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Thursday
Sep112008

An interview with a Higgins : Artspots and more.

 

Recently Furry 101 got the opportunity to gather some questions and put them to Higgins, of Artspots. He was gracious enough to answer them and allow the interview to be posted for your viewing pleasure, you lucky people!

 


 

Furry 101 : Hi! Please tell us a little about yourselves! Who are you outside of the whole furry thing - What do you do for a living?

 

Higgins : There's a life outside the furry thing?

 

During my "regular" life I'm a developer for a design firm that primarily makes and remakes websites.

 

Furry 101: what's an average day like for you?

 

Higgins : I get up and go to work three or more days a week. On the
days I'm not working, I work on projects like ArtSpots, or take time off to go to the zoo and draw or such. Plus planned and impromptu gatherings and nights out. You know, general life stuff.

 

Furry 101 : How do you see the role of Furry art galleries in the fandom in general?

 

Higgins : Very important. The furry fandom is so heavily reliant on the visual aspect of things. People represent themselves as something so different than what they are. In Star Trek fandom, you just need a couple pointed ear add-ons or minor plastic surgery and you're set.
It's still quite impossible to be our characters, even with a costume and as much as they can help. We need art to see ourselves and how we'd like to see the world. While the same can be said for art in general, it's exponentially greater for furries.

 

Furry 101 : Moving on to other gallery sites, what are your opinions on Yerf: Dingo's adminship and Kilorat taking the domain back?

 

Higgins : I don't know what to say about Dingo that hasn't been said before. He maintained the site in the loosest sense an admin could. Like another recent admin, he liked running it for the name recognition and cred it gave him. When it became serious work to handle, he let the ball drop. The rest is history.

 

I appreciated Rat taking the domain back, even if just on a personal level. I started using Yerf when it was the Squeaky Clean Furry Archive just after he had created it, so in a way, it was nice to see it back in the creator's hands.

 

Furry 101 : Any talks about ArtSpots taking the Yerf name?

 

Higgins : It was briefly mentioned during the lunch I had with Rat, but I honestly wouldn't know what to do with it. It's Rat's domain. I liked his idea of leaving a small eulogy on the site and putting the whole situation in the past.

 

Furry 101 : Being a little more topical, there’s the sudden disappearance of Furry Art Pile. Was ArtSpots in the running to acquire FAP?

 

Higgins : No, I didn't even ask. I had no interest in taking it over.

 

Furry 101 : What is your opinion on the sudden closing, then reopening, then
talks about the site changing hands?

 

Higgins : I think it showed Ekiguu's true colors, and that he was in this purely for his own ego. He has no interest in anything furry, at least not anymore. I do find it suspicious that there were various database issues earlier the same day he announced the closure. I had friends who were unable to log in, their accounts apparently gone, and then the announcement about the comments getting corrupted. It's my guess - and this is purely conjecture - that he ran into some problems and lost some data.

 

Of course, this would fly squarely in the face of his whole, "FAP rules FA sucks because I know what I'm doing" attitude. But, rather than suck it up, admit it, and fix it like an adult, he'd much rather burn his bridges with a community that he is only tangentially involved with and make it look like he was on top of things until he announced the closing.
Of course the site wasn't fun at that point. Any problems aren't going to be fun. Boo hoo. You fix them and move forward.

 

Furry 101 : Given the way FAP was totally deleted and the site redirected to a Rickroll, what's your opinion on how FAP's closure was handled?

 

Higgins : First, let me say though that deleting all the content is par for course.

 

If a user-content-created site goes down, there is an expectation that the content will be removed if the site isn't acquired. That's how it worked at a startup I was a part of, and is what most would do I think.

 

Other than that: Horribly. It's was, start to finish, handled in less than a week. Most of a site's regular viewers are staggered over a week, not to mention it was a big vacation and convention weekend.

 

There are going to be people coming back and wondering what the heck happened, or thinking the site got hacked. Although considering Ekiguu's personality, perhaps that's exactly what happened.

