Archive | March, 2007

Tip of the Week #12: Identities, part II

27 Mar

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I’m a little bit late with this post, but should be back on track this week. Last time, we discussed how to create a PBwiki Identity. Now, we’re gonna take a look at how to best use Identities for two aspects of wiki management, handling multiple wikis with one account and controlling access to a wiki on a per-user basis.

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Educators are talking about PBwiki (and check out our videos)

27 Mar

We’ve been getting some flattering comments from educators around the country.

Anne Bubnic, who’s with the California Technology Assistance Project (CTAP Region IV), writes about our new PBwiki videos:

At CTAP, we love wikis and, in particular, we love PB Wiki. We have so many wikis that we actually had to create a wiki to keep track of all of our wikis!

[...]

…more recently, the company created these videos for educators to use in trainings. Some of my CTAP colleagues are among those speaking on the video about their experiences using PB wiki.

You can find this series of 6 videos on You Tube, starting with PB WIKI – What’s a Wiki.

Anne also gives 12 examples of how she’s used PBwiki to help with her work at CTAP. See her entire post here.

(As a sidenote, check out the video below…

…and see all of the videos at our Educational Advisory Board — video page.)

PBwiki is now a billion times faster!

26 Mar

OK, not a billion times, but more like 6 times faster than we were a month ago.

When we first started out, PBwiki was super-fast because there wasn’t much going on. As we’ve grown two things have happened – first, we’ve added lots of useful features and second, we now have lots more traffic all the time. The new editor in particular has led to lots more users being comfortable with editing, and it’s a lot of code to serve up, so we were serving lots more data more frequently to lots more people. For a while we were working our original servers way too hard and the system wasn’t always keeping up with the strain.

Two things have changed: First, we purchased a big pile of fast new servers. Second, we rewrote a lot of the core of PBwiki’s code to scale more effectively. We wrote a lot of new code and also take advantage of a bunch of open source projects, including Pound, Lighttpd, Apache, eAccelerator, MySQL, Memcached, and MogileFS.

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Shiny, happy, mostly idle servers

We’ve put in a lot of effort to optimizing the load times of wiki pages and in particular speeding up the new editor, since it’s a lot of javascript to load. The ‘six times faster’ claim is for the time between when a user requests a wiki page and we’ve finished building it and start sending it to their browser — the ‘time to first byte’. What else does this mean? Well, last month we were averaging 50-100% CPU load on our servers. That means that at midnight in the US, our quietest time of day, we were still using 50% of all available CPU time to serve wiki pages, store edits, and build RSS feeds. During peak time around noon we were starting to back up a bit due to the load — 100% CPU load usually means ‘would go to 150% if we could’. We’re now ranging between 10% and 20% on all of the application servers, which means there’s always CPU time available for the next incoming request. The supporting servers, such as proxy, database, storage and email are even less loaded. This is a very good thing.

At the same time, we’ve got lots more storage headroom. We were running a little low for a while there and now we’ve got at least 6 months of space for new wiki data and attachments, assuming our current growth rates. Combined with our much-improved server monitoring system (thanks to mon, monit, cacti, and some hand-made stuff) we’ve got a great picture of how the service is running and for the first time in a while our servers are as happy as our users.

Case Study: sfxschool.pbworks.com

23 Mar

St. Francois Xavier Community School is using PBwiki as the school’s website for students, parents, and faculty. It’s been a smooth integration for them with a lot of things learned through the way. John Evans, the administrator of sfxschool.pbworks.com spent sometime with us to go over his experience with PBwiki.

PBwiki: What’s sfxschool.pbworks.com about?
John Evans: sfxschool.pbworks.com is our school web page. I’ve taken the information that I had for several years on a free hosting site and moved it over to PBwiki because I liked the ease of editing and contributing it allowed myself as the admin, as well as the freedom it gave the teachers and students who would be able to make contributions to the wiki.

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PBwiki: How do you use your PBwiki?
John Evans: Similar to the response above, we are using the wiki as our website primarily for its ease of use, and the levels of access available to a multitude of users. Currently only the professional staff in our school has authorization to post on the wiki. With further training, my expectation is that staff will begin to use the wiki with their students at least in grades 4 – 6.

I have also created two other wikis for training in Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
(http://joevans.pbworks.com) and for Teacher Wellness
(http://wellteacher.pbworks.com)

PBwiki: Why’d you choose PBwiki?
John Evans: PBWiki was the wiki of choice for several colleagues of mine teaching ICT to staff and students. I looked at others and felt PBWiki was the easiest to use. I originally thought wikis would be hard to use but taught myself the basics in about an hour by looking at the code of other wikis, saw the potential and took off from there.
PBwiki: How many people are active on your wiki?

