Development roundup: July 2021

Hi everyone,

First of all, welcome to all the new Patrons who joined over the last few weeks. And returning patrons, thanks for your continued support.

If you haven't already, connect your Patreon account to your site and Discord accounts to claim your benefits.

Download throttling

As some users may have experienced, the "free" servers have gotten significantly slower. This is not due to some bugs or capacity issues. This was a calculated decision that is meant to serve as an incentive for users to support the continued existence of the sites.

For nearly 7 years, SFMLab and its sister sites have been completely free resources, not performing any artificial throttling on the download servers. The download speeds were dictated by the maximum throughput that the service provider could provide. This was a decision that was informed by a strong disdain for file sharing sites that made you wait, and throttled to unreasonable speeds. It was a decision easier to justify at the time, since the site was much smaller and there was plenty of headroom. So why change it now?

As a result of this policy, the sites operate on extremely thin financial margins. The server bills are in part determined by fixed rates but also variable resource usage. The money that is contributed by Patrons every month, is often only a little bit more, or just enough to pay the server bills.  Advertisement income has been reduced to a couple of dollars per month after Google ads was dropped. Sometimes, we fall short of the months usage, and I pay for the difference out of my own pocket.

Very few people who use the site, actually end up pledging. The percentage of registered users that actually pledge to the site is less than 1%, it's closer to 0.7%. And to then also consider that you don't need to be a registered user to be able to download, you can calculate that there's a lot of people opportunistically leeching what they can. The bandwidth used counts to the variable usage fee and is not insignificant.

Furthermore, I've been in the privileged position where I am able to get server space at a much cheaper rate through my current employer. And this presents another challenge. I'm currently happy at the company I work for. However, in the near future, I might want to change jobs to seek new challenges in my career. And I can not do so without losing the benefits that help make the site sustainable. It'd be a heavy blow to my personal finances, and I don't want the sites to be the thing that keeps me stuck at a certain job. I'm still young(-ish), and I want to be able to make career moves without worrying about this expensive project that I'm running on the side.

Hence why I've made the decision to nudge the community towards giving back more. In its current form, the sites are not sustainable. And I'm making every effort to see that they are optimized to run with as little overhead as possible. The sites are an extremely important resource for many in the community, some of whom have used the models they provides to create some of the most popular and profitable animations.

I don't expect everyone to be able to afford to pledge. Hence why the free servers will remain, although capped at 250kbps. This speed was chosen to reflect the average internet speeds in third world countries. If you can afford better internet speeds than this, you are more likely to be able to afford to pledge. If you still can not afford to pledge, that's fine also. The free servers are still there for you. Just make the bandwidth count, rather than leeching everything you can and just deleting the stuff you don't need after a couple of days. If you are downloading especially large files at slow speeds, take this time to do something useful for yourself or someone else. (When was the last time you cleaned your desk or room?)

I still believe that 3D model resource sites like SFMLab, Open3DLab and Smutbase serve an important function and should be accessible for free. And they will remain free. However, at the end of the day, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Tagging system

In brighter news, as you may have noticed in the last few months, the new tagging system has slowly made its way to the site. Tags have been a long time wish on my part, and I think a lot of users will agree.

There are currently three main types of tags that describe different aspects of an upload, with a fourth type being the software it's compatible with. All content on Open3DLab and Smutbase contains at least some basic tags, but a lot of older SFMLab uploads still need to be tagged. It's proven quite tedious, since it's all done by hand, and a lot of the older SFMLab uploads lack proper preview pictures and detailed descriptions.

It has also been a conscious decision to only allow uploaders and admins to tag content at this point. The system quite new, and we're trying to find a middle ground between what's descriptive and what's too specific or basic.

You might also have noticed that the search fields on the site are not as intuitive as they could be. This is a first iteration with some basic functionality it will likely be replaced with something more intuitive over time. The end goal of tags is to make it easier to find the content you want, and we'll get there eventually. 

Once all content has been tagged and the search results have improved, there will also come a system that will allow you to exclude results for certain tags in your profile. For example, if you wish to include all furry or anime content, you should be able to add these tags to a blocklist on your profile, and the site will filter those automatically. This will replace the binary toggles for 18+ and Furry content.

But again, we'll get there when we get there. These are massive changes that don't just get implemented overnight, and will take more development time going forward.

Final thoughts

There are several other small sites updates that have been able to sneak their way into the codebase. The ability to set different display names, improvements to some of the upload forms and some other features that I'm likely forgetting. I hope to be able to share more as we approach winter.

Many great models were uploaded to the sites over the past few months, and I would like to thank the contributors who shared their models with the world.

I want to thank the Patrons once more. Your pledge helps keep the site running, and I couldn't be more thankful.

Lastly, as the world is still in turmoil due to COVID-19, I want to wish everyone good health and strength. If you can get a COVID vaccine, I highly recommend you get it. If you are unsure about safety, or if you've had issues with vaccinations before, contact your doctor; they can tell you whether or not the vaccine is right for you.

I've personally been fully vaccinated for over a month now, and other than a short period of extreme fatigue after both shots, I have not had any side effects. All my relatives have gotten vaccinated with different brands of vaccine, and it's allowed us to meet up again for the first time in over a year. 

It is so rewarding to be able to connect with your loved ones, since prolonged periods of isolation are extremely taxing on your mental health. The delta variant of COVID is spreading extremely quickly, all over the world. In my country, we're likely going to go back into isolation before the summer has even truly popped off. My advice to you: Make the most of every short window of time where you can connect with your friends and family in the real world. We've still got a difficult road ahead, and we must all do our part.

Best of luck to you all.

Ganonmaster

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