Writeups.org (WORG for short) is the content archive of the DC Heroes online community. It is a fully independent, non-corporate site.
It has been online since the 14th of March, 1999. That’s roughly contemporary with the creation of Google, and two years before the creation of Wikipedia.
This screenshot is the homepage in May, 1999. You could open and close the folders, subfolders, sub-subfolders… That imitated the way Windows ’98 worked back then.
Among other ancient bits of design, the thing at the bottom is a web ring. That’s what we did before powerful search engines. Web sites about a same theme linked toward each other, and readers could discover new sites this way. This made finding content much easier.
The content existed on a personal homepage – that was before social media, and the idea of “blogs” was still recent (1998, give or take). Its URL was http://perso.club-internet.fr/dc_hero.
It’s still here on the Wayback Machine , but nigh useless since the cgi-bin couldn’t be saved.
The site launched with 200 profiles, which was totally huge.
This homepage is from June, 2002. The content is now in a SQL database and the writeups.org domain had been created. These were two critical technical advances. The design is still very much home-carved without any design competence or technical skills.
It’s here on the Wayback Machine . Though again I don’t think you can do much with their save.
As you can see there are almost 850 profiles at that point, which was totally huge.
This screenshot is from October, 2005. Some painstaking design improvements, but at this point the site is clearly looking low-tech compared to corporate sites. Having the blue bars fade out was the zenith of my graphic design skills.
This was the longest-lived look-and-feel for the site. It’s still here on the Wayback Machine , albeit useless.
As you can see the headcount is above 2,300, which was totally huge.
After months of hard work, in April of 2009, the site switches to a much more credible layout. This is the “gamma-powered” version. It was too busy though, and web design trends would soon evolve away from this approach.
Technical improvements include :
- Switching to an Open Search Server search engine.
- Simple tools to acquire a social network presence.
- Simple newsfeeds.
- And eventually switching our updates and news pages to simple WordPress pages.
It’s here on the Wayback Machine and is more or less usable (though I doubt most profiles are saved).
It had 3,991 entries at that point, which was totally huge.
An almost entirely cosmetic change. The “gamma powered” layout felt too stuffy and behind the times. In order to hide my complete lack of UX and design skills, the new layout goes for a minimalistic-ish, airy, flat-ish appearance to limit the opportunities for mistakes.
It was deployed on the 22nd of September, 2012. The bulk of the work was about cleaning the HTML and reorganizing the images, which took years.
The Amazon recommendations appear during this era, to make it much easier to read/see the material in which the characters appear. We also greatly improved the typography, and the quality and size of thousands of images. The first use of video also dates from there.
This version of the site reached 5,459 profiles, which was totally huge. Especially since hundreds and hundreds of old profiles were fully redone during this era, explaining the apparent slowdown.
In early 2013, the site took a nasty hit in traffic, for reasons having to do with Google that I never elucidated. We recovered over the following months, but it became obvious that the site needed a full overhaul – for visibility, stability, design, user experience, readability, searchability, reader engagement, etc.
After months of research and consulting with professionals, specifications were hammered out in the Summer of 2014. The subsequent work spanned nearly two years. That was because the budget could only rely on donations, and a huge amount of work was thus done by hand and light scripting by one person (me).
This is the first version of the site with professional UX and design, a modern code base (WordPress used as a CMS), a faceted search engine, taxonomies, semantic structure, a sitemap, etc.. We caught up with years and years of best practices and technical standards. Huge improvements all around.
Legion of Super-Heroes
The second version was the first version as an actual database, and was kindly hammered out by Yann “POV” Coupin and Aymeric “Mric” Barantal.
The third, “blue fade” version had code done by my friend Joël “Joekid” Marcadet. However I was the one to blame for the layout and integration (if you can call them that).
The fourth version (aka the early 2009 version, or the Godot Version) was done thanks to Ann Sophi Digsmed’s Photoshop templates based on my crowded, amateur design. She delivered those come Hell or high water (literally, in the case of the high water), and I cannot thank her enough for that. Some of the pictograms were drawn by Sara Crubellier when Annso ran out of time. The brand new code was energetically written by the inimitable Emmanuel Magnier.
Evolutions from 2009 to 2012 were mostly coded by me, with technical advice from Greg Rushton. Much of the Open Search Server implementation was done by the master, Emmanuel Keller.
WORG 2012 (aka the “Clean Green” version) is mostly my fault. The PHP adaptations that required actual skill were done by Bryan Gittens, a sleuth who solved such mysteries as the All-Conquering Input Field or the Non-Euclidian Resource Pathing.
