The Acaeum DCP Handbook - Part One
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Post Posted: Thu Oct 21, 2004 2:57 pm 

Acaeum DCP Handbook -- Part One

This handbook is designed to help the aspiring subweb operator in planning, organizing, and executing his or her subweb. Please contact the webmaster ( [email protected] ) with your proposed idea before moving past Phase 1, below.

About a year ago, I privately solicited some members of the RPG collecting community on whether they'd like to be involved in "moderating" a particular site expansion -- whether Judges' Guild, AD&D 2.0, fanzines, whatever. The response was a bit lukewarm, especially once I explained some groundrules -- namely, that the contributor in question would be required to become a "subop" (in old BBS parlance, a manager of that particular subdomain). He/she would be responsible for creating the web pages and indexes, fielding all the submissions, and most importantly, making a commitment to seeing the project through to at least some sort of completion (or significant work-in-progress). Needless to say, there are few people out there who have both the expertise and free time necessary to make such a thing happen.

At the time that I solicited opinions on possible site expansions, I indicated to those involved that I'd probably open the discussion up to the general forum membership at some point in the future. I think there's no better time than the present. Please feel free to submit your own thoughts on this!

The proposal is as follows:

While I initially dismissed any notions of expanding the site (for not only the time requirements on my part, but also the problem of the site becoming bloated and unnavigable), a few people got me thinking:

What if the site was expanded using subwebs? MS Frontpage 2003 (which I use) allows you to create subwebs that have different access permissions from the main site. The proposed "subwebs" would link off the main page, and cover topics as related as "Planescape" and "Hollow World", or as unrelated as "Judges Guild", "Alternity", or "non-D&D TSR". Such a subweb's URL would be Page Not Found, etc -- to an outside user, it would be indistinguishable from just another folder.

The subweb(s) could be linked to the main site via the home page, but otherwise would be totally separate. The administrator(s) of the subweb would be solely responsible for its creation and maintenance, including becoming the resident "sage" of that particular area.

Virtually any RPG gaming category would be valid for a subweb. So "Planescape" could be a subweb, "Judges Guild", "Runequest", "3rd Edition D&D", etc. I'd even permit "non-D&D TSR", since there seems to be a great deal of interest in non-RPG items that TSR produced. As long as the focus is on collecting RPG material, the topic itself can be as broad or as narrow as you think you can handle.

Benefits of an Acaeum Subweb:

  • Your own server space (free!) to host a subweb, with capacity for FTP-style file hosting and nearly unlimited room for HTML web pages and cover scans.

  • Your own subweb-specific e-mail address (i.e., [email protected], [email protected], etc), which can either be a mail forward (all mail forwarded to an existing e-mail address of your choosing), or a complete POP-3 mailbox (with webmail access).

  • Moderator access to your own subweb-specific forum on The Acaeum Forums, for public discussion of your particular topic.

  • Already have your own web site, dealing with some sort of RPG-collecting topic? Move it over here and make it your subweb. You'll benefit from the sizeable user base and traffic of The Acaeum, as well as get free server space, e-mail addresses, etc.

The Groundrules and Requirements:

  • Obtain a copy of Microsoft Frontpage 2003. Since it's what I use, and I would need to have the ability to access the subweb directly, I'd have to require all the subwebs to use it as well. Some sort of image-editing software (I use Paintshop Pro, but there are many which will work fine) is also recommended.

  • Learning the basics of how to operate these software programs, much of which I can help you with.

  • Maintain Acaeum style and conventions. Since it's a subweb of The Acaeum, it should make users feel right at home, and the transfer from the main site to the subweb should be relatively seamless. Therefore, the same colors, background image, navigation bar style, etc. With that said, the possibilites for otherwise customizing the subweb are up to you. You can have your own "home page" (the link off the main menu would direct the user to your own main navigation page), decide what sections you want, how they're constructed and organized, etc. I can certainly help in creating page templates, which you can then use or customize.

  • While I generally dwell in obscurity on the site (my real name doesn't appear anywhere), you can feel free to plaster your name all over your subweb. You'll also be credited as an Acaeum staff member on the main credits page.

  • Multiple admins of a single subweb would be allowed, but not recommended. If you really work well with someone, by all means, go to work together. But conflicts could be messy.

  • Since you would be the sole creator of the material on the subweb, the copyrights to that information would be retained by you (I have no interest in making you sign over rights). Server space, and all rights to the Acaeum titles and conventions, would be retained by me. Therefore, should either you, or I, or both of us, decide that the subweb needs to leave the Acaeum, you'd simply copy all of your subweb material (minus the previously mentioned background image, nav bars, etc) and go create your own separate web site on your own server.

  • The Acaeum has achieved at least some level of respectability with the collecting community, and I believe that is due in no small part to the high standards we have around here. Those same standards would be applied to a subweb. Maintaining those standards requires hard work and long-term dedication. I'm not saying this is a full-time job, but getting halfway through your Planescape material, and then taking a three-year vacation, is not acceptable. Regular updates (every two months? more?) are expected (unless you've finished saying everything there is to say on your subweb, which is doubtful!). As the resident sage of your subweb, you WILL get a flood of submissions, questions, praise, and hate mail, the quantity of which being directly proportional to the popularity of your topic. This sort of thing (even the hate mail) is great fun for a while, but as the years go by, can be draining. The commitment is to stick with it. The rewards are many, and at least to me, well worth the aggravations.


