Adblock Plus and (a little) more

Apology to Adblock Plus users - and call for participation · 2009-08-02 23:31 by Wladimir Palant

Note: I do not usually syndicate blog posts about Adblock Plus to Planet Mozilla. I chose to make an exception for this one to reach more Adblock Plus users.

Another note: This post grew quite long. If you are only interested in what you can do to help the Adblock Plus project, feel free to skip to the last section.

I messed up, really sorry about that. Some people already noticed that Adblock Plus 1.1 release didn’t have the quality you would usually expect. Right now, it looks like there are something like three distinct regressions of which I can only reproduce one so far. And what is worse, I went on vacation only a few days after the release and didn’t have a chance to properly investigate these issues — even less to fix those. So users who are affected and can no longer use Adblock Plus can only revert to Adblock Plus 1.0.2 for now.

What happened

People who have been with the project since the beginning will know that this is not the first time I do release and run. Back then I was a frequently flying between Norway and Germany and would occasionally push out a release just before leaving. This went without any real issues, most of the time I was releasing local and rather well-tested changes.

Not so this time. On the one hand, the user base has grown a lot — and with it the requirements on the quality of the releases. I get bug reports for pretty obscure configurations these days. On the other hand, Adblock Plus 1.1 changed some core functionality in a very significant way. This was to improve memory use and performance while cleaning up some old code at the same time — but the changes were pretty complex.

This would usually not be a problem, after all we have several hundred users installing Adblock Plus development builds to help catch issues early. But this time I had to do some late changes to fix issues they discovered — and still rushed out the release despite some concerns because otherwise it would come out significantly later. I also had the impression that there was less feedback on the development builds than usually, probably due to summer vacations. All regressions only happen for some users while not for others which made sure that they weren’t caught before the release.

What is being done now

I am back from my vacation. The bad news still: I cannot start working on these regressions right now. Between my other responsibilities there is very little time left for Adblock Plus and I am still going through my mail some of which contains the info I need to reproduce the issues. I hope that the forum has some useful info as well but I didn’t get to it yet and most likely won’t be able to look at all threads (please send me a mail if you think that something there needs my attention). I should have more time starting Tuesday next week, if everything goes well Adblock Plus 1.1.1 will be released around 10th of August.

How to prevent such issues in future

More development build usage

One measure that will hopefully help catch more issues before release was already implemented shortly before Adblock Plus 1.1 release. Previously I would upload development builds manually whenever major changes are made. Now the builds are created automatically each day if changes are found in the source code repository. And you will get update notifications for development builds, with all changes to the previous development build listed (make sure to click “Show Information” button):

Update notification for Adblock Plus development build

I hope this will make sure that more people are running the latest Adblock Plus development build and I will continue to announce major changes in the corresponding section of the blog. I already see around 400 active daily users for development builds, tendency increasing. If you are one of them, don’t hesitate to report any abnormalities you notice. This is easiest in the forum (you can just hit “post reply” button, registration not required).

Respecting quality concerns

Of course you don’t do significant changes shortly before a release — this is something I should have known better. So in future I should accept the fact that the pace of Adblock Plus development is rather moderate, that’s all that is possible with the time available. Saving on the quality is not the solution. If significant changes are necessary this should be more than reason enough to push back a release, as it has been in this project in the past.

The other fact that I need to accept is that I can no longer deal with any issues after a release in just three days. For future releases I should make sure that I have enough time to investigate any issues reported, create a fix if necessary, get it tested by the community and release a new version. Two weeks should be more realistic for that.

Distributing tasks and responsibilities

The issue that is harder to fix is that I’m hitting my limits with the maintenance of this project. Time has been a big issue lately and while getting more time to work on Adblock Plus is probably an option (I have an idea that I will probably blog about later), it is better to make sure that we don’t have everything depending on a single person. I’ll list the various tasks around Adblock Plus and I hope that some people will feel the urge to help with some of those (contact me then):

  • Coding. This is no longer the most time-consuming part of the project but I am happily accepting contributions. So far, the only significant code contribution came from Nickolay Ponomarev and I would definitely like to see more. Read the documentation, get the source code and send me your patches. For more complicated changes better check with me first, otherwise you might spend too much time on a suboptimal solution which will need to be reworked.

