Category Archives: blog thing

Hail to the NBI Class of 2015

Well, May has come and gone, and with it the now annual Newbie Blogger Initiative event.

NBI_Logo_450I only put up one post about the event this time around, slacker that I am, and did not engage in any of the talk back challenges.  Such is life.  But I do want to call out the final tally of new and returning bloggers who joined in this year.

That list is shorter that last year, which was shorter than the year before, all of which was shorter than the initial class.

But that is 22 new or revived blogs publishing away here at the start of summer.  Hopefully a good chunk of them will still be around to participate for the 2016 edition.  Blog fading is a common problem, as we have seen when tracking past NBI classes.

Anyway, Hail to the Class of 2015!  Long may they publish!

NBI 2015 – Blog to Game, Game to Blog

The 2015 incarnation of the annual Newbie Blogger Initiative event kicked off… um… about two weeks ago.  Time flies.  Better put up the logo and move on.

NBI_Logo_450During May of each year we encourage our fellow travelers in the gaming world who have just a bit of free time to give up that free time… and some of their gaming time and some time they probably need to be doing other things… to write a blog.  Many are chosen, few will survive for even a year… really, 3 out of 4 blogs started during the event will be dormant by the next one.

What can we do about that?

Since I expended all of my actually useful advice during the 2012 event, my one contribution to this year’s event… aside from a post summing up and listing out of the new blogs at the end… will be to try to tackle one of the questions I get regularly.

And by “regularly” I mean “almost never” because clearly people who chance upon this blog learn quickly never to ask my advice on anything.  But it has come up a couple of times in the last eight and a half years.  And the question is; how have I written so many posts and keep going for however long it has been?

I can prove I have been asked this.  Liore asked me once about it on Twitter… sort of.  It was implied!  Roll with it, dammit!

My response was:

Years of MUDing made me a very fast typist.  Not a very accurate one, just very fast.

And there are days when I clearly spend more time writing about games than actually playing games.

And Low standards. I cannot emphasize how much just wanting to write something, versus wanting to write something good, helps out.

That last bit was the key.  I’d rather post crap than nothing at all.  That explains much that goes on here now doesn’t it?

But that is not all of it.  No, there is another key to what I refer to as “my success” in an off-handed way while trying not to make eye contact.

The other key factor is that when I play games, I often do it with an eye to turning whatever I am doing into a blog post.  Sometimes that manifests itself as me simply making sure I take some screen shots.  But at other times I undertake whole new trips through MMOs just because I think they might make for a decent blog post.  I am pretty sure, as an example, that I wouldn’t have bothered with LFR or the Molten Core event earlier this year if I hadn’t also seen the possibility of a blog post or two in the venture.

So there exists this two-way feed between my game play and my blogging.

I blog about my gaming as a memory book sort of thing, as well as to enhance what I have done in game by recounting it which gives it additional life.  And then I game with the blog in mind, which makes me push on the boundaries of what I do and explore new things.

And it works.

Sure, it probably doesn’t lead to some of the most exciting content at times.  I know I have done more than my share of “spending three hours flying from point A to point B in EVE Online” posts.  But I post, and have done so nearly every week day for eight and a half years, because my gaming and my blogging are pretty much a combined activity at this point.

It took a while to get there.  The alleged Wilhelm-style blogging machine didn’t come into being over night.  I had to find my way and combine the two pieces together over time.  And there have been points… usually on Sunday night when I am sketching out what the next week’s posts are going to be and I’ve got nothing, no screen shots, no notes, and nothing in the backlog… where I have thought about dumping the whole thing.  I would clearly spend more time gaming if I did.

But blogging and gaming work well together for me, to the point that if I gave up blogging I am not sure I would find as much satisfaction in gaming.

So that is it, for what it is worth.

Meanwhile, other things are going on with the NBI.  They have had a couple of blog challenges, neither of which I could really warm to.  One felt a bit too much like feeding the trolls while another I have covered ad nauseum, but that doesn’t mean other people didn’t have things to add.  You can find it all at the Newbie Blogger Initiative site.

And, finally, I want to call out the new bloggers participating this year.  This is what I could glean from the NBI forums and site, so I hope I got them all.  Not as many as years past, but that just means less of an excuse for not visiting all of them.

Liebster, Schmiebster

I was tagged by Kirith Kodachi and SynCaine as part of the whole Liebster thing that has been going around our corner of the blogesphere of late.  I suspect that there is something in the fact that two fans of EVE Online picked me, as opposed to anybody else so far.

There are apparently rules for this somewhere.  I think I grasped them.

I think this is part of the rules as well...

I believe this is part of the rules…

I have to list eleven random facts about myself, I have to answer their questions, and I have to pick somebody else with eleven questions of my own.  Easy enough I suppose.  I meant to get to it sooner, but I keep having those “I don’t know what I’ll write about… oh, wait, I have too many things I want to write about” weeks.  This week for sure!  So to kick off.

