Armchair Arcade 3.0: Your Thoughts Appreciated

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Matt Barton
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Hi, all. The time has come to begin talking about Armchair Arcade version 3.0, and we're thinking now about closing down this Drupal site and re-booting with a Wordpress site. The reasons are mainly technical; none of us has the time or expertise to deal with updating a complex site, and Drupal has been giving us issues with the host. We're also concerned because the current version of Drupal is 7.x, but we're still on 6.x. We could update to 7, but we'd lose a lot of image functionality in the process (we use a mod here called img_assist to help us upload and format images for posts, and it's not compatible with 7). On top of that, the built-in image features lack the functionality of our current setup, so it'd be a downgrade in some key aspects.

There's some debate about whether a forum would be desirable, perhaps a phpbb forum that would share a common login/password with the Wordpress site (there are mods to handle this). You probably wouldn't be able to search across both (perhaps there are also mods for that), but the idea is to keep things simple this go-round without a lot of monkeying around with mods and scripts. Also, frankly, the participation is so low in this forum that I think it'd be more trouble than it's worth to bother with it in the next incarnation of AA.

In any case, we'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter. Keep in mind our technical limitations; we aren't web devs and not really comfortable with doing anything but basic setups and updates.

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Matt Barton
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Agreed
Bill Loguidice wrote:
Rowdy Rob wrote:

By the way, if/when you guys switch to new AA software, what happens to the old site(s)? Are they (and all their content) gone? It would be a real bear, I imagine, to archive TWO sites online!

Both sites will be archived like the old site is now. I personally despise when sites go away or revamp and nuke all the old stuff. It's history and should be up as long as possible. In our case, that will be as long as we keep AA alive, which I hope is many decades...

Agreed. Both Bill and I are committed to this for the long haul.

Of course, I'm not sure anyone is keeping regular backups...Think I'll do that now. :)

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Bill Loguidice
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Archiving
Rowdy Rob wrote:

By the way, if/when you guys switch to new AA software, what happens to the old site(s)? Are they (and all their content) gone? It would be a real bear, I imagine, to archive TWO sites online!

Both sites will be archived like the old site is now. I personally despise when sites go away or revamp and nuke all the old stuff. It's history and should be up as long as possible. In our case, that will be as long as we keep AA alive, which I hope is many decades...

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Rowdy Rob
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New AA software.
Matt Barton wrote:

We should definitely brainstorm this more.

There's no immediate rush to do anything; at least for the time being, Drupal 6 is still being supported. Perhaps by the time it is no longer supported there will be an img_assist module for 7, so a lot of this could be moot by then.

I agree with this, and as Bill said, the host server is upgrading soon, so it will be beneficial to see how that plays out before making any hard decisions.

Matt Barton wrote:

One thing I think that's hurt us badly with the blog format is that people are very uncomfortable posting blogs, but the same folks are fine posting new forum threads.

I was very confused when you first switched over to the "blog" format. Heck, I'm still a bit confused years later! Blogs somehow seem more "official" than a forum post. I recall once posting in the forum, and Bill suggested that it probably would have been better to post it as a "blog." And once I posted a "blog," and it got promoted to the front page of the site! That's a bit different than a "forum" post. Now, when I post, I just post, period, without thinking about whether it's a "blog" or "forum" post, although it's been a long time since I initiated a "blog" or "forum" thread.

Matt Barton wrote:

A few months ago I installed the "advanced forum" module to make our forums here look more like phpbb:
http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/forum/6

For whatever reason, though, that hasn't taken off. It could be that the feature set just isn't as rich as phpbb3.

This is the first time I've heard about the "advanced forum." I don't know how I missed it, but it wasn't a feature I was aware of.

Matt Barton wrote:

Or maybe we're just, pains me to say it, not as popular as we used to be. It's been a long, long time since we were mentioned on Slashdot, Boing Boing, Game Set Watch, etc., which used to be routine for us. It could just be the lack of big features here, which is what these sites tend to pick up. I think they also liked our "old school" issues format with the painted covers and all. I think we still have (or could easily muster) enough solid writing talent to do issues again, but none of us can draw or paint worth a shite, and that's going to suck.

I believe stuff like that ebbs and flows, comes and goes. Unless you guys are pissing off people behind the scenes, I think if you stay the course, things will pick up eventually with new blood discovering your site, or something you do will hit (like "Gameplay"). A lot of people have been posting less (myself included, because I can't) for whatever reason. Heck, even most of the AA admins are posting less here. Perhaps it's the economy, I don't know.

Matt Barton wrote:

I agree I should try to leverage Matt Chat more, but it's been very difficult. The Youtube crowd doesn't like going off-site. In a way, it's kind of a shame that youtube has comments, because if it didn't, people would probably be more obligated to go to your forums. I guess I could try disabling comments and telling people to post here instead, but I doubt that'd have positive consequences!

