--The killer app that would be good for this group and for many
other suddenly-low-traffic usenet groups, would be something like tribe.net,
but with usenet "style"; i.e. something that shows threading like shell,
etc. Trouble is, I don't see anything like this on the horizon. If it
existed it would be possible to "migrate" this group's traffic over there,
then we'd pick up all (well, most) of the people who no longer have, or no
longer want to bother with shell access. Just a thought..
"Steamboat Ed" Haas : I can make damn near anything
Hacking the Trailing Edge! : ...except money, sigh.
I wish I had useful analysis or a theory to explain what's going
on. I've felt the same thing for a long time. I do have some
general statistics that might spark some discussion.
First, I'd like to remind everyone that back on October 20,
Randy Dumse did some Google analysis and posted some statistics that
show an decline in the number of postings on comp.robotics.misc.
2005 5880 (in october, projected to about 7000 by end of year)
Recently, "mlw" suggested that this might be due to the emergence of
blogs. I don't have a good measure, myself, but I'm not aware
of any particularly lively blogs that might be drawing off
in general robotics discussions. Sure there are subject-matter
specific groups, but these have always been around in one form or
Also, looking at the Seattle Robotics Society and the number of
"Encoders" they published
Publications like the Encoder "run their course" and it isn't
unreasonable for them to taper off as the creative personnel move on
other challenges. Still, the Encoder was a wonderful resource and I
don't see anything else that's moved in to take over its role.
I also miss the NASA "Cool Robot of the Week". I believe that a couple
of your bots got featured there.
So if anyone wonders if there is actually a trend, it looks like there
is evidence in a lot of different areas to support that hypothesis.
Finally, you reported that you saw relatively few hits when your pages
were referenced in mlw's recent PID article. I don't know what to make
of that, but I do have one alternate observation to offer. At the end
of November I announced that I'd put up a pair of articles titled
"Calculations Useful for Robotics" at the Rossum Project web site.
Now, I'm not entirely happy with the way the articles turned out,
and they were rather specialized pages with a limited audience.
Even so, I saw my web visit volume more
than double for the two days surrounding the post.
So maybe the reason that the article didn't steer more hits toward
your page (which, by the way, I have visited and enjoyed many times)
was just that it just wasn't set up to do so.
Well, that's all I've got. I hope someone can make sense of
P.S. For anyone who's interested, I believe that
you can see DPA's robots at
(unless I got him confused with someone else).
Interesting numbers. Both Randy and David are members of DPRG, which
has/had a very active mailing list, so I'm sure they're already aware of
the phenomenon there, too. The DPRG archives make it easy to see they've
had a similar slowdown. Go back year-to-year for the same month, and
you'll see maybe a three or four-fold decrease from say, 2000, to today
-- a proportion similar to the figures above. In fact, Dave started many
of the DPRG threads for this month!
Amateur robotics has had its doldrums before. There was a big one in the
early 1990s. Then came the BASIC Stamp, and love it or hate it, this one
product turned robotics around. I don't imagine they were the first (or
maybe they were; I don't know the exact history), all I know is that it
sparked a resurgence of interest.
In the late-1990s we had a big boost. There was Mindstorms, the Sharp
sensors, the ADXL line from Analog, and several other enabling
technologies. This is a segment largely driven by cheap, innovative
commercial products. What's out there yet to be developed...the $5
encoder, the $75 vision system? When we have a couple more of these
you'll see a return to the "old days."
I wonder if there is some correlation between interest in
robotics and the release of StarWars movies? Seems
like about the same time frame.
That makes me curious if there is perhaps some public
disappointment that we're not closer to C3PO and R2D2?
I know I'm happy when I can get a PID routine to behave,
or make a robot balance on two wheels, but that may seem
pretty lame to folks who's inspiration and imagination have
been fired by an exciting sci-fi movie.
On the other hand, I got to give a presentation to about 250
4th and 5th graders last week, and afterward they just mobbed
me! Their enthusiasm was really infectious, and all the robots
really did was just dart around and avoid them. That seemed to
I got a fascinating thankyou from their science teacher, who
thanked me for "letting the children get so close to your robots."
Might be something to ponder.
I'm flattered you remembered.
My (unpoplular) premise in that post was DARPA GC had taken a great deal
of the money and energy out of the community. Other's suggested it might
be the spread of venues available, so I did a bit more data gathering. I
added all the posts for c.r.m. with the Seattle, PARTS, Megabitty,
MARKIII and OSMC lists, and came up with these totals:
2005 8599 (projected)
While the trend is down, it is not clearly as spectacular as considering
c.r.m. alone, and that would tend to support both hypothesis: the
interest is declining, but also becoming more diluted by the increase in
forums available to post.