WORG 2016 had its theme designed and built by Jacques Martinet . Search engine developments by the dauntless Emmanuel Keller . Great big advice and consulting by my buddies Fleur Marty and Nicolas Duteil .
Appendix – archived announcements
Nobody’s gonna read those, but I felt it might be useful to keep a copy somewhere. Mostly because I’m a sentimental old coot, I guess. Feel free to leave this page now.
The 2009 announcement
Writeups.org is now gamma-powered!
The beta of the fourth version of the site can now be seen at http://writeupsorg.free.fr ; the writeups.org domain will soon point toward the beta site (give it time to renew and propagate).
Now sporting a fetching green hue and massive superhuman strength and durability, writeups.org is green green green and has the following super-powers:
- *Much* more pleasant, smooth and professional-looking layout. Also, more green.
- All inset images now have stable links and are easily backuped. They won’t be destroyed or fail to display ever again. Hopefully.
- Full production server (and not a test server as with the previous version), so no more service overload error pages. Normally.
- The new entries can now be more easily explored – through a simpler access both to the update archives (“New” button) and to the result pages with the latest changes (“Updates” button). The later was previously broken, and many readers clamoured for its return !
- Faster queries from both the buttons and the search engine, more powerful navigation across search result pages
- Will be fully Googlable (see the caveats) – WORG now has a working Google search engine, and the pages are going to come up in mainstream Google and other search engine result pages, which should result in considerably enhanced traffic. As always, do feel free to link to favourite entries from your own web pages (blogs, myspace pages, posts in forums, etc.) – but see caveats.
- Full, detailed, copy-edited FAQ with *tons* of content ; new page with useful links
- New display mode (“Alpha” button) offering long, unbroken lists of entries starting with a given letter. Those are also great to gain a sense of the amount of data on the site. And the best way to find the entry for people like X or V.
- More tips
- New feature showcasing selected, clickable illustrations on the homepage
- Entries are now more pleasant and easy to read – and billions (well, it *feels* like billions) of minuscule edits have been done, and are being done, to make everything more polished
- As part of our continuing efforts to make it easier to read long text sections, this version of the site includes the possibility to have sub-sections, which will be used to break some history sections into chapters.
- Extremely long entries (such as Hominid’s campaign timeline) are no longer cut short.
- The ‘debris’ files the search engines kept indexing have been search-and-destroyed.
- The bug that prevented the Bil’s Campaign entries to be searched beyond the first page will be fixed soon-ish.
- No data regression as far as I can tell
- Lots of illustrations have been added – see the next update message.
- Google ads, which might even offer useful things when enough people are using the site
A few things ain’t over:
- the reformatting of the entries is not finished ; see the next update message.
- the site has not been fully tested yet (I just spotted a glitch in the search engine).
- this is a *temporary* server – tests during the months revealed it’s not a viable for long-term use. While we are preparing to migrate to a better machine, take note of the following:
- the domain is really writeups.free.fr — whereas the previous server had been tinkered with so that the domain seemed to be writeups.org on every single page. We will fully go back to the writeups.org domain on the next server.
- the Google search engine is going to be rather confused by all this domains tomfoolery. I’m not sure how it is going to react, really – we’ll see.
The site should now offer appropriately slick presentation for the content written up by the ever-lovin’ DCH Mailing List contributors, and a much enhanced experience both for habitual readers.
Hopefully, it will attract further readers and contributors – especially if the entries do show up more easily in search engines. It might also encourage contributions and comments – getting published on a professional-looking site feels much more like an achievement.
Of course, all comments and requests for change are welcome – whilst the coding phase is largely over, some aspects of layout and readability can still be changed in the CSSes.
The 2012 announcements (over Sept. and Oct.)
Welcome to the 2012 version of writeups.org – or rather the foundations of WORG 2012.
The site is fully usable, barring a few small glitches we’ll fix when we can – such as entries appearing multiple times in the main search engine.
At this point all the content is the same texts and pictures as before. Though it already looks better – at least in our opinion – the entries still need significant work to be brought to full WORG 2012 standards.
An example of a fully upgraded entry is our first article for Staff Commander Shepard. As you can see the clearest indication that an entry has been modernised is that all the illustrations are much larger than the ones in the previous design.
We’ll run some tests to get the compression level for the images right – so they don’t weight too much but don’t look grainy either. Right now some of these images look too grainy – though there’s only so much you can do with screenshots taken during a video game.
We’ll continue to post short messages about WORG 2012 on this page about once a day.
