Thanks to All Our Supporters & Fans! GN's Annual Server Upgrades & Growth - 2013

By Published December 31, 2013 at 11:55 pm

For a few years now, I've written articles that detail the website's advancements, upgrades, and directions. A lot changes in the span of a single year -- we've changed our entire editorial direction to be almost completely hardware-driven, whereas the site initially focused on almost 100% gaming (software) content. It was the best change GN has undergone, given my existing knowledge in the hardware sector and the demand for the information as it pertains to gaming.

It's hard to believe it took us nearly a year to finalize this logo and implement it. Logo designed by Andrew Coleman.

As with last year's post, and the year before that, I'd like to first thank all of you -- our audience, our readers, our inquisitive minds -- for continuing to support the site and read the content. Simply by visiting the website, you're helping us immensely in continuing to do what we love. This website is slowly gaining the monetary means to support my own efforts and those of a tiny staff, and I'm very optimistic that we'll be in full force by the end of 2014. We've been able to produce some truly spectacular content, like this motherboard diagram and analysis article (complete with really cool hover-over javascript diagram!), and that's because of your support. (Speaking of which, if you'd like to support us by means of money, check out our 'Support GN' option - also added this year; this helps pay for our servers).

 

GN's Huge Site Overhaul in 2013 - Usability and Mobile Compatibility

2013 saw the biggest changes the website has ever gone through. The website has been running on a framework I built in 2007 and was sorely limited, and this year's October hardware giveaway was my way of celebrating a complete rebuild of the website, from the ground-up. The website still has several major changes underway, but it is now fully mobile-compatible and responsive (the site will resize with your window or device), which is fantastic for viewing purposes. Our mobile viewership is now at nearly 16% of our monthly visitors, up from just 4% about two years ago; adding compatibility for phones and tablets was of great importance for this reason.

The site is also capable of all kinds of fancy new structural features, like our PC build filter -- which aims to help you find a system for your needs.

And that was a huge part of this year's objective: I looked at all the major hardware websites, then our own, and noticed that we all suffer from the same issue -- navigation. It's a nightmare. Finding old articles on nearly any editorial website is an absolute mess. If I wrote an article about understanding what a chipset is, chances are you'd never see it once it got buried by new content. I've begun to change that, and the first major step was the PC builds section (see: left sidebar). I also made changes to the hardware reviews section, where you can now sort by components a bit easier. Similar changes are underway for the rest of the site.

Speaking of navigation, I added a left menu for DIY PC build guides. This menu is ever-changing and gets updated content as it is written, but will primarily serve as a static accordion guide for new builders. The idea is that it'll help you get a system built from start-to-finish, then assist in troubleshooting and post-build options after that.

Of course, once you've built the machine, we want you to stick around and continue to learn and get excited about hardware. That's where all the features come in (like our tour of nVidia's hardware lab... so cool!).

Truthfully, I'm still not 100% sure on what I want to do with the "Nexus" section of the website (do you have a suggestion?). Currently, is serves as an activity feed that helps me and Mik monitor the forums and comments so that we can reply promptly. It technically has photo gallery support and full social network support, but it was never part of my vision to go the "facebook route," so to speak. I would like to utilize the functionality as almost a gaming PC social network, though -- meaning you'd post your system specs, photos of the build, benchmark data, etc. It'd be a great central hub for learning how to gather data on your machine. Not sure, though.

Reviews Changes

I should mention that we've completely abolished review scores. They're dead. Gone. Scores are arbitrary for games -- we've known that since we started using them. They're great for "glance-ability" and metacritic, but they just feel so fake to me. This was discussed in great detail here, where contributor Jake Nantz explains that reviews are subjective, and should be treated as such (reading them) rather than an objective number assignment. Numbers felt disingenuous to me, so I ditched them.

In terms of hardware reviews, I've worked closely with manufacturers to refine a full SSD testing methodology and will have it in-place in 2014. It's just a matter of finding time to run all the tests now, though I will seek further insight from Samsung and Kingston at CES '14.