Randy M. Dumse
Caution: Objects in mirror are more confused than they appear.
Based on those numbers, and your limited sample sources to compile from,
there may well be an increase in popularity in robotics, if you consider
robotics related posts on all the forums available. Granted they are popular
ones, but I know there are many others out there. It may be true that
2000-2001 saw a spike in popularity, but the overall trend is flatter than
CRM's individual decline.
I would be interested to see how the projections hold up as well. I notice a
lot of traffic around holidays, as the young'uns have some time and money on
Another intersting source may be robots added to robots.net on a monthly
basis over the years since its inception, though I suppose if it is being
watered down with a profusion of robotics related material, it should see a
decline as well.
We need to ask the computers that track all our electronic comms that the
gov. runs what they show in terms of the volume of the word robot.
I have more data now and have to modify my original observation
One of the videos that I posted to this list has no other links, so any
accesses to that video must be coming from this list. And over the
last couple of weeks there has now been about 50 hits on that link.
After the original posting there were two.
This is pretty interesting. The "normal" pattern of access that I have
seen are a sharp and almost immediate burst of accesses followed
by a long exponential decay. Here's a plot of accesses for a posting
on slashdot for the same website.
In that case number of hits rose to a maximum in just under 4 minutes
from the time of the posting, to a peak of 78,000 hits per hour. Now
that's not typical for a robotics forum, but the response curve is
I haven't yet plotted the accesses from comp.robotics.misc, but it
appears to me to be a very different sort of animal. It's more like
the link "diffused" through the internet over the course of a couple
of weeks, rather than the sharp spike and exponential decay seen
Maybe what the data show is that information spreads from
this net group in a fundamentally different pattern than some
of the newer styles of internet group organization.
I'm not sure slashdot is really a very good measure of genuine
interest. Instead, it seems to be more of the equivalent of a riot
that hops from web site to web site as new articles make the front
page. Leading up to the DARPA GC, our Insight Racing web site was
mentioned in a slashdot article and the hits on our site soared sky
high. Usually we can expect a certain number of queries to us asking
questions and so forth and the ratio for hits to queries is generally
pretty constant. However, even though the slashdot article generated
a huge number of hits, the queries did not rise in proportion. So I
think slashdot traffic is composed primarily of "low quality" hits and
do not necessarily represent genuine interest in the target web site.
I guess I did not express myself very well. As I said, the
slashdot events are NOT typical of the sort of hits we get
from postings on a robotics forum. But the SHAPE of the
response curve is typical of all types of events we get
from postings on robotics forums like robots.net, the
dprglist, and the Seattlerobotics list.
I just didn't have a handy graph of the hits associated with
postings on robots.net, the dprglist, or the seattlerobotics list,
to use as an example. The slashdot graph I used was supposed
to illustrate the shape of the response pattern, but that's all.
I was not trying to compare a "slashdotting" with actual
interest in robotics on various robot forums, and the sort
of webserver events that they may generate.
However those robot forum events DO produce the same
sort of sharp spike of access followed by a long exponential
decay as illustrated by the slashdot graph. The slashdot
data are only used to illustrate the shape of the curve, which
seems remarkably constant for different types of news groups
and forums. I have seen this pattern many times. Here, for
example, is a simlar pattern that lasted almost two weeks,
for a posting about the two-wheel balancing robot on the
European technical website "buzz bazooka:"
It shows the same sharp rise and exponential decay over
a matter of many days. This is the same pattern I see for
links posted on most robot discussion groups, even
for sites without RSS feeds.
However, the pattern generated by the comp.robotics.misc
group is unusual, and I have never seen it before. That's the
point that struck me. I think it looks more like diffusion.
Brian Dean wrote:
I think you came across clearly and I got the point of what you were
saying, I think. I was only clarifying that hits alone do not
necessarily represent interest, especially from sites like slashdot.
I realize you were making a comparison w/regard to the pattern or
timing for when the hits arrived, response vs stimulus. It may take a
little while for the usenet post to propagate and actually be
available to the news clients, and that varies depending on what news
servers folks are using. Whereas a web based group generally gets
updated synchronously - the posts are available to everyone in the
group at the same time. Not quite so with usenet. Also, people's
reading habits may vary for usenet than with mailing lists / web based
forums. I know that I generally don't check this group daily.
Sometimes I do, but there are times when a week or more goes buy if
I'm really busy.