Perhaps something simple, like a title card at the end (like your opening one: "Armchair Arcade presents"), saying something like "ArmchairArcade.com: great discussions, gaming news, commentaries, inviting community, etc...., come join us!" or something like that. (I suck at promos, obviously).

By the way, if/when you guys switch to new AA software, what happens to the old site(s)? Are they (and all their content) gone? It would be a real bear, I imagine, to archive TWO sites online!

clok1966
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to easy
Matt Barton wrote:

Hey, guys, you can change that yourselves. Look at the "comment viewing options" underneath the last comment. You can set it however you want.

hehe sometimes being an idiot really works against me :) so simple... you wopuld think a simple mind would have caught it.. i guesss the easier you make it the harder it is for some of us to see.. can you tell Im embaressed :) THANKS!

Matt Barton
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Hey, guys, you can change

Hey, guys, you can change that yourselves. Look at the "comment viewing options" underneath the last comment. You can set it however you want.

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clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
I like the setup you have

I like the setup you have now.. the stories are on the front page so to speak. And the general stuff is in forums. I must admit Im not to clear on what should be a BLOG post and what should be a Forum Post (but as you ahve noticed it hasnt stopped me frome experimenting). I would think keeping your current setup and useing the new forums in replace of the old ones should work great.

I vote for changing the way comments are... I prefer to red the first commetns first and go down (like a forum). Going into a post about "new C-64 EMU" and the first rely post is "the atari joystick was the best" can be very misleading... every discussion vears off in many directions (especially if im in it) and not following from the start seems wierd to me.. I know (now that I have been here awhile) that i go to last pasge and read it backwards... but its just not like most forums or websites.. so its a bit confusing at first.

Matt Barton
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We should definitely

We should definitely brainstorm this more.

There's no immediate rush to do anything; at least for the time being, Drupal 6 is still being supported. Perhaps by the time it is no longer supported there will be an img_assist module for 7, so a lot of this could be moot by then.

Rob, check out the drupal themes: http://drupal.org/project/themes

One of our biggest issues is that we've never had anybody on the team with enough savvy to put together a great custom theme. Seb did it for our old site, and I think his designs really had an impact. Since then we've been pretty much stuck with the default theme with custom logo, but I still think it doesn't look very exciting. If you guys see another theme you like better maybe we could install that and try it out. I know we could just try to pay somebody to design a custom theme for us, though I think if the reward is money it just won't have the same spirit.

I'm pretty sure you can change any part of the site that you don't like. If you want a box around comments, that's doable, as is making them smaller, etc. This particular post is a forum post, so it's formatted differently than a blog post would have been. Another reason I think we don't like drupal too much; the forums and blogs are too similar, probably by design.

One thing I think that's hurt us badly with the blog format is that people are very uncomfortable posting blogs, but the same folks are fine posting new forum threads.

A few months ago I installed the "advanced forum" module to make our forums here look more like phpbb:
http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/forum/6

For whatever reason, though, that hasn't taken off. It could be that the feature set just isn't as rich as phpbb3.

Or maybe we're just, pains me to say it, not as popular as we used to be. It's been a long, long time since we were mentioned on Slashdot, Boing Boing, Game Set Watch, etc., which used to be routine for us. It could just be the lack of big features here, which is what these sites tend to pick up. I think they also liked our "old school" issues format with the painted covers and all. I think we still have (or could easily muster) enough solid writing talent to do issues again, but none of us can draw or paint worth a shite, and that's going to suck.

I agree I should try to leverage Matt Chat more, but it's been very difficult. The Youtube crowd doesn't like going off-site. In a way, it's kind of a shame that youtube has comments, because if it didn't, people would probably be more obligated to go to your forums. I guess I could try disabling comments and telling people to post here instead, but I doubt that'd have positive consequences!

n/a
Bill Loguidice
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Never easy...
Rowdy Rob wrote:

The hybrid "blog/forum" integration AA uses now seems to be ideal for what you guys do, so hopefully the tight integration is somehow preserved. The only thing I would like to see changed is probably more of a visual thing. On most blogs, the actual blog post is clearly delineated visually from the comments, and that looks very slick and professional. Gamasutra is a good example. On AA, the "blogs" look the same as the comments, with the "forum box" around it. It's hard to explain, but just check Matt's original post above and look at the comments here. They visually have the "box" around it.

That is a great point, Rob. I've often found myself thinking about how the comments are not clearly delineated from either the main blog posts or the forum topic starter. I've also thought about how "newest to oldest" comment order is not necessarily clear either. I don't think there's a solution to improve that with Drupal. That would certainly be something I'd look forward to with BaseKit or Wordpress.

