Built a Miniature Painting News Aggregator

Although I clearly should be studying or doing something else more productive, I spent a lot of the last week building a miniature painting news aggregator. I didn’t want to build a miniature painting news aggregator. When I want to look at painted miniatures I have a few sites I go to. I subscribe to quite a few blog feeds. I frequent the odd forum. But one site I used to waste time on was From the Warp, particularly the From the Warp sidebars which contained the From the Warp Blogger Group. Miniature Painting News

It was a good way to waste time. It was also a good way to find other blogs to follow. There are other blogging networks targeting gamers or miniature painters, but I thought this one was the best. It certainly was the best curated. It was the one I chose to join when I split my miniature painting exploits off from Muskblog. With no progress seeming to be happening I inquired with Ron what was up. I did some research. I looked at Yahoo Pipes, but the tool I thought could do the job was SimplePie.

I’d previously suggested to Ron to move From the Warp to WordPress even WordPress.com as Blogger/blogspot seems to be limiting what he wants to do with his blog. I still don’t know when the From the Warp Blog Network will be up and functioning. I tried to help. In the mean time I think I’ll pay more attention to the TGN Blog Network and I decided to see what I could build with SimplePie using the feeds I personally follow plus a few more.

Not all feeds are created equal. There are technical problems even bugs in SimplePie. Ideally they’ll get fixed and new release will solve all my problems. In the mean time I decided to let other people poke around and see if they have any suggestions, maybe they are PHP wizards.

As I knew someone would ask, I took a screen shot to try and explain how it works. Most everything is pulled from RSS feeds. Flickr, TGN, even Dakka have working RSS feeds that SimplePie can work with. The rest of the information is pulled from two text files containing a list of feeds. If the From the Warp Network comes back online I’ll try to work it in, but given all the trouble I had with feeds from blogspot, I have my doubts that software will handle 1000 plus feeds effectively and gracefully.

The data in the red boxes to the left comes from one text file. The data on the lower right comes from another text file. The text file that controls the data on the left is going to be smaller and much more exclusive. There is no policy. I didn’t want to create yet another blog network, I just wanted a place to go to look at cool stuff. The most recent post appears at the top and one random feed is featured in the bottom box. I create a thumbnail from the first image in the post. This is perhaps the most intensive and problematic feature of my news aggregator. I’d prefer people just uploaded their finished miniatures to Flickr or a distant second Dakka Dakka. Cool Mini Or Not has no feeds for their gallery and has become more and more of an online store, although there are a lot of nice minis their site doesn’t appeal that much to me. I’m interested in knowing how something was done. Ditto Bell of Lost Souls which has too many writers and just a way too busy site design now. I just want to look at the minis not fight with their web design or told to go fuck myself.

If people want to know how to get their blog included, I suggest they join the TGN Blog Network. If they want to know how they get their website added to one of the two text files I created I suggest they create awesome content. If you consistently create awesome content I or someone else will notice and then I may add your feed assuming you have one that functions. The text file that controls the content on the left I intend to be more exclusive, difficult to get on to, easy to get taken off of. The other text file I’m more willing to just throw a website on, but I’m big on quality content. I can handle the odd picture of your new baby, but if you go on too many tirades or post too much stuff that should end up Facebook or more likely in a private message I’ll be unsubscribing from your feed, removing you from my sidebar and definitely deleting you from the text file that controls the miniature painting news aggregator.

I hope the news aggregator is useful to someone other than me, it took a long time to make. I also hope it isn’t too expensive to maintain so I can keep it lean and mean. Some people would like it to run faster and there are some optimizations that may be possible, but cutting the content in half may make it run twice as fast but is that really desirable? Finding the right balance and the coolest content is the key. If you know of an RSS (or Atom) feed I should include let me know via email or in a comment. Remember I’m a quality over quantity guy and I want painted miniatures or painting advice primarily not your opinion of why Swooping Hawks suck.


Bell of Lost Souls signal to noise ratio

Bell of Lost Souls isn’t that old of a website.  There are a lot older hobby websites online, but it’s rise to prominance has been pretty rapid.  It started out being about Warhammer 40,000 then they added other games such as Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Privateer Press’s Warhmachine/Hordes, Flames of War…   They’ve also tried to grow from a blog into I don’t know what, they added yet another online hobby forum, a blog network, who knows what else.  They’ve also added to the number of writers, even recently putting out a call for more writers…

I don’t know how many writers they have but re-syndicating content isn’t what I want.  There are some people’s blogs I just don’t want to read.  I disagree with their oppinion, point of view, tactics, humanity, or whatever.  I just stay away from certain blogs, forums, topics…  Take the whole recent Germany versus America blowup they had on BoLS.  I think the people running the website are making some poor decisions.  Maybe they need page views to pay for bandwidth or something.  They certainly have enough ads on the webpage now.  These don’t bother me too much as I use an RSS Reader and lots of people run adblocking software nowadays.

I actually support specialty hobby companies and give them free links and press myself, but it is just a hobby, trying to make a living from Warhammer 40K or miniature painting isn’t always the wisest course of action, but what do I know I’m unemployed right now and I got a couple of them there university degrees.

Maybe Bell of Lost Souls has gotten too big for their britches as my grandmother would say or too big for their own good.  The comments section is going to need more and more policing, but so is their editorial policy, between starting the big Germany VS America mudfest to letting TastyTaste inflict himself on me again.  Sarcasm should be left to professionals.  If you want to write about miniature painting or the hobby at least write something positive.  That is what I try to do these days, stay out of the flamewars, I’m too old for that crap.  I just ignore people until they go away, but now he’s got some backdoor into my computer thanks to BoLS.

We’ll see if things improve, if not I’ll find other sources for my hobby news, Table Top Gaming News covers everything BoLS does and more, but with less focus on original articles and more focus on news.  I don’t play Warmachine or Flames of War I barely play 40K.  When I’m employed my free time is valuable.  I don’t want to waste it reading crap online, I do too much of that.  I subscribe to certain RSS feeds as I think the content is of merit.  I link to them because I think they provide useful information.  Some sites and authors just get annoying really fast and I leave them for other people to engage.  If Bell of Lost Souls slides much further I’ll just contribute to some other site more.  This blog has only been up about a month and it is starting to get some traffic from Google, but mainly it gets traffic from forums and mailing lists I post links on.  I’m pretty organic in my traffic building techniques, but I’ll have to join one or two of these new fangled blog networks, though maybe not the BoLS one…

Quality control matters, I hope not to ever let this blog slide too far towards BloodOfKittensWho names a site that anyway? I don’t plan to do many of these Op Ed pieces but I did create the category and I know I’m not the only one who has had enough of Mr. TastyTaste online.