What a week.
On Tuesday* last week, we finally released LiveStats into the wild – our web app for monitoring your Site’s traffic in real-time.
Everything went exactly to plan until Thursday when our good friends at Smashing Magazine decided to tweet about us and the just launched LiveStats. We were really hoping to grow our user base after launch, but could never have imagined the response we would get from that one tweet – in under 10 minutes we received over 1,000 new visitors and in that hour almost 400 sign-ups.
400 signups to our blog wouldn’t be too much of an issue, but those new 400 people wanted to add their Site to GoSquared and check out LiveStats for themselves. We thought we were prepared for increased load when we launched LiveStats, but we just didn’t expect so many Sites, and so many Sites with such high traffic levels joining in such a short period of time.
Let’s not forget that a substantial number of our 400-or-so new users also had more than one Site. You get the message – we were swamped.
There was no way we were going to let any of our lovely new members down, so we went about implementing an extremely long, and still growing, list of performance & reliability improvements:
Increased Hard Disk Capacity Three Fold
To cope with the dramatically increased amounts of data that are flooding into our databases, we have grown to 3x the capacity of our old servers. At one point, thankfully while we had taken LiveStats offline, we ran into our last GB of hard disk space causing all sorts of fun problems to solve. But we fixed them. Now we have some breathing room – at least on the data storage front.
Reduced Time for Data Expiry
Before we launched LiveStats we intended to retain traffic data collected by LiveStats indefinitely. Why? We wanted to make it easier for members to migrate to something we have planned for the future. At launch though, we decided this was an impractical and likely unnecessary practice. We now store traffic stats data collected by LiveStats for a minimum of 10 minutes. Anything stored longer than 10 minutes will expire once you leave the LiveStats application.
Data is written to our databases constantly so that all your traffic is shown to you as soon as you launch LiveStats. This is one of the reasons LiveStats is such a resource intensive application. When we were storing this data over longer periods of time, our databases grew and grew until reading information from them started to take insane amounts of time.
Memcached is a caching system designed to reduce the number of times external data sources (such as databases) need to be accessed. We’ve been running Memcached on GoSquared for a while but mostly to improve performance on our (as yet) unreleased applications. It was a big challenge implementing Memcached for LiveStats but it has enabled us to reduce database query time massively – resulting in dramatically faster performance.
Over the weekend we implemented database replication. Put simply this means we are now running three copies of the LiveStats database on our servers. This means we write to one database (the master), copy to another two, and can then read from any of the three. This helped to reduce some of the performance issues by balancing the load out, but what’s unique about LiveStats is that it does a great deal more writing to the databases than reading. We’re still working to reach a more effective solution for balancing out the writing of data across multiple master databases while keeping them all constantly in sync. We’re getting there.
Another change made just yesterday – we are now running the GoSquared user database on a different server to the one that records data for LiveStats. One of the most annoying issues for users was that while we were having issues with LiveStats, at times most of the GoSquared site was inaccessible. We have done a lot of work to ensure the public facing GoSquared site is very much structurally detached from the LiveStats app and other apps that will be coming along in the future.
OK, I think that’s all I’m going to go into for now on the performance and reliability side of things. I’ve pretty much touched on each of the main improvements, but my words don’t do justice to the efforts and time put in by the team.
New Sign-in Page
We introduced a new sign-in page yesterday for all GoSquared Accounts. It’s been received pretty well so far – we just want to ensure your experience while visiting and using GoSquared is as pleasurable as possible.
Improvements to Welcome screen including new Site Preview Images
We’ve been improving the Welcome screen (the screen you are met with once you have signed in to your GoSquared Account) to make it easier to know what’s happening with regards to LiveStats system status, and for accessing your Sites.
When we launched LiveStats we didn’t know how many Sites people would be adding to their GoSquared Accounts. Our estimates tended towards 1, but since launch the majority of people have 2, and many have 3 Sites under their name. So we implemented a feature we were saving for the Sites app – Site preview images. Now when you access your Welcome screen the first thing you’ll see is a large preview image of each of your Sites.
No text, no visual clutter, just a large image that’s easy to find and click on – making LiveStats even easier to access.
Some Questions You’ve Been Asking
Over the course of the week many of you have been asking questions about GoSquared and LiveStats, I think we’ve replied to all of them, but here’s some that kept cropping up:
Is LiveStats in Beta?
