Our readers will likely know that the site has been having significant trouble for more than two weeks. Thanks for your patience, your offers to help, and for sticking with us during that time. We’re happy to say that we seem to have identified all of the various issues involved, and have solved them. Some of those fixes may mean that you’ll need to resubscribe to our email alerts, so keep reading (or skip over the vaguely technical stuff in the next few paragraphs if you’d rather).
Many of our readers were curious — or perhaps concerned is a better word — about what was causing the downtime and broken functionality. First, we have no evidence that were subject to a DDOS attack, or to a hack. The site is constantly monitored for those.
So what was the problem? Readers have noticed that for some time — a few months, at least — they would have trouble accessing the site for a minute or two after we published a new post. For a while, we thought that was because a high percentage of the 15,000 people who had signed up for alerts about new posts were hitting the site at once. In the spirit of transparency, those brief outages may have been a canary in the coal mine that we should have paid more attention to. We did brief investigations into what was causing that problem, but they didn’t turn anything up, so as frustrating as they were, we didn’t keep them at the top of the priority list.
Starting February 8, however, the site began behaving very badly. It would go down for hours at a time, seemingly without warning. When it did come up, the newest post wasn’t on the homepage. The RSS feed broke repeatedly. Trust us, it was as frustrating for us as for everyone else.
We spent hours on the phone and in online chats with our host, and with WordPress gurus, trying various solutions. We optimized the site. We turned plugins on and off. We upgraded the version of PHP we were running. We bought more RAM. We switched email software so that we could space out delivery and not hit the servers all at once. (More on that in a bit.)
The site began performing better, but not perfectly. A few days ago, unbeknownst to us, our comments stopped working. Then, yesterday, one of the gurus at WPMU-Dev — these folks are great; check them out if you’re running WordPress — suggested that the comment problem might be due to a conflict between the theme we’ve been using since 2010 — called Journalist — and new versions of WordPress. Sure enough, when we reverted to a generic WordPress theme, comments worked again. New posts showed up on the homepage, and the RSS was fixed, too.
In the end, then, the theme may have been the central issue. The rest of the fixes, however, helped, and will likely keep the site more stable moving forward, so we’re keeping them. For now, we’re keeping the generic theme, too, but we will — carefully! — look into other options that could display our content better.
Here’s what that all means for readers who want to keep up with our content. When we switched email software, some emails transferred over, and some didn’t. To put a positive spin on some of what happened in that migration: We learned, not surprisingly, that a number of people had switched jobs, and were signed up more than once. It was a way to clean up the email list a bit. But if you want an email alert every time we publish a new post, please sign up again. To do that, scroll down the page until a “Follow” button shows up on the lower right, and click on it, then enter your email.
Of course, if you’d like one daily email, sign up here for The RW Daily, which includes posts from the previous 24 hours, plus a preview of items that will show up in Weekend Reads. (And if you’re having trouble signing up, or with anything else, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Thanks again for your patience. As we noted yesterday in Weekend Reads, some of these fixes came at a cost, so we’d be remiss in not asking if readers would consider making a donation to support us. See you online.
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