Donations call and situation report
Three times a year, writeups.org’s webmaster and lead writer pontificates (the “state of the worg”, as a reference to the “state of the Union” Presidential address) and asks for donations.
These always take place in February, June and October.
The speeches are about :
- Ongoing work.
- Future work.
- Work in general.
- Some technical aspects of general interest.
- How and why the site and its content are evolving.
- Community news.
- The context in which the site exists.
- The meaning of life as a fictional characters researcher.
- How some things work. Say, work.
- Stuff like that.
If you’re a regular reader, it’s fairly interesting. I mean, of course I’m gonna say that, I wrote them.
Latest “state of the worg” post
This is the February of 2023 address. Yay !
1/ 2022 is over
The past year saw a heavy focus on bringing entries to the 2022+ standards.
By the end of the year more than 700 entries were WORG 2022+ compliant. Either because they were brand new, or were rebuilt to that standard.
So that’s a significant chunk of this huge site, which is nice.
At this pace the site would “only” take 8 years to overhaul. But since those 700+ entries were mostly recent, they were the easiest to rebuild. The median productivity will only go downhill from there.
Everything that was published on the site since May of 2019, minus a few stray cases, is now on the 2022+ format. The older the entry was, the more dramatic the improvements.
(Especially for those readers on mobile devices who mostly look at the images. Which is a sizable part of the readership).
2/ Sub-objective #1
I’m also ⅔ of the way with a sub-objective. Which is to process (and in most cases, expand) the 40-ish Weapons Locker articles.
They tend to be work-intensive, so having them done and out of the way is nice.
But a few will have to be left aside for now. Mostly video games stuff where I need to redo photography.
All weapons locker articles can be searched using the Weapons Locker category.
3/ Sub-objective #2
Another push was to create team profiles for a few key, central super-teams. These ended up being the Avengers, Fantastic Four and several versions of the Suicide Squad.
They’re joining the West Coast Avengers, who received their initial team profile not too long ago.
In each case, what’s important is to create the first article in the series. This is for logistical reasons – once this chapter exists, I have to manually create hyperlinks toward it in relevant entries.
This is quite a grind. So the idea is to lay down the early basics for teams to get the links done sooner rather than later. And one day circle back to continue each series.
All team profiles can be found using the “organisation or team” role.
4/ 2023 begins
Starting on 1/1/23, I switched to a new work schedule. Due to :
- The huge workload from rebuilding entries to the 2022+ format.
- My health (memory loss, brain fog, poor time perception, chronic pain and exhaustion, etc.).
I doubt that anybody follows writeups.org activity so closely that they’ll notice.
The 2023+ schedule seeks a balance between :
- Having to maintain a heavy focus on 2022+ format upgrades.
- Still keeping some space to write new stuff. With “new stuff” keeping a balance between individual profiles, team profiles, video game characters/monsters, not-from-US-super-hero-comics characters, M&M stats, etc..
The idea for 2023 is to write less, and consume the current publication queue. That is, stuff wot’s already written but I didn’t have time to publish yet.
If all goes well, by the time the queue is exhausted, I’ll often be working on 2022+ upgrades for entries that are so old, and require so much rework, that they’ll essentially be new entries.
5/ Caches everywhere
In late 2022 our hosting service added another layer of caching, which I seized ASAP.
Having extensive caching is indispensable. Since we’re accommodating medium-enterprise-scale traffic on personal-blog-scale hosting. Because the costs have to fit on the adverts’ revenue.
Caching *can* create issues where a few people see older content. The odds of that aren’t huge (for starters, there are 6,200+ pages), but with so many readers…
It can also delay newer content from showing up in some cases.
In short – the site doesn’t refresh itself aggressively, and in some cases some people see an older version of the page. It’s not readily noticeable, and it is unlikely to be addressed until we do the next site overhaul… which, *at best*, will be in 2035 or so.
*If* you are a WORG diehard who checks the site multiple times a week, see the “social media presence FAQ”, which also explains some basics about RSS. RSS is good. We’d live in a less terrible world if proprietary platforms hadn’t pushed it into a ditch.
I’m still happy with our hosting situation.
We’ll eventually have to upgrade to their largest WordPress shared hosting formula. But that’ll only become indispensable once there’s so many audio files that we’re about to run out of storage space.
Still, even with all the caching, we’ve been too big for our server instance in one respect, and since day one. It’s the search engine, I think. Especially since there are so many possible queries you can use it for that caching common queries doesn’t help much.
There are possibilities to have searches run on separate servers — and they’d be smarter searches as well. That mostly means ElasticSearch, but our budget is so abysmal and the site is so big that we can’t afford even that.
So, fingers crossed that over the years ElasticSearch prices will become even lower. But even if they do, porting over our searches to that would require several days of costly and oddly-hard-to-hire expertise.
7/ Paying evil
Our free year of Amazon voice synthesis services is over, so now we’re starting to pay for it.
