Migrating a website

Any entrepreneur, business owner, CEO, or manager knows that running a successful business is hard. People with conflicting personalities push and pull, motivated by their department’s agendas. Fortunately, most of these internal struggles remain where they belong–inside, away from the microscope of the customer/client’s eyes.  The goal is to keep these struggles internal even when the product instigating the struggle is for “public consumption” like a new consumer product, or a piece of software, or a new website. 

The world is filled with examples of these internal struggles if you look hard enough. You might periodically notice a movie poster or advertisement announcing the date the movie opens, only to discover later that it was moved to a different date altogether.  Or you might be waiting anxiously for a new computer game based upon its release date and then become frustrated when the game is postponed another six months.

The two opposing forces in all these cases are usually the same:  the marketing (creative) people VS the business (financial) people.

They are each motivated by their own agendas, albeit for the overall betterment of the company. They just have different perspectives. Creative people want to broadcast their accomplishments with marketing and PR. After all, what’s the point of working so hard on something if no one knows about it?

On the other hand, business people want to manage risk (what’s the point of bringing a whole bunch of people to something if it “doesn’t work?”).  There are a variety of different definitions of something not working.   In the case of the movie example above, the definition of “doesn’t work” usually falls into one of two camps to motivate a release date reschedule. Either the movie is literally not completed yet, or a different, potentially better, movie is “getting in the way” – which might dampen box office receipts.

In the case of the computer game example, the definition of “doesn’t work” is typically quite literal. The release date might be moved simply because the game does not run– or does not run properly.  Ironically, in many cases, the business (financial) people can be responsible for releasing a piece of software like a computer game too early, even if it doesn’t work properly. After all, they are also motivated by quarterly revenue projections and stockholder expectations, etc.

We have four  main departments at Outskirts Press, and the launch of the Version 4 website involved all of them. We have two “creative” sides, i.e. the sales/marketing side and the book production side.  We also have two “business” sides, i.e. the technical (website) side and the accounting side.   Sure, there are technicalities involved in properly producing a book, but when compared with the technicalities involved in creating a dynamic, database-driven e-commerce website, producing a book falls squarely into the “creative.”

The creative sides wanted to start announcing the new website a while ago, to build excitement for new authors as well as inform current authors of the functionality and navigation changes.  The business sides wanted to wait until 4-6 weeks after it was live, to put it through its paces and make sure everything was working flawlessly.

Like all business relationships, and most relationships of any sort, a compromise was reached. We let our current authors know about the changes over Memorial Day weekend, but are holding out any big announcements for a few days, not withstanding some brief mentions of it on my blog — this one and a few early mentions of it in the past (I just couldn’t help myself; it is all I’ve been working on for months).

So why do we feel Version 4 of Outskirts Press is so special? We’ll get to that in an upcoming posting…

Outskirts Press Version 4.0 is here

Hooray!  After about a year of development, we launched version 4.0 of the Outskirts Press self-publishing website over Memorial Day weekend.   The whole operation went smoother than we expected, thanks in large part to our amazing technical team, headed by our Chief Technical Officer, Lynn.

For anybody involved in website and/or softare development, you already know that migrating a large website or software platform from one version to the next is fraught with difficulty and potential potholes.  Luck favors the prepared, as they say, so we took great precautions to make the transition from Version 3 to Version 4 as seamless as possible for our authors.

This meant running a parallel version of 4.0 on an alternate test server for a month before launch as we continually tested and revised it for final release.  This also meant a full-blown “test launch” on the Tuesday before Memorial Day to see if the data migrated successfully.  The first test launch presented some unforeseen problems, which the developers resolved over the course of the next couple of days.  We ran another test launch on Thursday and this one was successful, thereby green-lighting the live migration on Saturday evening. We purposefully aimed for the middle of the Memorial Day weekend when our anticipated web traffic would be relatively low.  One of the “perks” for people in IT and website development fields is that they rarely get holidays off for this very reason — holidays are the best times to make large changes to B2B and B2C platforms.

Our IT team worked throughout the night to ensure that the “scheduled maintenance” message on our website was up for as short of a period as possible.  The new site went live around 7am mountain time Sunday morning, giving us Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend to collect any dust that had gathered from the reconstruction. 

Our website development and enhancements are an on-going function– or perhaps catalyst– of our continuous fast growth, so the live launch of Version 4 didn’t necessarily mark a “welcome relief” in IT’s eyes. But it certainly was a big step, marked by many long nights, and now we’re happy to finally introduce it to our current and future authors.

In the coming posts I’ll discuss many of the improvements that come with Outskirts Press 4.0. I’ll also discuss some of the additional complexities that such a large migration can add to operational processes, and how one can overcome them…