    Note: Much of the source code has JSDoc comments. In future I would like to have source code documentation generated from those automatically when development builds are created.
  • Documentation. As I indicated in the forum, I would like to move the documentation into a wiki. The idea is to both simplify syncing of documentation across languages (something that I currently spend a fair amount of time on) as well as have more people work on it. There are several parts of the FAQ that need updating, reorganizing the documentation to put more stress on documents like Getting started wouldn’t be wrong either. Both are tasks I didn’t manage to get to in a while.
  • Forum. This is one area where distribution of responsibilities works pretty well already, there is a fair number of people helping newbies and exchanging knowledge. One improvement would be creating some documentation for typical problems however. Another would be providing some guidance on how to help people reporting bugs — e.g. getting the relevant information from them, reproducing the bug, placing the blame correctly. In case of Adblock Plus the blame rarely goes to Adblock Plus itself. More often it is filter lists, the website, the browser, browser plug-ins, other extensions.
  • Forum moderation. This is mostly about fighting spam. While automatically generated spam is at zero, we have occasional spam posts created by humans (typically Chinese or Indian, some even advertise “data entry jobs”). At the moment, Adblock Plus Fan and IceDogg usually remove these in a timely fashion (thanks!) but having more people at it might help.
  • Bugzilla. I have been playing with the thought of closing Bugzilla for a while already. While it has some advantages to have it around, it seems to have more disadvantages for us. Now seems to be a good time to actually do it.
  • Email. I currently have a stock of around 350 unread emails (it was 200 before my vacation, slowly growing). Given that I advertise my email address everywhere this it not a surprise, rather the fact that in the end I get relatively few emails. But of course the users who took the time to write me deserve better. I am playing with the thought of forwarding some of the mail coming to trev@adblockplus.org to some other people who could take care of the easy questions then (which make up the bulk of it), would be nice to see some forum veterans volunteer. Only problem is that people don’t expect a mailing list behind this address, it would be nice to communicate this fact somehow.
  • Server. Now that the server is all set up it requires relatively little attention. There is a recurring task however: upgrading PHP applications installed (currently phpBB and Textpattern, in future a wiki as well). Given that I have custom patches applied to both (this is worse for phpBB that doesn’t support plug-ins) this task isn’t quite trivial and takes some time. So I would like to give away maintenance of the PHP applications — if I find a suitable volunteer. Please have understanding that I will only accept somebody with sufficient credibility here, this would give the person responsible significant power, despite restricted user accounts.
  • Releases. Getting releases out of the door takes considerable time. My current release checklist has 23 bullet points — this is already an improvement, it used to be longer. Managing translations is the most time consuming part here, despite using Babelzilla. While I managed to automate some tasks there, there is still much communication with translators required (note that there are 50 of them). I don’t expect any volunteers for that task but I would like to be surprised.

Tags:

Comment [17]

  1. Fowl · 2009-08-03 01:19 · #

    I didn’t notice anything wrong. :-)

  2. Zambini · 2009-08-03 09:18 · #

    I noticed that the Flash overlay disappears after a very short time, and the only way to get it back is to re-load the page. This is a huge step backward in my opinion and I was shocked to see it happen.

    Other than that, its still my favorite plug-in :)

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    The tab on Flash is supposed to appear every time the Flash object is hovered. This works fine in Firefox 3.5 most of the time, next Firefox version will be completely reliable. Reload shouldn’t be necessary in any case. If this doesn’t happen for you (on which web site?) you should create a forum topic and provide additional information on this issue – here again, I cannot fix something that I cannot reproduce.