Costs should remain tiny, as we host the files ourselves. And though yes, WORG has millions of words on it, we can “only” publish or republish a few hundred entries per year. Which is when the “read this aloud” button comes into play
Still, if you’ve enjoyed this functionality to, say, listen to an article as you iron shirts or do sit-ups, you could conceivably throw in a few bucks.
We did go for the synthesis’ highest quality level. It feels almost like an actual person speaking, though with a pace and enunciation emphasis clarity. Since a big chunk of our readers speak English as a second language.
But, of course, it’s markedly more expensive than a basic robovoice.
8/ Heh-hi, schmehigh
Incidentally, the site remains 100% #AI #contentgeneration free.
I *might* eventually generate some AI pictures for a few entries. Mostly novels for which no pictures exist. I doubt I’ll have the time though – such illustrations are only there to avoid the wall-of-text look. And apparently it now costs money.
Large Language Models are prolly going to have an indirect impact on the site, though.
Since late 2022 generating miles of bad text has gotten easier and cheaper. And the majority of the Internet is already composed of super-low-quality, automatically-assembled content trawling for advertisement revenue.
So I’d expect :
- Continued erosion of ads revenue.
- Google (our primary source of visitors) becoming even more useless. Both because of the web being even more flooded with junk content, and Google becoming an unreliable answers engine.
- Even more theft of our work (to train AIs).
- Even more bad info out there – made up by industrial-scale bullshitting engines.
Genre character profiles aren’t a source of higher-yield advertisement, so it’s not going to be a primary target.
But this sort of geeky stuff is well-know for being high #engagement. That’s the main reason why Fandom wikis exist. So not a primary target, but not a terrible one either.
Older “state of the worg” posts
Here are the archives. These start in early 2021.
The full archives go back to 2016 which is when the site went through a major overhaul (as explained in the FAQ about writeups.org’s history).
But these are on a separate page, since it was just too big.
Keep in mind that these articles were posted four months apart. So there’s some repetition when you chain-read them. Since I don’t expect people to remember the stuff I was blabbering about four months prior.
And not 202 as I kept typing.
1/ Gimme da cash !
(That’s an obscure The Fifth Element quotes, nobody under age 50 cares).
One of the two objectives of these soapbox speeches is to get donations (the other is to provide info).
Donations have been low in recent years. There has been, as you may have heard, a pandemic that’s leaving millions dead and millions more disabled, with severe revenue losses for many working class persons.
And it seems about to get worse, as Western countries seem to be deliberately heading into a recession. Which will of course impact other regions.
So if you’re among those who still have donation money, keep in mind that most other people can ill-afford to donate. With great power, yadda yadda.
2/ Travelling back in time
Last August, I started rebuilding to the WORG 2022+ format all articles that had been published back in August of 2020.
So this project had by that point “travelled back” two years, which took 8 months.
Though of course it’s not linear. During that span brand-new entries were also added, and a number of older entries were rebuilt.
I suspect that two years isn’t far back in the past enough for the *most* devoted writeups.org readers not to get the “wait, didn’t I read a WORG article about that already ?” déjà vu. So let’s keep on keepin’ on, perhaps three years will be time enough.
3/ More time travel
As of late September, 2022 I can reasonably expect to have rebuilt every entry published or republished since 1/1/2020 before 1/1/2023.
Which should roughly mean 10% of the site having been rebuilt, prolly slightly more.
This is despite the current emphasis on processing the Weapons Locker articles. Which tend to be huge and full of pictures and full of stats and really work-intensive (which is why I’m getting them out of the way).
Being able to close the entire rebuilding project within 10 years –10% of the site per annum — would be great. But of course it doesn’t work that way. Most entries entries I’ve been rebuilding are recent ones, requesting the least work to meet our 2022+ standards.
Over 2023 I’ll increasingly run into articles that require an increasing amount of work to overhaul. And so the average pace will keep slowing down, like an old truck crossing increasingly muddy, rain-battered desolate wilderness as an old cassette player plays old polo disco songs and you suddenly realise there’s no driver.
Rebuilding to WORG 2022+ standards is nice. The part of me brain that is obsessively attracted toward “let’s restart everything from scratch and do it right this time, with all that was learned” is happy.
And almost every entry clearly benefits from being rebuilt. The quality level of the 2022+ format articles is pretty robust, though of course there are characters about whom there isn’t much to say.
But… I’m still struggling with how to best organise and prioritise the work.
It will last for, at the very least, 12 years. 15 is more likely, and I can see scenarios that hit 20. Dunno if you’ve ever worked on a single project spanning 15+ years of constant work, but it’s not like a normal project.
There’s a broad mix of things to do. Juggling between those is a royal pain.
- “Simple” rebuilding of entries.
- Entries that can also be updated.
- Entries that also require redoing all of the pictures.
- Entries that need to be entirely redone.
- Editing/publishing contributors’ entries.
- Writing brand new entries.
- Serialised entries that need new chapters.
- Series of articles that need disambiguators.
- Resources articles such as the Weapons Locker series.
- Writing entries that should have been there years ago (the folder where I keep resources for those has appearance chronologies for 1,723 characters).
