Posts Tagged ‘TGN’

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?

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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.