UKTC Archive

Re: UKTC - What happens to it next?

Subject: Re: UKTC - What happens to it next?
From: Chris Hastie
Date: Oct 22 2021 11:01:30
On 19/10/2021 17:07, Jerry Ross wrote:
Just to say that I've got in touch with Chris Hastie who is out of the
country and unable to engage with this just now.,

Well I'm back, and blown away by all the nice things that have been said about the UKTC in this thread. Thank you all for that. So I suppose I'd better fill some of the information vacuum…

David said

The UKTC is going to die.  Likely, between 6-12 months.

Reports of the UKTC's impending death may have been somewhat exaggerated. No decision has yet been made, and it certainly won't be a sudden death (or at least, not unless mine is). But yes, I *may* pull out of the UKTC. It's actually not directly about time, but more financial. The UKTC itself takes very little time to run. It mostly looks after itself.

Once upon a time the UKTC paid for itself through advertising. Some, in the emails, I sold directly. The rest, on the website, was sold through Google AdSense. Financially the UKTC was accounted for as part of Raggedstaff Internet. Actually, the UKTC came first, and Raggedstaff kind of grew out of it, using spare capacity on the server that the UKTC runs on.

More recently, advertising revenue has dropped dramatically. I've sold almost no advertising on the list itself recently, and revenue from Google AdSense is way, way down. Although Raggedstaff has continued to (usually) make a small profit, the bulk of the income in recent years has come from much more time consuming IT development work. Effectively, that work subsidised and funded the UKTC.

I no longer have time to do the development work and am cutting back on it. This leaves me in a position where what remains of the Raggedstaff Internet (basically the UKTC and a tiny bit of hosting) will be making a loss. I don't begrudge the UKTC the small amount of time it currently takes, but I don't want to be putting in more time to sell advertising to keep it financially viable. I'm vaguely aware that I haven't even got round to billing Ben for his (very much appreciated) sponsorship yet this year!

So basically, pulling the plug on the UKTC is about cutting my losses. It's not something I'm mad keen on doing, though it has crossed my mind occasionally when you lot have been squabbling :) I'm proud of having made this contribution to arboriculture for the last 22 years, and very flattered by all the kind comments I've just read as I've worked through this thread. I'm certainly not going to suddenly pull the plug, so no need for immediate panic. But I do need to either reduce the costs, increase the income, or both. Another problem is that I need to achieve that whilst spending very little time on it. As many of you know, I had a bit of a health scare ten years ago, which has left me determined to make the most of life. And that means spending my weekends doing something more fun than coding websites. I'd much rather go diving these days :)

What happens with the UKTC is in part down to what you lot want to happen to it. There's not much point in me making any effort at all at a smooth transition if you're not interested, but I get the impression you are.

So, someone I'm sure asked something about what happens at the moment

*Current state*

The UKTC is a mailing list. Deliberately and consciously. It was set up in 1999, when being online meant paying the phone bill. It was expensive to read web based forums, and many local authorities didn't have web access (some didn't even seem to have working email!). It was specifically set up as mailing list to work around the constraints of the time.

Briefly, it runs using Sympa (https://www.sympa.org). The backend data store is MySQL. There are some adaptations, the main one being that messages are pre-processed to add in the advertising that used to be how it was all paid for, and strip HTML. The archive is essentially built using MHonArc (https://www.mhonarc.org/), but again, with adaptations. The whole lot sits on a server (real, physical, not a VM) in a datacentre in Maidenhead.

*Future state options*

#With me

If I continue to be involved it will be on the basis of it not changing much. I just don't have the time. I do have a need to keep using Sympa, so it will remain a mailing list based around Sympa. I could up the file size limit a bit, though I remain of the view that email is a rubbish way to move large files, so it won't be much. I may even allow HTML, but there are security issues around HTML and the archive which I would need to feel assured were adequately managed.

The major change, of course, would be to come up with a sustainable model for funding. I don't favour a compulsory subscription charge, because I don't think most subscribers would pay it, and the forum would be a poorer place for the loss of all those who would walk.

The archive and surrounding website might need thought. Either drop it to save costs (there is a lot of archive over the 22 years). Or get some help to revamp it as a responsive, mobile friendly site in the hope that this might result in a bit more advertising income. I started on this a few years ago, but it's just never a priority. There are also issues with the CMS that the remaining website uses, which is way out of date and basically needs ditching.

#Without me

Without me it could go in any direction. Remain as mailing list, go to a web based forum, or some kind of hybrid. Become a Facebook group or a Google group. It's down to what you want. If I leave, I'm happy to pass over control of the tree-care.info domain. Any editorial input to the UKTC has been extremely light touch to keep it independent, and I would look for assurance that any future incarnation would be similar. The big problem would be that I would need someone to convince me that I could legitimately hand over the subscriber list. There seem to be a few people keen to rush out and solve the technical issues. To me, they are easy. The information governance / legal issues involved in me handing over the personal data of  621 subscribers needs far more care and thought. Perhaps someone could have a look into that?

Best wishes

Chris






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