- Researching video games (researching and playing games are two very different things).
- Change-of-pace entries (Novels, Francophone comics, movies and TV series if I can manage to watch long enough…)
- Entries that involve doing a profile for a key team (Avengers, JLA, FF, etc.).
My health comes and goes (mostly, it goes) which makes planning a tad futile. Energy, inspiration, pain levels, exhaustion levels and morale are just too random.
So on 1/1/23 I will be reorganising my 80 hours WORG work week using Notion.
It’s not a silver bullet, but this planning/productivity/second brain tool will replace the feeling of forever juggling priorities with an on-rails, don’t-think-about-it-just-do-the-planned-stuff schedule.
5/ Vidja games
There was a span in 2021 when there were more video game entries than the usual “20% at most” ratio. Because I had to take more breaks than usual as I grinded through “generation 1” tags attribution.
(Which is also why there were alot of video game characters articles getting rebuilt lately, as I worked my way through the entries published in 2021 and 2020).
Now this has flipped as I haven’t had time to take gaming breaks in a while. When I do it’s just a pair of Warframe missions as comfort food.
But I got lucky – our contributor Tom happens to be pumping out fighting games character profiles lately. So the one-out-of-five ratio should hold for a good while.
6/ Land of contrasts
A large chunk of WORG work is editing and adjusting images for publication. Comic book panels, video game screenshots, backgroundless character shots, original portraits if necessary, selected concept art, etc. etc..
One issue with that is that my ability to see contrast has been fading for several years. While I’m not *that* old, there’s significant premature ageing from health conditions.
So pictures increasingly have “shadows” among white areas. Remnants of pale colours that look white to me but, to healthier eyes, clearly are very light grey, very light pink, very light yellow, etc..
I’ve been monkeying with monitor settings to try and compensate, but of course that can easily screw colourimetry. Which would result in all hues in my work being off…
… unless that’s already the case and I’m not seeing it, of course. That’s kinda the core issue with colouring.
My main solution at this stage is to continue fiddling, both with the monitor and the room’s lighting.
My alternate solution is, of course, full Deathlok cybernetic conversion as a ghostcomp using military super-technology stolen from the future. I’m nothing if not pragmatic.
So, let me tell you how the writeups.org (WORG) project is going. No, no I insist.
1/ WORG 2022+ format
Except for a handful of special cases, every entry published since 1/1/2021 has now been switched to the new format.
This threshold was reached in early May. It was scheduled for early April, but Q1 2022 hasn’t been spectacular for me, health-wise.
The work mostly continues along the ⅔ + ⅓ format. That is, two entries come from the most recent ones that are yet to the pre-2022 format, and the third doesn’t.
It can be an old entry taken at random, a new entry, or an old entry that needs to be processed as part of another project.
The emphasis is on “recent” entries (as of this writing, stuff published in 2020) since they require the least work to bring to new standards.
The goal here is to convert as many entries as possible to the new format. Before hitting the point where much lengthier rework for quality becomes the norm.
The amount of new and revised material hasn’t changed — 5 entries every 10-ish days.
2/ WORG 2022+ format roadmap (part #1)
The ideal scenario would have been to keep doing modernisations and only that.
As previously explained, taking time off — say, to create 100% new writeups arcs — results in the overall delay — at least seven years of work — exploding to 10+ years.
I’m now fairly sure that 10+ years is gonna be the case.
- I’m among the millions of immunocompromised and/or disabled, chronically sick, cancer-surviving, aged, etc. people who have been thrown under the pandemic bus for no articulable reason. So working while even more in survival mode is difficult.
- Breaks to write (or co-write) wholly new stuff are proving unavoidable.
- Current pace is barely hitting two modernised entries/day. And I can easily see a point where it’ll be one as redoing illustrations, in-depth copy editing, etc. becomes the norm.
So, I’m prolly not finishing this until we’re well into the 2030s.
Which leads to an interesting question.
3/ WORG 2022+ format roadmap (part #2)
Namely, when will the site *need* an evolution ? Well, that can come from two main sources :
- Me realising that I’ve made a big mistake with the 2022+ format. Now there *were* mistakes and failures. But with one exception they’re not glaring. So that one seems handled.
- General evolutions in web usage. For instance, the biggest driver in the 2016 and 2022 writeups.org overhauls was the growth of smartphone readership. We had to take two stabs at it — 2016 addressed the biggest issues, 2022 most of the rest — to provide a proper on-small-devices reading experience.
Will something comparable happen during the 2020s ? No idea.
It’s entirely possible that little will happen. Or something nonsensical might happen. As per the usual dynamics of dominant mega-platforms, *way* too much money aimlessly floating around, and overconfident Silicon Valley types with terrible solutions to imaginary problems.
4/ Homepage hero picture
In early May, we finally switched from the rag-tag super-low-budget-and-I-DO-mean-super-low placeholder hero illustration on the homepage to professional art.
It’s from Guillaume Martinez. He’s a French graphic novels artist who sometimes also does cover art for Marvel.
