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The Data Guy: Meet the dev behind The Undermine Journal, Realm Pop, and more

The Data Guy Meet the dev behind The Undermine Journal, Realm Pop, and more
Every now and again, a double facepalm moment occurs among potential news tipsters deep in the bosom of the WoW player community. "Say what?! 15 Minutes of Fame hasn't featured this guy yet?!?" It happens. There are only 52 weeks in a year, after all (even if weeks like this one manage to include a few extra minutes of fame).

So let's get cracking. You know that cliché about people who "toil quietly behind the scenes"? This interview is with that guy. Meet the unassuming Erorus, the man behind The Undermine Journal, Realm Pop, and a handful of other hard-working WoW resource sites.

WoW Insider: We WoW players are in your debt, Erorus! One look at your centralized project website, everynothing.net, and it's obvious that you're a very busy guy.

Erorus: EveryNothing.net was supposed to be a list of all the things I'm working on, both inside and outside of WoW, but I don't keep it as updated as I should. Most projects end up being something I spin up in a week or two and let run, the only projects I really kept up with over time were Quick Armory back in The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King days, and The Undermine Journal since the auction house came to the armory back in early Wrath of the Lich King.

My currently supported projects are:
  • The Undermine Journal Auction house pricing history and event notification system
  • Realm Pop Realm census and population statistics
  • Phenix Armory A spiritual successor to the now-defunct Quick Armory; look-ups for characters focusing on achievement, companion and recipe collection
  • Goblinventory A small addon and website to help you view and share all the items in your bags and banks
  • Transmog Fashion A tumblelog that displays random transmogged characters


The Data Guy Meet the dev behind The Undermine Journal, Realm Pop, and more
Main character Serensis, draenei resto shaman
Guild Waypoint
Realm and faction Medivh (US-Alliance)

Which of your WoW-related projects would you say has currently captured your imagination and energy? What are you working on?

It surprises me how much I get out of working on The Undermine Journal. There's so much raw data out there, and despite the in-game auction house being pretty simple conceptually, the tools and techniques for working with it continue to evolve.

From a technical standpoint, there are always challenges to overcome with squeezing useful information out of so much data, while keeping the site quick and secure. I've been thinking of new ways to deliver notifications to users -- recently I've released SMS text messaging for notifications, alongside the current email, RSS, and XMPP options. The rare items notification, which tells you when an item is posted that hasn't been seen in a long time, is fairly recent and very useful. I'm working on some cross-realm inflation statistics now and finding more ways to discover rare items and great deals, to deliver in notifications as well as display on the website.

I've also been brainstorming about some alt-discovery options now available to us since achievements are now account-wide. GuildOx recently came out with alt detection, which works with the same principles. I'm sure more new ideas will come to mind as MoP is released, probably regarding pet battles.

So many crunchy bits! Let's talk about your past projects a little bit, what they were and why they came to a close.

One project unrelated to World of Warcraft was an listing and RSS feed of Wii Virtual Console Store games. The Wii Store, at least in its original incarnation, was just a web page that was served to the user via the Opera browser on the Wii console. Since it was a web page retrieved via HTTP, I scripted and automated crawling that list to let people know when new games were released. This was within only a few months of the Wii's release. Eventually I stopped supporting it, as better sources came about with reviews of all the newly-released games, and I had lost interest in purchasing Wii Virtual Console games.

The Data Guy Meet the dev behind The Undermine Journal, Realm Pop, and more
Quick Armory is still one of my favorite past projects. It filled a niche of character data presented with minimal fluff and then added some new stuff on top of that, with achievement calendars, bag/bank item display, and talent statistics across thousands of players. I learned so much by working on Quick Armory that enabled The Undermine Journal to be what it is today.

Quick Armory was discontinued because of patch 4.0. Obviously, lots of game mechanics changed in that patch, and I was already doing early work with The Undermine Journal at the time. I couldn't support both sites, so I mothballed Quick Armory. Now, the Blizzard Armory is so much improved with regard to items and stats, I don't regret the decision.

So what's the passion driving all of these projects? Are you a hobbyist, or is this related to what you for a living?

I write web applications in my day job, and I just enjoy web development, from setting up the server environments to presenting clean and useful interfaces for users. I like to keep up with new technology, and the various World of Warcraft communities (raiding, PVP, goldmaking, RP, etc.) are all very helpful and interested in new tools.

It doesn't hurt that I enjoy the game, too.

Writing WoW web apps helps me to learn and try out new stuff without too much risk. If a project fails or doesn't scale, it doesn't jeopardize my job, and it's all a great self-directed learning experience.

