Soapblox and BlogPac

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Jan 07, 2009 at 14:22

In case you have not heard by now, Open Left's service provider, Soapblox, is currently in serious trouble. Given that Open Left is the largest website on Soapblox, and that BlogPac has given more money to Soapblox than any other organization (for the past two years, we have paid the hosting fees for almost all of the fifty-state blogs, and also invested money to improve server security), this had me in a near state of panic for a while. Fortunately, the crisis seems to be temporarily receding--for now.

This is a reminder of how much progressive infrastructure is operated on a shoestring. Soapblox was run by a single person as a part-time job even though, collectively, Soapblox websites--including most local blogs, Open Left, Pam's House Blend, Swing State Project, My Left Wing--had more than 100,000 readers a day. As Matt Glazer writes at Burnt Orange Report, another Soapblox dependant site:

Our site, along with nearly 100 others, are run on the SoapBlox platform. That is hundreds of thousands of eyes across the nation who use SoapBlox and never knew it.(...)

Again, Burnt Orange Report and our data seem to be in working order and intact. But if SoapBlox is down and fails to return, nearly 90% of the statewide blog infrastructure must reorganize. Nationally that means state and local sites are no longer able to cover their state legislative sessions or city, state, or statewide races.

In the long run, this outage (temporary or permanent) directly hurts all of us.

Paul developed and maintained SoapBlox for little money and no fame. In fact, SoapBlox is just a part time job for Paul, and like many of us that do this, we are required to have paid full time jobs in order to maintain and run our online projects. Today highlight why this systemic problem must be fixed long term.

While everything is in flux right now, later today BlogPac will start a "Save Soapblox" campaign to make sure that this never happens again, and to generally improving progressive blogosphere infrastructure. I will have more details when they are available, but for right now, BlogPac is on the new Better Democrats 2010 page. I know we are in a recession, but any contribution you can give in this time of crisis will be used to help keep Soapblox operational.

Chris Bowers :: Soapblox and BlogPac

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does Soapblox want to be saved (0.00 / 0)
I mean the tone of Paul's posts sounds like he is tired of the job. I don't know but what I guess is he liked working on the software, but admin and billing and security and cust. service are no fun, if he is like most programmers. Everybody wants a fix but maybe somebody else has to take over the stuff that's not programming.

All that stuff is awfully annoying (0.00 / 0)
And that is an excellent idea.

That being said overall open left hasn't really done too bad I think.  Dailykos actually has some really top notch people running it and honestly redstate is more standard for the industry (If you don't know they have people who had basically no idea what they were doing and started a large project which failed spectacularly)

Shoestrings are perfectly fine in programming(but probably not billing).  You just gotta have the right people in charge.


[ Parent ]
There is talk .. (0.00 / 0)
on a DK thread .. about the lefty blogostan chipping in to buy Soapblox .. hopefully that can be worked out .. they don't know how much it would cost either

Save Soapblox, but make a contingency plan (0.00 / 0)

Hummm (4.00 / 3)
The most worrying part of the original "out of business" post to me is this:

All these hackers messing with our stuff, and we here at SoapBlox have no clue what to do.  We don't have enough knowledge, time, money, or care to fix it.

I ain't trying to rag on the people who run this thing. It's hard. When I started my company we considered trying something similar (a service for progressive bloggers) and didn't in the name of keeping our own sanity.

However, it doesn't make a lot of sense to have so much vital infrastructure in under-staffed, under-funded and worst/most of all under-skilled hands. Especially a centralized service that hosts 100s of sites...

But, if they're looking to fix things up. A healthier soapblox, and maybe some diversification of the technology ecosystem are Good Things for the movement.  

Me | My Work | Future Majority

I'd probably agree with what you'd suggest (4.00 / 1)
SoapBlox wasn't open - I love opensource software as much as the next technoutopian but the code has to be maintained by a large enough group of core devs so that not one crew of people is ever the lead for too long.  Here is Caleb's post on it.

John McCain is dishonest

[ Parent ]
huh (0.00 / 0)
So his boxes get zombied by some script kiddies and he wants to give up? He's pretty new to the hosting business, I'm surprised he made it this long.

His heart is in the right place, but you might want to find someone more familiar with running a hosting operation. Probably a fair number of newly unemployed people with solid experience.

Consider this an opportunity (4.00 / 1)
Hi all,

I'm a long time member of the left-leaning blogosphere as well as fulltime web developer (who is actually busy with work atm, thank you very much).

I have blogged about Soapblox's crisis today at my site from the perspective of proprietary-systems-vs-open-source, and there is already a small discussion started that gives some perspective on important issues people need to consider before getting involved with an content management system.

Additionally, on the subject of open vs closed source I think you might find this diary which went to the top of MyLeftWing's recommended diaries interesting. It gives an explanation of how an open source community ( in this case) operates functionality speaking. I ended up not following up those ideas I wrote about at MyLeftWing, but I think that it might offer some fodder for others who are thinking about evolving things. (note: the ideas are transferable to software and/or communities - apply them however you see fit)

openleft and opensource (0.00 / 0)
I asked when Chris and Matt went with Soapblox why they chose a closed source (and Java at that) platform, there were plenty of low-cost Drupal hosting services at the time.