When an entry is modernised, its date of last update is changed and it pops up in the “Updates Lists” list. This means better layout and typography, larger versions of the pictures, collapsed game stats section, printer-friendly displays, probably a few typos fixed, reformatting of the DCA stats, etc.
If more changes get made during the modernisation of an entry – for instance, rescanned or otherwise reworked illustrations – these will be mentioned here.
The first round of changes will focus on the 176 entries that have content for both DC Heroes and DC Adventures – those tend to be popular and use specific code that needs to be redone.
The re-formating of the content is underway. In practice that means almost 5,000 entries in which to code proper typography, revise the layout and review images. I’m not sure of how many images I’ll have to plough through, but it’s probably more than 30,000.
Even with heavy use of scripts, this is going to take many months – in the fantasy scenario where I can get 25 entries done per day without fail, we’re talking nearly 200 days. Which is about six months and a half.
Non-fantasy scheduling might be closer to two years, and it’ll probably be longer since the current idea is to rewrite and re-illustrate hundreds of entries to better standards along the way.
Right now the process is even slower as every new entry reveals some glitches in the tools and process, which needs to be fixed so they never hamper me again. And bringing DC Adventures stats from the old format to the new is time-consuming – which is one of the reasons why I started with those.
If you’re a regular here now would be a good time to throw $10 or $20 or so our way – the Donate button is now conveniently located in the top box. The changes represent a tremendous amount of work and knowing that people care would most certainly help with morale during the long, long hours of reformatting.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, know that the FAQ has been upgraded too. It doesn’t just follow the 2012 layout – there’s extra material, various improvements, and changes to reflect the changes in the site.
You may have noticed that the game stuff section in the modernised entries is collapsed by default – though one click will unscroll it and display everything.
That was the subject of internal debate and much hesitation, but we think that many of our readers nowadays simply don’t speak DC Heroes – making the game stuff of limited value to them. It probably hurts more than it helps, by giving some non-gaming readers the impression that the site is not for them.
More readers speak DC Adventures, but once an entry has two sets of stats collapsing those to avoid a long ‘tunnel’ of gibberish is necessary in any case. And, well, one click is reasonable as effort goes – plus it’s fun to expand and retract stuff on a web page. Snikt !
Modernised entries have an additional “Tell me more about game stats” link that takes people to an enhanced version of the relevant FAQ chapter. One of writeups.org’s objectives has always been to introduce people to tabletop role-playing, so now that game stats are less visible we have to take a more proactive stance.
Said FAQ chapter now includes new content – free .pdf primers by well-regarded indie tapletop RPG designers, Levi Kornelsen and Greg Stolze and more detailed explanations.
The entries appear correctly in the main search – so people looking for the name of a character will get what they wanted. However, the *content* of some entries isn’t being indexed – you can tell because the little snippet of text isn’t part of the results.
So I’m now working on cleaning up the code structure of the entries. As you can imagine, content that has been around since late 1998 and was mostly assembled by an amateur has a fair bit of… interesting coding artefacts.
Browsers do not generally care as they are built to deal with bad code, but search engine robots – including Google – are less tolerant.
Oh, and the little blue icons in the right-hand column of this page have been restored yesterday, but they were only gone because I’m an idiot.
No flurry of modernised entries this time. I’ve learned enough from modernising dozen of entries and analysing search issues to be able to conduct some infrastructure work — most of which will be invisible to visitors.
Three things that are sort of, kind of visible :
- The writeups.org website used to be accessible from any subdomain. In particular, the subdomain againwww.writeups.org was used somewhere and was indexed by Google. This isn’t a good thing, since search engine can interpret it as an attempt to appear multiple times in results and react poorly to that.
- After finding out based on a pure hunch, the problem was located (a wildcard in the domain’s zone file – I have no idea what it was doing there) and eliminated. So now it’s www.writeups.org and nothing else.
- All entries in the site’s search engine – the one accessible from the “Search” grey button near the top of the pages – now provide at least a little bit of text. The fix to have the content of everything properly indexed is known, but it’ll be rolled in along with other fixes.
The Knight of Shadow web site archive .pdf is now integrated in the search engine. This is of particular import for folks who look for a character who is in the .pdf but not on the rest of the site. A bright green mention of these results being in a .pdf document has been added for people who hate .pdf.
Much of the current work is mass edits in the code of the entries. There’s a lot of cruft that’s been accruing since 1999 – and the HTML used by the scripts was done more than ten years ago, at a time when usage was less strict and my technical skills even more abysmal. This mess of old code validates very poorly and it presumably hurts our search engine accessibility and visibility.
It has to be addressed at some point, and that point happens to be now. The impact for readers will be very low – it probably means that all entries will be partially modernised earlier than scheduled.
