Watts (chipotle) wrote,

Claw & Quill 2.0?

So. I have this web domain…

The original idea of Claw & Quill was to be an edited magazine, but it ran into two long-standing bugs in my personal software: one, I’m more interested in being a builder than a maintainer; two, I don’t delegate well enough to make sure that balls I set in motion keep rolling if I’m not behind them pushing. I’m working on ways to address the second one in the Excursion Society MUCK: simply, there are 3-4 other people I’d like to approach as wizards, and the goal is to set up a system that keeps any of us from being “blocking points” on outstanding tasks. While I had ideas on how to do that with C&Q, too—the biggest idea one being bringing on one or two other editors!—I deliberately pushed it to the wayside this year. (One of my other long-standing bugs is taking on too many projects simultaneously, so one of my resolutions earlier this year was to start serializing them. I’m also starting to learn how to serialize the projects into discrete actions a la Getting Things Done, but that’s a subject for another message.)

While ESM remains my main delayed project for the moment, I’m hoping to give it a “soft opening” in January, which means it’s going to be time to start thinking about C&Q some more. The big thought is: what is it going to be?

The two obvious choices are another run at an edited magazine, or some kind of fiction archive, perhaps to supercede the Belfry Archive that revar started years ago. (Since I think the only thing Revar put in there are stories I wrote, I don’t feel too bad suggesting a theoretical replacement.) However, I’ve joked that I have a good habit of recognizing niches that should be filled but a bad habit of trying to fill said niches myself, rather than getting somebody else to do it. Hence, things like Mythagoras, furry fandom’s first “semi-prozine,” which was pretty damn cool if I do say so myself and established several other firsts: first furry zine to have newsstand distribution, first furry zine to publish a Hugo-winning author, first furry zine to be penalized by the tax board. Go us! But if this didn’t lay groundwork, maybe it at least inspired people, like Sofawolf Press, for instance—what they’re doing is what Mythagoras could have done with people running it who were serious about, well, running it.

And on that front, 2005 has seen two interesting things… namely, somebody else doing an edited magazine, and somebody else doing a fiction archive. The former is Quentin Long’s Anthro, a cousin of his bi-monthly TSAT transformation fiction zine. The latter is FurRag, Osfer’s ambitious project to develop an archive site with extensive user-driven filtering capability:

Rather than having a different archive for every set of preferences, there ought to be one single collection which can easily be filtered down to the stories that interest any particular user. As FurRag’s technologies are rolled out, it will come ever closer to achieving that goal, allowing all stories a place in one massive archive whil [sic] allowing readers to easily filter away what doesn’t interest them to get at what does.

So, I suppose the questions for me are:

  1. Is there a third way to present furry/sci-fi stories that isn’t either of those two models?
  2. Is there a way to make a hybrid of the two approaches? If so, what would it entail?
  3. Is there a slant I could take that would differentiate Claw & Quill from either of those attempts (or others that may be out there already)?
  4. Can I come up with a good justification for “competing” with either of those sites? What would it mean to be substantially better in this context?

To share my sketchy bullet points:

  • The “furry but not in a way that scares non-furries” approach I’ve tried to take in the past
  • A site that would be a “moderated archive,” like Yerf! was for art
  • Featured stories that would be put on the front page like a magazine, possibly with illustrations (and possibly with payment!)
  • A user interface I haven’t defined yet, but whose ideal is what Apple mostly gets right: visually pleasing, intuitive, and with “scalable power,” i.e., new users can figure out what to do immediately but advanced users don’t feel patronized
  • Ruby on Rails Ajax tags Web 2.0 blah blah blah
  • The other editors I’d thought of for C&Q version 1 might not be off the hook, depending on their interest next year

While I’ll be chewing on this for a while, I’d like to get other input on this from folks. Critiques on my ideas, critiques on other people’s ideas, answers to my questions, all those things that will intimidate me when I try to get going on this in a few months.

Addenda, 8pm: One of the future plans for FurRag is to have “reviewer” roles, where users can follow lists of stories a reviewer thinks are worthy. I presume this will be something like iTunes’ mixes or Amazon’s lists. It’s possible for C&Q to be a FurRag list, in effect combining forces rather than having two separate sites. Good, bad or neutral? I have my opinion on this and my reasons, but want to hear others!

Tags: furry, programming, writing
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I'm working on moving my stories to FurRag. I would prefer to see what we used to have with Miavir's archive, with a couple of symbols to indicate what editors thought of the stories. That was a very useful archive.

But I've decided that nobody cares what we writers create.
"The problem with stories vs art is that it takes a few moments to view artwork while it can take days to read a novella. Nobody wants to make the effort to read a story they MIGHT not like, so they read established authors they know."

