Pictures uploaded to the TLKFAA are moderated. This means that I have to examine every picture and manually approve it before it appears in the Archive. Approvals are done generally once per day, in the evening (Pacific time); I don't usually do approvals on weekends.

When an artist uploads a new picture, the uploading script puts it into a special directory on the server that's not browseable or linkable from any external site (I don't want people uploading objectionable stuff without any pre-approval restrictions and then deep-linking it from their Geocities sites as a prank). That makes it so not only can artists browse and edit their pending upload queues, but I can run a web script at periodic times that lets me make all kinds of necessary changes to all the pictures at once and insert them into the database all in one big process.

My script shows me all the pending uploads, 100 at a time, and gives me several options for each one:

  • Approve without changes
  • Approve, but send a packaged "off-topic" warning, letting the artist know that further uploads of this type may be rejected
  • Reject (on grounds of off-topic-ness; send a packaged notice)
  • Reject (on grounds of being copied or stolen; send a packaged notice)
  • Delete without sending any notice
  • Request a re-upload of the picture (if it didn't get uploaded properly, for instance)
  • Resize, with an arbitrary JPEG compression setting
  • Change the JPEG compression setting (for instance, if someone set it to 100% and made a 500K file unnecessarily)
  • Convert to JPEG, GIF, or PNG, as appropriate (in case someone uploads a giant GIF scan of a pencil sketch, for example)
  • Convert a JPEG from CMYK to RGB (I don't know why people don't notice this, but CMYK images don't show up in browsers-- but people upload them anyway)
  • Download a pending movie file, play it, extract a still frame, and upload it as the thumbnail image
  • E-mail the artist
  • View uploading information (IP address, browser type, etc)
  • View and set comments on the artist (I keep little notes in an admin-only area in the database-- mwa ha ha)

Approving a picture that requires no special treatment is a matter of setting a filename and clicking a "good to go" button; the filename is semi-automatically set to a standard "CamelCaps" format, where spaces and special characters are removed and each individual word is capitalized (for example, "simba and nala's day out.jpg" becomes SimbaAndNalasDayOut.jpg"). This helps keep filenames nice and compatible across platforms, and easier to deal with on the server side if I have to do any special maintenance. I often have to fine-tune these filenames by hand, which is time-consuming and takes a lot of precision clicking and typing (you try seeing how fast you can reformat a filename like "simbaandnalaintheelephantgraveyard001jpegbmpJPGcopyJPG.jpg").

There are between 120 and 250 uploads on a given day. I run through the approvals generally around 6:30PM, at the end of the workday when not much else is going on. On a good day it takes me around half an hour to go through them all; it takes several iterations before it's all done. For instance, I'll mark for approval all the pictures that have no problems I can see, and submit the form; the server chugs away inserting all of these, and it takes maybe five to ten minutes. When I get the form back again, I repeat the process on whatever normally acceptable pictures are left, until the only ones remaining are pictures that require some special action or judgment on my part (usually there are about 30 of these per day). Then, generally, I go through newly signed-up artists that have uploaded a lot of pictures, by taking a quick look at their gallery pages and profiles to make sure they aren't doing it as some kind of joke or vandalism attempt; I also scrutinize their pictures extra-carefully to make sure they're original and on-topic. Then I send them through. (When a new artist's first pictures are approved is when that artist first appears in the alphabetical listings and in the Newest Artists box; until that point, they're not linked from anywhere. Probably one new artist in four never gets past this stage.)

Then it's on to the problem pictures. These can get time-consuming. For most of the off-topic or obviously stolen/copied ones, I can get away with just rejecting them with the form letter e-mail, which takes little to no time; but in some cases, like when the artist is established and should know better, or if the picture is a seriously "borderline" case (with vague sexual content, bad language, some copied elements but some original material, etc), I have to send a hand-written e-mail to the artist and explain my actions-- whatever they might be-- in more detail, or ask for the artist to do something (like change the wording of the description or take out something objectionable). Then, especially with new sign-ups whose uploads are problematic, their e-mail address won't work and I'll get my long-winded e-mail bounced back to me. Then I swear a bunch and delete the account, generally speaking.

What I really, really dread, though, is a whole bunch of uploaded movie files. Those are the most time-consuming of all. They can take a half-hour approval run and turn it into something that drags on for an hour or more, so I'm sitting at work until 8:00 or so, clicking and typing away with headphones on. See, what I have to do with movie files is as follows:

  • Download the file
  • Open the file in whatever player app is appropriate
  • Make sure it's a) on-topic and b) original, and not a "music video" or some anime thing someone uploaded just to annoy me, and c) has no objectionable content, either in any of the video frames or in the sound
  • Find an appropriate "poster frame" that I can copy out as a still image thumbnail
  • Create the still image
  • Upload the still image using the approval form
  • Approve the movie file

All this usually takes about five minutes per file, so if there are a lot of movie files (especially long onesI have to watch them all the way through), it can sometimes double the time it takes me to finish the day's approvals.

Once it's all done, though, I clean out all the hundreds of notification e-mails that had been sent to me, do a sweep through to find any files that the script somehow managed not to clean up properly, and go home. On weekends, I can seldom work up the enthusiasm to do approvals; but all that means is that when I get back to work on Monday, I have around 500-600 images to approve, and I have to start around 11:00 in the morning if I want to have it done by the time I have to do the Monday uploads that evening.

I seldom like to try to deputize anyone for this work; I've not yet found anyone who's demonstrated willingness to stick with the job for the long term. Which is fine with me, really; the process requires a whole lot of gray-area judgment calls, like when I have to decide whether to accept an off-topic piece or not based on how many pictures are in the artist's gallery already, how good a contributor they are, that sort of thing. It's all very subjective. The only person I trust to take over when I'm on vacation is Ch'marr (the admin of the VCL), who is a co-worker and friend of mine and knows exactly what kind of issues I have to deal with, because he deals with them too on his own site.

Auto-Approval

To ease the load of manual approvals, I've given the privilege of "auto-approval" to a number of artists. These are artists that I've learned I can trust to only upload on-topic, quality work that doesn't need any examination or post-processing on my part. When an artist has auto-approval, her pictures are instantly made public right after they're uploaded, and I never see them. (If the pictures are movie files, or otherwise too large, they're placed in the approval queue for me to look at as usual.)

An artist can get auto-approval by simply asking me, provided that she has at least 50 pictures in her gallery and a history of uploading on-topic material without any objectionable content. In other words, I have to be able to satisfy myself that I can trust an artist not to need any supervision, before I grant him or her auto-approval. In most cases, just asking is all that's required; but in some cases my answer will be that I'd rather wait until the artist has more pictures uploaded or a little longer history of suitable contributions. Remember: auto-approval is a privilege, granted only to certain artists and only based on my decision in each individual case. It is not a right, nor is it something anyone should expect to receive. Think of it as a bonus, and a reward for being a good contributing member of the community.

Brian Tiemann 22:58, 3 September 2006 (PDT)