Not certain yet, since when working on 4,944 files the damnedest thing can take unexpected amounts of time. And in the end, they have to be uploaded and checked and manually corrected one by one, given how disparate the data is.
Thankfully, there’s a donation button now so you can support all these efforts to bring you such a nice, green site.
The overhaul of the code continues, the upgrade of content is still paused for a bit.
Based on what was learned modernising about 75 dual-statted entries, bulk changes have been applied to all articles and the changed versions are now being uploaded and checked one by one.
Which can be a mite slow with 4,944 files being involved. The uploads go from the entry with the smallest id# (the number at the end of the URL) to the largest.
Once an entry has been updated this way, it still needs a code review, the images are still the old and small versions, and the text hasn’t been reviewed except for obvious problems introduced by the coding changes.
Since the content is the same – only the presentation changes – these upgrades are not listed in the Updates Lists pages. It’s infrastructure work, not content work.
The usual caveat – even if it’s somehow possible to do 200 entries a day without fail (yeah, right)… well, you do the math. I’ll presumably take a break to lob a batch of new content halfway through, if only to address the backlog a bit.
Redoing the HTML for the entries is done from low ID# to high. This doesn’t necessarily means oldest to newest – many older entries had their texts, stats and/or illustrations redone, sometimes multiple times. And some old entries were only published on WORG when we were well into the quadruple digits.
Still, these tend to be entries done during the 1990s and early 2000s — in a very different environment.
Information was still fragile – the Internet wasn’t all that yet. The data was thus limited to whichever Mayfair books you could get at your local gaming stores, and various scrapped-together web pages which tended to disappear once the author graduated (these were often on .edu servers) or moved on to other interests.
We were operating from limited collections of comics, and the appearances indices were limited (to Marvunapp , basically, as many of us weren’t quite aware of the Marvel Chronology Project ) – making original research difficult to conduct.
Thus the goal was mostly to act as an information safehouse, cobbling together every shred of data in an unified and convenient manner. There was significant reuse of content from other sites – both because those were quite likely to disappear within two or three years, and because there was enough interest in publishing just stats and the texts were largely seen as fluff.
In a modern context, these entries obviously have to be redone. But even with much-enhanced access to information and better processes and standards, there’s only so much work that can be done in a given month.
3275 files left in my folder – so basically one third of the entries have had an automated clean-up of their code. 100 are being redone every 24 hours come rain or hail, which is pretty damn good – but means at least a month of additional work, and that’s without taking the images into account.
Since so many have had their typography redone with the code clean-up, a few words about these. Let’s take, at random, Yukio‘s entry as an example.
We have kept our previous font stack. If you have a Mac you almost certainly see the site printed in Optima ; if you operate a recent Windows you will probably see the site in Segoe ; fallbacks are Candara, Calibri and of course Arial. As sans-serif goes these are classy, clear text fonts that make the site look a bit different than all the Arial ones out there.
The site goes all-out on readability – copious whitespace, ample leading, font set at 120% of the browser’s default size, slightly increased spacing between words, double-sized space (em-space) between sentences, text ragged right, off-black text and lines in the 70-to-80 characters length — which is a tad longer than the ideal size but still okay.
This breaks some typographical traditions, but sticks with the results of those few existing studies about readability. Many typographical ‘best practices’ do not seem to align with cognitive psych research.
The paragraphs are the least subtle part, with vertical white space *and* a small indent *and* a slightly larger first letter. We’re not here to look elegantly mild-mannered but to make the text as pleasant and effortless to read as possible.
Other tiny tricks to make the text less monotonous will be spread to older entries – book and film titles in italics, names of ships and spaceships in italics, diacritics for foreign words that actually employ them, long dashes, educated quotes, French-style punctuation in many entries and in all Quotes sections, etc.
We used a common approach for the headings – they use serif fonts (Cambria if possible, otherwise Georgia) to further contrast with the sans-serif fonts used for the text.
You may have noted that the “ink” of the texts is now darker. It was previously a bit too light since I once again counted RGB decimals backward – I always do that – and thus gradually made the texts more grey rather than more black as I was looking for a good contrast. Ooops.
We’re also finishing discussing the format of our recent Amazon.com affiliation. In the meanwhile, if you’re an Amazon shopper and a writeups.org fan you can always use the Amazon.com advert to the right.
When you do that instead of going straight for Amazon.com, Amazon makes a donation to writeups.org based on what you buy. So you help writeups.org pay its bills at no cost to yourself.
Think about it if you’re planning a big Amazon order for the end of the year !