Annual Server Hardware Upgrade & Globalization

We upgraded our server infrastructure around Xmas of 2011 and performed further upgrades during Xmas of 2012 (our lowest traffic day, so this is when I secretly make changes). The original server that hosted the site from ~2008 - 2011 was a "shared host," where we shared the same box, CPU, and hardware with untold dozens of other sites. This was awful for reliability as the site grew. We rapidly became the largest website on the server and were "strongly encouraged" to find another host.

That's when I moved us to a VPS, or Virtual Private Server, which virtually allocates us a fixed, predictable amount of resources on a server blade. This was in 2011. That server initially had -- from memory -- 512MB of RAM and a low CPU priority. It was upgraded to 768MB of RAM in 2012, I think, and this was to accommodate our increasingly-high count of simultaneous users.

Then 2013 came around. This year had some of our hardest-hitting articles to-date, with two of them even hitting the front page of reddit (or close to it) at various times. Because of these instances, we had several scary server crashes and downtimes due to load. I decided it was enough screwing around and upgraded us severely.

We're now on a 2GB VPS with higher CPU priority; I put a CDN (Content Delivery Network) in place as well, which is effectively a series of node servers across the planet that our central New Jersey server communicates with. When your browser requests data from our site, your PC will now download that data (images, javascript, style sheets, PHP, HTML, etc.) from multiple sources (3, to be exact). This parallelizes the downloads and significantly increases the speed with which the site loads -- especially in countries outside of the US. Because our CDN has nodes across the planet -- including Singapore (for Asia-based readers), Europe, and the Americas, your system will access the node that is closest to you. This reduces latency because the data travels a shorter distance.

To give an idea of the impact, some numbers: Before renting the CDN, our users based in Asia and parts of Europe saw page load times upwards of 20 seconds (for the full page, ~15 seconds before they could see it). This is enough time that it had huge abandonment rates -- why would you wait so long for a page to load, right? That's just ridiculous. We've cut this time in half with the CDN, with most users reporting that the page becomes visible in the 3-5 second range (in non-US countries). In the US, we've cut full page load time down from 14 seconds to about 7-8 seconds, with the page viewing time dropped to 2-3.5 seconds.

The difference is pretty simple: Full page load time (Document Complete) is when the dial stops spinning in your browser -- there is no more data to collect. The DOM content complete time (2-3.5 seconds) is when you can start browsing the site without really realizing you're missing content.

Anyway... 

So it's a huge upgrade. I've got some great surprises in store for the next few weeks, too! New T-shirts were ordered in bulk quantity, so you'll be able to buy the same shirts we wear in the field at conventions. I'm also getting decals and other unique PC building products made - keep your eyes open for that.

Our traffic has increased about 10-15% this year and our global traffic is rapidly increasing with the CDN implementation, making our numbers very healthy. We've also had a huge social media boon, with twitter increasing nearly 300% in followers, facebook doubling, and YouTube tripling in subscribers.

As a result of this, I've brought on some new writers -- Nick Pinkerton, who's been with us since he left Antec, Inc., is now writing more frequently and working all major conventions by my side. Jim Vincent joined us for photography work in California and will be joining us again at CES this impending year. A quick shout to Christopher Greene as well, for his support at PAX Prime this year (the human tripod and very capable photographer). Michael "mikagmann2" Mann has been my most reliable staff member yet, supplying huge amounts of support on the forums and PC builds sections of the site. Patrick Stone continues to work as a hardware editor and my general source of knowledge. Our new blood, Paige "dino pillow" Spears, just got her first taste of the editorial world with three articles and a video in the span of 36 hours (Plantronics RIG review, Battlefield 4 Mantle Update, & Titanfall sniping explanation).

Some fun stats: We're now up to 1261 articles (as of this writing), 200 videos, and have more than 200,000 pageviews monthly (when factoring in our YouTube audience, too).

Oh, and shout-out to site user abibiliboop for his tremendous forum support.

Well, the clock's almost turned over to 2014, so I better post this thing...

Thanks again to all of our fantastic readers and supporters. Please read about how you can Support GN if we've helped you significantly in the past. Or don't. I can't tell you how to live your life.

(But seriously, thanks for the support - let us know if we can ever do anything for you; just hit us up on the forums).

- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.
Editor-in-Chief & Founder,
GamersNexus.net.

Last modified on January 01, 2014 at 11:55 pm
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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