Building a new site

Redglyph

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Well, I'm going to continue with the stuff I've been tinkering with, the bulk of which has been looking at theming the various solutions, so I could lay things out as we'd want them to be. I've learned a few things, and want to see it through. It could be quite useful to have a CMS and forum solution that I understand how to work with, in case I ever want to start the Teacup Poodle Fanciers' Gazette and Agora.

I'd be glad to hear about all that and share experiences, here or in another thread (this one seems perfect). I had a very brief look at Matrix.org but I haven't read much about it yet, it looks very interesting.

The "Teacup Poodle Fanciers' Gazette and Agora". heh? :)

I'd be curious to see how much it's possible to make a CMS like WP or Ghost look pretty with Discourse. I suppose your perspective (and most people's) would be similar to mine if you had to build such a site, looking for robust open-source and preferably non-paying tools? In that area, there aren't many forum engines which convinced me except Discourse, though I haven't spent much time looking. The other I liked was phpBB but it may get old. wpForo looked like it could be used but I have to continue my experiments with it (I'm skeptical atm, and it restricts the choice to WP).

A chat platform is a nice complement, but I have the impression it may split the community and make people who don't want to spend much time chatting feel like they're excluded and out of the loop after a while.
 

Ripper

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If you're interested in Matrix, have a look at Element.io, which is the main service using the Matrix network at the moment. Gives you a better idea of the experience, and you can look at their web interface, and download open source clients for desktop and mobile. Worth bearing in mind that this is just one implementation, and there are many others in development, including more forum-like experiences. That's where it's more comparable to email, where there are countless different clients and web interfaces, that can present things in different ways.

A chat client alongside a forum can be a problem, and I've certainly seen communities that setup a Discord server, and now their forums are full of tumbleweeds. I'm more looking at it as hedging my bets - I regard the takeover by a commercial interest with due skepticism. The Watch is now fully owned and controlled (not just hosted) by that entity, which I imagine was a condition of the arrangement.

The Watch will soon be participating in the sort of business @Eye; drew attention to the other day, and, as Eye also discovered, their TOS isn't worth… well, a toss. So, I'd kind of like to have the option of leaving, but with a way of saying to people that here's the place to find me, if you'd like to stay in touch.
 

Redglyph

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Thanks for the info! I had already looked and installed Element's app, after you mentioned this. But I have to look that in more details.

About RTB, I don't have a precise idea how the identity is linked to the data, or even how much of this is true / what else may still be hidden, but it looks like escaping it can only be done by not browsing at all. I suppose you say that for the ads? It seems we may have a possibility to avoid that if the donations are enough, so something to discover in due time. I'm using an ad blocker because some sites overdo it, but I'm happy to donate as a compensation.

About the other issue (and I was actually the one first mentioning a potential concern with their conditions and their ToS), that's something to evaluate as the site "lives" at the new place. I'm not saying I'm comfortable with it, just suggesting to wait and see how it goes.

In any case, if you decide to leave… yes please, let us know where we can find you.
 

Stingray

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I regard the takeover by a commercial interest with due skepticism.
Where are you getting the idea that Sorcerer's Place is a "commercial interest"? I think they run ads to cover hosting costs, nothing more. Although I say this only because I've read the Codex's donations page in the past, which says so. https://rpgcodex.net/forums/pages/donations/

No different than the way Myrthos ran RPGWatch? Besides that, at some point a long time ago, he shut off the ads and fell back on donations only
 

Ripper

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Where are you getting the idea that Sorcerer's Place is a "commercial interest"? I think they run ads to cover hosting costs, nothing more. Although I say this only because I've read the Codex's donations page in the past, which says so. https://rpgcodex.net/forums/pages/donations/

No different than the way Myrthos ran RPGWatch? Besides that, at some point a long time ago, he shut off the ads and fell back on donations only

If Sorcerer's Place itself is not a commercial venture, as in seeking profit, I'll be very surprised indeed. I think it's very different than the way Myrthos ran the Watch (to his great credit). In his case, adverts provided a bit of cash, which was topped up with donations, and it was all declared transparently, with any surplus to the year's costs carried over to the next. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

But I don't think Sorcerer's Place is that sort of arrangement. Again, someone correct me if I'm wrong, if they actually know if it's a business or not. Do they declare the income from advertising to the community and then ask for donations to meet the shortfall, transparently accounting for it? Or do they use adverts, and then also ask for donations, without you really knowing the score?

