Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stamp Collecting ... Again

After an opportunity to visit IKEA once again I recently reorganised my furniture so that I had deeper and better shelving near my home office to move my stamp collection to. I use the term "collection" quite loosely as it turns out as it's more a hoard. Like many I started as a child with stamps from my parents and buying interesting packs of used stamps from bookshops and newsagents. As my family is from Hungary I also used to visit in the summers when I was growing up, and in those days - mostly the 80s before the Iron Curtain was pulled aside - there was a good selection of new issues and related materials available in Budapest especially in the official Hungarian stamp outlet in the tourist district.

Since then I acquired a variety of large sets of stock-books, collections and random boxes of stuff from a variety of real auctions in London and on-line in the early days of eBay - which I would now not go near as it's simply a hotbed of fraud and scams. Every time I progressed in sorting things out more material appeared. It's been a number of years since I last had a proper go at consolidating, classifying and recording what I have and I have decided it's about time to start again. Again.

Now that the world has moved on and on-line is the way forward I have looked for, in vain, a good resource to help me catalogue my collection. There are a variety of sites and services out there and a lot of work has already been done by Keijo Kortelainen one his rather excellent site - one page in particular has been very useful: Stamp Collecting Blog - Software & Services. However what I have been looking for is something much more akin to the functionality, community and openness of Discogs but sadly there is nothing. So, in the spirit of the nerd I am going to see what I can knock up as a starting point and see what happens.

I've sought advice and pointers from my friends and had some good input but as of yet there is nothing simple and out-of-the-box that's going to be trivially adaptable. Platform solutions like Drupal and Django and Ruby On Rails all seem like good jumping off points but I have, as always, my own ideas and crowbarring these into an existing system may not be as easy as all that. I've bought some O'Reilly books that might get me started or at least thinking in the right direction. Especially as today is the last day of their 50% off Back 2 School promotion. In a way I am going back to school, just in my own head.

So, not having actually done much yet what do I think I want? Well my ideal starting point would be a white-box version of Discogs but I guess they are too focused on their own venture - and good luck to them as it's a great thing - and there is no sign it's being open sourced. So, with that constraint out of the way what are my wants again?

On the front-end I would like to see
  1. User contributed content
  2. Open access to data
  3. An active community
On the technical side I want
  1. A real relational SQL backend with a well structured data model
  2. Intuitive and fast web interface, client-side processing for responsivness
  3. Portable interface with local data (for offline catalogue portability) - Android and maybe iOS if anyone is bothered
  4. Extensibility for new features and other categories of collectibles

In terms of the technologies and the acronyms - REST, AJAX, MVC etc. - that can come later. I think the right place to start is the data model and work up from there. Any framework that allows me to then incorporate that data model (I am very happy to write the SQL queries) is a good starting point from then.

So, next posting I am going to ramble about taxonomies (not the Drupal sort) and how to split the data and what data might exist for that hobby called stamp collecting. Not philately, that's something quite different.

Comments welcome.


  1. Peter,

    thanks for the praise for my writings :)

    I agree with you that it all starts (and fails/succeeds) with defining a working data model.

    As I've been playing a lot (ok, years) with this idea, I'm going a bit further, and ask your opinion about THE question. How are you going to deal with identification of individual items? Most collectors (me included) rely primarily on using catalogue numbers, but as you know they are a BIG NO-NO due to copyright limitations set by publishers. Personally I'm very much in favor of dropping the use of catalogue numbers totally, but I do acknowledge about 99,9% of other collectors would likely disagree with my view, LOL.

    Anyway, I'm more than interested to hear your thoughts on this one.

    1. I am writing another post with my current ramblings on the subject but I can't quite get it coherent enough not to be too embarrassed to post, yet. I have left the issue of reference numbers (cataoluge numbers) aside for now but I do like your proposals. I do however dislike underscores as they disappear in URLs - I prefer dashes. More thought on that required obviously.

      (I had to reply in another broswer - stupidly Blogger and Chrome don't play well together)

  2. (I had to reply in another broswer - stupidly Blogger and Chrome don't play well together)

    IMO Blogger doesn't seem to work well with anything, LOL. For example the "comment as: OpenID" option hasn't worked in years. And the captchas... I never get right on first attempt :(

    Agree with your point about dashes in URLs instead of underscores.