Story Delivery Changes

I’ve implemented some important changes in the story delivery mechanism today. The new system has the ability to deliver long stories or long chapters in multiple pages.

Explanation:

Storiesonline is a busy site. Very busy site. In order to keep the site running smoothly and responding as fast as possible to readers’ requests, the reply time for those requests must be kept short. The servers have limited numbers of connections. So the faster each reader got their file and their browser disconnected, the faster the server could respond to another reader. In order to keep connection times short, I tried to keep files as small as possible. That meant for long stories that took a while to reach the readers’ browsers, I used to divide the story into chapters and long chapters into sub-chapters. That’s why some stories have ‘Chapter 1A’, ‘Chapter 1B’ etc…

While the old way was perfectly functional from the story delivery point of view, it created some undesired side effects. The side effects were mostly in management and database size. Each story and each chapter has two database entries, one for the meta data (title, size, etc…) and one for the text itself.

Each time an author wanted to repost a story that had been divided for size, one of us (me or the author) had to make sure that the replacement matched the old divisions. Many readers didn’t realize that chapter 1A and chapter 1B were the same chapter, simply sliced in two in order to keep each part short. It lead to confusion on everybody’s end. It was a mess.

The new system works around all these shortcomings.

So, the new system has ‘Pages’. From the readers’ point of view, it’s a little different.

Each long story (that doesn’t have any chapters), whose size exceeds 60,000 characters (including all html formatting) will be delivered in pages. There will be a mini navigation bar for the pages. When the reader first clicks on a long story, they’ll get a part of the story with the small navigation bar listing the pages. When they’re done reading one page, they click to the next and so on.

Long chapters also get pages.

That change affects on-screen reading only. Downloading archives and using the ‘V’ link to download individual chapters from stories still works exactly the same way as before.

The implications:

Not many implications. For long stories, instead of seeing ‘Chapter 1’, ‘Chapter 2’ etc… you get pages and you click from one page to another. And for stories with multiple long chapters, you won’t see ‘Chapter 1A’, ‘Chapter 1B’ etc… anymore. You’ll also click from one page of the chapter to the next.

For authors, no more ‘Chapter 1A’, ‘Chapter 1B’ in the wizard. Each chapter stays as one entity.

For stories and chapters that were divided under the old system, they’ll stay that way, for now. It’s too complicated to fix for now. Maybe sometime in the future when I have a good chunk of free time for programing, I’ll whip a script that joins those parts.

While I tested the new system extensively, I can never be sure that I worked all the bugs out. So if you stumble on some unexpected behavior, please let me know about it. If you have suggestion for enhancements, I’m all ears.

Published by Lazeez

Owner and operator of storiesonline.net

40 replies on “Story Delivery Changes”

  1. I saw it in a story and my reaction was…

    “Oooh, I like that!”

    Are the size limitations for pages the same as the old size limitations for chapters?

    I’m a control freak and I like to put in deliberate mental ‘breaks’ when a reader is going to flip to a new page online.

    I like treating the old 1a, 1b, 1c method as mini-chapters.

  2. I think it will work exactly the same as before. It will only look different. Instead of seeing Chapter 1B as the next link, you see Chapter 1 Page 2 as the next link. Good thinking and I agree you’ll avoid confusion.

    I also don’t think the spot where the story splits to a different page will be arbitrary. The mods seem to work diligently to keep the pace going.

    Nice work.

  3. I also don’t think the spot where the story splits to a different page will be arbitrary. The mods seem to work diligently to keep the pace going.

    Unfortunately, this is one thing that is not like the old way. Previously, we looked for good spots to split a submission like a horizontal rule or a scene change. The new way is automated. It simply divides the file into equal pages at the closest paragraph separator.

    The size limitation is slightly lower because of the automation. But not by much. The new system keeps page sizes below 55,000 characters. The old manual way was under 58,000 characters. A file that is 65,000 characters long will be delivered in two pages roughly 32,500 characters each. A file 105,000 characters long will be delivered in two pages 52,000 characters each. A file that’s 115,000 characters will get delivered in three pages.

    Authors who like the 1a, 1b thing can still do it on their own manually. If you insert ‘Chapter nA’, ‘Chapter nB’, the formatting tools will split the submission at those spots.

    To see the new system in action, look for old long stories. For example, ‘Aftermath’, and ‘Doing it all over’ by Al Steiner and Book 2 of Summer Camp by Nick Scipio.