Regarding actual interest, it is hard to gauge interest simply from
hits - I think slashdot proves that point. People will generally
click on links as the read the posts - doesn't really mean they are
terribly interested. Put it in front of them, they click on it - some
folks make a living doing this with banner ads, etc. For many folks
here, this stuff is just chewing gum for the mind. I just happen to
think that raw quantities of posts to usenet or even other forums is
not necessarily representative of widespread interest, or lack thereof,
in this hobby. Probably a better measure would be sales of hobby
robotics books or other enabling technologies. And with the rapid
increase of titles at the bookstore over the past few years, as well
as the many hobby robotics parts web sites that have been popping up,
I'd have to conclude that the demand must be there, in spite of
Randy's argument that the DGC has suppressed interest since 2002.
I'm sure you're right about the sales data. All I have access to is
the web data from my own server, admittedly not representative,
but which seems to show some significant patterns.
As an aside, the number of hits on the robot parts of the server
have increased steadily since they were first posted in the late
'90s. I routinely get more hits today than ever before. For
example, the data on the slashdot graph was from 2003, when the
site's nominal rate, before slashdotting, was about 400 visits a day.
i.e., that was the background rate. Today that rate is about three
times that, more like 1000 visits a day of "background."
It's hard to to know if that represents a real increase in interest
in robotics, or just that three times more people are now using
the internet than in 2003.
But I do think, based on the patterns that I've seen and herein
described, that descriptions of C.R.M as a "wilted corner of
the internet" and a "crypt" may not be accurate!
Brian Dean wrote:
Excellent! I've hung out here for years and am on a first name basis
with most of the regulars. It's good to see that it's still alive and
well and that it's demise has been greatly exaggerated :-)
I think it was Mark Twain who famously said upon his
return from Europe, "Rumors of my death have been
I believe it was blueeyedpop that originally offered the "wilted"
and "crypt(ic)" analogies to which I was responding. You might
want to take it up with him... ;)
Brian Dean wrote:
In that case we're doomed! <g>
Seriously, books used to be a pretty good metric, but people get their
information in so many diferent ways now, that a "bestseller" in this
genre might be fewer than 15,000 copies. By comparison to what the
market used to support, this is quite low; the numbers might suggest an
extreme recession of interest, which IMO is not the case.
FWIW, "on the books" the first two editions of Robot Builder's Bonanza
sold 100,000+ copies, though the actual numbers are considerably higher,
as for about 10 years TAB gave that book away as a premium to their book
club (and before you ask, no, I didn't get a dime for them). There's no
way the market could support these kinds of numbers now, because books
are no longer the preeminent method of getting this type of information.
Gordon, do you have a web site? I have been thinking about the "howto" book
market, and I agree with you that it is dead.
I think the new author/monetization strategy for this sort of thing is a
self-published site with some sort of advertising on it.
I have sort of been experimenting with it on a couple sites, and with Yahoo
and Google, you could make a reasonable living if you could find a way to
drive traffic to your site.
The problem is that, the book store presents itself as a place to browse and
discover. People, at least, used to go books stores to do just that. The
web, people search using google. Unfortunately, the results don't lend
themselves to as much discovery as they do location of specific
The challenge, it seems, is to create and promote a library/bookstore
metaphor for on-line authors.
> there may well be an increase in popularity in robotics,
> if you consider robotics related posts on all the forums
I think this could be true. The total number of robot builders posting
in web forums seems to be increasing even though the number posting here
in c.r.m is declining
I'm a little late joining this thread but I thought I'd throw in my two
cents as well. I don't post here often but I'm a frequent reader of the
I think usenet in general is slowing down due to the proliferation of
easier to find web forums. Most typical computer users I talk to don't
know what usenet is, don't know what a newsreader is, don't have a
newsreader, and wouldn't know what to do with a newsgroup name like
comp.robotics.misc anyway. It's much easier for them to go to google,
search on "robotics", and join one of the dozens of robotics forums. I
think this is sad because it splinters the robot builders into dozens of
uncommunicative groups instead of bringing them all togther in one place
like usenet used to.
That's one of the reasons I've resisted starting yet another web forum
on robots.net all these years despite frequent user requests for one. I
always point users to comp.robotics.misc instead (though we have spawned
at least two unofficial web forums started by our users). I've had
another wave of requests for forums lately and may eventually give in.
I have contemplated from time to time trying to construct a
comp.robotics.misc interface/gateway for robots.net members that could
be presented on the website as a web forum but act as a gateway to the
newsgroup somewhat like google groups does for usenet as a whole. I've
never gotten beyond the contemplation stage though.
The number of robots being submitted to our robot gallery per month has
declined a bit but I think this could be due to its having a somewhat
fixed audience size who have now submitted most of their robots. Most
robots.net readers come to read the news or the user blogs - and more of
those readers are accessing the site via RSS these days. The gallery
still gets a lot of hits from viewers but I'm not sure how many are
actual robot builders.
