Update Oct 2012... Beware reading what's below. It's all ancient history that went nowhere after a lot of ballyhoo. So what happened? Basically, Nate and dann met up, talked about the future of the site and dann wrote up his newsletter outlying what he'd like to happen. The problem was, he didn't talk to any of the other coders of the site at the time, so none of them were really excited about doing a bunch of work with no overall vision. This resulted in not a single one of the features promised being coded or implemented. As of today, only two features mentioned --being able to remove and rename your own content, and semantic URLs-- are in place, but were developed independently after dann and Jack left their positions on the site. So what is below became me ranting-- often incoherently-- about something that was never really going to happen. This exact thing occurred with the 'Terms of Service' debacle a few months later. I'm leaving this up for historical reasons, but all new readers will most likely get out of it is a sense of the aimlessness the site was drifting in for a number of years. You've been warned!


Update 21 Jan 08... dann posted a new newsletter, which still indicate the proposed developments will still happen, and may or may not respond to this review. I have posted a new review there.

Update: 7 Jan. 08…Dann chose not to reply to my queries, and is instead still planning to go ahead with the proposed developments without input from those of us who cannot program such developments. On a positive note, however, several of those who can program such developments are instead focusing their energy on improvements to the E2 we have now (see recent Root Logs).

Update: 31 Oct. 07… Many thanks for the comments, criticisms and, especially, the responses from clampe and Jack below. A few of my questions have been answered by both of them: 'No coding has been done yet.', 'here's some background to why that is' and 'the design contest wasn't as thought out as we'd have liked it to be'. Although both claim the letter wasn't about what was going to happen, they also confusingly say it is about where we are at right now. Hopefully, the author of the letter will straighten this out.

I also feel there is at the very least the slim hope that those with the power to develop E2 further will work towards a more long-term vision, be a wee bit more on the ball with informing E2 users of progress, and perhaps possibly maybe even solicit discussion with us.


I wrote an open letter last week that expressed some of my misgivings about new developments set out in the newsletter posted in late July, 2007. I had quite a lot of feedback from various users—all supportive—but have heard nothing back from Jack, clampe or dann, the three people most closely associated with this newsletter.

Since there is a chance that nothing has moved further in actually implementing the changes, I thought that I would sit down and try to scrutinise all the proposed developments, and set down my specific concerns and questions, in the hopes that the powers that be would take this reaction seriously, and answer them publicly, and in a non-vague manner.

The newsletter really bugged me, and I felt that tackling it head-on will help purge me of that, and let me get back to noding. I have for some reason taken it on myself to track and record the impact of changes to E2, so this review would both use what experience and knowledge I have of this place to better understand the developments, as well as inform new users of the tools already available to them here. I'll most likely put a pointer to this on the E2 Livejournal group for discussion there.

This review is rather long, so if you want to skip it all here's a summary:

I've got lots of questions, and there's no clear vision of where these changes take us. Several of the changes can be achieved with simple linking. Also, since we are relatively quiet now, I think it would be better to develop tools to clean up the nodegel a bit and make it easier to node and find content before we add lots of new things.

I have italicised the bits of the newsletter I'm quoting from, and excisions are represented by ellipses.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that I downed a few Valium beforehand, and often paused in my mission to run around with my arms up waggling back and forth and yowling 'omg! omg!' before returning to the task at hand.

So, here I start, with the introduction of the newsletter:

As many of you may have read, heard, and discussed, there are a number of changes and new developments in the works for Everything2.

I read nothing about this before the newsletter was posted. There was no call for discussion, nor global message sent to my message box. If there was previous discussion on e2 (or offsite), a pipelink to them in the words 'read' and 'heard' might have helped me do some background reading.

Also, I wish you had made this open for discussion. I know that admin have a discussion directory to discuss policies and problems. It wouldn't have been difficult to make one of these discussions open to the public for a debate of the ideas in this newsletter. If E2 is a community (and using Community in the title of this letter places your emphasis on the effect of the changes), one of the basic elements of a community is open communication between those with power to drastically change the community, and those who will be changed by it.