11 Random Facts

  1. I am not fond of yogurt, but am otherwise pretty pro-dairy products.
  2. I probably ate all of the black jelly beans.  I will pick them out of the bowl.
  3. I cannot smile if I am deliberately trying to smile.  I’ve learned to fake it by just trying to laugh, so at least I look happy and not like there is something seriously wrong with me.
  4. I am determined to beat Candy Crush Saga without paying a dime… and before King goes out of business. (Currently at level 369)
  5. I have never hit the level cap in any EverQuest game.  I’ve been close, but something always comes up, I get obsessed with alts, and then the cap gets boosted and I am behind again.
  6. If I live to be 80, the end of WWII will be as distant in time as the end of the US Civil War was when I was born.
  7. If I want to remember something, I need to say it 10 times… or write it out with surrounding context. (Hence, blog.)
  8. In 34 years of driving I have owned 6 cars, but two thirds of that stretch has been two cars, a Mazda 626 I bought in 1986 and a Toyota Camry I bought in 2003, and which I still drive.  I’d probably still be driving the 626 if a Honda Civic hadn’t plowed into it while I was stopped at a red light.
  9. I hate inkjet printers, and have since the HP DeskJet 500 came out way back in the late paleolithic era of computing.  We recently picked up a cheap Samsung M2020W laser printer and it makes me happy just to print stuff on it.
  10. I am much more outgoing in text than I am in person.  Much more interesting too, I suspect, which should serve as a warning.
  11. I think eleven is an unreasonable number, the person who started this should have stuck to five because, lets face it, most of us have trouble staying interesting past two or three.

Now onto the questions, which seem mostly focused on superlatives.  My favorite this or most memorable that.  Those are horrible questions for me, because I can never pick a favorite anything.  Ah well, I’ll give it a shot all the same.

Questions for Kirith Kodachi:

1. What was your first PvP experience in an MMO and did you like it?

Define MMO?  Define PvP?  I am going to go with Stellar Emperor on GEnie.  My scout ship got blown up.  I am not sure I realized what was happening at the time.

2. What’s your favorite season? What’s your favorite season for gaming?

Autumn.  There is a chill in the air, there is some rain, and contrary to popular legend, California… at least the northern end of it… does get season so the leaves turn color and all of that.  Also, it means the transition from allergy to flu season.  Winter for gaming, as bad weather is the all purpose excuse for sitting at my computer all afternoon.

3. What is your favorite period / place in history?

To live? Now, or any time/place with clean bathrooms and cheap WiFi.  To read about?  I run though interest cycles.  When I was a kid it was WWI and WWII.  Since then I have gone through periods where the Napoleonic era, or 1848 to 1914, or the immediate post-war eras have interested me.  And I like Rome as well.  I couldn’t really pick.

4. Talk about the first computer game where you were pulled in by the story instead of the gameplay.

Probably Wizardy, though I will admit up front I am frequently more of a “roll player” than “role player.”  I spent a lot of hours moving through that game, step by step, mapping my way, notating traps and regular encounters and what not.  I was immersed.

It can be hard for me to let go of the mechanics of a game.  Oddly, post-Cataclysm WoW, where the content got easy enough that you can mostly ignore gear and such, is one of the places where I can actually let that go and just get into the story.  Hrmm…

5. If you had to pick, which Bad Guy would you choose to be in any game?

Bowser.  He gets to steal the princess pretty much without long term consequence (and it is so easy and so frequent that she has to be in on it, right?), has a pile of castles, plenty of minions, hangs out with his kid all the time, and on his days off he goes karting or plays tennis or soccer with his nemesis.  The guy has it made.

6. What’s your favorite novel or novel series?

Again, how to pick?  Most re-reads?  Probably Catch-22 or The Lord of the Rings series.  Total time invested?  Probably Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series.  Most inspirational in my youth?  Larry Niven’s Known Space stories probably get the nod.  I could go on and on and not even get into things I liked at one point in time but which fell flat later because I changed as a person.  I have a problem picking favorites in any situation because everything is so situational… and I tend to over think these sorts of things.

7. Describe your perfect vacation.

The one where I actually come back rested, recharged, and happier.  Unfortunately, I find travel a pain, so coming and going is always involves stress and anxiety, which tends to undue the good bits.

8. Star Wars or Star Trek? Explain your answer.

Star Trek.  That was the inspirational bit from my youth.  I would sit and watch every episode, we would play Star Trek at recess, I read the novels, had the models, saw all the movies, and so on.  Not that I do not like Star Wars… and certainly Star Trek has waned in its influence over the years, especially relative to Star Wars… but it came after.  Star Trek was first and will remain so in my heart, even if only generated maybe three good video games. (And Star Trek Online is not one of them.)

