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Donations call and situation report


Context

Three times a year, writeups.org’s webmaster and lead writer writes an article (“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, 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, 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.

The stated “time to read” at the beginning of the article is for the ENTIRE ARCHIVE. If you’re just reading the latest one, it’s of course way shorter.


Latest “state of the worg” post

Not until February of 2022 !

For now I’m just creating the page itself. And archiving and reformatting the older posts (below).


Older “state of the worg” posts

Here are the archives. These go back to the Spring of 2016, which is when the site went through a major overhaul (as explained in the FAQ about writeups.org’s history).

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.

October, 2021

So, let me tell you how the writeups.org (WORG) project is going. No, no I insist.

0/ Out(r)age

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).

1/ Tagging

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 :

  1. Display better on smartphones.
  2. Switch to a new search tech, and finally finish the search results page.
  3. 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.

  1. There are already way too many people giving their opinions.
  2. Proper critique requires a whole body of fine-arse skills (then credibility-building) we don’t really have.
  3. 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.

However.

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.

•••

June, 2021

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.

5/ Pinterest

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.

•••

February, 2021

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 :

  1. Publishing deep dive articles.
  2. 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.

4/ Tagging

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.

6/ V2s

“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.)

8/ Text-to-speech

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.)

9/ Costs

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 (!).