Big Updates From The New Oil

From the beginning I’ve always said this blog would be used to communicate major changes with the site in addition to reviews, ideas, etc. It’s been hard over the years to know what changes are big enough to warrant a full blog post, and which ones I should just let users see in the commit log. However, this past week, we made a few huge behind-the-scenes changes that I’m excited about and want to share. So in lieu of a traditional blog post, here’s some important stuff that happened this week.

Infrastructure

First off, some big news across the board: we’ve finally moved the main TNO website off Namecheap’s shared hosting and onto a dedicated VPS from 1984 (the same as we use for Mastodon, PeerTube, and more). For the end-user, this is great because previously Namecheap was collecting some analytics that we had no control over (this was disclosed in the privacy policy). While they didn’t seem terribly invasive in my opinion, it was still far more than I needed and annoyed me that I had no control over it. Also, earlier this year, a kind reader emailed me to inform me that my Cpanel instance was out of date and had some critical vulnerabilities. To my knowledge, updating Cpanel was out of my control and thus there was nothing I could do there. With this new update, there are no more Cpanel analytics and we’re running the latest and greatest fully patched software.

But wait, there’s more! General analytics – particularly overall monthly visitors – is still important to me. As such, we’ve added a self-hosted Plausible instance! You can view realtime stats about The New Oil’s traffic here. Full disclosure: making this work requires JavaScript. I know some people aren’t fans of Javascript. To be honest, neither am I. However, this is a single line of code and a self-hosted instance. If you’re a regular visitor to TNO who blocks all scripts by default, I’d like to ask you to consider whitelisting TNO so I can get an accurate measure of things. It would really help. Plausible is GDPR-compliant and privacy-focused, and again is self-hosted. I’m not tracking you or selling the data. You can read more about Plausible here. At this time there are no plans to add Plausible to any other of our services (such as PeerTube or Mastodon).

Finally, one of the biggest advantages of this new workflow is on the back end: updating now takes a single push from GitHub. Thanks to the site being written in a framework (Astro) and a stable GitHub desktop app, I can very easily make changes to the site in Markup then push to GitHub, and from there my changes are mirrored to GitLab, Crowdin, and the VPS – which now hosts both the clearnet and Onion services. Updating is now a breeze that requires almost no effort, which in turn means I can push out updates more quickly. Working a blue-collar day job, I’m well aware that there’s a huge difference between a physical job and uploading a few files, but as I’ve said many times, my mental bandwidth and energy are often stretched to the breaking point by the end of any given day, and something as simple as this can easily be the difference between “let me update the site real quick before bed” and “I’ll update tomorrow” (which usually snowballs into “I’ll update this weekend” eventually).

Thanks to this new workflow – and all the amazing people who made it possible (Rik and Jaden who are still helping to keep the site current and functional and Jonah of Privacy Guides who helped with the VPS transition) – The New Oil’s main site is now more secure, private, and easy to maintain than ever before.

News

Our other biggest change is also behind the scenes, and is also a game changer. Our current(ish) system of posting articles to Mastodon and Bluesky has been effective and stable but cumbersome. We have been using a service called Micro.Blog to schedule posts in advance and crosspost them to both Mastodon and Bluesky. As I said, it worked and was usually stable, but in addition to frequently posting articles late (sometimes up to 20 minutes!) it was incredibly bulky. I would have to post the content (headline, link, hashtags), then navigate to a new screen where I could schedule the post (date and time), and then click “new post” and repeat the process. As with the old way of uploading content, doing things this way once in a while isn’t a big deal. Doing it for 11+ articles every night gets arduous, and I could often lose anywhere from 30-60 minutes (sometimes more) in the process. For about a week, I had a volunteer helping me out. But shortly after volunteering, his life got busy and he had to step back. I put out a call for any interest and another amazing reader stepped up – and beyond. This reader didn’t volunteer to post articles. This reader wrote a whole damn program that I can self-host from my Raspberry Pi at home that automatically slots posts from the terminal. In other words, rather than having to reload a fresh page twice each time and manually tell the page when to schedule the article from scratch, I can simply drop a title, link, and a few hashtags into the terminal and it automatically adds it to the next available time slot. This takes seconds per article, and once again should dramatically speed up my workflow. (Please note that we're currently still encountering some bugs that we're trying to work out, but it's 90% there.)

Secondary Affiliates

A more public-facing addition is what I'm calling “Secondary Affiliates.” (I'm open to other names.) Some context is required here: I get a lot of emails from people wanting to work with me for my YouTube content. Most of these are absolute garbage that can be discarded instantly: “here's a shady service that lets you stream any streaming service in one place for just $10/month” or “NordVPN.” Of the few that have warranted some additional conversation, the vast majority of them aren't interested in paying a flat rate, but rather in pushing an affiliate link or code. I'm not against this form of earning – so long as the service is in keeping with our mission, of course. But I've also run into some considerable questions about transparency – letting people know who I've partnered with – and how to list these links in a way that doesn't confuse them with formal recommendations. Ultimately what I've decided on is to create a second category of affiliate links where I make it clear that these are not official recommendations, but rather “sponsors.” And of course, those seeking more information on how we work with sponsors can see this page.

Right now, we've added our first such sponsor: VoIP.ms. VoIP.ms is a Canadian based VoIP provider, as the name implies. They are currently Michael Bazzell's main recommendation (though for the record, that's not a guarantee to get listed. Another company who sponsored a well-known YouTuber in the space had a god-awful privacy policy and that talk stalled out). After a lot of back and forth with their CEO and looking into their privacy policy, I believe they are consistent with TNO's values and mission. Sadly, they don't have an official app, which is why they don't qualify as an official listing. However, they do bring unique things to the table like a pay-for-what-you-need plan and the ability to interoperate with dozens of other apps. This makes them ideal for people who don't want to pay for a ton of features or minutes they won't use or for people who may want to use other apps with their provider. They have tons of guides and documentation in both written and video format and – I think – make for a perfect first example of the kind of brand I'm interested in working with.

The Secondary Affiliates section will house links like that. This will provide the transparency to say “here all the companies I work with” while also making it clear that they are not official recommendations for whatever reason. I'm excited for this as it opens the door to new possible avenues of monetization for the project. Again though, I really want to drill home: I have gotten literal dozens of offers over the years and this is the first one that actually came to fruition. I will not say “yes” to just any offer that comes my way, and I will not list a service simply because they pay me. These have to be services that I believe in, that I think share TNO's values and vision, and I want to be as transparent as possible that they are not official recommendations.

Moving Forward

I’ve been very outspoken many times about how stretched thin this project sometimes makes me feel. These kinds of changes – while small – will add up in monumental ways. This freed up time not only helps give me space to relax, recharge, and fight off burnout, but it also frees me up to focus on other projects like new services, videos, and other content. And, of course, I’m extremely excited to add better privacy, security, and transparency around the project. As always, this is just another step on the way toward bigger and better things: more services, content, and functionality to help spread the message of privacy and make privacy and security accessible to everyone. Thanks for everyone who’s helped make this possible with your time and donations.

Update: this post was updated to add the section about Secondary Affiliate Links because I forgot to share it earlier and I felt it was important to share.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org, and you can find our other content across the web here or support our work in a variety of ways here.