So I have been conspicuously bereft of posts for quite a while – a fact I blatantly ignored in my recent posts. Two reasons for this. One is that I desperately wanted to update my site – the user interface, more RSS feeds to the sidebar for my ma.gnolia / flickr / reddit /etc, more free templates and/or WordPress themes, and to update the actual WordPress software – 2.5 looks awesome.
I accomplished none of those – yet. Hopefully some will be checked off my list soon, but no guarantees.
The second reason was work. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job, a lot. They pay me a good salary to do something I love. I have basically full control over the UI so that I can design with web standards – something I’ve gotten progressively better at even though I’m no Meyer or Santa Maria. However, when you do something all day it’s hard to come home and relax by doing more of it – even if it’s for yourself and something you enjoy.
The product of this recent work is of course the Helium Marketplace. This is something we’ve had in beta for awhile, had been a big success, and that we wanted to launch with extended features. This is also something – along with our rating engine – that sets us apart from every other site on the web. Which I enjoy because that means my stock options might be worth more than the paper they’re written on someday.
The basic premise or buzzword associated with this sort of entity is “citizen journalism” – of which you can read a sometimes slanted view of here. This was started really by the blog surge of the past 5-10 years. Normal, everyday people could write about what they know and become a “citizen journalist” – someone who might not have formal training and is not part of the main media machine, but that still has an opinion or knowledge about a subject that may be of value to someone.
Although some blogs are huge, it’s a rarity. Some gather a good niche audience of friends, family, and people with similar interests – my friend Paul’s blog would likely qualify. Most blogs – as I have experienced first hand with mine – experience little or no traffic. So 90% or more either toil on in obscurity or fail.
Helium was originally founded to help with this. Instead of one person writing in obscurity they could come to Helium, write about what they know, and be ranked against dozens or hundreds of others who did the same. Helium would grow much, much faster than a blog, would have the resources to market itself much better, would have better SEO, and, therefore, would have a much larger traffic base. In return, Helium shares it’s ad revenue with those same writers based upon their contributions to the site. This was citizen journalism – except on a much more massive scale than seen before and with many voices instead of one – like Wikipedia.
It takes awhile to build a good knowledge base, to train your writers to think beyond the – typically short – blog post writing, and to market that resource to the web community. As we did, a new need in the writing community became apparent – freelance writing. For the most part, when a magazine or website needs an article that their normal staff cannot produce – either because of under staffing or simply using freelance writers to save on the cost of staffing – they turn to the freelance market. They use different sites and services that allow you to list what they’re looking for and in the end it becomes like a job posting. They “interview” many candidates, pick one, pay a fee, and get an article.
The issue is the freelance community is small and you pay before you see results. This was fine because it was the only method of supplying the need. However, we found a new method. We had a collection of motivated writers looking to become more legitimate and make more money. So the premise was simple. You, as a magazine editor, need an article on “Real life Gardening stories.” You can go the old route, pay $500 for a freelance and get 1 article. Of you can post that title on Helium Marketplace, dozens or hundreds of writers will write on the subject, we will rate the articles, and then for $25-100 you can have your pick of the one (or two, or three) you like most.
It’s a win-win-win situation. The magazine gets many articles to choose from instead of one at a fraction of the cost. The writer gets a – for them – hefty payment and a byline in a real media source. Helium gets a small percentage for brokering the deal and the ability to add any unpurchased articles to our knowledge base.
So far it’s taking off and there has been a lot of buzz. It’s a huge niche that needed filling, we’re the only one filling it, and we’re learning more every day. It was an awesome learning experience to help build it – even my small part in it. Most importantly the community loves it. We have community boards in which I get the privilege of interacting with the intelligent, active, fun, and (sometimes intensely) passionate “Heliumites.” It’s a learning experience for me as I’ve grown from someone who simply went on there to read what users thought, to someone who explained features and informed the community on things like social book marking and networking, and now to someone who (surprisingly for me) has become a respected voice in the community. It’s a rewarding, sobering, maturing, and sometimes downright scary feeling.
I don’t cross link too frequently. However, since this has become a cross between a “Helium History” post and a press release I might as well . You can see my Helium articles here – most, if not all, have been dual posted on this site in the past (granted with formatting, links, and in some cases revisions). You can see my board contributions here – though you are warned some of my early ones are bad and I freely admit to making mistakes.
I look forward to working at Helium as long as they’ll let me. I definitely feel I would wear out my welcome before I would decide to leave. Besides doing something I love and getting paid for it I also get to work with some really great people (best development team, or team period, I’ve been on, ever, by far), learn a great deal about new technologies (Git, Ruby on Rails, working on a Mac…), drink beer at work (paid for by Helium == awesome), and when we need a break (work hard, play hard) break into a game of Nerf war or hackey.
And now back to my regularly scheduled insomnia.
Random Tidbit: In a truly random tidbit, my favorite pastime Magic the Gathering is releasing it’s new set Shadowmoor soon. Which means I will be spending way too much money on boxes of tiny cardboard cards and way too much time opening and then sorting said cards. Perhaps too much time placing them on Ebay as well – a painful subject I may yet expand upon in the future.