 

Furry 101 : What is Your opinion on Fur Affinity: The ongoing problems they have with downtime, the purchase of their new hardware and how or if that donated money could have been better used?

 

Higgins : I think they could handle things a bit better on the tech side, but who doesn't at this point? Even they know they can. I can speculate on what they should've purchased with their recent donations, but it really doesn't matter because we can't turn back time.

 

I know that "furry sites" tend to be hobbies, but when they grow to be the size of FA and some people rely on it for income, it needs to be taken a bit more seriously if it's going to survive in the long term.

 

I know people a lot of the jaded Internet crowd jokes about it all being "serious business" in an effort to dismiss people who get their panties in a knot. But, when you make $600 or $1000 or more a month from a site, that is serious business. That's rent for a nice place in most parts of the country.

 

That said, FA needs to start taking itself more seriously than just being a hobby project, or else it's going to overwhelm or wear down those running it. Running an Internet site is hard. It's a well known (at least in web and tech circles) phenomenon that there is a level where a site's traffic gets to a point that it needs some sort of reliable funding to continue and grow.

 

FA is on the edge of that. I know there are a lot of people who say that if FA starts having paid features, they'll leave. Grow up, I say. The money to run it has to come from somewhere, and donations aren't the best source.

 

Furry 101 : Which brings us to Artspots! When you started ArtSpots, did you have a master plan or did it grow organically?

 

Higgins : Yes. There was a master plan for it, and it is still on that path. However, we have had to adapt for changes over time in response to the growing community. It may not be exactly what we had intended starting out, but the goals are roughly the same. I basically wanted a site that is not only based on improving craft, but also enabling artists to become better businesspeople, and allow the tools for that to happen. In a nutshell.

 

Furry 101 : Where do you see the future of ArtSpots et al going?

 

Higgins : Towards a more professional sphere. The current aim is to become a friendlier ConceptArt-style site that focuses on fantasy animals and creatures. Right now the site isn't set up fully for that, in design or structure. The staff is working on a redesign that will give the site a definitive purpose and polish.

 

Furry 101 :Wow. Now that’s an unexpected answer! I for one, welcome our redesigned overlords. Moving ever onwards: Would JaxPad/ArtSpots ever merge with Furverts/Yiffit?

 

Higgins : No. There is too much value in remaining "clean" not only for the community members, but also for the business side of things. Several credit card processors and PayPal will not touch you if you support pornography. It also limits the choice of companies you can host at.
Plus, I have ArtSpots on my resume and have done quite well because of it.

 

Furry 101 : If I can ask, what does it cost to run the site?

 

Higgins : That's a varied question. There's the cost of the server itself, which has ranged between $180 and $300. Having credit card services is a monthly fee plus a small percentage of each sale. (1.9 to 2.9%) That's a whole world unto itself. Maintenance and ink for the printer, plus the office to house and run it in. Phone and internet for said office. I can't give an exact figure, but it's several hundred a month. This isn't including expenditures like the scholarship and cons.

 

Furry 101 : What sources of funding do you have?

 








Furry 101 Info splot!


Giclée, pronounced "zhee-clay" is the name given to fine-art prints made from digital sources, using Ink-Jet printing.


 

Higgins : Paychecks. The site also sells “giclées�, taking a small percentage from sales of originals, and has memberships.

 

The bulk of artists' sales go to the artists, with the rest earmarked for supporting the costs of maintenance of the business services.
Memberships are what really help support the site itself. The idea behind memberships is that they're renewable on an annual basis and so if someone becomes a member one year, they'll renew the next. For example, during the month of July we got enough memberships to pay for the server for two months. In theory, that means that July will at least pay for itself in the future.

 

Furry 101 : How do you intend to expand the userbase?

 

Higgins : Bioengineering.