  3. Robert 'wet' Wetzlmayr · 2009-08-03 09:37 · #

    Wladimir, I’ve spread the message for the Textpattern part. HTH.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Thanks!

  4. Zambini · 2009-08-03 11:22 · #

    For some reason I can’t reply to your reply

    I’m using Ubuntu 9.04 and Firefox 3.0.12
    I’m going to be reinstalling in a short time, however. This install has been giving me a lot of problems =| So I won’t bother you guys with it just yet :P

  5. g · 2009-08-03 12:05 · #

    You do a f-load of work for what seems like little reward. I hope your employer recognises this and starts to give you $$$.

  6. Someone · 2009-08-03 13:26 · #

    There is a serious problem about your “call for participation”. You mentioned the tasks that you want people to help but you forget to mention the next step we should do if we want to take up some tasks and offer help.

    Let’s say I could help setting up a wiki site for Adblock Plus documentation for you. What’s next? You doesn’t state clearly in your post.

    Let’s say I can help moderating the forum for you. What’s next? Send you an email, or send an application form on the forum? Is there any requirement before we can apply for a moderator?

    We just know the tasks you wish people to help but we don’t know what we should do when we find tasks that are interested or able to help.

    Please add a new paragraph of “what’s next if I want to help…”

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Done. This should have been obvious and my email address is already mentioned several times in this post but I added one more. To answer your questions explicitly:

    • The bullet point concerning the wiki links to a forum discussion, reading that one would be your obvious starting point. The first task is clearly choosing a wiki. If you have experience with a particular system, feel free to share in this discussion.
    • Forum moderation is something for people who frequent the forum, wouldn’t make much sense otherwise. Those people know how to contact me and I know them as well (in fact, I already have one new forum moderator on my list).

    Of course I could have written all this in my blog post but it is already long enough.

  7. Aerik · 2009-08-04 00:08 · #

    I can’t really reproduce any of the 3 top regressions myself. And until 1.1, I was a very big development build user. I’ve pretty much put that on hold as none of the improvements/fixes in the devbuilds currently appeal or apply to me.

  8. Someone · 2009-08-04 13:26 · #

    Thanks for your reply. So basically you offer one contact point for all sorts of tasks we want to take. Some may offer different contact points for different tasks. That’s why I said your blog isn’t too clear about it.

    Also you mentioned tons of unread emails are on the queue and you want help to deal with emails too. This may imply that contact by email may be unfavorable because you don’t really have time to read it at the moment.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I do read all incoming mail. It’s mostly when I am away that things get out of hand and I am struggling to catch up.

  9. MORPEH · 2009-08-04 17:17 · #

    Если я все правильно понял, то я могу помочь с работой форума и перевода сайта на русский язык. А так же переводить ваш блог для русских пользователей.
    Также могу и дальше продолжать отвечать на технические вопросы русских пользователей.

    С уважением,
    Михалкин Александр

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Да, я помню, что вы хотели переводить сайт на русский. Но сначала нужно поставить wiki, иначе мне придется заботиться о том, чтобы еще один язык “не отставал”. Блог же вообще наверное лучше переводить на другом сайте.

  10. Curtis J Neeley Jr, MFA · 2009-08-05 00:18 · #

    Would it be possible to do a feature to adblock where a filter of all “parked” or monetized domains like http://www.sleepspot.com could be used to remove those results from a search output?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    How would you know which domains are parked? There are hundreds of thousands parked domains and they look just like regular ones – except for crap content.

  11. Curtis J Neeley Jr, MFA · 2009-08-05 01:39 · #

    By a “black-list” or visitor reporting. I am willing to work almost full-time to end the parked domain crap. I am disabled and can spend a lot of time on it. I am suing NameMedia for cybersquatting my domains now. Search for NameMedia and lawsuit to inquire. sleepspot.com was one they squatted while I was an incompetent. It used to be a reservation software site. I used to write software for hotel reservations. look in the Internet Archive. I can’t really do that anymore because of a car wreck and brain injury. Report-a-parked or crappy only with a button added to ABP or a click-to-block the domain would help. It can’t be too automated. That is the power of parking and why they{squatters} make so much money on parking. A host of people can report sites they stumble across?
    I could do a Perl subroutine but Perl is about all I can do. Could that help any? A search of the DNS resulting in this-domain-for-sale might work?