The Codex is definitely still crawling with adverts and trackers. If you visit it from the EU, it pops up with some controls required by the GDPR. You can scroll through the list of all the different ad services running on the site. You'll be scrolling for a while. :p
 

Stingray

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If Sorcerer's Place itself is not a commercial venture, as in seeking profit, I'll be very surprised indeed. I think it's very different than the way Myrthos ran the Watch (to his great credit). In his case, adverts provided a bit of cash, which was topped up with donations, and it was all declared transparently, with any surplus to the year's costs carried over to the next. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

But I don't think Sorcerer's Place is that sort of arrangement. Again, someone correct me if I'm wrong, if they actually know if it's a business or not. Do they declare the income from advertising to the community and then ask for donations to meet the shortfall, transparently accounting for it? Or do they use adverts, and then also ask for donations, without you really knowing the score?
I'm pretty sure you're wrong. I don't follow it super closely, but if you read the Codex you'll occasionally see campaigns like this:

https://rpgcodex.net/campaigns.php?id=31

The clear implication is that they are merely covering server/software costs and nothing more.

And sure, the Codex isn't the only thing hosted at Sorcerer's Place but I'm pretty sure it dwarfs everything else there.
 

Couchpotato

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Not much of a problem if you want to use ad-block or some other alternative. Yes I know that's a grey area and if you love the site you can still donate to keep it running.

Unless the site owner blocks those tools to disable them like other major sites.
 

HiddenX

The Elder Spy
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https://sorcerers.net/Info/Staff/index.php
Sorcerer's Place is a project run entirely by fans and for fans. Maintaining Sorcerer's Place and a stable environment for all our hosted sites requires a substantial amount of our time and funds on a regular basis, so please consider supporting us to keep the site up & running smoothly. Thank you!
 

Ripper

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I'm pretty sure you're wrong. I don't follow it super closely, but if you read the Codex you'll occasionally see campaigns like this:

https://rpgcodex.net/campaigns.php?id=31

The clear implication is that they are merely covering server/software costs and nothing more.

Yes, they do like to make that implication (and again in the quote HiddenX provided). But if you notice, there's nothing about the fact that they state it's run "by fans for fans", or asking for donations and volunteers, that precludes it being run to make money.

If you look at how Myrthos did things, it was all completely transparent. In the Codex example you point to, there's a fundraising request for six grand, with perks for the top donors. Where does the figure of six grand come from? What are the costs, the revenue from the advertising, and the shortfall required to be made up by the community? Not what I would call transparency, at least in that example.

I think one interesting thing to look at is that they are promoting their hosting services - have a read of that page. If folks think this operation is equivalent to what Myrthos has been doing, and that someone isn't making money here, I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn. :p
 

Arhu

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If you look at how Myrthos did things, it was all completely transparent. In the Codex example you point to, there's a fundraising request for six grand, with perks for the top donors. Where does the figure of six grand come from? What are the costs, the revenue from the advertising, and the shortfall required to be made up by the community? Not what I would call transparency, at least in that example.

There's a bit more transparency here: Helping SP. Granted, it would be great if they could list the actual costs and projections. Also, personally I'd love it if they could get rid of ads entirely end use donations only. Would actually have preferred that for the classic Watch as well.
 

HiddenX

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Myrthos and Taluntain know each other for a long time:

Taluntain:
I've had ties with RPGWatch going back to the RPGDot days, when Sorcerer's Place was actually hosted by RPGDot for a brief period IIRC. RPGWatch came about as a successor to RPGDot, but I've known Myrthos since the beginnings of RPGDot, which was actually founded the same year as SP, back in 1999. He also helped me out setting up the news sharing between our two sites and a few other things, so we go back a long time. It's only natural that I offered to help, given the circumstances.
 

Ripper

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Yes, but again, that's all very nice, but it in no way actually confirms that SP is not making money for someone. And while it could be framed that way, there is also the first statement on the "get hosted by us" page: "We are always interested in expanding our network of quality hosted sites."

So, the offer of help is also very much in line with what they want and have an incentive to do anyway. Alrighty, then...
 

Redglyph

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I doubt this type of business would earn anyone money, but there's not much transparency, only honest statements that ads and donations help in a precarious situation - which I'm inclined to believe.

Not that they have any obligation to reveal more details, but we don't see a clear option to replace ads with payment, or any financial result. If there is a way to opt out of ads, we don't have any idea of the cost to recover with donations.

Anyway, they're known and that's already something.
 

Myrthos

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The situations are not completely comparable. For me this started as a hobby and it stayed like that, but just became more of an investment from a time perspective. I never had to make any money, just wanted to have the costs covered. I have a full-time job and don't need to make money from a site, but also never wanted to go in that direction, as it would also mean a very different investment of time and effort from my side.
For Taluntain this also started as a hobby, but became much more over time and I suppose also a time investment that goes above and beyond what you would consider to be just a hobby. I don't know about his personal situation, but if he makes some money from this, good for him.
 

Ripper

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That's fine, though I'm pretty sure this is all about the Benjamins. It may not have started that way, but I'll bet it is now. But even if it is making money, plenty of people wouldn't care, same as they won't care about all the ad tracking shenanigans. I'm just explaining how I see it, and while I'm pleased it has reprieved the Watch, and was betting on that outcome, I still have my reservations. I definitely think that if one is asking for donations and volunteers, but also pocketing some money, that should be made very clear.