We still regard LiveStats as a very much in-development product. We will be closing new Site sign-ups tomorrow to ensure we can develop and grow the LiveStats app and underlying engines with a controlled number of Sites. We will introduce an invitation system soon to grow the user base further.
For now, everyone who already has a Site in their GoSquared Account can continue using LiveStats as usual, and anyone after tomorrow that wants to monitor another Site with LiveStats will have to wait. If you have a friend that might like to try LiveStats, tell him/her now! We’ll be closing off new Site signups tomorrow (November 4th) at midnight GMT.
Is LiveStats Free?
Currently, LiveStats is completely free. You will never have to pay for a GoSquared Account. However, we have been planning a pricing structure for LiveStats for Sites that have considerably high levels of traffic. Currently, we can’t support a large number of busy Sites efficiently without greater expenditures on servers and system infrastructure.
Any changes to the cost of using LiveStats will be discussed with you – our users – thoroughly before being implemented. We haven’t got any fixed figures in our heads, so LiveStats will remain free for the foreseeable future. We don’t want to charge for LiveStats yet – we would much rather build a great community of people that use and love the product and give us valuable feedback than to make a few extra quid.
Where Can I View My Site’s GSTC (GoSquared Tracking Code)?
There is currently no way to access your Site’s GSTC from LiveStats. We’re working on allowing you to access this as soon as we can. In the meantime, just contact us to get your GSTC sent to you. We apologise for the delay in bringing this feature to you – the reason it’s not in there right now is a long story.
How did you make that animation for LiveStats that I saw on YouTube?
We have JT and his Adobe After Effects skills to thank for the LiveStats YouTube animation. We’re pretty proud of it! You can watch it here:
Where’s my Activation Email?
During the mad hour or so that Smashing Magazine tweeted about us we had to restart the database server a number of times to bring it back to life. This meant a large number of signups that occurred during the reboot time were not activated. We later switched to automatically approving all new signups for the day and simply stopped sending out activation emails. We learned a lot from those couple of hours of madness and have prepared a more bulletproof plan of action for similar scenarios in the future.
Is there an easier way to switch between Sites from within LiveStats?
Currently, no. As I mentioned earlier, we weren’t expecting so many people to have more than one Site in their Accounts. We’ve been looking at ways to switch between Sites in LiveStats for a few months. We will only implement a non-essential feature such as this when we have reached a solution that a) doesn’t clutter the interface and b) doesn’t get in the way for people who don’t need or want to use it.
If I sign-up to GoSquared does that mean I’m signing up to Sell Ads with you too?
No. When you sign up to GoSquared at the moment, you open a GoSquared Account (which is obviously free) and have access to the LiveStats app. We have not yet released the new Get Seen + Sell Ads apps, but when we do, their use will be entirely optional. Selling Ads with GoSquared will also require further approval – we want to ensure all Sites selling Ads with GoSquared are of a high quality and offer significant influence to advertisers.
How do I get access to this “new stuff” you’re working on?
We don’t want to discuss our unreleased products too much right now, but if you feel your Site is pretty influential and happens to attract a creative audience, then please get in touch.
And Finally a Thank You
I couldn’t write this post without showing some gratitude.
I’d like to say thanks to Geoff (@TheDeveloper) and JT (@floopily) for the numerous sleepless nights they’ve had this week working on these improvements to the backend of LiveStats. There’s been some massive overhauls of very integral parts of GoSquared and the only feedback they tend to receive from users is a complaint or two when things go wrong. Stuff doesn’t “just work” without devotion to the intensely complex underlying components that make the system what it is.
Finally, thanks to all of you wonderful, supportive, friendly, and awesome members of GoSquared. Some of you have been with us for years, some for only days (hours even). Your willingness to accept and understand the problems we’ve been having is truly refreshing and fills us with confidence that we’re building a strong community around a great product. We listen to every word you guys and girls say – on Twitter, on Facebook, by email, and anywhere else you care to mention us.
We’ve got some great stuff coming in the next few weeks so stay tuned.
Keep on rocking,
The GoSquared Team
*Tuesday: OK, we actually launched at about 2am Wednesday morning. Same thing, right?