Interview With Brickset Founder Huw Millington

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Need to know what year a set was released? Want an easy way to catalog your collection? Or just looking for the latest in Lego news? Then Brickset is the place! To celebrate its 20th Anniversary, Windy City LUG sat down with the site’s founder, AFOL, and generally awesome dude, Huw Millington.

Hello Huw, thanks for chatting with us. How long have you been building?

You’re welcome, thank you for having me. I had LEGO as a kid, of course, and entered my dark ages in about 1979, but not before acquiring a few of the earliest Technic sets. As an adult I’ve been building since 1995, when being an AFOL was something of a rarity and almost unheard of other than in dark corners of the fledgling Internet.

What got you into building initially?

My eldest daughter was 3 in 1995 and loved playing with Duplo, so I thought I’d dig out my childhood collection from the attic and get it ready for when she was old enough to play with smaller LEGO pieces. At that time, with two young daughters, we were of course going into toy shops quite a lot and while my wife was looking at toddler toys I would go and find the LEGO shelves. It wasn’t long before I came home with an 8868 Air Tech Claw Rig and fell in love with Technic all over again.

What do you enjoy most about building with Lego?

It depends on whether I’m building a set from instructions or MOCing. Building from instructions is a great way to pass the time, and to ‘zone out’, particularly when listening to music at the same time, but MOCing is a whole different thing. I find it totally absorbing and I can quite happily spend hours tinkering with Technic mechanisms -- I build mostly GBC modules nowadays -- much to my wife’s chagrin. Many people find it an outlet for their artistic and creative abilities but I don’t really have much of either of those so for me it’s all about solving engineering problems within the scope of the (relatively) limited Technic system.

What Lego set (or sets) excites you the most?

At the moment I’m pretty excited by Spike Prime, the new educational robotics platform. I never really got into Mindstorms: I found the software a bit clunky and the odd-shaped motors and sensors difficult to build into compact and aesthetically pleasing models. Spike Prime does not suffer from these problems so I’ve been playing with it for a month or so and building computerized GBC modules. I was hoping to be able to display them at several events this year but, alas, it doesn’t look like that will be possible any time soon…

What part or set would you like Lego to make?

It frustrates me a bit that every Technic set has wheels, tracks, wings, rotors or sails! I’d love a series of Technic static machines, be them GBCs, an orrery, clock, kinetic sculptures or whatever. The Forma Koi fish was definitely a step in the right direction. Something like that but bigger and more complex would be my ideal model.

What inspired you to come up with Brickset? How long has it been running?

It started out in 1997 as a static web page on my internet ‘home page’ (remember them?) that listed the various promotional sets that were available at the time from the likes of Blockbuster video, Shell petrol stations, ferry and airline companies and so on. The information was out there, on the usenet newsgroup, but not in one place. So, the initial aim of the page was to enable me, as a collector of such things, to keep track of them. Over time its scope expanded to include all LEGO sets.

I registered the domain name in July 2000 making it over 20 years old now!

What was your biggest challenge in starting Brickset?

In those early days the technology was basic, to say the least, so the challenge early on was to learn and leverage the new technologies available as they came along to improve the site and add new features. The original static web page soon become a web page driven from an Access database using ASP (active server pages). When Microsoft launched in 2001 I think it was, it was a huge improvement and it enabled me to take it on leaps and bounds.

Another challenge, one we still face to this day, is keeping the database up to date. I think by the time we were in the early 2000s we had a pretty complete list of every set made to date, so from then on it was just a case of keeping on top of new releases. But with hundreds every year, that’s no easy task.

What makes Brickset unique among Lego websites?

I think it’s the only one of the larger sites aimed at collectors. BrickLink is for buyers and sellers, Brothers Brick is for MOCers. We are squarely aimed at those who collect LEGO, want to keep track of their collection and abreast of what’s coming.

What features does your site provide and how can builders take advantage of them?

The vast majority of the features are aimed at buyers, collectors, and researchers: discount listings, collection management, custom set list creation and so on, but builders, or MOCers, will probably get the most use from our set inventories and parts information. We obtain it directly from Inventories are not always 100% complete but the way we present our information allows easy identification of new parts, which sets particular parts come in and even, if you really want to, record your parts collection on the site.

What building tip or advice do you have for builders?

Don’t get disheartened when you look at the creations at Brothers Brick, for example, and think that you could never build anything to the same standard. Study other people’s techniques, try incorporating them in to your own models and before long you’ll be coming up with your own. Three years ago, I hadn’t built a single GBC module, now I have dozens of my own designs and a few that have been replicated by other builders – the highest accolade in the GBC world!

That is indeed the highest of accolades Huw! We here at BB↑ say thanks for making such a great site and taking the time to chat with us. Stay awesome!

Images provided by Brickset, used with permission.
Interview edited for clarity.