John Evans: See Above for our school wiki users. I have several other free wikis that I have had students in grade 4 work on. The first group last year at http://rockhound.pbworks.com did some great stuff for their first time working with a wiki. They were really pumped with the content they produced and proudly showed it off to their parents.

PBwiki: What has been the biggest surprise for you in using PBwiki?
John Evans: While not really a surprise, the best part was when teachers say to me “You mean I don’t have to wait for a week or more to have the IT guy approve my website before they add it to the school site? I can do it myself!”

In our latest series of training with K-8 teachers on wikis we had planned a half day, but teacher were so into it we allowed them to have the whole day. When I asked one of the originally reluctant teachers what they liked most about the day, she excitedly said “Wikis! I LOVE Wikis!!”

PBwiki: Would you tell others about PBwiki?
John Evans: I use PBWiki in all the workshop training we do in our school division. It’s easy, straight forward and now with the new editor should be even easier to use. I rave about PBWiki all the time to other teachers. ;-)

PBwiki: Have you used our new Point-and-Click editor? What are you thoughts on it?
John Evans: …I like the new plug-ins you’ve included. I will be looking at it this week as I prepare for our divisional SY Technology training session on Friday.

PBwiki: With so many people contributing to your wiki is it difficult to manage?
John Evans: When I had the free version of the wiki, I had one student who maliciously changed the pages of other students in his class. He was in grade 4 and followed my instructions to login so he was easily tracked and discovered. This is why I went to the upgraded version of PBWiki purchasing a Silver package for the school. The various login levels make it safer for everyone, including teachers who are more leery of the technology.

PBwiki: How long did it take to implement PBwiki at St. François Xavier?
John Evans: It took me about 2 weeks time – a bit here and there to transfer all my materials over to the wiki. Now things are so easy to maintain. I subscribe to the various pages in my RSS aggregator and I can see whose made changes and if necessary make corrections or edits. I really like the lockable pages that came with the Gold upgrade which I received in the presenter’s package. We’re still technically in the implementation stage as our staff is still learning how to do things with the wiki. Our next session is going to be on uploading images and files. Though it is easy, if staff don’t do it on a regular basis they soon forget.

Tip of the Week #11: Creating a PBwiki Identity

20 Mar

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Last year, PBwiki rolled out a neat new feature called PBwiki Identities. The general idea was that PBwiki users within the system would be treated as individuals rather than being connected to a specific wiki. This way, a user could manage multiple wikis without keeping track of all the passwords (there was also more control in wiki-administration).

As a quick note, a PBwiki Identity password is COMPLETELY separate from the password of any wiki you may have created. Here’s the order of how things should usually happen:

  1. You create a new wiki, let’s say it’s at totallysweet.pbworks.com (as of this entry, that wiki is up for grabs, just so you know). Furthermore, we’ll say that the password is abc123.
  2. You start contributing in a few wikis, and you hate logging in to each one separately. So you go to http://my.pbworks.com and create an Identity. Your Identity email is coolguy@someISP.com and your password is zyx987.
  3. You enter your Identity page and enter the names and passwords for all the wikis in which you participate. In this case, you would put totallysweet for the wiki name and abc123 for the wiki-wide password.
    1. Alternately, somebody might invite you to participate in his/her wiki, to which you’ll be added as soon as you approve (by e-mail link). In this case, no password will exchange hands.
  4. Now, you can login to all your wikis at one time just by going to my.pbworks.com and logging in to your Identity with your email address (coolguy@someISP.com) and the password zyx987. Note that from this point on, you won’t need to login to totallysweet.pbworks.com separately, nor do you need to use its specific password, abc123. You will also be automatically logged in to any wikis to which you were officially invited. Awesome huh?

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Details from my talk at MACUL in Detroit

19 Mar

I spoke to a room of educators last week in Detroit at the MACUL conference.

At first, I was nervous because I didn’t know how many people would attend the talk! But in the end, it turned out to be a lot of fun — and by the end, we had a standing-room-only event! I spoke for about 45 minutes, then answered questions and gave away a few PBwiki t-shirts. We need to get more of those shirts out through our Presenter Packs! (If you’re an educator giving a talk about wikis anywhere in the country, check out the details.)

Kevin Clark, who attended the talk, wrote up a great description of the talk called Behind the Scenes with PBwiki.