9. If someone offered you a substantial sum of money to stop playing MMO’s forever, would you take it? What’s your price point? A million? A billion? Nothing? (Stole this one ’cause its good)

This is a good one?  Define MMOs?  I’ll say five million dollars.  For that amount of money I could change careers without worrying about retirement and find a new hobby… like LEGOs or console gaming.

10. Smart Phones are a boon to humankind, true or false?

On balance, true.  Access to all sorts of information and the ability to stay in touch and record so much of what happens in the world probably outweighs that guy talking loudly into his iPhone at the next table.

11. A solar flare is about to wipe all electronics on earth and it may take years to recover fully. You have three days to get all the gaming in you can, what do you play?

Sorry, I am too busy burning my iTunes library to CD and building a lead-lined box for a DiscMan to play games.  Oh, and shopping for a serious typewriter again.  I am not sure where my old Olivetti Lettera 32 is these days.  And printing out my blog.  On my laser printer.  Which rocks.

Or maybe I am just standing in line at the bank trying to get my money out like everybody else.

Seriously, three days left… I might log onto EVE and WoW to say goodbye to people, exchange addresses, and maybe have one last peek, but if everything is going away in three days, doing anything is futile.

Questions from SynCaine

1. What is your greatest MMO achievement?

That is a tough one.  There are a number of “being there” achievements I could mention, like being present for two of the biggest battles in EVE Online history.  But there wasn’t much I “did” during those, my presence didn’t make much of a difference.  A lot of the times I am most fond of are stupid things that happened early on in a game, things that become trivial later on, like my first successful run from Qeynos to Freeport in EverQuest or the day I managed to solo the Return the Light heritage quest in about two hours, back when the whole thing was a huge pain to finish because of a pile of special random spawns required, due to a succession of unbelievably lucky breaks.  Basically, all the spawns were up that morning and nobody else was doing the quest.

Let’s just go with that last one.  It was a good time.

2. If you could go back and stop any MMO from every being released, which one would it be and why?

I get the feeling you want me to name a specific game.  I don’t have a good answer for this one.  There are any number of MMOs that have disappointed me, or that I wish had been done differently, or where I think the dev resources might have been better used on other projects.  But wishing one out existence, I can’t really name one.  Just because a game didn’t click for me doesn’t make me hate it, and I am not obsessed, like some, about WoW or some other game ruining the genre or whatever.  People play the games they like.  If EQ or UO were the paradises we paint in hindsight, we never would have left.  And us leaving is what caused them to change.

3. What is your greatest ‘rage out’ moment in an MMO?

I don’t really rage all that much.  Probably the most annoyed I have been that I can recall involves a Nek Castle run in EverQuest II, back when that was current content.  A kid, whom I will call “two shirts” for reasons only Gaff will likely understand, enthusiastically agreed to lead us through what was a very complex run in order to wrap up a couple of heritage quests (and to start a third).  At one point, after a fight, about two thirds of the way into the whole thing (call it the three hour mark) he excused himself for a bio and went away… and didn’t return.  He was still logged on, his character was still there in game.  After about an hour of trying to ping him through other means, we managed to find somebody in the guild who knew him in real life and called his house.  His mother answered and said he had gone to bed and was asleep.  He just went to bed without bothering to let us know.  Of course, he was like 14 years old or some such, so what can you expect?

4. If you were forced to stop gaming and gaming-related activities (blogs, reading game sites) what would you do with that time?

I told my wife once that if we won the lottery I would quit my job and take some classes in oil painting and start doing landscapes or some such.  I think I was reading a biography of Churchill at the time.  Pretty unlikely, and since lottery winnings aren’t in the question, I’ll have to keep my job I guess.

I would probably go back to playing with all the LEGO sets I have accumulated over the years.  I have been tempted to go back and try and build that X-Wing kit again, which would mean finding all the parts and so on.

5. Do you have any plans to retire from gaming? From blogging?

Retire from gaming?  That is like asking if I am going to retire from breathing.

From blogging though… I have considered it from time to time.  There are plenty of days when I spend more time writing about video games than actually playing them.  But somehow I keep going.  My current plan is to get to the 10 year anniversary and then think about how I want to carry on.  10 years might be enough.

6. Which game had the most memorable ending and why?

Games have endings?  Seriously, see question 8.  Very little I have gotten into in the last decade or so has had an ending, and those that have had them I haven’t finished.  I am horrible like that.

But if I have to pick one, I’ll go with Pokemon White Version 2, which I wrapped up last summer.  It was a surprisingly good entry into the Pokemon core RPG genre (even if it has possibly the worst name) and actually changed up the standard Pokemon RPG ending.

7. Have you ever been a ‘whale’ in a F2P game? If yes, confess!

I am not very good with F2P when it comes down to it.  I will opt-in for the subscription, if there is one, if I am going to play a F2P game, just to cut through the restrictions.  But I tend to avoid the cash shop.  Well, maybe “avoid” is too strong a term.  I open it up, stare at it, and wonder who buys this crap.   I have problems spending cash shop currency that companies just give me, so I rarely even consider of buying any.  I think I bought some diamonds back when we tried Runes of Magic, but that is about it.  Given we played that for about 15 minutes five years ago (I think I spent more time patching than playing), so that isn’t a very good example. The F2P cash shop isn’t my thing, and that is where the whales go.

