Moving TCL: Update on Progress

DiscoverChoc

The Journey So Far

I wrote back in September that I was asked to move TheChocolateLife off the Maven network. I have bittersweet feelings about moving TheChocolateLife to Maven in the first place, mostly about representations made by senior management that never materialized. I have been an early adopter of many technologies during my career. Sometimes that’s a good thing.

And sometimes it’s not a good thing.

So while I am happy at one level to have the work I did building TheChocolateLife community first on Ning and then on Jamroom catch the eye of the Maven team back in early 2017, I am unhappy with most other aspects of its tenure on Maven. I felt like I was trying to roll a melting brigadeiro uphill, with a chopstick. 

The move off Maven has become just one more reason I will not be sorry to incinerate my 2020 calendar. (I actually do plan to print out the weeks from March 16 through December 31 2020 and individually torch each in a ritual farewell on New Year’s day.)

The Process

After weeks of research I reached a decision on a new home for TheChocolateLife – Ghost, an open-source platform.

I made the decision not to move everything back to Jamroom because I felt restricted by the visual qualities of the tools. I wanted something more modern, I wanted something that was more easily extensible and supported by a large community of developers, and I found a theme and a developer to help me make the move. I also wanted something with much easier to use editorial and administrative interfaces than Wordpress, which I also felt suffered from security issues related to plugins. I also needed to get off a platform where all of the design and technical decisions regarding upgrades were being made for teams of editors and writers, not for solo-practitioners like myself.

However, in making the decision to move to Ghost I lost the integrated comments system of Jamroom and now rely on the Disqus platform. That move is offset, I feel, because TheChocolateLife on Maven became a huge target for post and comment spam. Dealing with it was a major hassle (Akismet integration was abysmal and notifications left a lot to be desired) and I never felt I was in control of the problem. One result is TheChocolateLife on Ghost has a lot more pre-moderation than it has ever had in its history.

UPDATE on COMMENTS (12/28): I found an alternative commenting platform that is integrated with the Ghost membership system and so I am going to be using that instead of Disqus. This means all members (free and paid) will be able to comment on posts without having to create an account on another platform. I am unsure of the monthly cost differential, but the time savings of not having to jump into an entirely different system will more than make up for it.

At the same time, having an integrated payment gateway – Stripe – makes it easy to offer multiple levels of site membership, including one free and two paid. As has been the case since day one back in 2008, content on TheChocolateLife will continue to be free; but I can now easily offer paid members-only content options without having to use an external platform like Patreon. 

Plus, there are no ads being served on TheChocolateLife – ads over which I had little control and made nothing from. Double-plus: Ghost drops a minimal number of cookies with no third-party tracking cookies. Maven dropped well over a hundred.

Where Things Stand Right Now – Sunday, December 27th

I had hoped to export all of the content off the Maven site, validate it, and import it into Ghost on December by 22nd or 23rd.

Just as we were getting ready to do that I noticed a major flaw in the export files I was given. Rather than having the media (photos and videos) stored on a local server, all of the media references were to a Maven CDN (content delivery network). This meant that when (not if) Maven made any changes to that server all of the media on TheChocolateLife would be replaced with broken links icons.

Of course, the engineer at Maven in charge of the export script took the week of Christmas off and is not returning until tomorrow. And, there is a code freeze at Maven for the week of New Year. This means that even if the export script gets fixed in the upcoming week it won’t be pushed into production until January 4th and the earliest date by which I can expect to get a new export file is the 4th. Once I get the file, it will take a couple of days to validate the file, import it into Ghost, and make sure everything works properly. Once that is done it is necessary to switch DNS, configure the server to handle the change, finish installing the SSL certificate, and take care of a small handful of other technical details before Maven can redirect traffic from foodmaven.io/thechocolatelife to TheChocolateLife.com.

Assuming nothing else goes wrong with the export/import, I hope to have moved completely off Maven and having TheChocolateLife live by the end of the first week of January.

A Preview of The New New TheChocolateLife on Ghost

The first image below is the same as the one at the top of the article – I inserted it here so you don’t have to scroll to the top . It shows what home page of TheChocolateLife looks like on Ghost. I think the UI/UX is cleaner than Maven’s, and key functionality, like Search, is much easier to find. There are more top-level navigation options and there is also footer navigation.

The three stories in top “rail” are pinned and this is a theme customization I asked for. This allows me to keep important stories, like the Welcome and Read Me First post, visible for as long as I want or need to.

Preview - TheChocolateLife on Ghost
A preview of the home page.Screenshot from TheChocolateLife

What you can’t see is behind the scenes. The editorial and admin interfaces are much more mature than on Maven (or Jamroom or Ning). Even though I can do a lot more in the editorial interface than I could on Maven, it has been through so many more iterations it’s less cluttered and easier and faster to use. From a writing perspective, I don’t have to fight with the tools. I also have more options to embed more different kinds of content and I am really looking forward to that ability.

Below is a taste of what an article on TheChocolateLife on Maven will look like. One thing I really appreciate is I am no longer sharing a template or CSS with any other site and so I have control over the look and feel. I am working my way through visual changes slowly.

TheChocolateLife on Ghost Article Preview
A preview of the look of a post on TheChocolateLife on Ghost.Screenshot from TheChocolateLife

The final preview screenshot below shows another area of improvement – Search. 

On Maven it was seriously broken from day 1 and, despite the fact the database all the content is stored in is called ElasticSearch, Maven never got around to making search actually work, as in it actually found all of the articles containing a search term. There is some compromise here as comments, because they are on Disqus, are not searched. However, I am now confident that all of the content created in Ghost is found and it is found extremely quickly. Another area of improvement is that search is managed in an overlay over the current page so you don’t have to leave the current page to do a search. I have not discovered how the results are ranked – but that is on my list of to-dos.

A preview of Search
Screenshot of TheChocolateLife on Ghost

 And that’s it for today’s update. My hope is TheChocolateLife will live on Ghost shortly and we can start out 2021 on a new foot.

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