The picture displays on desktops only. Loading a big, 400+Kb hero image on smartphones ain’t something I’m comfortable with. Especially for our readers in areas with poor network infrastructures.
This illustration immediately conveys what the site is all about, and it looks solid and unique. So we got that going for us, which is good.
5/ Sic transit gloria mundi
As I write this, RPGWatch has announced that it’s closing down. It’s been around since 2000 (as RPGDot), and was one of the few deep, community-driven computer role-playing games resources.
It’s just an umpteenth example of no-profit, all-work Internet community content disappearing. And they tend not to be replaced. People just drift into low-effort large platforms such as Reddit, Facebook, Discord, etc..
So contribute to your favourite, free Internet community-made content sites or watch them all go extinct.
6/ Disambiguate this !
A good chunk of recent work was about our disambiguation pages. With the Batman disambiguation page being the big one.
These pages are useful for everyone. But they are particularly helpful for people who are not familiar with the site and just search for, say, “Batman”.
With the disambiguator, they get full guidance and explanations in a format with lots of illustrations and mostly tiny texts. Plus a good sense of what the site covers and what it’s useful for.
More disambiguation pages will pop up. Wonder Woman, Superman, Captain America and other names people are going to spontaneously search for.
But these are work-intensive projects. Since I modernise and polish the bulk of the articles mentioned on the disambiguation page before (or shortly after) I publish it.
Disambiguators are also useful as we increasingly work using :
- Thin slices (such as “Bullseye, but only his first 8 appearances”).
- Team profiles narrating events to avoid repetition in each individual profile.
- Two-part profiles so it’s readable on a smartphone in the subway.
Working that way is great to present focused, more interesting articles that more people will actually read. *But*, at some point, you need a clear sense of how all these articles fit together and why.
7/ Web v1
I was about to talk WORG traffic numbers and evolution of the Internet and attention herding, but :
- It’s not a short discussion, nor a simple one.
- It might be a bit too “inside baseball” for readers who just want quick news about the site.
- I eventually realised it was much more germane to the “history of the site” FAQ than to these information messages.
So I guess I’ll just expand that FAQ at some point. It’s a nice document.
(Though it actually was published in March, yes.)
1/ Oh boy too many things
Lots of things — mostly work — have happened since the last “state of the WORG” soapbox speech.
If I start discussing it all watercooler-style, this post is going to be way, *way* too long.
- There was a mini-blog that discussed many aspects of the 2022+ format for WORG articles.
- I had to take two breaks. A scheduled one at the tail end of 2021, and an unscheduled one (two weeks in February) due to exhaustion/health. But in-between those I could process more than a hundred entries so y’all have something to read.
- The February forced vacation is why this post is happening in March rather than in February.
- We underwent our first genuinely large denial-of-service attack in February, which caused about 20 hours of trouble (including 8 of downtime).
2/ Concatenate this
This is minor, but I also have deleted a bucketload of not-our-main-content posts.
I’m talking about “happy new year” or “there was a server incident” posts. Plus long-since-ended Humble Bundle alerts.
This sort of thing will now be done on dedicated pages.
- This here donations calls and situation reports page.
- The minor news page, whose content is indeed… minor. It’s mostly about being polite, really.
- The bundles and offers page, though there the expired offers will be erased as they expire.
This simplifies things. And avoids “thin” posts that Google doesn’t like.
3/ Tagging evolutions
As explained on the tags page, there were “generation 1.5” tagging passes, with a few more left to do. These help readers find :
- Characters who were active before the Silver Age Of Comics, with better-defined eras.
- Non-White characters, with better categories for readers who want to see some representation.
- Non-American characters, with better-defined areas.
Tags are great for those with an exploration mindset. Which is a good mindset. Go forth and explore.
If I start really talking about it it’ll last hours… but the general idea is that we have moved to one of the best-in-class managed WordPress hosting services (Siteground ), plus 20-to-25% of the site being distributed by Cloudflare .
- It’s less expensive.
- It’s faster. Which is important since entries now start with a “splash” image that’s often 200 or 300Kb.
- It works better for people who are a long way away from the server.
- It’s more stable.
- It’s managed by people who actually know what they’re doing, rather than by me.
- It’s even more secure.
- It has lots of little optimisations.
The only downside so far are the oddly low disc quotas at Siteground. I don’t get it, disc space is cheap as chips. It means :
- I couldn’t fully deploy the target search solution. Relevanssi is an absolute pig when it comes to database bloat.
- Years down the line we may run out of storage space. Chiefly because the lightboxed version of each image is markedly larger, and because there are now voice synthesis files.
Hopefully, disc quotas will be raised in the meanwhile.
5/ Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux
The WORG 2022+ format involves a lot of manual work – a 40+ steps procedure. In part because it rationalises a lot of elements (such as image dimensions and placement). So they will be easier to bulk-process in the future.
It also involves aggressive quality improvements. Which in many cases mean additional research, thorough copy-editing, entirely redoing images, etc.. There’s more than 20 years of content here, and a lot of it was done for a cruder Internet and with cruder skills.