8. Is there a game or genre you wish you could enjoy, but just don’t?

I wish I could get back into single player RPGs again.  They were a staple of my early days, but since online multiplayer came around, it has been tough for me to focus on a world by myself.

9. How much time, on average, do you spend doing gaming-related activities per week (not counting actually gaming).

I am just glad that Raptr doesn’t track that.

10. Which former blog do you wish still existed or was updated?

Aggro Me or maybe Michael Zenke’s MMOG Nation.  So many have come and gone over the years.

11. Your ‘Mount Rushmore’ (top 4 all time) games are?

I already picked my 15 most influential games a while back, and had trouble winnowing that down to 15.  So, for me, a ‘Mount Rushmore’ game is more than a ‘top 4,’ it is a foundational game that lead me to greater things.  With that in mind, I will have to call out:

And it was tough to get down to that four, because I want to put Wizardry and Marathon on the list as well.

My Questions

Okay, I am going to come up with eleven superlative-free questions and then try to tag a couple of people who haven’t yet been drawn into this mess.

1. Why blog?  In this age of Facebook and Instagram and Twitch and what not, why do you work in a medium that is still mostly about words as opposed to video or connections or other things?

2. Why MMOs? (Or, why not MMOs?)  What is it about this never ending genre that pulls you in, relative to single player or even multi-player co-op games?

3. Science Fiction or Fantasy?  Which way do you lean when it comes to games, literature, movies, or whatever?

4. What of Steam?  Do you feel like you’re missing something by not browsing the shelves looking at boxes when shopping for video games?  Digital distribution is here, on the PC at least (consoles still depend on a lot of physical boxes), do you miss the old way?  Are you old enough to even remember the old way?

5. What gaming relics to you hang on to, if any?  Chat logs? Screen shots? Physical boxes? Just memories?

6. Name three (or more if you like) video games that shaped the gamer you are today.

7. You’re rolling up a new character in yet another fantasy title.  What race and class is always the first set you go with?

8. What video games, if any, did you play before you discovered MMOs?  Did you leave them behind?  Or have you left MMOs behind?

9. By whatever definition you choose, what would you consider to be the Video Game Capital of the World?  LA? Austin? London? Elsewhere?  Maybe just the Video Game Capital of your world?

10. Which MMOs have you really invested yourself in?  There are a lot of them out there, but you can realistically only really get into so many.  Which were they for you?

11. How do you spend most of your MMO time with relation to other players?  Are you solo, in a partial group, in a full group, in a raid, in a coalition-wide fleet operation, or some other formation?  What is your default mode?

So, there are my eleven questions.  I hope I made them interesting enough to answer.  I think one of the rules of this whole thing should require you to do a separate post to answer your own damn questions.  How clever would they seem then?  Maybe I’ll do that later, because I couldn’t even finish writing them before I had answers springing up.

Now for the tricky part, picking some people to tag.  As in my youth, it seems like all the cool kids have been picked already.

I want to pick a few people who have not yet done this (and, ideally, who have not yet been tagged, but I’m not going to try to check that, there being only so many hours in the day), who are likely to actually respond (we all know a couple bloggers who would find this beneath them), and who actually read this blog enough to actually have a chance to see that they have been picked.  That leaves a pretty narrow set of choices.  So who is on Team TAGN for this then?

That is a longer list than some but, with a few long shots in there, I am going feel good if two of them actually pick up the torch.

Addendum: Secondary Effects

Mrrx and Stargrace recycled my questions, so now I feel compelled to track those posts as well.  So you can find additional answers to my set of questions below:

A Return to Writing about the Blogesphere

Writing about the blogesphere, trying to capture the conversations and summarize what is going on and generally connecting with one another, has a long tradition in our corner of the woods.

Some still thrive...

MMO Blog Island circa 2007

I have been on about this whole community thing before, I know.  But it is undeniable that it does exist in some form.  That so many of us have blog rolls on our side bars speaks to a sense of community.  We also link to other blogs on a regular basis by way to joining a conversation or continuing a point made elsewhere or setting the foundation for something we want to write that might have started out as a comment and then grew in the telling.  It is a way to connect and nobody… well, almost nobody… acts like they are doing you a huge favor if they link to something you have written.

Some people have gone beyond just links and blogrolls at times.  For quite a stretch Tipa wrote a Daily Blog Roll column (which I once attempted to parody) on her own blog to try and take the pulse of our little corner of the net.  Others have gone for a less arduous weekly wrap up at times.  Currently we have J3w3l at Healing the Masses and her Monday Link Dead Radio posts, Marcus Scarus is starting up a weekly Blog Bulletin, and there is Silverangel and the semi-regular Weekly Wyrm posts over at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom.

