Saturday, November 25, 2023

The dreaded 502 error is a digital publisher’s worst nightmare

In the old days the worst that ever happened was the press would break down. But the press crew would go to work, fix the problem and get it rolling again, usually in a matter of hours, or less.

It was mechanical, and simple.

These days, we’ve got things like 502 errors to deal with. They are generated when a connection to a website cannot be made, usually due to an overloaded web server.

So the techs and engineers go to work and if we’re lucky the problem is quickly resolved. If not, several days can elapse before the problem has been identified.

It’s technical, and not always simple.

But in the meantime, thousands of Mexico News Daily readers — in our case 2,409 over the course of five days — can be affected.

The number of readers who were locked out was only 1.28% of the total readership during that period, but enough to keep a publisher awake at night wondering when the nightmare would end.

What made the issue even more worrisome was the phone call that came last week from a guy who said, in very broken English, that he was a hacker and had hacked Mexico News Daily.

Oh, sure, I thought as I looked at a monitor that indicated there were 450 readers on our site at that moment. You’re not much of a hacker, I said to myself, brushed him off and hung up.

The next day 585 readers encountered the dreaded 502 error message and could not read the news.

From Thursday through Sunday we employed all kinds of measures to reduce website load, but not until Sunday night did we begin to see any improvement. By Monday afternoon, as of this writing, there had not been a single 502 for nine hours.

Were we hacked? It appears unlikely, but I’m not going to declare either way.

Just so you know, if you see the 502 error there are two choices: wait a day or two, perhaps longer, and it will likely resolve itself.

Or you can do this: go through the following steps, advancing one by one until the problem is resolved. First refresh the page; then close all browser windows, open a new one and go back to Mexico News Daily; then clear the browser cache; then clear cookies; then restart the computer. I found clearing cookies did it for me, so you could always do that first. But start with the others if you would prefer not to delete cookies.

It pains me to have to ask a reader to go through all that to correct a problem that we created. But that is the nature of the error. The page has been cached by your device, or another server between us and you, and we’re stuck with a bad situation all around.

Although everything is running smoothly at the moment, the big test will come this evening when we send 50,000 email newsletters to the subscribers of two mailing lists.

My stomach roils at the thought that the nightmare is not over.

But I’ll still take a web server over a press any day.

The writer is publisher and editor of Mexico News Daily.

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