Doing three entries a day is a strong pace, allowing for entries that take more work than others. Say, entries where I need to redo all pictures from digital reissues as the old scanned JPGs look shoddy.
And here your keen mathematical mind has seized the problem. There are more than 6,200 articles on WORG, so three a day would mean 2,070+ days. Which is about 70 months, or six years of wall-to-wall uninterrupted work.
In practice this’ll of course be more. My health is terrible, and there are many entries that require extensive overhauls because they are too old. Or the video game was remastered. Or the content needs to be reorganised around a team profile. Or whichever.
6/ Sisyphean (continued)
Seven or eight years is a lot. Not redoing the site before 2030 is pushing it, especially if there are significant technological evolutions. And 2030 is an optimistic date.
So this means that during this lengthy span I won’t have time to work on wholly new entries. But there are important caveats :
- An entry that gets entirely redone is effectively a new entry.
- These wholly redone entries often lead to writing up a few obscure characters that pop up in these stories.
- Obviously I’m not the only contributor. New or revised entries from the other folks continue normally.
So I’m not expecting changes to be too visible. It is just that the mix will have a markedly stronger proportion of “v2” entries.
But it does limit our ability to expand to new material, such as more recent comics.
7/ But this is getting too long
And therefore I’m stopping here.
This means that the June “state of the WORG” soapbox address will discuss more of the close of 2021/early 2022 changes months after the fact. Slightly awkward, but better than having a novel-length post in March.
So, let me tell you how the writeups.org (WORG) project is going. No, no I insist.
There were multi-hours site outages in mid-October.
We were trying a *finally* nail a particularly elusive SSL dysfunction. Basically everything was taken apart and put back together, we cleaned the barrel and chamber and… and we still have no idea what’s up with erroneous SSL handshakes.
I am increasingly considering a hosting service change in mid-2022. I have ties with our current hosting service, but I’ll have to eventually admit that they are now outpaced by the likes of Bluehost.
(Or Kinsta, but a Kinsta hosting for the volume of visitors we get is $200+ per month so, errr, no).
Tagging the entries was finished on the 5th of October. 😺
This is nice, since tags are a great way to explore our huge site along specific angles. This wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Another nice aspect is that tagging ate many, many hours. Even with long breaks from tagging, that’s a lot of time I couldn’t use for research, writing and statting.
One not-so-nice aspect is that the process ended with a stroll through the oldest, most obsolete, oft-jankiest articles on the whole dang site. For the second time – I had already done a loonng sweep through the site to align all entries with the 2016 changes.
2/ Writeups.org version 2021
The objective is to refresh or overhaul the site every 5 years or so, to keep up with the times.
For a while, it seemed that with the pandemic, such an overhaul would be pushed back to 2022. But I’m not certain we’ll still have our complimentary search engine instance after April of 2022.
So as of this writing, the work has (music swells to a heroic pitch) THE WORK HAS JUST STARTED.
The main goals are :
- Display better on smartphones.
- Switch to a new search tech, and finally finish the search results page.
- Go through a laundry list of small fixes and improvements. No, not “small foxes” as I first typed. Stupid fingers.
It’s about the same scope as the 2016 evolution. But we’re not going for strong visual changes, the basics of the current visual identity are fine.
3/ Aftershock (financial)
This website overhaul will annihilate our warchest. That’s why we only do it, at most, every five years. It takes years for donations and extra income from ads to become a workable amount of money.
There’s even a risk I have to spot money for this iteration, if the search engine work runs into trouble. Which is funny because I live on about $500/month.
The new search solution on WORG will also be an additional monthly cost. That’s part of the reason why I’m considering switching to a more competitive hosting package for mid-2022.
3’/ Aftershock (labour)
Once the late 2021 site overhaul work is done, there will be a multi-years grind for me to soldier through.
This’ll be similar to the 2016-2018 grind. For a long while, older-format articles coexisted with newer-format articles, as I manually migrated them.
Such a grind will involve :
- Manually reshuffling layouts, and particularly the images currently in the right-hand column (on desktop displays). I’ll also get rid of the lowest-quality images. And of one advertisement in the vast majority of entries.
- Deploying the second set of tags.
- Doing a quality pass. Too many entries need improvements, updates, better pictures, edits, redone images, etc..
- Stopping with some regularity to fully redo an entry that’s just too old and I can’t suffer for it to live anymore aaarrgh.
The last two would immensely extend the duration of this grind, so I’ll have to see how far I take this.
Even sticking to the first two could easily take five years. Since obviously that’s on top of the normal research, editing, writing, illustrating, etc. that goes into the site about 355 days a year.
And since there’s now more than 6,000 entries to manage… I’ll have to see what approach works best, but in any case the changes will have to be gradual.
4/An invaluable absence
You *do* realise that this website doesn’t do the thing of writing deliberately bad, contrarian and dismissive articles to earn a small but sorely needed windfall from hate-clicks and irate #engagement ?
That alone is worth a donation, mate.