(I know somebody else does something like that as well, but I cannot think of who at the moment, so hit me in the comments and I’ll add it in.)

(Also, a note to bloggers: If your are going to do a regular series like that, give it an exclusive tag or category so readers can view the whole thing as a specific body of your work.  Also, it makes it easier to link to it!)

There have also been events, like various “tag, you’re it memes” and events like the Newbie Blogger Initiative (a new one coming this year I hear) and things like the EVE Blog Pack and the monthly EVE Blog Banter.

Then there are people who take this even a step further and put together sites to help bring the blogging community together.  VirginWorlds started as a blog and a podcast, but quickly became a focus of our little corner of the web as it created a popular amalgamation of feeds featuring MMO bloggers.  Then there is Scr.ee from the Scree of the Cynic Dialogs, an attempt to map and track trends in the blogesphere.  And for space nerds there is EVE Bloggers and Total EVE, sites focused on bringing together EVE Online blogging into a single feed.

And then there are the commercial MMO sites.  It seems natural for those sites to pay us some attention, seeing that they have drawn any number of contributors from our ranks.  The earliest column I can recall that spent time with the MMO blogesphere was Michael Zenke’s Massive Update column on the late 1UP.com site.

Michael Zenke's old column at 1Up.com

Michael Zenke’s old column at 1Up.com

It was focused on MMO news, but Mr. Zenke spent many of his column inches linking out to us.  And that tradition carried on when he went on to become the founding editor-in-chief of the recently departed Massively.  And while he  (and his successor Shawn Schuster) ran the show, the site was often very generous in acknowledging the blogesphere.

But at some point that idea seemed to pass from Massively and other commercial MMO sites.  I am not sure why this happened, if blogging had been declared dead yet again or if blogs were suddenly passé or if editorial policy was changed to never acknowledge that there are other sites on the internet or if people were just sick of hearing about us, but there was clearly a period of time when a link from Massively was exceedingly rare and them writing about the blogesphere appeared to be strictly verboten.

That time of neglect seems to have passed.  Towards the end of Massively’s run, Syp revived the blog community presence with the Global Chat column, a regular feature that has found its way to the Massively Overpowered successor site.

Meanwhile, over at MMOGames, Belghast of Tales of the Aggronaut had a bi-weekly Bel’s Blog Bonanza column start up this month with links out all over.

And then just today Liore of Herding Cats had her debut over at MMORPG.com with Tales from the Neighborhood, giving her take on what topics were are covering in the blogging world.

Of course I am happy to see some more focus back on the grass roots blogging scene, but I am also interested in why this turn of events has come.  Are MMOs just not generating enough news these days?  Have budget constraints meant that sites have gone to covering niche topics by linking out to the crazies? (And we’re all crazies on this bus.)  Have such sites decided that they need to tend the garden from which so many of their staff have sprung?  Or is this just a quiet time aberration, soon to be dropped once something interesting happens?

What do you think?  And who did I miss in my summing up?

Addendum: Mr Luvva does a regular blogging wrap-up feature as well.

When I Look at that Cloud, I see Juche

There is a little thing on Twitter right now called Word Cloud Bot that will create a word cloud from your Twitter feed.  Not the first one of these I have seen, and it likely won’t be the last.  But this one is at least simple to use and you don’t have to authorize it to take over your feed.

Anyway, this is the cloud it generated for me.

@wilhelm2451 cloud

@wilhelm2451 cloud

I find the whole thing aesthetically pleasing to look at.  The colors are soothing and I like the way smaller words are woven in.  You really have to click on it and view it in full size to appreciate it.

Apparently the bigger the word, the more you use it.  So “EVE,” “Draenor,” “Pokemon,” “WoW,” “Blizzard,” and what not… those all make sense.

But the biggest word in the whole thing is “post,” which I find odd because as far as I can tell, I rarely, to the point of almost never, use the word “post” on Twitter.  And I would be surprised to find that I used the word “blog” that often.  Maybe “play” or “year,” but the most likely words seemed to be much smaller.  After all, a good portion of my feed is automatic tweets of post titles with a link, so the cloud ought to be heavily influenced by my titles here. “Quote” ought to be huge, given my run of “Quote of the Day” posts.  I can see the influence of post titles, especially from my EVE Online Pictures site (Basilisk!), but those words are all pretty minor.

So I went poking around to see if there was a description somewhere about how this bot does its thing.  And, sure enough, there was a bit right there in its feed.

I use the last 1200 tweets to build the word cloud. Common words are excluded. There are at most 180 words in a word cloud.

I reply to a request every ~30 seconds, I can’t go faster than that because otherwise Twitter will block me, so you may have to wait a bit.

