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Hosting friends on a private site

So you’re running your own Friendica site, possibly on a shared host, and would like to take a few friends on board?

That’s good – excellent, in fact. It’s part of what this project is about. And as long as you don’t exaggerate, you shouldn’t have any problems whatsoever.

But what would actually constitute exaggeration?

This question is largely linked to the Facebook connector.  And we are glad Facebook solved the problem for you, by not allowing such connections anymore...

A quick explanation: The reason most public Friendica sites restrict Facebook connectivity is that the Facebook bridge is resource-intensive and rather unpredictable. What’s unpredictable about it? The fact that you can’t know how many Facebook contacts a new user might bring along. Most people seem to have between 20 and 250, but some have 1000 or more – and that can be a problem if you are running an open server and end up with numerous users of this type. Also note: It’s not just about activity – i.e. whether these people or their Facebook contacts actually issue a lot of posts. It’s about the system regularly polling those contacts in case they (or their own contacts) have added or changed anything. On a large scale, the unpredictability can cause problems, unless safeguards are implemented.

On a private server, you’ll generally wish to avoid the restrictions public servers impose on Facebook communication. But this comes at a price. You will have to be a bit careful about the number of users you take on board.

How can you be careful?

That doesn’t mean you have to panic! Hosting five to ten friends will generally be fine, even on a really cheap shared hosting deal. Depending on various variables, you might even be able to accommodate rather more (once you have gathered a bit of experience). Just use some common sense, some easy settings and policies - and relax:

  1. Look at your admin settings and find the field for abandoned accounts. Set it to 30 days. This means that the system will no longer poll for activity by contacts of people who haven’t logged on for a month. It doesn’t mean their accounts are disabled or deleted. If and when they return, their content will be pulled – and they won’t even notice. But in the meantime, they don’t constitute a burden on your server. Since a considerable number of people use social networks very infrequently or forget about them totally after a few weeks, that setting is a very valuable tool. It’s highly unlikely that all of your users will stay on board or use the system heavily on an indefinite basis. Generally, a lot of people will drift in and out as the mood takes them.
  2. Start counting Facebook contacts as people join your site. The local directory will normally show you when they have activated the Facebook connector – because most of a new person’s contacts will be from Facebook. If they are hiding their contacts, don’t be afraid to ask for that number (they’re your buddies, and you are providing a service).
  3. Avoid embarrassment: Certainly don’t open your site for registration by all and sundry, and also consider whether you really want to make registration approval-based (do you want to turn people down explicitly?). Much easier: Set registration to closed and then open it up briefly when you’re letting a new person in. Or ask a new user for an email address and preferred nick, open up registration and register that person yourself. Then close registration down again immediately – your new user will receive an email with an initial password.
  4. You might like to advise your users that configuring a post expiry period (in their individual settings) can help keep your database trim and their privacy even better guarded. Also tell them how to star posts and to make sure these posts are exempt from normal expiry.
  5. You can host a whole lot more people if you don’t activate the Facebook connector or if you restrict its functionality severely. But that may not be the right way to convince your Facebook friends to use Friendica.

So what does that mean in real numbers?

We can’t tell you how many Facebook contacts a really generous shared-hosting deal might be able to handle. So we can only issue a rule of thumb that should work almost everywhere: Don’t go much beyond 2000 in total. That figure might strike you as conservative – and it may very well be over-cautious in some environments. But we can’t know how far you might be able to push things in your specific case. So play it safe!

When you’re approaching that figure and thinking of letting a new user on board, ask how many Facebook friends that person will be adding to the total sum. Don’t be afraid to say no to a person who’s going to add another 500 Facebook contacts to the pool.

Another way of putting it: five to ten "non-power-users" is a good number of members for your site. Don't go above ten or include real power users unless you're an experienced sys-admin type. Below that, the software should mostly take care of itself. Upgrade every month or so and otherwise just let it run.

If you have reached the stage of rejecting new members, you can always offer to help people set up their own Friendica servers. And offering everyone a shabby service is rather less chummy than offering a good one to a few – especially if you are lending a helping hand to everyone else.

Troubleshooting

Granted, all that is fine... unless you have already ignored or only just seen the above advice - and are experiencing difficulties already. If that is the case - for instance if your site has become extremely sluggish - stay calm. There are plenty of things you can do. But do them as soon as you can.

  1. Your top priority is to stop accepting new users.
  2. Now visit your site's admin menu and look for the entries for the delivery and poll intervals in the advanced section of the site page. Set both to the maximum number of seconds for your type of system - i.e. to 5 for a shared host. Even consider adding an extra second if your problems are acute.
  3. Go to the Facebook Connector's admin panel and deactivate comment synchronization (but leave real-time updates switched on). Make sure the poll interval is set to a minimum of 60 minutes.
  4. If that doesn't help, temporarily disable the Facebook Connector entirely (notifying your users of this). Only reactivate it if you succeed in your next step...
  5. ... which is to convince at least one heavy Facebook user to launch his/her own site. Choose one you consider capable of this and offer your help. Delete that person's account on your site as soon as possible (by mutual agreement).
  6. Obviously, from now on: Don't accept new users unless existing users leave.


And now… enjoy!

 

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