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Welcome to the 2012 version of writeups.org


Context

These are the messages that were published to announce the 2012 evolution of writeups.org going live.

I’ve eventually decided to keep it as a post of its own.

For a history of the site, see, well, the writeups.org site history page.

The Sept.-Oct. of 2012 messages

Chapter 1

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.

Chapter 2

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.

Chapter 3

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. 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 mutations in the site.

Chapter 4

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. Namely, free .pdf primers by well-regarded indie tapletop RPG designers, Levi Kornelsen and Greg Stolze. And more detailed explanations.

Chapter 5

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.

Chapter 6

No flurry of modernised entries this time. I’ve learned enough from modernising dozens 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 :

  1. The writeups.org website used to be accessible from any subdomain. In particular, the subdomain againwww dot writeups dot 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Chapter 7

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.

Chapter 8

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. The modified 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.

Chapter 9

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. Plus 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.

Chapter 10

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 that means at least a month of additional work, and that’s without taking the images into account.

Since so many entries 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 display in serif fonts (Cambria if possible, otherwise Georgia) to further contrast with the sans-serif fonts used for the text.

Chapter 11

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 !