That was interesting, but not exactly useful in answering my question, which still stands even if we limit the tweet corpus to 1,200. (That is less than a year of Twitter, and just under 20% of my 6,104 tweets up to this time.)  My only guess is that when WordPress.com tweets about a new post for me, somehow the word “post” is embedded in there.  And I suppose that even if the word is not literally in my Twitter feed, it is there metaphorically with each tweet that WordPress.com does, so the size of the word “post” probably represents the prevalence of blog post notifications in my feed.

My favorite word in the whole thing… and there are a number of good/amusing words scattered throughout in tiny print… is Juche.  It is right there between the “L” an the “O” in “Blog,” below “soe” and “close.”  And SOE being close to Juche is pretty funny as well.

Anyway, I like it.  Tweet Cloud might be more accurate in representing the words I use.

Tweet Cloud covering approximately the same time period

Tweet Cloud covering approximately the same time period

The word “post” is still in there, though “time” outweighs it.

But the result is not nearly as interesting to stare at.

And for those who cannot get enough of the style of that first word cloud, I also have the cloud generated for my awful spam Twitter feed, which reflects what Rift and Raptr have tweeted for me in the past.

The pain of that feed, but fun to look at still

The pain of that feed, but fun to look at still

That feed has been quiet for a while, though I suspect it will liven up again with Blizzard giving us Twitter integration in the WoW 6.1 patch.  You never have to see a bit of that from me so long as you do not follow my second feed.

MMO Blogesphere Feed – Version 3

This was going to be something for the top section of the month in review, but it ended up being a bit longer than I would like, so I’ll just complain about WordPress.com or something on the 30th.

So over there in the side bar on the right hand side of the blog, there is my latest attempt to create a unified feed for a small corner of the MMO blogesphere.  This is, of course, driven entirely from jealousy at the wonderful blog roll widget that people using Google’s Blogger platform have access to.  WordPress.com will never give us anything like this because, as I have been told by a designated representative of the organization, blog rolls are a thing of the past.

Such is life.

Now, there are any number of ways with a sufficient application of effort, technology, and/or money, I could enable a comparable feature on my own side bar.

Hell, I could just move to the Blogger platform.  Simple and done.  I just happen to like just about everything else about WordPress.com better than Blogger, up to and including the whole not being an insignificant part of Google and thus always in danger of being discarded for some new vision of the future or if Sergey is having a bad day.  WordPress.com and I disagree on any number of things, but being a blogging platform is their thing.  Plus my blog is too big to export at this point, so I am stuck with them unless I want to start again fresh.

Anyway, while I could throw money and ~effort~ at the problem, I am both cheap and lazy.  So I have sought out solutions that were both low effort and low cost through various iterations of the project.  The story so far…

Version 0

My original plan was just to stick the VirginWorlds feed in the side bar.  That was a fine solution back in the day.  Viva Brent!

But since about 2009 or so, when Brent wandered off with other priorities in his life, it has been less and less of an ideal.  The site is still up and running, and its accompanying feed is still in my side bar.  However, the site no longer gets updated with new blogs any more, so the feed itself tends to be dominated by Massively.  Not that I dislike Massively in general, but I want to promote my fellow bloggers and not a commercial site.  So I started looking for a way to add a new, more blogger focused feed.

Version 1

Back before the advent of Google+, Google Reader was a wonderful thing.  It was fast and simple, tied in with your Google account, and generally the standard across the board for online RSS readers.  The only reason not to use it was fear of the monster Google might become.

And among its many features was the ability to flag items from your reading list to be posted to an RSS feed.  And so I used the WordPress RSS feed widget to put that feed in my side bar, flagging new stories for inclusion every day.  This was probably a bit more “hands on” than I wanted… somewhat akin to the early days of VirginWorlds, when each link on the site represented a manual submission… but it worked.

The came Google+.

google-plus-logo-640

Google proceeded to wreck Google Reader in both form and function in a transparent effort to get people to stop using it in favor of Google+.  Amongst the feature casualties was the RSS output.  So while Google was busy kicking me off of Google+ for using a pseudonym (then quietly asking me to return) and generally annoying people by forcing integration with other services (Remember when your YouTube account HAD to be linked to Google+ for about a week? People were pissed.) they managed to alienate just enough Google Reader users to be able to claim the service was in decline and to shut it down.

Google Reader had fallen so low that when they finally turned it off, the resulting diaspora of users literally swamped all of the competing services to the point of making them unusable due to excess load.  I had to swap to Feedly at a too late date when The Old Reader staff threw their hands in the air at the onslaught and walked away. (They later returned, realizing that they could, you know, make money at this, but I had already moved to Feedly.)

Which is to say, it was still pretty damn popular.  Just not popular enough.  That was also the fate of Google+ which, when it did not eclipse Facebook (and dear Lord, Facebook only looks good when compared to Google+, which is simply awful when it comes to usability) was “De-emphasized” in favor of other initiatives.  Like finally closing down Orkut and figuring out exactly where the line is between “evil” and “not evil.”

