“Sportsmen’s Club” is okay

A side project of mine is to keep up rangelistings.com, a website that provides a list and map of shooting ranges in each of the Unites States.

So I see all kinds of variations of names for shooting ranges, and this theme sticks out to me:

  • ABC Sportsmans Club
  • ABC Sportsman’s Club
  • ABC Sportsmans’ Club
  • ABC Sportsmens Club
  • ABC Sportsmen’s Club
  • ABC Sportsmens’ Club

Forgetting for the moment that women enjoy the outdoors, let me propose a best form of those variations.

Because a club of one sportsman isn’t much of a club, I propose it should always be plural: sportsmen.

Because the club is possessed by those sportsmen, it should be the possessive form: sportsmen’s.

So, in case anyone would like to fix the name of such a club, try something like ABC Sportsmen’s Club.

(If I am misunderstanding naming, please let me know.)

Thinking: Taxonomy of shooting ranges

I’ve been overwhelmed by feedback from a side project of mine, rangelistings.com, and am working on upgrading it so that site visitors can make some updates on their own without having to go through me.

It’s great how even seemingly little projects like this raise information architecture questions so promptly.

Wait…what the heck does “access” mean?

When I started this project a while ago, I didn’t question much of the data I was harvesting. I just wanted some data to test a theory about the utility of a geographic perspective on shooting ranges. It was just an experiment, done as a bit of a hobby over the course of some weekends. One piece of data for each shooting range was labeled “access” and the data was primarily either “public” or “private.”

Well, upon actually using this information, I find the public access or private access to be too ambiguous. Does “public” mean state-run, paid for by tax dollars? If a range is in a gun store, which is itself a private enterprise, is the range private or is it public because anyone can use it? And besides, what do we mean by “access” in the first place?

The useful data can be more clearly represented by asking “What sort of requirement is there for access to the shooting facilities?” When I state it that way to represent what I mean instead of simply “access,” then I realize more clearly how “private” and “public” are inadequate words.

Looking over the data and thinking about my own experiences at various types of ranges, this is what I’ve come up with.

  • Membership required (like at many Sportsmen’s or Conservation Clubs)
  • Pay a fee for range time (like at some gun stores or commercial shooting facilities)
  • Free (like at some state-run shooting ranges)
  • Unknown (because right now I only have private/public values)

The exact wording can be tweaked, but the notion is in there and is far more useful than the current private vs public value.

Gah! What a mess of a labeling system.

Meaning and words overlap. Case in point: when I list shooting facilities, many of them resemble shooting sports (like “trap” which can describe a range as well as a shotgun sport).

Which should I list? How do I tell the difference between a sport and facility? How do I prompt the user community to stay with the right taxonomy? (And what do I mean by “right taxonomy?”)

Which words describe the possible shooting/firing ranges themselves at any sportsmen’s club, gun store, or other shooting facility? Those are the words I need.

Why not list the shooting sports themselves as a primary organizational scheme? Here’s why. Because very often people just want to grab their gear and head to a range to shoot. That isn’t organized into a predefined shooting sport, like trap shooting or action pistol. No, that’s just heading to the range to shoot. That’s pretty normal.

However, many shooters also want to know if they can do a specific kind of sport, and a description of the range itself can help answer that question. For instance, I’m a bullseye pistol competitor, so if I see “Outdoor pistol, 15 feet” as a description for a shooting range, I know that won’t do for my sport. If I wanted to practice some defensive pistol shooting, it would be okay. However, if I see “Outdoor pistol, 50 yards,” than I’m going to be pretty confident that I can practice my sport at that range.

The point is, some decent descriptions of the physical ranges themselves should provide an appropriate amount of information to be useful for a wide variety of shooters’ interests.

So, it should be easy to come up with that list of terms, right?

As an initial audit, as of today, Oct 28, 2012, this is what I have in the rangelistings.com website.

  • Airgun
  • Archery
  • Indoor Pistol
  • Indoor Rifle
  • Muzzleloading
  • Outdoor Pistol
  • Outdoor Rifle
  • Pistol Silhouette
  • Rifle Silhouette
  • Skeet
  • Sporting Clays
  • Trap

And any specific range listed can add a note. The most common note indicates the distance and the second most common type of note indicates the number of firing positions. For instance, “Outdoor Rifle (500 yards, 10 firing points).” For someone looking for a place to shoot, that bit of information is quite informative.

But I’m not really settled on that, despite the fact that I have data on close to four thousand ranges already using that taxonomy.

My primary concern with that set of terms is that it may not be complete. For instance, I don’t see Cowboy Action as an option. Nor do I see Five Stand for shotgun. Both of those are, to my knowledge, specialized range designs.

But is that getting too specific?

I’m also concerned that some people may want to check off a bunch of those options with the thought of “Well we have an outdoor rifle range, and a person could set up some silhouette targets on it, so I guess I should check Rifle Silhouette too.” But that isn’t how I’d prefer people to think of it. My thought is that the range should already be set up for silhouette shooting, with metallic silhouettes already set up and/or available, and possibly with a target reset cord.

Perhaps there should be a general purpose outdoor pistol and a general purpose outdoor rifle. Then if a range has more specialized facilities, a person could choose to list those.

