Posts Tagged ‘Cool Mini Or Not’

I’ve spent yet more time fine tuning my miniature painting news aggregator. Time I probably could have used more productively. I tend to put a lot of time and effort into ‘side projects’. Side projects that don’t earn income or help solve any of my problems.

The first week or so was spent wrestling with PHP, particularly with SimplePie and other related code. I still have an outstanding issue with that codebase that no one seems to want to acknowledge or suggest any solution. I definitely did not want to become an expert in PHP, RSS, and Atom feeds.

I also spent way too much time gathering more RSS and Atom feeds. I originally just used the blogs I subscribed to, but FtW Ron had visions of 100s if not a thousand blog feeds being aggregated and merged together. It was while building that, that I discovered the issue with merging multiple blogspot feeds. I don’t know why people particularly in the miniature painting hobby have stuck with blogspot and continue to create more Blogger blogs when so many other free options exist.

The hobby is much more commercial than it was 15 years ago, back then everyone was a hobbyist except a few people who worked for one of a few miniature companies. Now there are many, many mini manufactures, many online stores, professional miniature painters, professional miniature sculptures, and numerous semi-pro hobbyists who supplement their income through their website and the hobby. I’ve always avoided going down that route, but I don’t really feel qualified to give career advice, given the mess I’ve made of mine. I’ve tried to keep the miniature painting news aggregator non-commercial, but maybe I’ll finally breakdown and put an ad on one of my ‘side projects’. I’ve also chosen to focus on miniature painting rather than a specific manufacture or game system, just like I tried to do with this blog. Focus can be difficult to maintain.

The miniature painting news aggregator looks and operates a lot like AllTop. That isn’t a coincidence. AllTop is one of the more successful news aggregation sites. My aggregator is much more specialized, even personalized. It is random, deterministic, algorithmic, chronological, and social. It sources information from Internet darlings like Twitter and Pinterest. You can pin, tweet, or like the featured story/photo. Information is pulled from major hobby sites like Tabletop Gaming News, Beasts of War, and Cool Mini Or Not. News is also pulled from an eclectic collection of smaller hobby blogs and websites. Information is also found by search agents, such as the YouTube painting tutorials, but other less mainstream search engines are used like Topsy. I even added Reddit’s miniature painting section.

I’ll try to continue to ensure it runs OK, I don’t think it’ll ever be fast unless I reduce the amount of content or do something else drastic. I’ll try out new feeds and I hope sites like Chest of Colors fixes one of their feeds, but mainly it should just be there for bored hobbyists who want to see cool stuff. Checking more than hourly will be futile, but hopefully it can become a useful tool for finding cool miniature painting news online.

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I’ve been spending too much time online. This isn’t news, but what I’ve been doing a lot of lately is scouring the Internet for RSS and Atom feeds to pass into the miniature painting news aggregator I made. I could mention again how I think Blogger is inferior to WordPress or how not all feeds are created equal and not all behave as you’d expect them to, but what I really thought I’d write about is how a lot of hobby blogs don’t produce very consistent or high quality content. Revised miniature painting news aggregator

Ron is relaunching the From the Warp blogger group, but he is still using the exact same technology that ultimately let him down. He’s trying to be more selective as to which blogs he includes. There are a lot of these ‘blog networks’ now. Many bloggers seem to be a member of them all and rely on them to send readers there way. I’ve been reading the headlines and opening paragraphs of a lot of blogs both on FtW but also from the TGN Blogging Network and I’ve noticed a lot of poorly named blogs, poorly chosen post tiles, and a lot of low quality content.

I never set out to make a miniature painting news aggregator. I never set out to write PHP, but I have time on my hands so I try to do something with my education. I never wanted to curate yet more miniature painting information, but I’m disappointed with a few sites and the technology they use. I tried to find technology that would help me find quality content and feeds. I really don’t want to scrape content, so sites without valid feeds or an API will just not be part of what I continue to build, but for those hobbyists that do want more readers/followers there is a lot of things they could be doing that doesn’t involve switching from Blogger to WordPress.