Version 2

So, even before the end of Google Reader I was out looking for an alternative.  I tinkered with a few things, including Yahoo Pipes.  Pipes actually looked promising, but I could never get it to create output that would work correctly with the WordPress RSS widget.

Eventually I found a site called RSS Mix.

They don't really have a logo...

They don’t really have a logo…

The service was free… so it met that requirement… and was relatively low maintenance.  Basically, you gave it a list of RSS feed URLs and it would mash all those together and give you an output URL for the combined RSS feed.  And it mostly worked.

It was a bit of a pain to maintain.  Every time I wanted to update the list of blog feeds to draw from I had to submit the whole list again for a new RSS feed, which meant keeping revisions on hand locally.

It also wasn’t terribly reliable.  About half the time I would hit the blog, the feed to fail to load.  That was irksome, but when it did load it did the job.  The service just wasn’t meant to be polled every time somebody showed up at the site, and the WordPress.com widget doesn’t keep a cached version or anything.  So a lot of the time people just saw this:

FeedDown

Then a few people began to note that something about the whole thing was causing ping-backs on Blogger based blogs, including one serious “stop doing that!” complaint, at which point I pulled the widget and started looking for a new solution.

Version 3

I played around with some different options.  Mail Chimp offers a free RSS consolidation feature.  However, it appears to be completely static.  It takes the URLs you hand it, makes a feed, and then never updates it.  Not terribly useful, but it was free so what do you expect.

Feedly sent out an update about a site called Zapier.  If you were a Feedly Pro subscribe, and I am, you could take advantage of the data integration tools that Zapier offered.  This included some RSS feed tools.  I got that to work, but to have more than a couple blogs in the feed I would have to subscribe to Zapier as well, which wanted monthly fee in the subscription MMO range.  That failed the cheapskate test.

Eventually I stumbled onto a site called IFTTT, which is short for “If This Then That.”  This was mentioned at one point as a service that could access Feedly Pro features.  It could take output from Feedly and turn it into something else, I just wasn’t sure what.

I signed up for an account, which was free and thus right in my price range, and started tinkering with it.  I couldn’t get it to output directly to anything in WordPress that seemed useful, at least not for a side bar widget, but I found that,  among the things it could output to, was a site called Pinboard.

Pinboard is described as a “social bookmarking” site, akin to what Delicious was at one time.  I had never used Delicious, but reading through the descriptions at Pinboard, it could take bookmark input and would turn it into an RSS feed output.  That sounded like the ticket.  However, in order to keep spam and such down, Pinboard charges an up front, one time fee to join the service.  It is based on how many people use the service already, basically you have to pay a penny for everybody who got there ahead of you.  My total to join was $10.46, which was well within the cheapskate budget if it worked out. (I suspect that they would change that pricing policy if a lot of people started showing up.  I think a $10 barrier to entry is fine, but if it had been $35 or $50, I might have walked on by.)

Between the three services, I was able to create a rule that takes updates from my MMO Blogs category in Feedly (making me glad I set up categories when I started using the service) and posts them to my Pinboard account.

FeedlyPinboard

And it basically worked.  Items showed up in Pinboard and they were tagged correctly so I could pull them from an RSS feed associated with that tag.  All I had to do was get the data being passed to work with the WordPress RSS widget.  That turned out to be the tricky bit.  It took a bit of trial and error to see what worked and what did not, something that went a bit slowly because I had to wait until somebody posted something new before the feed would update and pass along my changes.  Ideally I wanted something similar to what the Blogger side bar widget offered, with Blog Name, Post Name, and how long ago it was published.  Eventually, paring down the data being passed to the bare minimum, I got the WordPress widget to display what I wanted.

The IFTTT Recipe

The IFTTT Recipe

And I ended up with something that is mostly what I want.

It doesn’t put a nice little icon next to each blog title, the format or title and blog name differs depending on which service is being used, and the the published time is displayed as an absolute in Pacific Time rather than a friendly “2 hours ago” sort of way.  But it mostly works and, now that the one time expense is out of the way, it is both cheap and easy to maintain.

Furthermore, it is flexible.  I can sort our who goes into the feed easily, by just moving things around in Feedly categories.  I moved some of the blogs that are in the VirginWorlds feed to a special “no feed” category, since I still have that feed in my side bar as well.  Trying to limit double exposure there, which mostly affects Syp and Tobold at this point.  I can create additional RSS feeds from my Feedly account.  I am looking into making one for EVE Online blogs for my other site and another for official game company feeds to put somewhere on the sidebar here. (There is currently an experimental version down at the very bottom of the side bar, if you scroll way down.)

So, mission accomplished!

Yeah, But Why Bother?

So all of that work… and all of those words… later, you might well ask why I deemed this important enough to pursue at all.

