Gave up!

davert

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Aug 31, 2010
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232
I have given up on declining traffic in a unique way.

Some background: I started Corolland.com after I bought a Toyota Corolla, around 1999. I think the site started in 2000 or 2001. It thrived. Eventually, being too busy to really focus on it, I sold it for a decent though not incredible sum.

In late 2017, I sold my main site and bought back Corolland and Toyoland. The guy who had bought them had not changed ANYTHING but the logos since he acquired them, and the viewers had drifted off to the VerticalScope t-nation site and a new Corolla forum. I built back a little traffic, but I realized I had to have a more powerful server and more backup costs just to run this attempt at having a living forum. Nothing I did worked, and some older members did check back every week or so, but when I got an offer for it, I took it. That was in early 2019.

The original owner contacted me in 2020 and offered to sell it back. Again I tried to get traffic but it clearly was not happening. So...

I took the entire site static!

This was a fairly complicated task, and involved using BBEdit to do GREP-powered search and replace on the entire site at once (after I downloaded it).

I learned a few things from this. First, it's a LOT easier to modify Invisionboard templates first, while it's still on-line, than to do GREP search-and-replaces on 14,000 individual pages! Second, as I really already knew, forum software has a LOT of junk and in some ways can be terribly done, with large images restrained only by style sheets. It's pretty clear they are not really engineered with fast loading in mind. Third, when you strip out all the junk, you get a pretty fast-loading site — until you put ads onto it! Fourth, prune your junk posts before saving in static format...

Oddly, Google traffic has risen somewhat after this effort, though not that much. I figure it'll take a few months for the faster load times to matter. As others have noticed, of course, the main problem with page speed is anything supplied by Google, which Google then flags as “you should cache this,” “this is slow and poorly written code,” etc.

Technical notes: I replaced the search box with a server side include (I could have used php but chose SSI). This lets me switch from Google if I need to. I have a standard head (top of page), standard footer, and thought about a standard mid-page ad slot but never did it - wish I had. That would have been easy from IPB. The head and footer and search box can easily be changed without having to change any of the other pages. I also have a standard within-header include. At first I included all the javascripts, but none turned out to be needed in the end. I have not yet gone through to trim the massive quantities of css code. Some things still need to be refined, especially in the all-important mobile format.

Anyway, I thought I should put it out there for anyone who was saying, “This old, dead forum is a real hog of my server's resources.” There's a lot of good info on the forum, in terms of how-to guides and technical discussions, along with the junk. Was it worth it, overall? Maybe. Maybe not. We'll see what the next year brings in terms of ad revenue... but I also hated to see all the discussions go dark.
 

zappaDPJ

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Aug 26, 2010
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There's a lot of good info on the forum, in terms of how-to guides and technical discussions, along with the junk.

I think this is something a lot of owners tend to forget when a forum loses all its traffic. There's often a wealth of valuable information lurking under the dust. Taking it off-line is not unlike closing down a library.
 

Oh!

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Oct 1, 2020
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That's a helpful post - especially the 'I wish I had (or could have) done this instead' comments. I had not considered this as an option. I might have use for this myself in the not too distant future.
 

davert

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Aug 31, 2010
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Happy to answer any questions! I think I ended up using SiteSucker to pull the pages “as they appear.” BBEdit GREP is interesting and doesn't always act like I'd think. The really big lesson is "take out as much as you can BEFORE you make the static copy!”

That includes anything to do with registration and posting.

When I was with the main site, we had WebBBS (anyone remember that?) and a very kind moderator converted it into a database you could query. I think it's still there, but I don't think it works since the sale (for which I apologize to the world at large).
 
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Ingenious

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Not sure I am following this. Do you mean that you have basically taken the content, tidied it up, then made it static and not part of a forum platform anymore (not unlike caching a Wordpress site)?

Did you manually curate any of it? Like removing quoted posts and duplicated content?

I like the idea in principle as it's effectively archiving older content, making it streamlined and quick to access.
 

davert

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Aug 31, 2010
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Ingenious — yes! I did not manually curate, I think I should have done that, but I did not.

It is all plain html at this point. Same URLs as before. Very fast. No javascript at all.

It's not beautiful. I haven't spent a lot of time on the css. It's still hideously complicated in terms of the style sheets and structure. I've done what I could, but I don't want to spend hundreds of hours on it. It's "good enough." And I have a lifetime IPB license, so I'm pretty sure the source-code copyrights are covered by that.

It is, as you say, like cacheing a WordPress site, but I removed anything to do with registration, and replaced the old internal search with G-search, mostly because the internal search required the database. Now, no database is needed. The only server-side computations are for server-side includes.
 

Oh!

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Do you still have a copy of the database? You might have another go it at some stage when you feel more motivated. And, as for appearance, assuming you do still have a copy of the DB, you could convert the forum to something much nicer, then do all the editing of content before stripping out all the unneeded code, templates, etc., to leave just static pages.

Well, I can readily understand why you might not start over. But if I was to do this, given everything you've written, I might first convert to something like XenForo.

One question: how much space do the static pages take up compared with the original DB-powered forum?
 

davert

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Yes, I do have the database.
The static pages take up 867 MB including all uploads. If I ignore the uploads, 674 MB.
The database, just the database and nothing else, takes up 1.2 gigabytes.
The folder with the saved forum software and such takes up another 55 MB.