First of all I understand people have limited time to devote to the hobby or to painting miniatures and people have their own favourite websites or forums that they frequent. My miniatures and paints are all in boxes in storage and I haven’t played a game of Warhammer 40,000 or anything that uses miniatures in about a year. However if you have time to blog, you have time to blog better. If you have time to post pictures to the Internet you have time to ensure those pictures are sorted, titled, and tagged intelligently. If you have time to comment on multiple blogs and forums and social networks, you have time to do something intelligent and useful with all that content and energy.

Cool Mini Or Not supposedly has the largest collection of painted miniatures online, but there is no way to subscribe to feeds of say the top minis submitted that week. There also is a lot unpainted or poorly painted miniatures so I don’t always find the coolest stuff by looking at random images on CMoN. I’m also interested in how things are done, not just seeing a high resolution picture of the final model. CMoN is definitely an online store now and I don’t find their site the best use of my limited hobby time. Dakka Dakka and Warseer both have galleries, Dakka Dakka had an RSS feed I thought would give me pictures of new and cool miniatures but it has proved erratic and disappointing. Warseer is not a personal favourite of mine, I’d prefer more hobbyists posted their completed miniatures to Flickr. I’ve also discovered that aggregation isn’t enough, a certain amount of curation and quality control is necessary to produce the best results.

Tumblr was a big disappointment as far as finding cool miniature painting content. Facebook is a mostly closed network, so Twitter particularly #miniaturemonday has proven much more useful. I’ve even decided to join Pinterest to see if I can use that site to build a better curated collection of cool minis. I asked several people for suggestions as to what feeds to include and basically no one could be bothered to make any useful suggestions so more and more of my own personal preferences and biases are being reflected in the miniature painting news aggregator. Other news aggregators of course exist, PopURLs is mentioned by Ryan, but I’m more familiar with AllTop due to being something of a Guy Kawasaki fan. There is an AllTop for board games and RPGs but not for wargaming or miniature painting.

Maybe my efforts will be all for not, but given the increasing emphasis on curation and all the time and effort I’ve invested into the hobby over the years and finding quality hobby content online I don’t think it is the easiest problem to solve, there isn’t one site right now that has all the coolest miniature painting stuff in one place, I guess I’m that is what I’m building.

I tend to write long rambling posts with lots of information and links. However I am capable of writing high quality content that performs well in search engines or in social media. I started this blog so I could join the FtW blog network or just to de-complicate my original blog. Musk’s Miniatures definitely isn’t perfect or the best example of a high quality blog, however given that some people try to earn a living or augment their income from the hobby, I just know I’m going to get whiny emails someday asking why their blog isn’t included or featured, the short answer is “your blog sucks” or perhaps more eloquently your content just isn’t unique or interesting to me. Since I’m building and curating the website it definitely reflects my preferences but it is also incorporates algorithms and social media so other people’s preferences have influence. How Alltop works, is how my miniature painting news aggregator works.

I’ve written a lot of blog postings trying to pass on my experience and knowledge, here is advice on how to improve your hobby blog:

Others have written often conflicting advice to mine, but the goal is the same, if you want people to read what you write, whether it is about a hobby or some other interest, you have to work at it and you have to make a commitment to Quality. There are too many blogs and websites competing for our time and attention. Too many of them do not maintain a respectable wheat to chaff ratio. I’d rather read one awesome post a month, than 3 or 4 crappy posts a week. If you adopt the latter publishing strategy, I’m unlikely to subscribe to your RSS feed, I’m definitely not including your blog in my blog roll or the miniature painting news aggregator I just built, you won’t see many comments or hits, and long term your inferior content will not perform well in search engines or in social media. 100s of people a day still read hobby content I put online ten plus years ago, but I’ve also written content that no one reads, probably less than one person in a hundred days. Which do you think was a better investment of my time, which do you think was of higher quality as judged by search engines, my peers, and random websurfers?