apache's own site.

Next was MONO.  This is the Linux version of .NET/C# that Novell is currently running.  Used to be Ximian.  Based upon my experience with attempting to install it, however, I'm not sure Novell taking control of MONO was a good thing.  Let me just get right to it -- the RPMs for MONO are fragmented all to heck and back.  I don't mean the files are corrupt, I mean they have dependencies that aren't readily available on the net, and certainly aren't available on either the MONO home page or RPMFind. 

The result of my stubborness to get it all installed and functioning was at least a combined total of 20 hours of hunting down dependencies.  I understand that Linux/Unix folks see themselves as the “elite,” and as far as I'm concerned, they certainly are entitled to that distinction if they're willing to go through the serious pain involved in installing MONO and MonoDevelop (an available IDE for MONO/C#).  However, I eventually got MONO running -- even to the point where I was connecting to MySQL and SQL Server back-ends to throw up some data on a web page.  I never got the MonoDevelop IDE up and running, however, on either Linux distro.

I really had my hopes up.  It's been a year since I took a look at Linux, and I'd hoped that the plethora of open-source developers would have put some real effort into standardizing installation and distribution of software.  Heck, I'd have been happy if they'd tested what they had on a clean OS install, to make sure that all the dependencies for a package would be included in the package, or at least readily available.

Why am I looking for an alternative to Microsoft products?  We pay outragous fees for SQL Server 2000 and Windows Server 2003 every month, they outsource jobs overseas, and I don't like being tied to a single vendor.  However, 20+ hours of effort resulting in next to nothing means I'll be sending more and more money to Redmond.  Using Windows Server 2003, Microsoft .NET, and SQL Server 2000, I can deploy GuildPortal to a new environment in under 3 hours.  That's including installation of the operating system, software, and application deployment.

I'm not interested in recompiling the Linux Kernel or even seeing its source code.  I'm not impressed with the lack of up-to-date documentation or the complete disregard given to installation and distribution.  Finally, given the elitist attitude typical of the “community,“ I'm sure it's all entirely my fault for not being technical enough.

I'll be paying another visit to Linux next year, right before 2006.  Hopefully, “Open Source” will have nailed down “Usable Software” by then.  2004, much like 2002 and 1999, was supposed to be “The Year of the Penguin,” and it was -- the development tools, environments, and distrubitions for Linux really do resemble flightless birds.