I noticed this month that the webcomic Ménage à 3 had posted a note that it’s archives were now searchable by dialogue and was surprised to see a link not to the OhNoRobot service but one I had not heard of before… WordOwl. WordOwl was created by Peter Spicer earlier this year and it compiles transcripts and provides a searchable index for several webcomics (11 at present).
Who and what is WordOwl? How long ago did you start the site up?
WordOwl is a webcomic search engine, designed and maintained by me, and hosted at WordOwl.com. The name was reused from a previous idea I had in 2006 for a word games site, with a character called "Bob the Word Owl" as its mascot. Around the same sort of time, I posted a message on the Ashfield Online forum about a search feature, but sat on the idea for a while. In February 2008, I sat down again and thought about it some more and started to build it.
Do you create the transcripts for the comics all by yourself? Do you update the transcripts concurrent with the comic itself or is there a delay? How much work is involved.
I do the vast majority of the transcripts; some have been done by my partner, but the vast majority are mine. As for concurrency, once I’ve worked through the backlog, I transcribe the strips usually within a few hours of them going live. It just needs me to sit in front of a computer and do it.
In terms of work, it depends on the comic; some comics are reasonably quick to transcribe (such as Cyanide and Happiness, or Ashfield Online), others take a lot longer to do. I started work on Bruno the Bandit back in February but have still yet to finish because other things keep coming along. Bruno the Bandit and Melonpool are the two comics I’m still working through on the backlog front, but because they’re dialogue-heavy it does take a while, so I’ll be here for a few weeks yet!
Why are you doing this? Is there any benefit to you? Is there a long-term plan?
I do it because I love webcomics; I’m a geek and love reading comics, and I love knowing that although I can’t draw or write a comic particularly well, I can contribute my skills in a way that still helps. The only benefit to me thus far has been learning about building a scalable application, to cope with things no matter how big they are likely to get.
I don’t have a long-term plan particularly, I have a few ideas poking around, usually I mull them over in the site’s Blog, but short of getting Bruno and Melonpool up to date, I don’t have any real plans yet other than to keep doing what I’m doing.
It’s a different approach then OhNoRobot which is probably fairly described as "crowd-sourced" building of transcripts. You did a nice job of summarizing some of the differences on your blog. What do you like best about WordOwl and what do you like best about OhNoRobot?
It is a different approach, and one I wanted to take to see how well it would work. WordOwl allows me to promote the smaller strips; a number of the strips it covers are currently less than six months old, which means they can be searchable and promoted in a way that larger strips have already established.
Oh No Robot does have its benefits too – I did some transcriptions a while back for one of the comics I read, so I do see both sides of the fence. Its main benefit is that it is crowd-supported; popular comics can get up to speed and have their archives searchable in a fraction of the time that I’d have to spend, and it allows a slightly more flexible recording of strip transcripts.
How many comics does WordOwl support? How many could it support?
WordOwl’s software physically searches (at the time of writing) 4,279 strips in 11 webcomics, but the physical limit is much, much higher. Internally there is a soft limit of 32,000 webcomics, allowing 32,000 strips per webcomic, but those would be extensible to much larger numbers – well into the billions should it ever come to that.
The more pressing problem with expansion is that I do all the transcriptions, which can be time-consuming. I’m still looking at how that would work going forward, with getting bigger and bigger, but it may be that I start recruiting for volunteers to transcribe – not full crowd-sourcing, but individuals willing to dedicate their time and effort, probably concentrating on a selection of webcomics, rather than maintaining all of them.
But as long as there are comics out there, I’ll try and add them!