But it sounds like this is more of an admin than a dev hole. I can't imagine any of the hacker groups developing a script to crack a niche CMS like soapblox.

[ Parent ]
this things is on java? (0.00 / 0)
good glory.

they should get all these sites off the proprietary CMS and onto something open. literally migration would probably be only a few days to get the script right. a few more to actually run the process and double check everything.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
Business model? (4.00 / 5)
Having looked at the pricing structure, I have to say I'm amazed this has gone on as far/long as it has with so few problems.

There should be a way to turn this whole operation into a much better self-financed system (through ads and subscriptions)  that can support professional full-time coverage.

But running a service that gets 8M+ pageviews from 100s of 1000s of users a month on around $4 or 5k in subscription fees (I'm estimating) is not what I'd call sustainable.

Unless you're way off on the traffic numbers, that means collectively Soapblox is getting seriously monitizable traffic. It's also clearly presenting a valuable service to readers. Seems like this should be a solvable problem.

Me | My Work | Future Majority

I'm sure you'll figure it out (4.00 / 2)
But how about putting the payment/management under BlogPac's control and having it be run collectively by it's users with you leading (beacuse your the lead writer on the largest site in the network) and you could pay Paul or someone else to do the programming end. Programming and management are different skills and it's unreasonable to ask someone to do both as a low-paying part time job, even more crazy for sites getting over 100,000 hits a day  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

this is not that much traffic (0.00 / 0)
what is it a couple hundred blogs or something? how much are you all paying for these blogs a month? One person could run this show with one or two servers and some back up storage part time. Sounds like the current admin frankly doesn't know what he's doing. Honestly, if I was going to get involved with bailout Soupbox I'd want new management. This shouldn't be that big a deal.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

I'd Like To Add My Voice (4.00 / 7)
To those saying (1) Keep Soapblox, (2) But look at having someone else run the admin side.

Although my programming days are so far in the past, I wouldn't even pretend to pretend a knowledge of potential downsides in the here-and-now, the immediate advantages of Soapblox when I first saw it (pre My Left Wing, even) made me an immediate fan.

The fact that so many sites now use it is no accident, and without very good reason we shouldn't even dream of switching.  We should be thinking about ways it can be improved--(I'm talking order-of-magnitude, jaw-dropping, OMFG! improved), and we should be thinking about how to pay Paul enough so he can concentrate on that full-time.  And have someone else do the admin stuff.

As a community, we need to give less to the Dem establishment, and more to building our own infrastructure, from the programmers who make it all possible, through the sites, organizations, and joint projects that can make it all politically more effective.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Sorry I'm Late. (4.00 / 1)
I started SoapBlox/Chicago, now Prairie State Blue, which was the first "commercial" soapblox with our first post back in June of 2005. I want to echo Paul Rosenberg that yes there is a reason that Soapblox has evolved to what it is today, and the reason is "user friendliness." Both for us and for Paul the creator. Now "user friendliness" is an almost ignored buzzword these days yet it is one of those things that you know when you experience it. Actually, it often takes a small bit of time before you realize it when it's being accomplished well.

Right from the beginning of DailyKos's adoption of Scoop I knew I wanted one for local Illinois bloggers. It was over at MyDD, where Chris and Matt blogged that someone pointed me to Paul and his blog then called appropriately enough "JScoop", for Java and Scoop. When I first arrived at his startup blog he was talking about creating different features already present in Scoop and I commented that I didn't think that setting up a Scoop site required what he was doing. It was because he was doing such a good job replicating Scoop in Java that I didn't realize that his wasn't a Scoop site.

Paul carried on a conversation with his fans at his early site as he added one feature after another, quickly over a few months there in early 2005. One conversation was about whether he should change the name. Would the Scoop creator be displeased that he was riffing off the name Scoop, he wondered one day in a diary? Later after the name change when the Scoop creator created an account on the now Soapblox, Paul got excited with concern. Why had he registered, he worried? Paul, you see, is a straight-forward programmer, without ambitions or agendas. He just wants to create a good blogging platform. Which he as done in spades, thank you.

This Soapblox platform is very resiliant. It has always had lots of problems, but notice that none of them are ever "really" serious. Irritating, yes. Serious not so far, and I for one am not expecting such. If you read Bruce Schneier's blog then you know something about security. He deals in terrorism, which is what hackers are for us, blog terrorists. What you learn is that terrorists/hackers are like tornadoes or earthquakes. You can't design them tirely enaway you can only try to mitigate their effects and you can only be prepared for the consequences of their actions. The biggest protection we have against hackers are database backups. As long as we have those then we at most lose a few diaries and comments, easily lived with.

Now the question of the future. Damn, if we could arrange to hire Paul and someone else to manage the business I think that would be very good. I am all for building a progressive infra-structure. Everytime I accept a Facebook friend I think, damn I wish I were doing it in our own progressive social networking software. Paul could do that.

Jeff Wegerson

This is why closed source is bad (4.00 / 1)
If the developers of a closed platform quit or get hit by a bus or whatever the users are screwed.  There is no way for anyone else to pick up the flag and keep running.

He was going to open source Soap Blox.  I don't know what ever happened to that.

In the meantime There's nothing soapblox does that Drupal can't do and it doesn't lock your content up where it's subject to somebody else's whims.


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