 

Seriously though, it's been growing slowly and steadily since the site started. Mostly through word of mouth and advertising at conventions, and a little outreach to artists. Now that we're keeping various metrics, we're better able to determine what will help expand it further.

 

For example, after internal/private messaging was added last week, there's been a noticeable spike of usage. ArtSpots folks really wanted something like that. Once we re-work the commissioning system, we can start using that as a draw too.

 

Furry 101 : As an artist, I really like the idea of the commissioning system. It’s something I think I’d use! What is your plan for handling the growth?

 

Higgins : Right now, we're set for a good while. Should we reach the limits of our current setup, we have a plan for expanding which takes into account new servers, hosting setups, etc. Because of the way the business side is set up, when we get to that point we'll be able to afford it.

 

Furry 101 : I know this sounds like a strange question... but who is your intended market?

 

Higgins : There are a few. Anthro-enthusiasts and artists, obviously, and those who like buying artwork from the artists. After we get the new rework of the site out the door, going to court more professionals who normally wouldn't touch anything with the word "furry" in it, and get more of a wildlife and fantasy animal bent. And of course, people who are interested in learning how to draw well, since that is a goal of the site and there's a good deal on it which helps folks improve. Everyone is a student, and we like to focus on that.

 

Furry 101 : Given Google just launched a new Browser (Chrome) specifically designed to handle web apps and rich, "Web 2.0" sites, How do you feel about the way you set up your site now?

 

Higgins : Good lord, another browser to support?

 








Furry 101 Info splot!


What is Web 2.0? Mostly it’s about websites that can update a small section rather than having to re-send the entire page, making them work more like a desktop program.


 

Actually, they use Webkit, which is the most standards-compliant rendering engine out there.
Safari also uses it, which is what I compose everything in before tweaking for Firefox (rare) and IE (so common, baaaaw!). So in short, ArtSpots should be set up fine for it, even though Google mucked with Webkit a little.

 

Furry 101 : Artspots seems to run quite nicely in Chrome, and being able to have an icon on my desktop to launch straight to Artspots seems altogether nifty. Does this mean Artspots is a “web app�?

 

Higgins : ArtSpots as a whole isn't an "application" in the web sense. But, there are certain parts of it which are, such as fave management and folders, commission tracking and the messaging parts. Google may introduce features to make those more useful or efficient. If they come up with any new features and are easily degradable to a browser that doesn't support them (IE) then I'd be open to using them.

 

Furry 101 : Given the proliferation of Netbooks (Low powered, small laptops that run sites like Gmail instead of off-line programs like Outlook or Thunderbird), iPhones, Smartphones and other mobile, PDA like computers, do you see Artspots ever going "mobile"?

 

Higgins : I live in Silicon Valley, so yes.

 

In part just because it's neat... and I also recently got an iPod Touch. Even now if you bookmark an artist's gallery on the site, it will use their default user pic as the icon, and I've been toying around with mobile layouts.

 

Tilton has an Eee PC (heck, he even has an OLPC laptop), and between all the people I know, I'd be hard pressed to not be able to find a articular device if I needed one for testing. I will not endorse Tilton making an Apple II version of the site, however.

 

Furry 101 : Curses! Will no one think of the poor Apple II users?! All right, you’ve done well with the questioning – you even survived the Comfy Chair and Cup Of Tea. But now the real test: Who'd win in a fight - Batman or Iron Man?

 

Higgins : Who cares? They'd be great fun at a party given their playboy natures. I always figured if they fought over anything, it'd be in a boardroom over marketshare and without their gear on.

 

Furry 101 : A cunning and unexpected answer. Truly you are a worthy adversary. So, what's the best pizza topping and why?

 

Higgins : Sausage and green onions, and mushrooms. On thin "cracker-crust" Chicago-style pizza. It's the perfect blend goodness and makes the world seem all right.

 

Furry 101 : I can live with that. A big thanks to Higgins Dragon for taking the time to answer the questions gathered by the furryne.ws readers!

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