It's a decent savings but mostly it's server load and memory, and page load times.

Yes, it occurs to me now that I could take my time and do a better job of it!
 

Oh!

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Oct 1, 2020
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137
Yes, I do have the database.
The static pages take up 867 MB including all uploads. If I ignore the uploads, 674 MB.
The database, just the database and nothing else, takes up 1.2 gigabytes.
The folder with the saved forum software and such takes up another 55 MB.

It's a decent savings but mostly it's server load and memory, and page load times.

Yes, it occurs to me now that I could take my time and do a better job of it!
That's great! I anticipated it being the other way round (the static pages taking up more space because of all the added HTML). I was going to counterbalance my (wrongly) anticipated increase is server space requirements against the benefits in server load and speed, but it seems the static pages are all-round better with savings on all fronts. Good job!
 

davert

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Thanks! I suspect a large part is moving the search index off-site. I could have done a better job of it, really, but not bad for a first time! and there are lessons learned for anyone else pursuing this path.

It really amazes me how much junk clutters up the standard templates, I guess in the name of skinning to death. It would be very good to see a responsive design template, though, that is relatively simple, terse, and fast-loading. My experience is that yes, there are some forums where eye candy makes all the difference, but there are others where people just don't care.
 

RisingSun

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Oct 14, 2018
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Thanks for sharing this. It's good that the information remains online even if the discussion has ended. In the 90s, there was a Toyota Land Cruiser mailing list that I was on that is now archived and searchable (although I don't know if anyone actually does so frequently).

100 years from now, there will be "Early Internet" history professors who will teach what LOL and TTFN meant.
 

Jeremy8

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Mar 7, 2007
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I think this is something a lot of owners tend to forget when a forum loses all its traffic. There's often a wealth of valuable information lurking under the dust. Taking it off-line is not unlike closing down a library.
With so many forums dying over the last decade, someone should start a central site that takes ownership of them and hosts them as static archives. Essentially a forum graveyard.
 

Ingenious

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Also of interest here is, in the coming months, what Google makes of it. Keep us informed please :)
 

Threadloom

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So what will you do with the content? Are you hoping to make any revenue off of it? Will it not be able to grow?
 

Oh!

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Oct 1, 2020
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So what will you do with the content? Are you hoping to make any revenue off of it? Will it not be able to grow?
davert mentioned running adverts in his opening post. It will be interesting to see how that works out for him. I can see no reasonable way to grow it. But he seems to have exhausted all possibilities of doing this already.
Technical notes: I replaced the search box with a server side include (I could have used php but chose SSI). This lets me switch from Google if I need to. I have a standard head (top of page), standard footer, and thought about a standard mid-page ad slot but never did it - wish I had. That would have been easy from IPB. The head and footer and search box can easily be changed without having to change any of the other pages. I also have a standard within-header include. At first I included all the javascripts, but none turned out to be needed in the end. I have not yet gone through to trim the massive quantities of css code. Some things still need to be refined, especially in the all-important mobile format.

Anyway, I thought I should put it out there for anyone who was saying, “This old, dead forum is a real hog of my server's resources.” There's a lot of good info on the forum, in terms of how-to guides and technical discussions, along with the junk. Was it worth it, overall? Maybe. Maybe not. We'll see what the next year brings in terms of ad revenue... but I also hated to see all the discussions go dark.
 

davert

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Joined
Aug 31, 2010
Messages
232
So far Google has not really reacted. I am running top and bottom adverts. I do not believe it will grow. The alternative was not growth but death, really. Now it's something I don't need to keep an eye on, updating the software, paying IPB every six months, dealing with spammers and scammers and crackers (bad hackers), etc. No need to waste time and stress out over regular security updates to the forum software, either - and inevitably have to redo things when they change the style sheets around.

There is no reasonable way to grow it at the moment but if traffic returned, which could happen, I could always be ironic and add Disqus!! ;) (Which I used on Allpar in place of WordPress comments; it was definitely an improvement. I had a crazy long bad words list, which, being a car forum, included such terms as "EPA" (I could manually see whether it was an inane QAnon-worthy screed or actual commentary), Hillary (which dates it a bit), etc., along with the usual bad words. There are things that just keep coming up as arguments where one side is, shall we say, unwilling to consider that anyone else might not be an evil enemy of humanity.

In short, static sites are a lot less stressful for these reasons. Nobody comes in and starts spamming. You don't get people registering one month, waiting a year, then suddenly plastering the place with spam. No “girls” from “Ohio” with IP addresses in Russia. (Well, not Russia, I banned Russia from my web sites years ago.)

[relaxes]
 

davert

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Aug 31, 2010
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With so many forums dying over the last decade, someone should start a central site that takes ownership of them and hosts them as static archives. Essentially a forum graveyard.

I agree. A forum graveyard nicer than VerticalScope or Internet Brands ;)

I'll volunteer to do it again for the right forum...
 

davert

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Aug 31, 2010
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Update on speed effectiveness... from Google Webmasters Tools:

time.jpg

Seems like a bit of an improvement! From 300-440 ms average to around 70.
 
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