The webcomics blog about webcomics

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Bobby Shaftoe knows a thing or two about infrastructure. In Neal‘s little book, he reminisces about various types of saws that he had worked with, and describes in detail a lumber mill’s bandsaw. The main difference between all of the saws that he worked with was the infrastructure that they came with. A hand saw had only as much power as the person using it. A power saw could cut more things and cut faster – but a hand held power saw could only cut some things and on larger or tougher materials it would slow down or heat up or jam. But the lumber mill saw would cut anything and it would never ever slow down or jam or get noticably hotter – because of the supporting infrastructure.

Some webcomics out there really need a lot of infrastructure. With tens of thousands of visitors out there, they need redundant systems with a very high speed connection and lots and lots of bandwidth capacity from their host. They need backup systems and might even need disaster recovery scenarios. Unique page-views directly ties into profitablility. And you simply can’t sustain large viewership without deriving revenue from them.

Most webcomics don’t need that (yet). But there is a bare minimum of infrastructure you need if you want to keep any visitors that you get from whatever forms of shameless self-promotion you do (and shameless self-promotion is about the only way to be heard above the crowd. There are thousands of webcomics being produced currently.)

The following items are absolutely required if you want to have regular readers:

  1. A complete set of all of your comics, navigable by Next and Previous buttons.

It’s a short list. Don’t publish without it.

The following items are very very helpful.

  • First and Last navigation buttons
  • An archive or calender view of some sort
  • A daily comment or news blurb section
  • A message forum or a blog that readers can comment on

Note the first place that “blog” shows up. And note what it’s used for – reader comments and feedback.

LiveJournal is not the place to publish your comic if you expect anyone to take you seriously. Neither is MySpace or any other “social networking” or “personal journaling” tool.

There are lots of websites out there that are happy to provide you with the basics of webcomic infrastructure. Some of them will even do it for free. If your comic is good enough or you are persuasive or persistant enough, you can join a collective and make use of their infrastructure. Or you can start your own collective and use your combined might to browbeat a geek into building some infrastructure for you.

This sounds like your talking about me, because I always come to your blog from mine, and it would show up in your server log that way. But hopefully I’m not the one singled out. I just got paid hosting yesterday.

I would say that mixing the next/previous buttons with the first/last buttons is a mistake. I can’t say how many times I’ve hit first when I meant to hit previous.

If you think about how often you use next/previous compared to first/last, perhaps you should move them to another area, like under the calendar or in the archives.

– Nick

Dude not to toot my own horn (seriously) but QC does over a TB of bandwidth every month and we get something like 100,000 user sessions per day lately. I hell of need good infrastructure. Fortunately I’ve got it, but yeah.

I think it’s important for *any* webcomic to have good infrastructure, “good” meaning “more robust than they actually need”. Nothing sucks more than getting that Big Link from [Popular Webcomic X] only to have it kill your site. This doesn’t mean you need to shell out $120/month for some crazy-ass hosting plan, just that you should give your site room for growth and redundancy in case of disaster/massive influx of readers.

Of course, the hard part about this is finding a hosting/colocation/whatever company that doesn’t suck ass. Word of mouth always seems to be the best indicator when you’re shopping around

another word: cheapest is not always better.

Jeph – I was guessing on relative scales of page views… Not intended to slight you (or Mr. Allison) at all. And the rest of your comments are right on.

Also, toot your own horn. You deserve it. But maybe, not in front of the children.

And Superunit500 – I don’t see the referrer logs. So I’m pretty sure I wasn’t talking about you in particular.

Nick – I find that when I’ve hit the “Last” button, and meant to hit the “Next” button… that the “Back” button on my browser is a big help.

I applaud this. So many people don’t seem to grasp the concept of next and previous buttons and that confounds me. I think a good general rule of thumb after that is to have as many [different] ways of accessing content as is possible, without cluttering up the interface. That’s why I’ve got the first/last, archive, and calendar, and drop list (I don’t think it works out to being too cluttered). Heck, when going through my own archives to find a link to a specific comic, sometimes that calendar is a godsend.

As far as accidentally slicking a first/last… I never have a problem with it except when a) the first/last aren’t very distiguishable from the next/prev or b) they aren’t centered with the comic. For example, Evil Inc constantly makes me hit Today instead of Next because the next is in the dead center, instead of to the left of center like I’m used to. And that’s eeeeevil.

Another helpful navigation tip is that if you’re going to have titled archives, then title the strips so that it’s clear which one is which. A counterexample is QC (sorry Jeph! I love QC in all other ways) which usually uses the title as an extension of the joke or a metacomment, making it hard to find exactly the strip or storyline you want.

It might be more accurate to say that “you shouldn’t publish your comic in myspace, LiveJournal and other social networking or personal journal services if you want people outside those communities to read your work.

I’d even go so far as to put an “only” in there.

I know of several comics published only in LiveJournal that are taken quite seriously by myself and my friends. And they are very good comics. And the LiveJournal community is nothing to sneeze at, it’s big, and they like it when you publish your comics there.

It all depends on who you want your readership to be.

And it’s a good way to supliment a more generic, home grown or more “credible” site.

If it’s good enough for “Too Much Coffee Man” it’s good enough for me, anyhoo.

[…] So, something PJ wrote got me to thinking about what makes for a good webcomic — archives that you can easily (and freely) navigate are the key advantage of webcomics over their print brethren, despite certain business models to the contrary. Jeff once remarked on the importance of infrastructure, including navigation, forum, and blurb space. And I’ve written about the importance of legibility in artwork. But what else is necessary for a really good webcomic? […]

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