5/ Critical Blow (+2CS OV)
We ain’t a review site.
- There are already way too many people giving their opinions.
- Proper critique requires a whole body of fine-arse skills (then credibility-building) we don’t really have.
- We’re already busy deploying another approach.
*But*. Some people are gonna read a profile and go “wow that’s so my jam” and buy the book or game or novel or movie or whatever.
Which creates a tension when the work is more-problematic-than-usual. Especially since we cover a lot of material from the 1940s, 1950s, etc..
(I don’t usually write “problematic”, for the sake of people who have been conditioned to think that those who say “problematic” are The Enemy. But right now it’s 6:30 AM and my social graces are at least two coffees away.)
Unless it’s just catastrophic (say, 1940s turbo-racist war propaganda), we can’t devote a large word count to this. It’s not our goal, and there’s a fair few people who do a better job of it anyway.
So I — as the writer and/or editor — often end up fiddling numerous times with the exact formulation of brief notes. Usually to the effect of “yes, this is crap, moving on” or “this was considered the norm back then, moving on”.
Or my new favourite — “this story fumbles the ball about such and such, but you can fix this when the character appears in *your* story.”
6/ Critical Blow (-3 CS RV)
“We’re already busy deploying another approach”, sez the subsection above. Let’s explain.
The core goal here is to use these characters in tabletop role-playing game sessions. Where, ideally, one is fully immersed in the imaginary world, taking decisions there, living there.
Now, every story has weak points. But if you’ve decided to live in the story during game sessions, you have to deal with those constructively. You can’t just point, laugh a deep-fried laugh and go “AW AW THESE LAZY IDIOTS CAN’T WRITE PLOT HOLE I’M SO INTELLIGENT”.
Our approach is to find ways around the issue and *protect* suspension of disbelief. Such as :
- Possible explanations (“No-Prize Hypotheses”).
- Suggestions to paper over the issue in your version of the story.
- Not dwelling on it too much if it’s a niggling detail.
In a way, it’s the opposite of a review. If a story is confusing, our goal isn’t to point that out. It’s to explain it as clearly as we can.
Furthermore, of something works oddly, then our job is to model how that thing works *in the story*. Not how we think it *should* work.
Again, the job is to facilitate excursions into an imaginary world. Not rate it from 1 to 5 stars. Or get ballistically irate because Well Actually Zombies Don’t Work That Way.
7/ Style, baby. Style.
Over the decades, the writing style used on writeups.org has gotten less formal.
This in part reflects a general evolution online. Back in the days, #content was mostly done in a journalistic or academic form. Since those were the previous norms.
Nowadays, #content is increasingly comparable to the #authentic #relatable #content that makes #money. Such as Twitch or YouTube.
In our specific case, it is also important that the text not read like a Wiki article. We seek to be more engaging, more readable than Wikipedia or Fandom.
My sense is that writing more conversationally is a good thing – until you step into a trapdoor. Just a little less formality, and suddenly the tone becomes a hindrance.
This has been notable lately. Over at commercial sites, the pandemic crushed income from advertisements. Which required fewer people to pump out #content faster. Even if nothing much was happening, due to said pandemic.
Until recently, this led to a lot of #content that is barely distinguishable from shitposting with better spelling. That’s falling down the trapdoor.
So we keep an eye out for that.
8/ So I was thinking…
…but it’s getting a bit long, so we’ll talk about that in the next sitch report.
So, let me tell you how the writeups.org (WORG) project is going. No, no I insist.
1/ At least it looks nicer
The past months and months and months have been dominated by housekeeping.
Tagging entries, revisiting and splitting overlong entries, redoing illustrations to much better standards, adding M&M stats, preparing or revising “general use” #content (such as weaponry articles), rechecking design documents for the maybe-2022 site evolution, organising comics/gaming/video/novels research material, etc..
So that’s a lot of useful, if low-flash, work that got done.
However it feels like I haven’t written anything in yonks. And the few articles that got done during this span clearly felt harder to do, as if getting out of shape.
2/ Back to 1985, which to be clear was 36 years ago…
The big project of late April… and all of May… and half of June I guess… was going through the massive, 2021 hardback edition of the 1985+ Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. To redo many pictures across the site to a much better standard.
(Though the ones we had before aren’t as bad as they could have been. Since they were scanned from TSR’s Gamers’ Handbook to the Marvel Universe , which had much better paper and ink than the comic pamphlets did.)
That’s hundreds of pictures to scan, process and republish. Not to mention the logistical issues of scanning a 7.62 pounds book. Or cleaning those weird scratches on the panel of my $50-ish, 10+ years old flatbed scanner.
(Some pics also had multiple versions because I ended up not being happy about arcane crap such as input levels, saturation, ragged or aliased edges, etc.. Also, I ended up throwing a *lot* of digital comics into this better-illustrations-preparing run, probably doubling or tripling the total work time)
I even had to dig out my old officer’s uniform’s white gloves for the occasion. To avoid leaving skin oil on the pages. The whole scanning process is already stressing the book enough as is.