Constructing Your Subweb

Phase 1: Define Parameters

Here where you set the scope of your subweb. Tackle a topic that's too small, and you'll quickly find yourself with nothing more to say. Inversely, a topic that's too broad will overwhelm you, and turn off visitors who encounter far too many "Under construction!" pages.

Ideally, I'd prefer a minimum boundary of 30 or so individual web pages. Any less than that is probably a waste of time. As far as a maximum, it's up to you, dependent solely upon your available free time and willingness to work. In most cases, I will not agree to publish a subweb (i.e., go "live" on the Internet) with less than 75% of the subweb complete. But if you want to work on it for two years before going live, that's completely up to you.

Your parameters should be clearly written out and presented to me before you go any further (and preferably, before you purchase any software or otherwise expend any effort on the subweb). Think of this as your proposal. You should also provide me an estimate of the size of your subweb, in number of web pages (loosely, a estimate of the number of separate items, or separate groups of items, that you will cover).

Over time, your parameters can easily be expanded as necessary. Reducing parameters (once the site goes live) will be done sparingly, and only after much discussion -- once your site goes live, you've effectively made a promise to the public that you'll be the complete source of knowledge on the parameters you specify.

Some topical examples:

- Dark Sun
- Planescape
- AD&D 2nd Edition
- d20
- Judges Guild
- Fanzines
- Traveller
- Star Frontiers
- Non-TSR D&D
- Non-D&D TSR

… the possibilities are nearly endless. Your only boundaries are that the topic should focus on a game(s) of some sort, and should focus on the collecting aspects of that game(s). If you wish to provide estimated values for items, that's up to you -- though any estimated values you present will be subject to certain oversight from The Acaeum staff, to ensure that the values are fair and objective.

Phase 2: Organize (Subweb Topology)

As a reminder: before moving on to this phase, please contact me at [email protected] to discuss the feasibility of your subweb. I'd hate to have you put in a lot of work for nothing!

You'd think that you'd organize your data after compiling it, but that's inefficient. Sketch out how your subweb will be constructed. What will your front page look like -- will you need separate sections, such as a library, credits page, and one or more indexes? Or would your subweb be better served by simply having a single index serve as your front page?

In general, I'd like you to follow to conventions already established on The Acaeum. Therefore, if your subweb is "Judges Guild", either have one master index of all JG items, or a couple of indexes broken down by whatever criteria you come up with. If you need a library section, or a credits page, that's fine too.

Some design choices may not be completely obvious. You want information to be located easily -- and this may require some brainstorming. For example, let's take a look at "The Judges Guild Codex" at Judges Guild Codex...Every item produced in the 70's-80's . If you're looking for the print history on the original "City State of the Invincible Overlord", how quickly can you find it? If you clicked on "D&D", you'd only find the revised edition -- and no mention of what section the original version is to be found in. Such misfires on your own subweb will only serve to frustrate and confuse visitors, and you want to avoid that whenever possible.

One system that I'm currently using for the Module Index is having two indexes of the same information -- one organized by title, and one by module code. I only did this because so many people are familiar with the module codes (the "D" series, for instance), and might not be able to remember the title. With most other types of data, however, I can't see this type of system being useful -- not many people are familiar with Judges Guild's module code system, so having a separate index organized by code wouldn't be too intuitive (and would probably serve to confuse visitors further). Try and view your information from the perspective of a non-expert, who's trying to digest your subweb and find what he or she wants quickly. Few visitors come to aimlessly browse.

Phase 3: Compile Data

The Acaeum was created primarily using my own collection, and exhaustive research on eBay and the Internet in general. For example, to compile information on the Aerie series of modules, I first dragged out all the "A" module copies I owned, and compared the differences. From that, I was able to sketch out a rough printing history. eBay searches filled in the holes; I could often spot printing differences just from the cover scans depicted. Often, I'd e-mail the sellers with specific questions.

Next, I decided which prints I would offer cover scans of. Not every print needed a corresponding scan; if the difference between a Third and Fourth print is the presence of an ISBN number, a separate scan is probably not needed. If I didn't have the particular print from which to scan the cover of, I'd e-mail the eBay seller asking for permission to use the scan (and often, requesting a better-quality scan in the meantime). If no scan of that needed print was available, I'd put in a "Scan Needed!" placeholder. Over time, contributors will send in the scans you need, but for aesthetic reasons, I didn't want too many "Scan Needed!" placeholders when the site initially went live.

On my hard drive, I created folders for each of the module series ("A", "B", etc), and into each folder placed the scans I was collecting as well as a Microsoft Word document that had my current print history info in it, along with any other trivia I was learning. Note that at this point, I hadn't even touched Microsoft Frontpage. Frontpage is just a design tool, that lets you present your information to the public in an attractive package. The meat of your subweb is the information -- that's why this phase should be your most intensive and time-consuming. Making your information attractive is the easy part.

Phase 4: Frontpage

Now that you have your information, it's time to make it look pretty. Fortunately for you, I can provide you with many of the basic templates and graphics necessary to get you started. You'll have the background texture already in place, as well as all the Acaeum-style buttons and the CSS style sheet (more on this later).

Much of this phase will simply involve making a new page, copying the text from your research Word document onto the page, and inserting your cover scans in the appropriate places. Obviously, it's not quite that simple -- your text will need to be edited and probably expanded, the layout adjusted so it looks nice, and the little behind-the-scenes maintenance tasks accomplished.

The next part of this handbook will serve as a basic tutorial on how to operate Frontpage, and how The Acaeum's pages and indexes were created.

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