So…I think it’s really cool that Ramit Sethi, the VP of Marketing for PBwiki, has come all the way here to give us the latest on what PBwiki is all about. I think it demonstrates some commitment from them that they want to reach out to educators.

[...]

They took the suggestions of educators and listened. Teachers hate ads, so they removed them on educational blogs. They want students to be engaged, so they continue to add features. They also want it to be easy, so they made a new WYSIWYG editor. They’re trying to listen to their hundreds of users and incorporating their suggestions.

[...]

For those of you who use PBwiki (or just wikis in general!) and tell others in workshops, PBwiki offers Presenter Packs which include

  • a PDF handout with general PBwiki information
  • a T-shirt of your choice
  • a PowerPoint presentation to use in your workshop/session
  • and three PBwiki upgrades (worth $750)

[...]

Again, I’m really impressed by the approachability of Ramit, and through him, PBwiki. These guys (actually five guys and a gal) are really trying to get it right and to create a useful tool for educators as well as the web community in general. Keep in mind…Ramit wasn’t down in the vendor area and wasn’t pushing his product (you get the Presenter Pack no matter what type of wiki you’re focusing on), but instead is extending a hand to teachers to help create meaningful online content and collaborative activities.

In his full post, Kevin also writes about what’s coming next for PBwiki, as well as some common concerns about using wikis that we’ve heard from educators. Check out the full post: Behind the Scenes with PBwiki.

Whither pagers?

17 Mar

Earlier this week we had a service outage. The proper chain of events would be:

  • 00:00:00 Server problem
  • 00:00:03 Monitor processes notice problem, send page to admin’s phone
  • 00:00:10 Phone rings with new message
  • 00:00:30 Admin logs in to server, fixes problem
  • 00:01:00 Problem resolved

But what happened was:

  • 00:00:00 Server problem
  • 00:00:03 Monitor processes notices problem, send page to admin’s phone
  • 00:00:10 T-Mobile doesn’t deliver the message

This started around 3am California time, which is why none of the PBwiki team noticed it independent of the sms alert mechanism. What should have been an isolated transient, simple to resolve and not user-visible turned into a cascade of unpleasant timeouts which caused the service to slow and eventually halt. We’ve done an extensive internal examination of what happened, and we’re changing some technology, adding some additional automated checks, and doing a few procedural things more intelligently.

The main process change is something that is probably old hat for old-school ops people — the absence of a page alert is not an indication of systemwide health. We’ve deployed a lot of new infrastructure in the last few weeks, and I’d been getting occasional pages for a while, but none for the prior day or two. I’ve set up the daily equivalent of the Tuesday-at-noon air raid siren test — in which the absence of a message every morning will be a problem itself. We’ve also got independent Nextel phones for on-call ops folks so there are now several routes for the alarm pages to take, plus that funny push-to-talk thing so we can annoy one another at all times.

Got QA?

13 Mar

Are you good at breaking things? Have you noticed problems in PBwiki? Are you really good at finding annoying bugs and detailing how you broke something? Do you foam at the mouth when you find a typo or something takes more than a second to load? We need you!

PBwiki is currently looking for a part-time QA engineer at $15+/hour to help us find issues so we can fix them. The best way to get hired is to come to us with a list of problems that you’ve been able to spot as-is. :) Email us at iwanttowork@pbworks.com with your list and resume.

Cheers,
David Weekly, CEO

We're working on fixing PBwiki service

13 Mar

7:30am on Tuesday, March 13th, 2007: It looks like we’re having a hiccup in service right now, and we’re working on fixing it so we can get PBwiki service back up and running right away.

[Update, 7:42am]: This is fixed. We’re looking into why this happened so it never happens again.

PBwiki Presenter Pack

8 Mar

Over the last three months we’ve been offering our users PBwiki presenter packs. If you’re interested in giving a presentation about PBwiki (or Web 2.0 technologies in general) we’d love to ship you our presenter pack. It’s free!

The presenter pack includes:

  • A PBwiki shirt. Choose your favorite
  • An easy-to-read PDF overview of PBwiki to hand out to your audience (“What’s a wiki?” “Can I see some samples?” “What about privacy?”). We’ll even reimburse your printing costs.
  • A Powerpoint with pictures of real people/students using PBwiki.
  • 3 FREE Premium Gold wikis. Keep one for yourself and give the other two away to your audience. (Total value: $750.00.)
  • Here’s a couple of pictures of the goodies from our presenter packs, courtesy of our PBwiki users.

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    Check out our PBwiki Presenter Pack page for more information on how to obtain the presenter pack.

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