Overall the robots.net traffic has increased every year since 2001 and,
so far, this year is no exception.
Another indicator is print magazines. I've watched dozens of robot
magazines come and go over the years but we now have Servo, which has
survived for quite a while, Robot Magazine, which looks very hopeful,
and Make (okay not specifically a robot mag but every robot builder I
know loves it). So I'm optimistic.
It is funny, this thread feels like "Am I dying, I feel all light and
floaty... Maybe I am dreaming, or I am dead, how do I know..." or in other
words, the biggest most virulent thread on CRM presently is about the
decline and possible death of CRM...
I honestly don't think it is anything but popularity of robotics that is
driving this forum, and sales of vendors down.
I call it diffusion and dillution. Information is everywhere, good and bad.
New products seep out of the woodwork. Less professional manufacturers and
vendors take away profits from bigger, more professional, established
companies. Un-lacquered boards, no silkscreen, and documentation that would
get them a scoul from their high school teachers abound.
A guy in his garage can make a product in the evenings, sell it on the
internet, and doesn't have to put a hideous amount of development into
something people will buy.
A guy who loves robotics can get the bright idea through his head that his
robotics forum will be better than the trillions of others out there. Maybe
he and his buddies hang out there, and make it their haunt. Yabb and the
dozen-dozen other forums are free, and easy to use. Self sensorship, and
thinking what value you are bringing with your forum is another matter.
Not to imply anything, but this post popped up just recently:
Hi guys, if any of you are into the Micromouse projects and may be entering
the competitions this year a new forum has been set up at:
As of now, they have 41 posts, and 13 users, all since Sunday. My crappy
news reader shows 53 posts on CRM alone. Just more diffusion, or
specialization... Why post on CRM, when you and like minded micromouse
builders don't have to read "try googling it, i did, and got 12 billion
hits" , and don't have to deal with threads on why their forum is dying.
The opposite of diffusion and dillution is concentration and distillation.
Specialized forums for specialized needs. There are 13 members on the
micromouse forum in 5 days. I have to guess they won't be covering
wheelchair motors, or 100A open source motor controlls.
I do like your idea of building a news portal. One of the best I have heard
for a while. With the portal, you can link other data to people as well.
Bring value to Usenet.
There is certainly some interest - there are about 1000 teams entering the
FIRST robotics competition this year - and yes, many of them will be little
more than RC boxes, but they will be 50kg boxes.
The challenge this year includes aiming and firing balls at a target using
CMUCam for aiming. Making all this sort of stuff work in the 6 weeks that
they have is really demanding - many teams do not have 'proper' workshops -
my local lot use someones garage.
So there is still plenty of interest - I suspect that the problem is more
specific to this group - not enough interesting posts means fewer people
reading and posting and so on.
Look at www.chiefdelphi.com for action !
I have two people in my kill file. Each goes by three initials, neither is
In my opinion, usenet was necessary when there was no other online resource.
Back in the 90's I had my "site without a purpose" and posted piccies of
robots for people without web hosting. It was unique then, but now it would
be just that, a site without a purpose, in that it offers nothing unique,
but that is the curse of the internet. That *.wmv file that a friend sends,
that you have already seen a dozen times, that electronics forum made by two
brothers in some hideously cold climate, that they think is ultra cool,
whatever it is, it is tough to be unique. The internet has enabled the
dissemination of information. Not good information, not useful information,
just information in what ever form.
Now, once month, someone comes through with an announcement for a great
Now there are a variety of different forums. (google offers up 25 pages of
"robotics forum" links)
Now there are user groups for a variery of processors. ( google offers 80
pages of "basic stamp", 78 pages of "pic microcontroller robot",)
The cohesive force is "google". Search CRM for "google", I get 6270 hits (
until google threads this post...), many of which are something to the
effect of "don't post your assinine question here, google it". Google in
essence is a binding force.
Robotics has bifurcated several times over into a variery of different types
of robotics domains. Walkers 3+ legs, bipeds, rollers, combat robotics
large, medium, small, sumo, mini sumo, micro sumo, lego, solar, and so
forth. Each with a unique following, some with crossover, but all clustering
Interest and commonality gather people together. Everyone on C.R.M. has one
thing in common, robotics. Everyone in a robotics club has at least two
things in common, location and robotics. Additionally, clubs often have
common useful tools, common processors and boards amongst the members, and
websites with forums for their members and whomever else joins. For these
people, C.R.M. holds little value if they have an expert.
Robotics is alive and moderately well-ish, more clubs are forming than
dying, as far as I can tell, but diffusion is killing usenet.
So, in short, I believe diffusion of information, and clustering of like
minded people and information is killing usenet.
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