  4. It seems very natural to me.

    Authors can control their chapter breaks, the page breaks are more like pages in a physical book, which we’re all used to being in arbitrary locations. At least the paragraphs don’t break.

    Over all, very nice job.

  5. I have not yet written a story with chapters long enough for this to be a factor but what are the chances when a file is uploaded it could be quickly scanned and advise the poster the story will be split if they don’t modify the files?

  6. The point of the change to the new system that files are no longer split. As far as authors are concerned, each file they submit stays as one file. But the system delivers it in pages. So quickly scanning a file while in the submission wizard will never happen.

  7. I like this new feature, but the italicized “continues” and “continuation” I dislike, as it matches the normal italic font used by authors. It is disconcerting to have non-story text matching the story text, and interrupts the flow of the story.

  8. This is a good change–I like it. One thing I would like is something like “page X of Y”, similar to the chapters (for “my library stories”). I realize this could make the title strip complicated; but for very long chapters (lots of pages) it’s nice to know where yhou are in the story.

    sam

  9. But what if the author doesn’t like where it splits? Personally if the story is going to be split when it is read I want to pick were it will be. If the system warns me it will happen I would then cancel the upload and find my own proper break point.

  10. “This is a good change–I like it. One thing I would like is something like “page X of Y”, similar to the chapters (for “my library stories”). I realize this could make the title strip complicated; but for very long chapters (lots of pages) it’s nice to know where yhou are in the story.”

    The navigation bar for chapters shows all the chapters. Unless a story is extremely long (more than 1MB of text), there is enough room in the strip to show all the chapters, so you’ll know where you are.

    “But what if the author doesn’t like where it splits? Personally if the story is going to be split when it is read I want to pick were it will be. If the system warns me it will happen I would then cancel the upload and find my own proper break point.”

    Then divide it yourself. It’s simple. Insert ‘Chapter 1’, ‘Chapter 2’ etc… where you want the divisions to happen.

    They’re pages, people understand pages. Have you ever seen a book with an unlimited length page? why is it a big deal where the page ends?

  11. Alias X said…

    I like this new feature, but the italicized “continues” and “continuation” I dislike, as it matches the normal italic font used by authors. It is disconcerting to have non-story text matching the story text, and interrupts the flow of the story.
    Looks like Lazeez changed the style a bit to make them stand out. Looks good.

    Sam


  12. The size limitation is slightly lower because of the automation. But not by much. The new system keeps page sizes below 55,000 characters. The old manual way was under 58,000 characters. A file that is 65,000 characters long will be delivered in two pages roughly 32,500 characters each. A file 105,000 characters long will be delivered in two pages 52,000 characters each. A file that’s 115,000 characters will get delivered in three pages.

    Most word processors have the ability to display the number of characters a file has.

    If the file comes close to the number above, it might get split.

    You have three choices – let the autopaging do it’s thing, insert the chapter breaks as mentioned previously or send each chapter on a separate file.

    Rob

  13. anything to make it easier for authors to manage and update their work is a good thing.

    a couple of minor things i don’t like (as a reader) are:

    there’s no indication in the browser window title of what ‘page’ you’re on. previously, you’d have “chapter 27a”, “chapter 27b”; now they’re both just “chapter 27”.

    and secondly, the screen position to advance to the next part of the story (whether it be a “page” or a “chapter”) is no longer the same. links to the next “page” are on the right margin; while links to the next “chapter” are in the middle (referring here to the links at the bottom of html pages). this may not seem like a big deal; but i am used to lining up the cursor where that link was, and then settling back in a lounger and reading. space bar to advance to the next screenful and a left-click to advance to the next html page. both are easily reachable from a laptop keyboard — and when when i really kick-back, i enlarge the text, leave the screen on the coffee table, pick up the wireless mouse (laser, so it doesn’t move the cursor if it’s not on a surface) and can read by simply scrolling (the wheel) and clicking.

  14. Are you sure this is going to decrease the load on your servers?

    My guess is increasing the number of page hits while decreasing the average page size may actually increase your server load.

  15. It’s not going to decrease the load on the servers. The load will stay the same because the division was being done anyway. So the number of hits won’t change.

    It’s not about the processor load on the servers. It’s about the connection time of each user. The shorter, the better (within reason of course).

