Sunday, July 20, 2008

Service Outage

Today we experienced a major service outage for about 7 hours due to the Amazon Simple Storage Solution going offline. The Amazon S3 service was chosen for its reliability and scalability, allowing us to use the robust Amazon back end to manage the hosting part of the Showit Sites service. We apologize for this problem, ultimately we cannot point fingers as it was our choice to go with Amazon and the questions about Amazon's stability will be ones that we will be looking at very closely.

Up until today, the Amazon S3 service has only been down a few hours over the course of two years. I don't know how many web services can say the same, it just happened at a very unfortunate time for us as we are launching version 1.0 of our Showit Sites software.

Creating backups of the S3 service would be difficult because of the amount of work they have put into building a scalable solution to store data online. Part of using the service is that you are getting the redundancy through them, so duplicating that would be a very huge operation. The downside is that when their network goes down in a crazy fluke like this, their redundancy doesn't help. Keep in mind this type of thing is a network failure, it's not entirely know but it is probably some hardware or switches or something along those lines that caused some major communication problems, but there was no loss of data meaning that once the network was fixed, all of your stored data is still there. They typically have 99.9% uptime, but as with computers and the web, unexpected stuff comes up and hardware will fail.

We know this from the past 4 years of doing business online that managing servers and networks is a nightmare, and when stuff goes down it can take a bit to fix. We've had a couple different times now for our business where servers have been down and one case where it took a week to get our store back up and we had nothing we could do about it. At least with Amazon I know that every minute is costing thousands of customers and they have their best people on getting it restored.

It did bring up a lot of issues for us on how our software and your sites respond when this happens, so we will be looking at better ways of dealing with this so you don't have a blank page on your site with no helpful info and ways to communicate better to let you know when things happen.

Again, thanks for the feedback, we will continue to work on making our service reliable enough for your website to depend on. Thanks,


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Understanding Resizing

There have been lots of questions about Showit Sites and how resizing works, so I thought it would be good to give a brief overview of how and why resizing works the way it does in Showit Sites.

One of the first goals in building Showit Sites was to design a way to build full browser sized websites that would look good at almost any resolution. A typical web page is a fixed pixel size, so a bigger monitor may have lots of extra space and a small monitor may require scroll bars. With Showit Sites, the content is resized to fit whatever resolution, even a wide monitor or a browser window that is opened narrow. Below are some over exagerrated browser aspect ratios to illustrate how content fills the entire browser window:

To do this, we created a few different ways to layout your site content explained below.

1) Layers - All content from images to video to other flash content that you drag onto a page is a layer of your page. If a layer is not locked then it will scale and position relative to the other elements on the page in the center of the browser window.

2) Locked Layers - Layers that you want to float independent of the page content but basically stay against a side of the browser window can be locked to a side with the check boxes and offset on the "Layout" tab for a selected layer. If you want the layer to stay in a corner, lock it to two sides. If you want it to stretch, lock to two opposite sides. Locking to two sides will distort an image, so we recommend only using this for lines or boxes or graphics that can be stretched and not look funny. Locking is great for things like a site menu bar or a logo that you want to stay in a corner.

3) Background
- The background sizes to fit the entire browser window which will NOT make layers line up relative to the background. The background is meant to fill the entire browser window, so depending on whether the browser is opened tall or wide will determine what parts of the image will be cropped. You can choose how you would like the image to be cropped by using the drop down next to the background and choose options such as locking it to the top, bottom, corner or even stretch it. If you want your background image to line up with the layers, put the background image on the page as a layer and just use a solid color for the background.

I hope that helps explain a few of these sizing concepts because when you are designing it often feels that the page is a fixed size, but it's good to keep in mind that people have different sized monitors and open their browsers in different ways. A great way to test your site is to click the preview button and then drag the bottom right corner of the window so you can see what your site will look like when sized narrow or wide.

The full sized-scaling site does provide for an amazing experience across many different screen sizes but it's a little tricky initially to understand how to design for it, especially when deciding what to use for your background. Hopefully this gives you a good understanding and some ideas as you build your Showit Sites!