I’m a member of the Saginaw Field & Stream Club in Michigan, and we have a pretty cool Cowboy Action range, which is used only for that sport. We also have a standard 50 yard pistol range and a defensive pistol range. Given the current taxonomy, we could list it like “Outdoor Pistol (50 and 25 yard covered firing points, Cowboy Action course, and 15 foot defensive pistol range).” That’s informative and flexible. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, if I go with that notion, doesn’t the same thinking apply to the shotgun sports? If so, then it seems like I might not have separate items for Skeet, Sporting Clays, and Trap like I do now. Instead, I would just say something like “Shotgun (trap, 5-stand, and sporting clays).”

The conundrum here is that there very well may be value in having itemized those types of ranges. The point is that I’d prefer to have a consistent granularity in terms, and it seems to me that right now I have a mixture.

Which level of specificity is the most useful in light of the purpose of this data set?

And now I put my thinking on pause, the taxonomy questions unresolved.

Bing delivers surprising amount of traffic to rangelistings.com

One of my hobby sites is rangelistings.com, a site with the goal of providing a map of each state with the locations of shooting ranges on it. I keep an eye on the web traffic pretty regularly, and about 90% of the traffic it receives is from search engines.

Up till the last couple of weeks search engine generated traffic to the site has been 80 to 90 percent from Google’s search. Over the last month, overall traffic has increased from around 60 visits per day to around 90 per day. Where does it come from? Well, still search engines primarily, and traffic from Google has increased noticeably during this time.

However, to my surprise, Bing is also making a surprisingly strong showing. Click on the chart below to view the details.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.) Traffic to rangelistings.com from the search engine Bing is suddenly showing at almost 30%.
(Click on the image to view a larger version.) Chart of traffic sources for rangelistings.com from Oct 1 to Oct 16, 2009. The search engine Bing is suddenly showing at almost 30%.

1st foray with svn:externals

Okay, confession. Since the mid-90s I’ve helped produce hundreds of websites. Yet, I’ve been using source code management software for less than 1 year.

Hindsight, right? In retrospect, I was just plain ignorant. Had I been using something like Subversion, I can think of a few big issues on past projects that just simply wouldn’t have mattered.

  • Before using Subversion: “Argh. I  just royally whacked 189 files in one fell swoop. Curses! When was my last backup?!”
  • After using Subversion: “Hrm. I just royally whacked 189 files in one fell swoop. Eh, I’ll just update from the prior revision and try again.”

Source code management irritant

I have a side project, rangelistings.com, built with the Nephtali PHP framework.

Updating the framework source code into my site’s code was trivial, but irritating. With each new release of Nephtali, I would upgrade. I’d do this by doing an export of the Nephtali source from a Google code repository and then copy and paste in the framework files to my working copy.

I couldn’t just drag in a directory because that would drop Subversion’s meta files from that directory and really mess up my working copy. Then I’d spend an extra half hour or so fiddling around to undo my screwed up Subversion copy. Very irritating.

svn:externals to the rescue

I knew about a feature in subversion called “externals,” but had no first-hand experience. I investigated and realized that externals could be the answer to this particular problem.

Here’s how I made use of externals. When upgrading Nephtali, I updated the files in a working copy directory /nephtali/src/NCore/.

  1. Since you can’t create an external for a directory that already exists, I removed the NCore directory from my working copy and committed that change.
  2. Using Versions, an SVN client for the Mac, added a property to the src directory (NCore http://nephtali.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/src/NCore/).
  3. Ran an SVN update on the src directory and, as though by magic, I suddenly had the up-to-date source of Nephtali’s core in my working copy.
Screenshot of Versions, an SVN app for the Mac

On my first attempt, I  followed an example  I had seen online and created a text document that had the svn:externals property in it, and then added the property ‘-F name_of_file.txt’.

That didn’t work so well. It created the folder, but failed to load the files from the remote Nephtali repository.

Once I put the local directory and SVN URL in the property itself, it worked like a charm.

Here are a couple other pages I used while looking into svn:externals.

The Google AdSense conundrum

I have a little side project over at rangelistings.com. The site contains a page for each state with a map of where shooting ranges in that state are.

This is the first time I’ve posted advertisements on a site I’ve created, and I’ve run into a compelling question on how to make the ads more effective.

The ads that show up are on-topic, generally. However, an effective ad speaks to the audience, not to a topic, right?

I intend the audience for the rangelistings.com site to be shooters who are looking for places to shoot. Perhaps they, as in my recent case, are moving and want to to find shooting facilities in their new area.

Here is a sampling of the first lines of ads that show up for one of the state pages currently:

  • Personal Security Online
  • Monitored Security Alarms
  • Personal Security Device
  • How to Defend Yourself
  • Self Defense Pepper Spray

Topically speaking, those are all geared towards self-defense in some fashion. For an audience of shooters, one of them even seems silly (would I rather use pepper spray or a .45 for self-defense?).

So, what ads would be better suited to result in people visiting the site actually clicking on them? Here are a few ideas that I think would work better:

  • Ammo: big selection, low price
  • Gunsmithing classes
  • IPSC videos
  • Gun parts and shooting supplies
  • 1500+ gun auctions right now

So, ammo, gun parts, and gun auctions have little to do with the actual words listed on the pages of the site, but from the context of the people visiting the site, they actually make sense.

The site just launched, and Google hasn’t even fully indexed it yet, so I’ll not be hasty. However, I’d like to see the ad revenue at least pay for domain registration and hosting fees, and ads that actually appeal to the audience would sure push that goal forward.

The question is, how?

(And I’m not thrilled with the idea of subjugating the content of the website in order to twist the ads that show up. That’s pretty backwards.)

Any good ideas out there?