Andrew "mneonix08" Gomez created the webcomics toplist Buzzcomix back in 2002 and it has long been one of the most popular "top list" sites for webcomics. After graduating from college mneonix08 has taken apart the code for Buzzcomix and reworked the site adding several features, including a webcomics reader (with bookmarking function) that shows a lot of promise. Currently in beta, the new version of Buzzcomix is scheduled to launch August 8th. I caught up with mneonix08 over email last week.
You’re the latest webcomics-related site to take the existing site down and promise a brand new version to come. You haven’t been bought by Platinum Studios, have you?
Haha – for better or for worse Buzzcomix has not been bought by Platinum Studios; We’re still just as independent and scrappy as most of the webcomics you find on the Buzzcomix toplist! (N.B. this doesn’t mean we aren’t open to offers…).
As for the timing, there are a number of factors that lead to why now for a Buzzcomix redesign. Firstly, as a recent college graduate, the summer is the only time that I can dedicate a large of effort to redesigning Buzzcomix from the ground up. In a larger sense Buzzcomix has been stagnating for the last four years while the rest of the internet has sped ahead – leaving it hopelessly "2004" – so it’s been begging for a redesign for some time.
Buzzcomix is currently a static screen promising a relaunch in August (specifically a closed beta for August 1st and a public launch for August 8th). Why take the current version of the site down while preparing the new version?
Two reasons, one practical and one perhaps a little selfish: First, many of the changes with Buzzcomix are structural, that is to say they affect the the very structure of the databases off of which Buzzcomix runs. This relaunch is not simply a new face on an old system – it is an entirely new system. I therefore wanted to give myself ample time to edit and reorganize the databases, something that can’t be done while the website is being used in its old form.
The second reason perhaps explains why Buzzcomix has been down for a whole week instead of just a few days. What’s the saying? "You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone". I hoped people would really sit up and take notice when something they’ve perhaps started to take for granted or written off as out-dated is suddenly missing. That is also why I updated all the vote buttons to now say "What’s going on!" Hopefully that will catch a lot of webcomic readers’ and writers’ attentions!
Let’s talk about the new version. What are the biggest changes we’ll see in the next version of Buzzcomix?
This may be a strange thing to say, and if I had a PR department they probably would have spun this differently, but the new Buzzcomix will actually have fewer features than the old Buzzcomix.
Like I said, a strange thing to say and certainly a strange leading statement, but I think it will really help people understand what to expect of the relaunch. Over the last few years Buzzcomix has become overgrown with lots of features, one on top of another, that were either not executed as well as they could have been or were not very useful to the average user. When I set about redesigning Buzzcomix I knew I wanted it to be a complete redesign, that means not one piece of old code was recycled. As part of that process I took a long, hard look at what features were actually useful, what people actually used, and tried to build a better Buzzcomix experience around that.
Now those features that Buzzcomix pioneered, and which are now "industry standards" (if I may call them that), are still there (vote incentives, genre-specific toplists, user reviews). More than that, however, these core features have undergone marked renovation to improve their robustness, usability, and general user experience. I think that can be said of the whole of Buzzcomix. A lot of care and thought was given to how people use the website and to making that experience as natural and intuitive as possible. And in some cases this meant cutting those features that were just dead weight.
The new Buzzcomix will still have a handful of new features though! I don’t want to spoil the surprise entirely but the new additions have been in line with making Buzzcomix feel more like a living, breathing community. A greater emphasis has been put on staying up-to-date with your favorite comics as well as giving webcomic authors the tools necessary to keep your readers up-to-date.
Will the new version of Buzzcomix still be primarily focused on being a list of comics determined by votes from buttons on webcomic sites? You mention refocusing the site on the features you felt were most used and central (like vote incentives, genre-specific toplists, user reviews) — what kinds of things are you trying to do with these core features to take the basic concept of a top list to a new level?
Buzzcomix is still foremost a list which ranks comics by votes. Most of the changes to the "central features" have been to improve usability. In addition toplist "descriptions" have been rebranded as "statuses" and a larger emphasis has been placed on frequent status "updates" which reflect the day-to-day developments of the comic.
I’m very interested in what features you’re adding that would let readers stay up-to-date with their favorite comics. I can tell you that since I found Piperka last year, I’ve changed my webcomics reading habits completely and now use that site heavily to keep track of what I read. I wonder if you’ve taken a look at that site or others for ideas for your site?
The new Buzzcomix tool for keeping up with your comics will definitely help you be alerted when one of your favorite comics updates. It will also have a standardized navigation "toolset" to help people read and bookmark their comics.
I know we interviewed you about the site back in 2005 and at that point you were coming off pretty rapid growth in the site which had brought with it some server-growing pains. How has Buzzcomix fared in the last couple of years in terms of the site and the growth of the community around it?
To be entirely honest, not much has happened since 2005 for Buzzcomix. As I said before Buzzcomix has hardly been touched since my first interview with COMIXTalk so its stalled growth has quite a lot to do with the website just getting stale. In addition, the whole webcomic community has seemed to cool off a bit. Maybe not, maybe everyone is hanging out at Drunk Duck. Either way I’m hoping to kick start that community feeling again with the new Buzzcomix. We’ll just have to wait and see!
What are you writing the new code for Buzzcomix in? (was the last version POSTgreSQL and PHP?) How long of a job, time-wise, was it to re-code the new Buzzcomix platform from scratch?
Rewriting Buzzcomix took roughly two months of off-and-on work.
You still keep an awfully low profile. Are you still a student at Yale and living in Los Angeles (and why did we not ask you how you pulled off that bi-coastal stunt?) or have you moved on to other ventures? What is it about webcomics that’s kept you interested in being a part of it?
I actually just graduated from Yale (thus the free time to dedicate to Buzzcomix) and I’m heading back to the west coast once again. In September I’m going to be starting work at Google (who knows how this may or may not affect Buzzcomix).
As for what is it about webcomics… Perhaps it is the feeling that I’ve seen the whole webcomic phenomenon grow, flourish, and come into its own. I started with my own webcomic many years ago on Comic Genesis back when it was Keenspace. I watched the growing influx of new interest and talent to the webcomic world (I like to call it the Penny Arcade effect). I had front-row seats to some of the community’s first dramas and feuds and some of its greatest success stories. Even just today there was an article in the LA Times about an aspiring young politician in Kansas who made a webcomic to raise funds for his campaign. So much has happened to the webcomic – I feel as though Buzzcomix’s own development has in many ways mirrored webcomic’s growth as a whole. Perhaps it is that intrinsic connection that keeps me coming back.
What was your degree in and what kind of position are you taking at Google?
I studied Economics as an undergraduate (for better or for worse) and will be working as an "Associate Product Marketing Manager" at Google.
Are you a comics reader in general? What are some of your favorite titles online or in print?
As shameful as it may be to admit I don’t actually read that many webcomics (I know – SHAMEFUL). I will drop a few names of those that keep me coming back for more: Dinosaur Comics, Least I Could Do, and Fey Winds (when I’m feeling like a good yarn). There are many others that I read now and again so please don’t judge me too harshly. As for print comics I am currently halfway through Watchmen in preparation for the motion picture. It is a really stunning work and I would highly recommend it to any self-proclaimed comic fan!
Does Buzzcomix pay for itself? Make any kind of profit for you? Do you have any expectations that it will in the future?
I am not running Buzzcomix as much like a business as perhaps I should. Advertising money comes in, and hosting bills go out. At least if I am losing money I am not losing enough that I am sitting up and taking notice!
Seriously though, Buzzcomix is thus far self-sustaining and hopefully isn’t going anywhere anytime soon!