In any case, I strongly recommend that we wait to see how our host implements BaseKit in the coming weeks before making any decision. Honestly, the only way I think phpBB will be workable is if it's a direct replacement for these forums with the same login (or at least some type of Facebook/Twitter integration). Again, lots of problems with having a separate login, including the fact that everyone will need a new login for whatever 3.0 is anyway, and we don't know if we'll be retaining phpBB in whatever that solution is. It could be a lot of wasted effort for posters for no benefit, which I hate. That's one reason why I was so adamant about keeping up the 1.0 version of the site. Related to that was DavyK's earlier comment about "not getting over the switch" or some such thing. ANY type of switch will not sit well with some people, even if it's a necessary switch like the switch to the current site or what will be 3.0.

Also, I know some of the old school guys despise the stuff, but I really think that whatever form 3.0 takes, natural integration with social networks like Twitter, Facebook and maybe even eventually something like Google+, will be critical. Sure, we'll want native login options, but for casual comments/traffic/convenience, I think integration with those services will be key, and that includes extended functionality like retweets and likes and what-not. If we're going to go to the effort of a 3.0 revision, it should be all the way and as future proof as these things can be. I'd love to get at least 10 years out of the solution, rather than the approximately half that we've been getting.

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Rowdy Rob
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Some "Outsider" observations

One of the strengths of the current AA format is the tight integration of the "forum" to the "blog" format. Most blogs seem to have "simple," short comments afterwards. I don't know if that's by design, or because that's "blog protocol," but that's never been AA. AA "blogs" have always been put forth with the intention to generate heavy discussion, because the founders obviously are "discussion-centric," coming from the "forum" world.

The closest sites to AA that I've seen, design/commentary-wise, are Gamasutra and Slashdot. The Slashdot "forum/blog" system looks way to "geeky" and cumbersome to me, but the community there is very hardcore and are probably very comfortable with the system. Gamasutra is probably closer, but I'm not sure how much lengthy discussions it generates.

The hybrid "blog/forum" integration AA uses now seems to be ideal for what you guys do, so hopefully the tight integration is somehow preserved. The only thing I would like to see changed is probably more of a visual thing. On most blogs, the actual blog post is clearly delineated visually from the comments, and that looks very slick and professional. Gamasutra is a good example. On AA, the "blogs" look the same as the comments, with the "forum box" around it. It's hard to explain, but just check Matt's original post above and look at the comments here. They visually have the "box" around it.

Well, I gotta go, but those are a few thoughts. As for commenters/posters, I would like to see more people join up and jump in, but I admit I'm clueless as to how to generate more memberships. Perhaps leverage some of your other projects (Matt Chat and the like) to invite more like-minded people to post here.

Matt Barton
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Hi, Chris. I think I was able

Hi, Chris. I think I was able to make you an admin on the site. I say "think" because the interface has gotten a helluva lot more complicated than I remember from phpbb2. Looks like people who register are considered "newly registered" for awhile but can be promoted to "approved member." I'm guessing at that point their posts are no longer put in the moderator queue. It's probably not a bad idea to have it like that, actually, since it would discourage spam.

Regarding the bigger discussion, I think we need to think about the overall vision here. There's no doubt that a forum format works best for generating discussion. People will come to the phpbb3 forum and feel very comfortable assuming they've ever been on a forum before. Hell, some people will probably even get nostalgic for it. I bet if we developed it, in a few weeks we'd all be spending hours there writing long posts and generating huge threads just like the good old days.

On the downside, Bill is right. Unless you're a "forum type," then you're going to see that and be turned off. These forum communities tend to be insular, and it's hard for an outsider to come to them and find anything useful. If it was separate, there would undoubtedly be people who never read the blogs or whatever and just went straight to the forums.

That said, I don't think we have anything to lose here, really. I'd be up for taking down the forums link here and just pointing people to the phpbb3 site. I don't even think it's necessary to have a dual log in. In fact, I kind of like keeping it separated. After all, if I'm right in my thinking, the people who will be drawn to the forum aren't the type who'd be drawn to our blogs and want to comment there. In fact, I'd say we should try to let it develop on its own without a lot of moderating or administering from us, though of course we could participate on it.

The way I see it, we could either use movable type or (for the time being) continue with drupal for our blog posts, and keep the forums around whenever we want to discuss stuff at length. The blog would be our official, professional side, whereas the forums are anything goes, somewhat shielded from the rest of the site so that stuff there doesn't interfere with the professional part. We might want to use handles there instead of our real names, for instance.

In any case, again I don't see that we have anything to lose. If the forum is a hit it helps us indirectly, at least, since people will be visiting more often and at least some will want to know what's on the blogs, too (perhaps as fodder for posts). If nobody goes there, again, not like we lost anything.

I do think we all have great strengths as forum folks because we all like that sort of thing and even crave it. For whatever reason, the current site has not led to that. People have said they feel intimidated by the content or don't like the software or whatever. That's why I think setting up a sort of walled garden in the guise of the forum might be for the best. We'll make it clear that we're not moderating for content or writing ability, just spam. I'd be up for making Chris the official "forum manager" or whatever and let it be his baby. I'd rather just be a participant on it.

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