Posts Tagged ‘miniature painting’

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?

I haven’t had much time and energy to devote to painting miniatures let alone playing any games, I am still seeking full time employment.  About all I do is follow blogs in my RSS readers.  I’ve found some new ones lately that I like and I have a few old favourites so here are some recommendations for those people interested in miniature painting, modeling, and miniature wargaming particularly games produced by Games Workshop.

  • Dylan Gould’s Model Works shares a love for the mid 90s GW models that we both grew up reading about as much as painting.  Kids these days don’t know how good they have it with the Internet, world wide web, and smart phones.  I’m still somewhat surprised that video games haven’t completely killed off the hobby.
  • Recalcitrant Daze is an even more recent discovery that seems to be working on Nurgle and Orks for Warhammer 40,000. Just like I would if my life was better and I had time and energy to spare.
  • Rust and the City is doing a Nurgle Renegades army based on the rules published in Imperial Armour 7 from Forgeworld, just like I always said I was going to do…
  • Fawcett Avenue Conscripts are also older than the average GW fanboy and seem to have a number of old school veteran armies that they drag out and use and continue to expand.
  • Roundwood’s World shows just how good a modular WW1 trench table can look.  Maybe I’ll finish my modular trench table eventually.
  • Kings Minis is another blog devoted to a large and growing collection of old GW models that still get used in games.

There, go subscribe to the RSS feeds of these blogs, they won’t be as disappointing as they are making progress on their projects and include lots of nice pictures and interesting models you don’t see every day.

I was doing better today/tonight at sleeping, but then I got up to do or check something and now I’m updating this blog.  I haven’t updated since, early, early in the morning which is suboptimal if you want to generate traffic.  You should probably update between 9-10 Eastern until about 1-2 Easter Standard Time.

This blog isn’t that popular, but it is new and I’ve put a lot of effort into it already.  Google will reward that eventually as will the rest of the Blogosphere.  I joined the From the Warp blog network, you can see their logo on my sidebar.  These networks are a big deal to some, I had to start this dedicated blog in order to qualify.  I may join one or two more, it depends on how stringent the requirements and who my peers will be.

Looking at my web traffic statistics, something I perhaps do too much, but old habits die hard, I notice where traffic comes from and where traffic goes to.  In my Blogroll, most of the traffic goes to the alphabetically first blogs which is good for the guy who called his blog A 40K Hobby Blog and good for Malcolm who called his blog A Canadian in Space, but it is bad for say Zac…

So after finding another miniature painter with a blog in Vancouver I went to bed.  I did add him to my Blogroll as he apparently goes to the same store as me.  But then I couldn’t sleep so I decided to create a category for just Vancouver miniature painters and bloggers.  Vancouver is one of the Social Media capitals of the world.  We have large networks on Facebook, LinkedIn, and PlentyOfFish, in fact PlentyOfFish. com is a local company, Flickr and Now Public were also started here.  You see a lot of iPhones and MacBooks now in Vancouver, when as a long time Mac user, I used to be ridiculed, even in programmer/ComSci circles.  Now let’s just say some of us were way ahead of the game.

Anyway now there is a Vancouver or Van City Bloggers category in my links.  Blogroll was still appearing first so I had to create five Links widgets and order them how I wanted to get the sidebar to behave how I wanted it.  This shows the power of WordPress even the dot com version.  One of the things I’m amazed at is people trying to run really elaborate blogs off of Blogger.com when they should just get a WordPress account or better yet a domain.  They’ve built up cachet or Google Juice for a domain they don’t own, which is always a no-no in web design/internet branding.  Can you even export your data from Blogger easily?  Of course I went with the free WordPress.com account myself rather than self host another blog.  I just wanted to try out the features of WordPress.com that aren’t available to self hosted blogs, there are one or two still…

So if you’re a gamer in Vancouver, you should pop by VancouverGamers.com or Strategies on Sundays and if you have a blog, a good blog, not some crappy thing you threw up back in the day and never update, but a good blog with pictures and tutorials on miniature painting and you’re in Vancouver, let Zac or I know.  Zac is big on building up the local gaming community, I just try to do my bit to help.