  16. On the whole, I like this a lot.

    I have a real world situation where this can cause some problems, though.

    There are readers who have no access privileges to download stories/chapters – the SOL readers on free accounts, who are extremely limited in the features they are given access to.

    In my case, I often load entire long stories in separate firefox tabs on my laptop so I have the story available to read when I’m not going to have internet access for a while (vacation, etc). el sol’s stories in particular, for example.

    When you’re quickly loading 50 or more chapters (option clicking to load the new chapters in hidden tabs behind the front tab), it would be very easy to lose/forget to check for multi-page chapters. In fact, it makes this technique – which I’ve used for years – completely impossible.

    So while this may be doing something positive for the servers, it could very well become very aggravating and time consuming for users. Not just free users; I’m sure premier members do this as well – pre-load all the chapters to read at their leisure is just downright convenient.

    On the other hand, I see timeout errors all the time on sites like fanfiction.net (and their original fiction site) and some other story sites out there, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on SOL. Seems like something is certainly being done right.

    Just some thoughts – thanks for all the hard work!

  17. So while this may be doing something positive for the servers, it could very well become very aggravating and time consuming for users. Not just free users; I’m sure premier members do this as well – pre-load all the chapters to read at their leisure is just downright convenient.

    Maybe I’m just old fashioned or something, but that seems like a kind of roundabout way to do it. I just save each individual chapter as an html or text file if I really want a story available offline. It’s really not that hard to do. And it has the benefit of being able to close firefox without losing your story if it’s necessary. If something crashes or otherwise requires a reboot, those tabs will not reload the contents if you restart the browser when offline.

    On the other hand I see no reason why you couldn’t ctrl+click and open the next page of the chapter in a new tab while leaving the first page loaded, if you really must load an entire story into tabs.

  18. I like the new paging better than the 1A, 1B …

    I did find the “continue” flag confusing, just because I saw that first.

    The paging is easy to use, especially with the “next” button.

    I would be inclined to discount author arguments about being able to control the split. If an author wants control, then they should create the chapters accordingly. If the author has properly created the chapters to begin with, then paging should not matter, anymore than paging in a paper book matters.
    Bruce

  19. Okay so I just tested a theory and it works perfectly. The theory being that if I completely repost a story that had been previously divided up into those a, b and at times even c and d sub-chapters it will now be reformatted into this new pages format.
    Now I doubt Lazeez would like every single author to repost all their stories at once (it would probably blow her server up) but if an author has one or two stories that they would really like to reformat they could repost them at good intervals of time.
    As far as I can see, by the way, this has no true impact on the stories stats. The only stats that really change on a story are the number of downloads of the individual chapters, these are reset to 0; the total number of times the story has been downloaded since it was put up remains the same.

    DD

  20. I would be inclined to discount author arguments about being able to control the split. If an author wants control, then they should create the chapters accordingly. If the author has properly created the chapters to begin with, then paging should not matter, anymore than paging in a paper book matters.

    Perhaps this is just me but I don’t think of paging as flipping to the next page in a print book.

    To continue the print compared to electronic analogy to me having my story split for me is more like if I had a print book and the publisher without any input from me the author decided to arbitrarily split my single book into two books. I know there are valid reasons to do this but I would hope they would consult me on where I would want this to happen.

    I know if something does get split and I don’t like where it happened I can repost. I also know I can and will in the future do a character count of any posts to make sure I’m not getting into the “danger zone”.

    However the reason I have an issue is because the time between uploading and becoming available to my readers is not instant.

    The scenario I am thinking of is I upload something and forget to check ahead of time. I then get busy with real life stuff and don’t get a chance to check the presentation for several days. By the time I do check I’ve had hundreds or thousands *fingers crossed :)* of downloads at what I feel is not the best presentation of my story.

  21. Okay so I just tested a theory and it works perfectly. The theory being that if I completely repost a story that had been previously divided up into those a, b and at times even c and d sub-chapters it will now be reformatted into this new pages format.

    Glad I read thru the comments before asking this question. I at the most only have one or two stories that do the A / B chapter breaks but I think they would benefit from the new formatting.

    Thanks for testing this out DD.