I've very often thought this . . . and sometimes am heard to say it. It contains, fairly enough, a good idea which many people can agree with. But on the matter of FEEDBACK . . . I think the matter is a bit different, when I think on it.

Really BAD stories get a scream and a "oh my god, don't ever write again!" response, IF they do. More often, they're ignored after being read once. Occasionally, someone will be kinder and explain in constructive criticism how to improve. This is usually received with a wide range of responses. Mostly, though, you get silence because nobody can put a finger on *how* the story is bad

. . . or in some genres (fetish related writing) . . . nobody DARES tell a person "you suck", and therefore be a target of many others who would tear them to shreds for "judging unfairly". Who here has had that happen? I know you're out there . . .

Decent stories, which are technically good and fill the criteria the writer meant to hit (ie, most stories in general) don't get much feedback unless prodded specifically. Usually it's "It's good" or some edition of a bland approval. Mostly because people can't THINK of anything to say about it. If by someone who is a "known name", often people will actually say "It's good" openly without needing the prodding.

. . . and once more, applying any sort of criticism may lead to people going defensively "it wasn't THAT BAD" and so dismissing it.

Really GOOD stories, on the other hand, which can reach out and get people to react to the subject matter, are the ones which get noticed. But of course, except for other writers or those who can articulate the words . . . you get "That was great!" from people. The silence is actually applause you can't hear, since it's the Internet.

. . . or they're too busy gawking to type and think at the same time.

The bottom line remains: it's like trying to describe a painting's technique when you know nothing about artwork. Or to describe cinematic technique when you're not a movie buff. The words aren't there to express it. People generally aren't english majors, who can analyze the words.

. . . or they genuinely don't care about it. But I really have watched great stories posted on message boards get 200+ views in TWO DAYS and not a single reply. How can you say that nobody cares, if they're at least reading the material?

I'm going to continue believing there is indeed a caring audience out there, because if I don't . . . what's the point to being a writer?
"I'm going to continue believing there is indeed a caring audience out there, because if I don't . . . what's the point to being a writer?"

My current line of thinking, in fact. There's not much of an audience in furry circles. One would think that in the information age, the written word would be more widely read. But the opposite seems to be true; it is easier to look at 100 pretty pictures than to read one short story.
Hmm. I wonder how mature a back-end the FurRag folks have. Several years back, I wanted to create an archive project akin to what DeviantArt is today, but with entry requirements and stronger moderation. sebkha jumped in on the idea with me, and with the excuse of having another application for it (Australian government project IIRC), wrote a fantastic back-end. It's exactly the sort of a flat-model tagged-relational database that FurRag seems to be aiming toward. My end of the project never really materialized (we seem to have shared code in the bug department), but Seb gave me a working demo of the Mustela engine (via commandline interface, it's never been given a proper front-end) last year when he was in the US. It's quite nifty.

This is pretty much a tangent to your post, but it popped into my head while reading. Whee, I share. :>
The idea that really intrigues me at the moment would be connecting Wikifur into a content management system. We actually have a machine- and human-legible vocabulary for all things furry now; it'd be great to start using it to describe stories and images.
By "connecting it up," what relationship between Wikifur and the CMS are you envisioning?
The CMS has stuff to tag; the wiki provides the common naming scheme that would make the tags a really powerful way to navigate the content.

Let's say the CMS has something like Miavir's does, and tags stories by species. "Connecting it up" to the wiki would mean making it somehow visible to the author whether the tag values they've chosen exist in the wiki (blue links, typically) or not (red links). Clicking through lets the author verify it's the right meaning, and the audience familiarize themselves with obscure terms. How many people really know what a "keshant" or a "mantrin" is, for example?
My impression -- although it could be wrong -- is that FurRag is rolling everything from scratch, which is why I describe it as "ambitious." :) I'm impressed by the overall idea of FurRag, and I'm curious to see how the implementation goes forward. (I'm not so impressed by the 600K front page, but perhaps that will change over time.)

Some of the fiddly categorizing and interactivity ideas I have could certainly be applied to an art archive, of course, but I'm not sure that's a path I want to go down. There are a lot of other art archives out there, and very few story archives. :)

Deleted comment

Well, the question is more whether it would accomplish what I want to do. FurRag would have the advantage, presumably, of continuing to keep going for a while, and also of needing much less editorial work than a magazine once all the software technology is in place. (Making your users do all your work for you is the new black.)