The Data Guy Meet the dev behind The Undermine Journal, Realm Pop, and moreWhere do you get your ideas? Are these things that people ask you to do, things you hear or read other players wishing for, things you find lacking yourself in the game ...?

Most of the time, I find that I'm looking for some information, get frustrated that it isn't out there (or is in a format I don't like), and I end up putting something together myself. The Undermine Journal was pretty straightforward; once I heard that AH data was going online, I thought, "I'll datamine as much as I can out of this" because it's interesting stuff.

Phenix Armory exists because I still can't believe Blizzard doesn't have achievement calendars anywhere. Honestly, their entire achievement UI is so much fluff and, I think, really difficult to use.

Goblinventory was built strictly by user request, and I thought it'd be a great project to try something new server-side and more practice in writing Lua for the addon. Sometimes it's just a new source of data becomes available, and I start thinking of the stats you can get out of it.

That's a crazy amount of work. I'm sure all of us are glad you enjoy it! What about in game? What's your playstyle?

I started playing upon the recommendation of a friend right before The Burning Crusade release. Started as a warlock, switched to a resto shaman mid-BC, and loved healing since then. I've been casual in pretty much every part of the game. I have few max-level characters. I collect mounts and achievements, but there are many that I still don't have. I don't raid much (most of my raiding was in Wrath of the Lich King), but do enjoy it when the opportunity comes.

Similar with PVP and arena; good times, will play when the mood strikes, but I don't grind it out. I have a comfortable amount of gold, but I'm no millionaire goblin.

I probably spend more time on WoW stuff outside of Azeroth than I do when logged in.

What was your very first WoW-related project?

Probably Quick Armory. I learned a lot about XSLT and datamining stuff out of the client files.

The Data Guy Meet the dev behind The Undermine Journal, Realm Pop, and more
Do you think some or even all of your WoW-related projects are services or features that should be incorporated into the game or the official website itself?

Blizzard proved it when they allowed in-game addons and continue to prove it with the Battle.net API. There are some projects where Blizzard needs to provide some tools and let the community handle it from there. It allows some creative thinking and allows some things that the Blizzard corporate habits would likely discourage.

For example, The Undermine Journal was the first (and perhaps still the only?) website to provide comprehensive seller searches in the auction house. For the first time, you could look up a player and see all the stuff they had posted. I doubt that Blizzard would release seller search, perhaps on privacy reasons, given that it's not in-game already.

Same thing with RealmPop -- useful data for players, but not the type of stuff Blizzard would typically want to shout from the rooftops (in my estimation). The most exciting projects to work on are those that give info that the game developers wouldn't want you to know.

So has Blizzard incorporated anything of yours into the game or their tools?

I have no proof, but when they released the new (current) design of the armory, the advanced template has a few design elements similar to how Quick Armory presented things. The item rarity as a thin colored border to the item icons, the gems as smaller icons nearby, the names of the enchants spelled out with mouseover tooltips, each item's level plainly visible, displaying keystone talents, and the abbreviated stats (selected by class) listed underneath -- all these elements were present on Quick Armory, not visible on the old wowarmory.com, and are now on the new Battle.net armory. It may be hubris, but I like to think at least some of those changes were inspired by Quick Armory.

Shout-out time: other WoW-related projects, sites or services you respect.

Stormspire.net is the forum hub of a fantastic AH goblin community, and they host a forum for The Undermine Journal. Some really nice and intelligent folks there.

For a long time, GuildOx.com has provided great stats and services, and they continue to innovate. Well done.

AHSpy, now defunct, was a great site run by a nice guy. I was, at times, jealous and competitive with its offerings compared to The Undermine Journal, and it pushed me to do better.

The Data Guy Meet the dev behind The Undermine Journal, Realm Pop, and more
What's still missing? Is there are feature or information service you think is lacking right now -- perhaps another project in the making?

I think the WoW community has things pretty well covered, at least from my perspective as a player.

There are two things I would love Blizzard to supply, though. In-game, the auction house would be pretty interesting if players could post buy orders. So if you wanted to buy some item, and there are none available, you could say "I will pay X gold for this item," and the first person to fill that order would get the gold you offered, and you get the item.

In the API, we'd love to get some information on what auctions were sold. Right now, all pricing sites are based off of how much gold people ask for items, but we don't know what auctions actually get sold. There are many auctions that are sold between the hourly scans we get. Sold data would add more precision to pricing stats.

Any new projects or plans in the works that you can share with us?

I don't have any huge new projects on the horizon, except for that potential alt discovery app. We'll see if that becomes viable and if I have enough time to work on it instead of playing MoP.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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