On the Codex, people who block the ads are called leeches, and discussion of ad blockers is banned. The trouble is, the idea that we're merely being shown ads, like posters in a train station or commercials on TV is of course disingenuous; with the level of profiling and tracking being done, we very much become the product. I think people have very good reason to protect themselves against that.

Personally I think it's unfortunate to be under that system, when we have requirements that the community has been able fund itself without any problems, and could quite easily be made more efficient and cheaper to run.

So, like I said, I'm kind of hedging my bets, and thinking about other ways of staying in touch with folks I like, when I eventually get banned for all these terrible things I keep saying. :p
 

Redglyph

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This gives other hints, but it's only for their own site apparently, maybe something similar could be put in place for the sites they host.

If you click on "Remove all ads!" on their website, you get there:

https://sorcerers.net/Supporters/index.php -> https://sorcerers.net/Supporters/faq.php

What do I gain with an SPS account?
By becoming an SPS account holder, you help support Sorcerer's Place. Here is a list of the benefits that you currently receive by becoming an SPS account holder:

1. No More Advertising!
One of the first things that you will notice about becoming an SPS account holder is the option to remove all ads from Sorcerer's Place:

  • The removal of all the intrusive ads from our pages. This means no more pop-ups, pop-unders, flash ads, etc.
  • Optional removal of all banner ads on the site content pages.
  • The removal of all banner ads from our forums.

[. . . other perks]

That changes the way it works. Instead of having to guarantee enough donations in order to have an add-free website, it gives the option to everyone to get an add-free experience or not. That's something I'd do.

Then you could get some forum advantage, or simply a badge, little things that make people even happier.
 

Ripper

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I'd be curious to know if that removes all the tracking services on the site. That's the part I think is the problem. As I said, if we were just being shown dumb banners, without the profiling and tracking, I'd have no problem with that, and agree not to block them. But if the perk is that you don't get shown the ads, but with all the shenanigans still tracking you in the background, to me that has zero value.

I'd also want some transparency on the money before I'd be prepared to pay like that, while they're still asking for donations and so on.
 

Ripper

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Do we know if they're tacking anything?

I think that's pretty clear. If you have blocking plugins setup in your browser that can show what's going on, hoo boy - you hit the jackpot on the Codex. :p

But also, if you go through the privacy control popup (for what it's worth) that pops up for the EU, it specifically talks about tracking you to show you "more relevant adverts", and mentions profiling your device to create a unique identifier, to do it better. Lol. Nope.
 

Taluntain

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For the record, since there's a lot of speculation going around here, web hosting is not my primary occupation. Taking on the hosting of websites other than my own happened rather organically, as they were all in a similar situation as I was with my own site initially (lots of experiences with bad hosts). Once I've taken care of that for my own website myself, I was in a position to offer it to other websites that were in a similar situation as well.

Before starting my own business, I've primarily worked in various IT project management roles, but I have a pretty broad range of experience in several fields, which often comes in handy. I'm in the same field and same type of work with my business now.

Running a gaming website (and providing web hosting to myself and others by extension) started as a hobby for me and it still is to a large extent. I've never made it my primary occupation because I expect I'd burn out doing it eventually, as it can be very repetitive and mind-numbing at times (I'm sure Myrthos knows the feeling). So as it is, it is just a part of what I do.

On my site, donations have dwindled to next to nothing over the years, so if it wasn't for the ads, I could have closed up shop years ago. I also didn't really enjoy regularly having to ask (beg) people to donate, as the way it goes is that usually only a very small minority of users end up donating and covering the costs for everyone, which is inherently unfair. Finally, when you're a business owner, you need to look at the bottom line as well. If I'm on call basically 24/7 (which is what being a web host entails), invest a number of hours of my time in a project on a daily basis and if it barely covers the running costs at the end of the month, it's not something that I could do long term past my younger years, when I had plenty of (unpaid) time on my hands.

The web hosting bit doesn't make that much money, but it at least needs to pay for all the expenses associated with it with a little left over every month, otherwise it just isn't sensible long-term. For the time and effort invested, the return is much less than if I put in the same number of hours into my core business, so if I didn't treat it as part-hobby, I really couldn't commit to doing it any more.

FYI, the donations system on the Codex is separate from my own business and is being managed by DarkUnderlord, so it doesn't have much to do with me.

I don't break down all the expenses in minute detail and then only ask people to cover the costs, because if we wanted to be fair, I would also need to put a valuation on my work invested on a daily basis and commit to X hours of work per month, but I don't want that kind of commitment constantly hanging over my head. The system that I work with is a compromise that works for me, so I plan on sticking with it.

We have the option to disable all the ads and get some perks with a modest donation on all the websites that I host, so I would definitely like to have this available for RPGWatch as well.

Oh and please, don't hang onto every word written on SP as completely accurate today. Most of what I've written there has been there for over 15 years, so naturally some things have also changed since then and could do with a bit of updating. :)
 
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