  12. Stebs · 2009-08-05 03:29 · #

    I really miss some info in your Post what those three distinct regressions actually are about, you do apologize, but for what exactly (are those “serious” bugs)?

    I did not really see any problems with 1.1, but it might be a good idea to know what to look for.

    Just installed latest Dev-Build for what it’s worth, will keep my eyes open.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    The problem is that I don’t know myself, given that I cannot reproduce most of the bug reports. Two issues are fixed already: a significant slowdown on some websites and “Collapse blocked elements” not working reliably (you should get an update of your development build offered to you soon). The rest of the reports are “weird”: totally dysfunctional Adblock Plus installations, broken Firefox user interfaces, Adblock Plus not blocking some ads even though it should judging by the filters, filters disappearing altogether after update. I couldn’t reproduce any of those issues so far and they probably affect only few people. Those could easily be one issue that manifests itself differently for different people. Or not. I have really no idea yet.

  13. LouCypher · 2009-08-06 09:24 · #

    I only noticed that you changed sidebar.xul in “content” folder to “content/ui” sub-folder, because I have my extension adds a menuitem on sidebar.xul’s context menu. Other than that, no problems found.

  14. Curtis J Neeley Jr, MFA · 2009-08-07 04:29 · #

    http://www.curtisneeley.com/NameMedia/ABP-Plug-In/

    Above is my demo of an upgrade idea for a future Adblock Plus.
    It would be almost a trivial upgrade and eliminate hundreds of thousands of sites that are just spam sites loaded with text ads.

    Demo shows Mozilla screen-shots.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Since it is “almost a trivial upgrade” you hopefully won’t mind implementing this, e.g. as an extension to Adblock Plus ;)

  15. Chris Thousand · 2009-08-07 06:36 · #

    I’ve started to notice that certain flash and java ads don’t have the Block tab on them (such as some of the banners on Digg or Vimeo) even though the flash-based video content embedded on these sites does have it. Have advertisers figured out a way to spoof ABP yet? Because it would seem that the content that you want is blockable (and recognizable as Flash) whereas the advertisements are not blockable.

    I’m sorry if this question seems redundant, but I’m not a developer and have only started noticing this trend since I updated to Firefox 3.5 on a new computer.

    Thanks for all of your hard work. This is easily one of the greatest programs available on the internet.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    That would be http://bugzilla.mozdev.org/show_bug.cgi?id=12910 – something that I hope to solve soon, given the recent improvements to object tabs. You can block these objects through the list of blockable items however (https://adblockplus.org/en/faq_basics#objects) – blocking the frame they are in is usually a better idea however.

  16. Curtis J Neeley Jr, MFA · 2009-08-07 19:09 · #

    “as an extension to Adblock Plus ;)”
    Sorry if I was being too presumptive. It is not a trivial undertaking for me since my brain was restarted by a brain injury. I imagine it would be easy for you.

    I just sued a common maker of those sites. NameMedia cybersquatted two of my domains for link farms! If I win – or when I win, I will pay you to implement it.
    http://www.curtisNeeley.com/NameMedia

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    See http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/2009/04/have-you-ever-legalized-marijuana.html – this is one of those ideas that are easy to imagine but not exactly trivial to implement. What’s worse, I don’t think that too many people care about those pages (enough). So I am not going to spend time on it and this is not about money.

  17. lovelywcm · 2009-08-09 01:16 · #

    Could you please read one of those 350 emails concerned with ChinaList (with “ChinaList” in the subject)?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I looked over it briefly but didn’t realize that it is more than a change of maintainer. Yes, you are right, I will add ChinaList to the recommended filter subscriptions.

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