3/… for it casts a long shadow
Now, these are just some old pictures. And they’ll get a bit lost among the (checks) 36,392 illustrations that are on WORG right as of this writing.
But I can’t overstate how important the 1980s OHOTMU (particularly the more refined 1985 one) was to fictional characters profiling. Many of the pictures I’m now processing remain *the* view of the character for me, since these handbooks were so impressive back then.
Nowadays, of course, fictional character profiling is a multi-billion dollars industry. Its thought leaders, such as myself, are massively wealthy and influential moguls.
But so much of it started with the work of Mark Gruenwald, Peter Sanderson, Eliot Brown and Steve Saffel. Plus the artists, inker, assistants, etc. etc..
Let’s never forget these humble roots. Even as entertainment megacorporations court us elite profilers with honeyed promises, gorgeous hetairai, bills-filled suitcases and the purest cocaine.
(As a side note, the direct ancestor of the handbooks were the indexes done by George Olshevsky during the 1970s and 1980s. Which were possible because Mr. Olshevsky owned every. Single. Dang. Marvel comic. But Marvunapp.com is a clearer descendant of the Olshevsky mindset, whereas writeups.org is more Gruenwaldian.)
4/ St. Alia of the knife I ain’t
The scanning campaign led to GRIPPING, HEARTFELT DRAMA having to do with book spines. Namely, the binding preventing clean scans of the edge of many illustrations.
The proper solution would have been hundreds of € in proper scanning equipment. Either a V-shaped-cradle photo setup, or a dedicated book scanners. But I can’t afford that. And I don’t think I’ll have to scan that many thick, expensive books once the 1980s OHOTMU reprints are done.
So slicing these pages free was the more reasonable solution. But I come from one of ’em cultures where damaging a book is, basically, a sin. So there were days and days of procrastination about this. Including this very subsection.
Once I’m done I’m gonna lock these mangled books in a dark, dark drawer so I don’t have to look at them and feel haunted by their silent, accusatory reproaches. Well, until I need them for research.
Many of my Google searches produced a bunch of writeups.org results on Pinterest. Giving me the impression that we were weirdly popular there.
I’ve since learned that Pinterest heavily uses SEO tricks to be over-represented in Google search results. So we’re not actually weirdly successful !
Just among the ocean of works snatched for free by massive, manipulative platforms to be ground into traffic. Pfshew.
6/ Stochastic fantastic
From time to time I leaf through the writeups.org Random Entries page. It’s a vaguely scientific way to get a sense of the site’s current quality level, because random sampling.
I hadn’t done that in a while and, as (bad) luck would have it, the first few pages of results weren’t the best. That was a hit to morale. Thankfully, the next time I ran that test the random articles were much more enticing.
WORG is very much a “the sort of content we wanted to read didn’t quite exist, so we wrote it” initiative. But since it was a spontaneous, part-time, geeky community initiative it took a long time — years — to reach a solid quality level.
Eventually, I’ll have more time to focus on redoing old entries to modern standards. But there still is a lot of infrastructure workload that gets in the way. Tagging, redoing pictures in much higher resolution, website evolutions every 5-6 years, splitting and re-editing enormous entries, etc..
*Logically* all this infrastructure work will be done by 2027-ish. That is, there won’t be much left in the existing lists of current and projected needs. So I’d be free to solely work on research, writing, art prep/photography, publication, editing, etc..
But of course, things never happen that way. New needs and nice-to-haves always pop up.
7/ Ah, Google Adsense
Google: “OMG OMG your site has sexually explicit content.”
Me: “Google, these are twin sisters holding onto each other because they are frightened. In a famous cartoon. For children. On TV. Called “Batman Beyond”.
Google: “Okay okay.”
Google: “OMG OMG your site has sexually explicit content.”
Me: “Google, this is a drawing of Darna, the national Filipina super-heroine. Her thighs aren’t demurely kept within 1″ of each other because she’s currently kicking a bad guy in the face with her super martial arts.”
Google: “Okay okay.”
Google: “OMG OMG your site has sexually explicit content.”
Me: “Google, it’s a pen drawing of a 1990s video game Elven heroic fantasy warrior. He fights bare-chested à la 1980s Conan so yes, you *can* see a man’s left nipple, which isn’t ‘explicit’. Also, I strongly suspect you classify it as ‘sexual’ because it vaguely resembles 1970s leather daddy aesthetics and you always get weird about gay stuff, so stop doing that.”
Google: “Okay okay.”
Google: “OMG OMG your site has sexually explicit content.”
Me: “Artificial intelligence.”
8/ Oh yes, numbers
We’ve had a *big* boots in traffic in recent months. Like, overnight doubling. The vast majority of that seems tied to the Invincible animated series, and it is now slowly winding down.
So if you experienced slow loading times on WORG at some point since the close of March, that prolly was because of that. Sorry about it.
I’ll assume that there are now Fandom and other fans-press Invincible resources tapping and monetising those eyeballs. And thus, we can return to a number of visitors more in-line with the servers we can afford.