Stumbled onto a great article called “10 Decks in 10 Weeks.” It’s from the writer that does the building on a budget series. Some really good deck ideas that can be done – online or off – relatively cheap. Some very powerful decks and new ways to use cards that I’ve kept around but haven’t been able to work decks around. Really good reading. He goes through all the basic 2 color combinations and designs a wide variety of decks.
If nothing else it’s good to see another very experienced Magic player’s design strategy and sort of get into their mind as they build, test and modify a deck. I had thought that I was getting pretty good at deck building but the card drawing and mana acceleration ideas really opened my eyes. I might have to make another pass through my decks again.
Random Tidbit: I’ve been looking into and trying to better understand the purpose and power of microformats. One thing I’ve found is that it’s good to be posh.
April 23, 2007 at 1:21 am
If you’re a Magic fan and have never been to one of these – you definitely should go. It was challenging and I built the wrong type of deck, but still managed to pull off a 3-1 record and win 4 extra packs of Future Sight. Some of the new cards are very cool. It was also very interesting to see the strategies people play in sealed. Creature based and beatdown decks are the way to go for sure. 2 colors and 40 card max deck as well. I went red/white and looking at the one deck that beat me and the ones that gave me trouble, if I had to do it over again I’d probably go green/blue based on the cards I got – I almost did at the last minute.
It’s interesting to see cards that I wouldn’t normally see in my playgroup come out and clean up. 3/3 creatures and saproling tokens seemed to rule the boards. I suppose it makes sense – with the limited number of rares available to each player you’re less likely to get game stopping, big nasties. The guy that beat me had a nasty green guy and combo that just pumped everyone and gave them trample. The best I had was a Tarox Bladewing – which did strike fear in a lot of people surprisingly.
This is definitely something I will do next release and I’m considering using some of my extra commons – and maybe even uncommons and rares – to build sealed kits and try this format with my friends. Pretty cool.
April 20, 2007 at 9:58 pm
So it looks like I will be traveling to the magic pre-release tournament tomorrow. I’m excited. The last time I was in a magic tournament was around the time Uzra’s Saga came out. I’m actually curious if my DCI number even works anymore.
A few hot new cards that I can’t wait to get my hands on:
- Pact of negation – a showstopper right here. There’s been a few times when I’ve had a killer combo ready, my cousin is in “dead man’s hand” and somehow he pulls the one spell that can mess me up. No more. Early prediction – next tournament champion is fielding 4 of these.
- Judge Unworthy – so I get to stack my deck and wipe our your creature? For 2 mana? Sold.
- Glittering Wish – another wish card and you can pull any multi-color card you want for 2 mana. Being green/white that can grab some powerful stuff.
- Magus of the Vineyard – cheap mana acceleration and green. Enough said.
- Heartwood Storyteller – lets go stompy on the annoying control deck. Now, I love a good control deck – but stompy is fun. This card will be headhunted.
So hopefully I do well – I’ve never done this type of tournament – and I get some cool new cards.
Random Tidbit: With the iPhone and all the clones of that coming out, be careful disposing of your old phone. It could come back to bite you.
April 10, 2007 at 8:35 pm
I have been meaning for awhile to expand my thoughts to one of my other favorite hobbies besides web design – Magic the Gathering. I have been collecting and playing since 1997 and up until recently I could say with confidence that the Uzra’s Block was by far my favorite. I might have to change that with the new Time Spiral block. I have been very impressed with the cards they brought back and even more so with the last set, Planar Chaos, and the cards they shifted – red Giant Growths, black Wrath of Gods, etc. They just started previewing Future Sight, the last set in the block and it looks to be just as awesome.
While Time Spiral was about bringing back old cards and Planar Chaos about shifting those cards in new and interesting ways this new site looks towards the future of Magic. The Future Is Now previews a very interesting new card Fleshwrither with the new ability transfigure. They also let out that it will be the only card in the set with that ability. It has some pretty interesting possibilities – the most obvious being you could sacrifice him as a blocker, pay the cost, then switch out for another more powerful card. Since they don’t swap the new creature will be unharmed.
The author also talks about nostalgia and I have felt a lot of that during this set. I have also had several cool new deck ideas that have come to mind especially with the planar chaos cards. The ability to use effects in other colors that didn’t previously exist (at least in abundance) – like white direct damage – opens up new possibilities. It also allows you to expand on new ideas by doubling the amount of cards you can have that do essentially the same thing. One example? Essence and Soul Warden. Instead of the normal 4 of that creature, you can have 8. They also have a red version of Prodigal Sorcerer who’s name escapes me right now – imagine having 8 of those in a deck. Possibly 12 if you include the merfolk that does the same thing. Pretty powerful especially combined with a card like Intruder Alarm.
I plan to have more thoughts on deck ideas, new cards and maybe even a few lists of my own decks soon.
Random Tidbit: This is from awhile back and may have been too preemptive for it’s own good but I found an article entitled “It’s Official: PS3 is a dud for Sony.” I have not seen the PS3 in action but nothing I’ve heard has impressed me. Most of the games that would attract me to them are no longer exclusive. I definitely think that I will be jumping ship again this generation to XBox 360 and maybe Wii later on. I don’t think I would invest in a PS3 even if the price dropped considerably. I think Sony has finally gone one step too far and alienated the consumer. At least in my case they have.