Thursday, November 10, 2011

Changes afoot: Partychat moving to a new home

There are some changes coming to Partychat over the next few days, and while we hope they won’t have too big an impact on you, we wanted to explain what’s happening.

When Partychat was born, it ran on an ancient desktop in my living room. Two years ago, we moved it over to Google’s App Engine, which made Partychat much more stable and allowed us to add new features more easily. (In case you're not a programmer, App Engine is a platform that allows users to build web apps using Google's infrastructure). App Engine provides a certain amount of resources for free, and at the time, Partychat was small enough that we didn’t have to pay anything. Over time we’ve grown and in recent months we’ve been paying a bit more than $2 per day in fees to run the service.

Recently, Google decided to change their pricing model for App Engine, making Partychat significantly more expensive to operate. In fact, their initially announced prices would have caused Partychat to cost $250 per day at current usage levels (and mind you, we’ve doubled in size over the last 9 months). Google later revised these prices to a more reasonable level, but we would still be paying $25 per day under the new pricing model. $25 may not sound like a lot, but that’s $9,000 per year—and we’re committed to keeping Partychat free, with no advertising, so we literally have no source of revenue other than our own pockets and your kind donations.

We had hoped Google would change its mind yet again and lower prices further, to a sustainable level for us, but that hasn’t happened, and the new prices went into effect this Monday. So we’ve been forced to move Partychat over to Amazon’s Elastic Cloud Computing platform, where we calculate that we can run the service for less than what we were paying even before App Engine’s pricing change*.

As sad as we are to be leaving App Engine, this migration has an upside for us (aside from the savings) in that we’ll finally be able to move Partychat rooms to our custom domain. In fact, this should be the biggest change you’ll see as part of the migration: Instead of chatting with rooms in, you’ll now be chatting with them in Your room state (members, aliases, ++points, etc.) will stay the same**.

We’ll be embarking on the migration sometime over the next few days. Please bear with us—we’ll try our best, but we don’t expect this to be a completely flawless transition. A huge, incredible thanks to Vijay who has been doing all the work to make the migration happen. And if you love Partychat as much as we do, consider donating to help it keep running for a long time.

-- Akshay

* During this transition, we've had to suspend rooms with more than 100 participants as these few rooms represent a disproportionately large portion of our costs. We hope to reinstate these rooms soon after we've fully migrated Partychat to EC2 and have everyone else running stably. To help keep future costs under control, we may start adding limitations to the number of people and/or the amount traffic in each room. We’ll be keeping you up to date here in this blog, and via our twitter account: @partychat

** In fact, we’re still using App Engine database for the next few weeks. The price hike was for outgoing XMPP messages, which we will now avoid by sending messages via EC2. We’ll write more about this soon.