9/ So I was thinking…
… but this is getting too long, so we’ll talk about that in the next sitch report.
In the meanwhile, do donate, unless you don’t have money in which case don’t.
So, let me tell you how the writeups.org (WORG) project is going. No, no I insist.
1/ Multipart articles (part 1, fittingly)
Back when this site started, character profiles with just the basics were fine. Wikipedia didn’t exist yet. The gold standard was the 1980s Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.
Things have changed.
However, there’s a tension betwixt… yes, I like saying “betwixt”, it sounds sexy… betwixt :
- Publishing deep dive articles.
- Most people not being comfortable with long articles.
So our long articles get split into more digestible parts.
If it all were on a single page, the number of people reading to the end would be negligible. There are depressing usability studies about that.
2/ Multipart articles (part 2)
This approach works. But.
An example of the “but” would be the revised Darkstar (Layna Petrovna) profile. The recommended path is three articles about the teams she was on, *then* a two-parter character profile.
So that’s five articles to navigate through.
Disambiguation pages offer a more attractive way to navigate through a series of connected articles. But in some cases that’d make no sense. For Darkstar, it’d just add a sixth article to click.
3/ Multipart articles (part 3)
OTOH, with multi-part articles I no longer feel that I *have* to cut paragraphs and sections from articles to keep them at a reasonable length.
Yes, the article with everything will be — say — 4,800 words long. But presented as two 2,400 words articles it’s a much more reasonable ask.
Wot means text that isn’t as dry. More mini-paragraphs in italics explaining context. More detailed design notes after the stats. Stuff like that.
About 63% of the articles are tagged. We passed the 50% bar a while back, but then I lost more than a month to sickness.
The tagging will continue to take up significant time all through 2021. Since it comes on top of writing, editing, publishing, researching, health-related delays, etc..
But it’s progressing.
(If you haven’t tried our tags yet, go to the tags article and give it a whirl. It’s great.)
5/ Images edition
Still happy about the work to remove extraneous details from images (fragments of blurbs or word balloons, UI elements in videogames, etc.).
Which was one of the reasons to buy a Photoshop subscription. And ditch my old CS6 copy that, in retrospect, may or may not have been entirely legal.
Now, of course, the whole point is that readers *don’t* see that work has taken place. But it did, and all sorts of images are clearer, less cluttered for it.
“V2s” (that is, fully redoing older and clumsier articles as a “version #2”) remain a high priority, but it may not be as visible.
For most v2s, there’s a number of obscure characters that also get writeups, “base camp” articles get written, etc.. That’s all-new content that isn’t that visibly tied to the redone content.
Frex, some current v2 work also resulted in in-depth articles about Inhuman history, and new profiles for the original Metal Master, a 1961 giant alien, a 1980s New Mutants enemy, and a Skrull. Plus other stuff.
It’s a “they pop up in my current research so I might as well give them profiles now since they’re no major project on their own” thing.
7/ Site overhaul
We may do overhauls to the web site in 2022. It greatly depends on the pandemic, contractor prices and availability, my health, etc..
But a design document now exists, which is a key step.
The intent isn’t to change much. It’s to tweak, repair, maintain, consolidate. Because there’s a fair few things that we didn’t have the budget to finish in 2016. Frex, parts of the site still are terrible code I cobbled together since I couldn’t hire a coder.
Key features include :
- Pages that are even more legible (especially on smartphones, where it most counts).
- Finally finishing the search engine results page.
So it’s more of a “finish and polish the 2016 design” project. Nothing spectacular, but still a lot of work and expenses.
(Ideally the overhauls would be every five years. But here I need the current tagging grind to be out of the way first. Since the overhaul will also result in another “death march” grind to manually switch articles to a modified layout. *Then* there’ll be the second tagging grind.)
One of the genuinely new features under consideration is a button that reads the article aloud. Using high-end TTS tech.
That’s useful in a number of situations. Such as exercising or doing cleaning chores.
But FWIW, a loooong WORG article — say, 3500 words — takes about 27mn to read aloud announcer-style.
That will require much testing. Especially when it comes to file size and their hosting. Plus some costs, since there are many million words on the site.
So it could turn out to be unworkable. Even with a nearly free tech.
(The costs are that low since the megacorporation offering this is more interested in free data to train their model than in making money right away.)
The hopefully-in-2022 rework will be a hit in the war chest. It will eat years of donations and micro-revenue from ads.
Typical rates for the contractors we need are €400/day. So every such day eats months of revenue.
Upgrading the search engine will also mean a new chunk of recurrent costs (about $250 pa). For five years we’ve been running on a complimentary server instance, but we have to go commercial if we’re to evolve.
So that piles up with the hosting costs, plus the security/caching subscription. Plus minor costs. Even the €10/month Photoshop subscription is a big deal in our shoestring budget.
Even older “state of the worg” posts
I’m moving the 2016-2020 material to a separate post.
Wasn’t planning to, but the WordPress editor doesn’t deal too gracefully with extremely long texts. The whole archive was, as of this writing, 18,000 words long (!).