  22. Thanks Lazeez. My short stories tend to be quite long and I’ve never liked the arbitrary split system as you know.

  23. Well, like one reader who posted before me I also tend to grab a few chapters when I get stuck at the station, and log in on the pay wifi net for a few minutes to grab some stuff. Firefox is excellent for that, and the amount I grab is just for a relatively short time, one chapters, perhaps 2 if they’re short.
    So, while I like the idea, and admittedly it looks good, I’ll have to have a think how to do this the easy way. One reason is I use a crappy old tablet pc while traveling for weight reasons, and it’s a pain to use without mouse, at least for right-clicky stuff. I guess I’ll just have to dl the whole thing quickly and erase later on, seems the easiest way around it. Should only matter for the longer chapters anyway, and not that many writers do that, really.

  24. i like the new feature but it makes downloading chapters more work because you have to open every chapter and look inside for more pages instead loading the whole chapter directly from the stories index page.
    It would be a great help if there would be links to the additional pages on the index page. would that be possible?

  25. To my mind, it would be more consistent to position the pages box in the topmost line, where the Home and story index links are (and, accordingly, at the bottom, in the same line as the “Next” link). Would that be possible?

  26. Having just encountered the ‘new feature’ I have to be honest and say ‘get rid of it!

    For those that download rather than read online, this is an absolute PITA.

    I prefer to read offline – I download, use InDesign to print on A5 pages and then read them as a book. At least with Chaptrer 1A, 1B 1C etc I could just paste them quickly notepad or something and have very little to strip out – but not now. I have no indicaiton of how long a chapter is.

    Of course, this is a personal opinion and will be outweighed by others that read on line – but I have no choice as to how I read or download a chapter. The ability to DL a complete chapter would make this more compelling.

  27. With a premier membership you can.

    You can even download whole stories in one text file. You won’t need to strip anything. Simply import the text file into your inDesign template and voila!

    Of course that’s only one minor convenience of premier level service.

  28. Granted premier membership has that – but where I am I have to balance the cost and that membership comes in at around just under $100 pa in local currency for me – to be honest this isn’t a realistic amountgiven the use I make of the site (no offence intended).

    But these were my comments from asn ‘outsiders’ perspective – we no longer have any indication of how long a chapter is which we at least had before.

  29. im not sure about how i feel about this whole thing. i have been a long time user of this site, sometimes paying, sometimes not. For the most part i agree with the way you run your site Lazeez. the added benifits offered in the pay portion are worth the small amount you ask for, but perhaps as a concession to all the disgruntled users you should begin allowing the entire story download option to the free readers as well… i mean think about it like this. you are talking about hits and slowing the server down…. wont it speed things up for the user to get his/her story in one shot instead of tieing up the system while trying to get all the pages, chapters, subchapters…etc…?

  30. Not to say anything bad about the new system, but I think the link for the pages is a little small. I skipped over it, at the end of a chapter, because the link to chapter 2 is still there; Right at the bottom of the page in the center, like always. So you can change to chapter 2 right away, without being done with the first chapter.

    I clicked the link to chapter 2 and was lost, I had to go back and then I saw that chapter 1 had multiple pages. I’ve skipped over the page link a few times now, I guess I have to watch more closely.

    It would be nice, if the link to chapter 2 was removed, and instead put the page link at the bottom center on the page.

  31. That’s odd. The new system shows ‘Next page’ link at the bottom when there is more to the current part. The only time you should see ‘Chapter n’ at the bottom in the middle is if you were at the last page of the current part.

  32. Well yeah I do see the Next Page, link, but it is off to the right, and it seems rather small to me.

    But at the same time I can still change to the next chapter, the chapter link still shows up at the bottom, and in the center of the page. Even if it is only page 1 of that chapter.

    I’ve skipped over the next page option a couple times, because I am just so used to clicking the link in the center at the bottom. If there was a way to remove the chapter link and only put it on the last page of the chapter, that might be better.

  33. That’s odd. When I load a long, multi-page chapter from a premier account or a free account, at the bottom of all the pages of the chapter except the last one, I only see ‘Next Page’ and it takes you to the next page of the same chapter, not the next chapter.

    Only the last page of the chapter will have ‘Chapter n’ link at its end.

    If that’s not what you’re seeing, I would appreciated a screen shot of what you’re seeing on your system. Contact me through the site’s webmaster contact link to get my direct email address.

  34. Okay well it’s not doing it now, but it really was doing it like that the other day. If the problem reoccurs I will send you a screen shot.

    I think it might have been a problem with my browser, I’ve now updated to a newer version of Firefox.

    Sorry

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