However, in all of my past attempts at projects, I've wanted to produce something that has an appeal to non-furry readers and contributors. I think expanding the radius of "furry" can only be a good thing. Fans get a showcase they can introduce non-fans to. Non-fans who come across the site get a good impression. And, everyone might get a broader idea of what furry encompasses.

Furrydom over the last decade has had a sort of curious "growth inside the walls." The fan base has expanded dramatically, and while this is good in the sense that people can get relatively big audiences just within the fandom itself, an increasing number of furry things are being produced that only people within the fandom would be interested in. Look at how common it's become to use the word "fur" to mean anthropomorphic animal characters within stories. That's blatant fannish jargon, but it's become so accepted people aren't even stopping to think, "Hey, why the fuck would these characters use that word?" Hell, if you called an anthropomorphic cat a 'furry,' they'd probably think it was a racial slur.

...but I digress. Here's the real crux. When you strip away all the technology, you have two distinct goals: biggest fiction archive aimed at furry fans and showcase archive of anthropomorphic animal fiction. The contents of the latter can be contained in the former, but is the showcase aspect and the ability to appeal to non-furry audiences lost?
Yes, I'd love to see something work out, if only because it would be worth it in the long run, right? Nudge me if you feel I could help with contribution.

Or if you just actually get it running, so I can stand back and take an admiring look.
I hate to say this, but semiprozine makes me think of this:

Do you suffer from chronic Myxothoraplaxis?

Has it interfered with your social life?

Now there is a treatment...

Semiprozine. You deserve your life back.
Except that semiprozines take your life away! Argh!
LOL! I imagine there could be a whole list of possible side effects on the label...
An edited fiction archive, with both editorial control and keywords classification, is the only "third way" that comes to mind. A strong differentiation is not always good.
While I am no writer, it seems to me that many people are missing Miavir's, and I don't think it is only a matter of nostalgia. Most attempts which followed (including Anthro and FurRag) have been very reader-oriented, while a community for creative writing should be pleasant for writers in the first place. I think Miavir's felt somewhat like a workshop or a research community. It delivered in a sleek and direct way the two most important things for aspiring writers: keyword search to get oriented and a basic rating system to find out good masters. It allowed writers to format their stories as plain text or HTML as they pleased and to include illustrations and story summaries had a slightly personalized look. It also listed serials works and open works like the Blind Pig Universe as single entries, which might be just a detail but I think was very useful.
It seems to me that furry writers are quite scattered now and would need most of all a community to get back in the ranks and make literary reasearch together. So gathering all the good writers in the staff, forums, whatever, should have a much higher priority than catching the bypasser's attention. I think that writers and aspiring writers are by far the best audience of other writers, and also the kind of readers which boosts their motivation. The other readers would follow fast if many interesting works are created in the same workshop.
There are other two community models which led to good furry stories in the past: mailing lists and newsgroups. The thread structure encouraged very detailed critique and made it easy for a writer to keep track of critique with each story.

Some features I'd like to see:
- Editorial control.
- User reviews in newsgroup-like threads.
- Chronology of the last updates in the front page.
- Simple personal accounts for readers with a favorites system like the Belfry comics list or DeviantArt.
- A moderated critique forum, like Yerf's one.
- Features stories might be a good idea.
- Reviews of classics! Not published books but good amateur stories from the past. Nobody reviews them and thus nobody can build upon them. I think today's furry fandom is lacking new ideas because it has no history. Most good stories are impossible to find because they have only been published on fanzines or they disappeared from the net. I think that gathering and introducing them to new readers would be as important as writing new ones, because as time passes it will be harder to dig out the stories written in the first years of the fandom. The number of people who have a good picture of the situation of furry fiction in the '90s is already narrowing. Besides this kind of things creates a nice literary atmosphere, like good editorials.
- Illustrations allowed, Bernard Doove's stories show that a few illustrations can add a lot.
- Mature works allowed, altough in a site with a very professional/neutral feeling (separated forums for erotica, etc.). Banning erotica means banning a lot of very good works too.
- Some people might like a wiki for collective writing.

>Can I come up with a good justification for “competing” with either of those sites?<

I'd humbly suggest that competing with FurRag in terms of simplicity and professional look would be good. Keywords filtering seems the most flexible and most user-friendly way of presenting stories with such a wide range of topics as furry stories. So maybe there is no need to invent something different and possibly much less good if you are going to invest time and effort in a site.
In fact, I'd even suggest to copy Miavir's keywords tree:
It was a very good classification, it had proved to be complete and to scale very well, and it didn't make either erotic or non-erotic stories look like second class citiziens. Furaffinity for example has a very silly keywords system which only classifies entries by fetish (!), dumping together all non-erotic stuff as if it was the second class stuff.

Just my two cents,