Yes, there was a certain amount of envy that Blogger based blogs had a feature that WordPress.com hosted bloggers lacked.  But that envy was based on the empirical observations that such a dynamic side bar widget actually attracts clicks.  Both the stats related to who sends traffic here and where people here click out to, a dynamic side bar widget attracts attention.  People will click on something that is both identified and visibly new or updated.

I can see from my own outbound traffic that almost nobody clicks on the static blogroll on a daily basis.  But with the new feed up in the side bar, I can see multiple clicks going to specific posts that have popped up and been displayed.

I did it because it is an effective way to send people to other blogs in our little community.

Eight Years of Link Rot

Years ago, back when we thought the World Wide Web was new and cool and we actually called it the World Wide Web and you had to have “www” in front of a web address because otherwise somebody might think you wanted Gopher access to their site for Christ’s sake, back then I read an interview with Douglas Engelbart.  Or maybe it was somebody else.  It could have been Ted Nelson.  Or maybe it was a dream.  I have learned that memory is unreliable which is why, in part, I write this blog.  Anyway, Douglas Engelbart is the guy who invented or bundled together the idea of just about everything you take for granted in computing today, only those ideas never quite came across as envisioned.  Basically, we messed it all up along the way.  It is what we do best.

And in this interview, some young reporter, gushing to be interviewing the person who came up with the very idea of Hypertext, asked him if this whole shiny new World Wide Web thing was the wonderful rainbow-streaked living embodiment of all he had foreseen.  Wasn’t this just what he beheld all those years back when he was given a nearly divine vision of the future?

And the response, from whoever it was… and I am paraphrasing here, because I cannot remember his actual withering retort… was approximately “Jesus Fuck No!”

And his objection didn’t even reference GeoCities.

No, he was pissed off that he had envisioned a vast interlinking of information systems that would allow the user to find all he needed smoothly and seamlessly, and what we had created was a mess of hand typed static URIs that would fail to connect the moment something in the path moved or changed.  We had taken his vision of Hypertext and created from it a living hell of link rot.  I don’t think he used the actual term “link rot,” though he might have.

And this was, as I said, during an earlier era of the web, before link rot was a really big deal.  Visionary that he was, he foresaw this as he foresaw so much else.  He could see the linkpocalypse coming.  Actually, it probably was Ted Nelson.  He literally hates HTML.  But it doesn’t matter, we’re still screwed, having been left with this sort of thing now.

The World Wide Web, as it turns out, is a place where we mostly used to be able to find stuff, but it keeps disappearing.  Often, the happiest result is getting the dread 404 errors, which have become common enough that we have taken to making them cute or pretty or different, so as to make the failure of one link or another more pleasant.

The EVE Online 404 error page

The EVE Online 404 error page

And 404 is good compared to the alternatives.  You are just as likely to get somebody cybersquatting on a URL with ads and malware.  This seems to be the common end for self-hosted blogs.  People stop updating, then stop paying the bill, and then the domain expires and the next day there is a spam page sitting there dispensing shit where once there was something of value.

Some days I hate the internet.

If it were not for the Internet Archive I am sure I would think myself crazy, remembering so many virtual things that have, for one reason or another, shed even their virtual existence and disappeared.

Basically, I am eight years down the road on the whole blogging thing today, and I can really see how annoying the whole link rot thing can be.  I can channel Engelbart’s rage… or whoever that was in the interview I cannot find… because internet.

I go back and look at old posts at least once a month, thanks to my month in review posts, and I end up running into more and more old posts with dead links.  I have always frowned upon posts with supporting arguments available only as links (the awful “go read this and come back” posts), but I am becoming more convinced that I need to quote as much as possible in blog posts, so as to make each post as self-contained as possible, that it might make sense five years down the road when the link to the source material has gone bad.  But I cannot copy things wholesale, as I do not want to steal the works of others.  So there is this middle ground of trying to include enough to support what I am saying, knowing whatever links I include may go away (as an example, SOE has a habit of just changing their web site hierarchy every two years because “fuck the web” I guess, so the data is generally still there, it just has a different URI), without actually stealing the works of other and actually encouraging people to visit other sites.  Community, yo.

All of which is something of an odd intro into my 8 year anniversary post (trivia: Blog created at 17:04 UTC on September 12, 2006), but here we are, eight years in and I am feeling the pain of being on the internet.  For those with more free time than sense, you can go back and look at past anniversary blog posts to see how I have held up over the years.

I had originally thought of going with Self-Portrait at Eight Years Old Wearing a Helm with Giant Horns as a post title, but I thought maybe I might be getting into references too obscure for mere mortals.  Plus I couldn’t come up with an decent image to go with that title, while images of 404 messages are legion.

Anyway, it is at this point I start trotting out various and sundry statistics and other bits of trivia, with some sort of forward looking message at the end.  If you are interested in that sort of thing, you will find it after the cut.  If not, well… there are plenty of happy destinations in the side bar.  And most of those links are still good!

Continue reading