We've made good progress over the past many months addressing the implementation, scalability, legal, and staffing concerns.

Have we? Could we the reader have had some evidence of this, and if this evidence is elsewhere on e2 (or on another site), shouldn't it have been linked to in this sentence?

We believe we can make these things happen over the next few months … these features should be implemented by mid-October, 2007.

There have been no updates (except for Jacks news bit saying something about waiting for some money) telling us of what's been implemented. There have been no examples of how any implementation has worked. There was a sort of secret development mirror site, but as far as I can tell, it's broken. Surely if one is planning a big change, it wouldn't all be hidden away? Some teasers to the E2 membership would get us a little excited about it, and help in the ad campaign as listed below. So… what's happened so far?

Copyright of submissions: Our policy isn't changing: users who submit content to the site retain full copyright to that material. We will, however, be branching out our options to make certain open licenses available, such as Creative Commons and Public Domain.

The idea of licensing material to CC and public Domain seems noble to me, but I do have reservations. Any user who wants their material to be PD or CC licensed already states so in either their home node or on the content itself. The default is, of course, that we retain copyright of our content. If anyone wants to use the content in some way, all they have to do is ask the author. If options are made to automatically configure (and gee, an example of how this looks would be good), then there's a good chance that more pirates and scavengers will grab content for their use detrimental to the content's purpose. For example, there are more and more 'instant' blogs and journals on the web purposely set up to hold content that pulls ad revenue. If my content was set to CC or PD, I'd have no grounds to request that my content not be used by them; with copyright, I'd have some legal recourse.

Behavioral standards: … We're not trying to codify common sense, but we feel we need more than our current two words to relay the behavior we expect of ourselves as users, editors, and administrators.

See. On the one hand, you insist that you don't want to codify what common sense is. And on the other hand you say you want to. Because once you start saying we can't do one thing, then you are saying you can't do another. And another.

There are two basic rules for e2 that I know of: Writeups have to have at least basic paragraphs, and have to have hardlinks. That's the only tricky bit about e2, the rest is common sense, and completely follows the two words.

There have been, what, two people banned from e2 in its lifetime and two admin asked to step down from their responsibility? The rest of us remember the two words most of the time, and are appropriately scolded when we don't.

Staff interaction: We may be …adding a link to a general contact and help page, listing which members of staff are online, and who to contact with various topical, technical, and editorial questions.

Don't we already have this? Everything Finger (as well as the Other Users nodelet) shows staff online. Clicking on their name takes me to their homenode, which tells me what topics they cover.

We could be even more helpful by adding the topical/technical/editorial duties/availability to the Power Structure of Everything. If the person who deals with my query isn't online, a simple message will do.

Relationships with other sites: We've historically been an isolated site…

It might be interesting to reiterate why we were an isolated site, and the changes that have affected it (most notably, I think, when we opened the site up for search via Google and other engines.)

We've historically been an isolated site, and we're looking to change that.

It would be good to explain why we're looking to change this. I find no reason so far. Want to give us a few?

Many of the new features in the works integrate with social bookmarking, networking, and multimedia sites such as flickr, del.icio.us, Digg, reddit, and Facebook.

They do? How? Why? Which ones specifically? I use flickr and del.icio.us. If I wanted to share a node via del.icio.us then, um, I'd use it. Do you mean adding a little del.icio.us button at the bottom of a writeup or a node? A Digg button? If I wanted to illustrate a picture of mine on Flickr with E2 text, I'd…. link to the e2 node from Flickr.

We're also improving our capabilities for linking to content on other sites.

We are? How? Why? Which sites?

Community2 and "The New E2": Community2 was a testing ground for features we wanted to see on Everything2, as well as a place to explore new ways for noders to contribute to the nodegel.

Didn't C2 fail for lack of interest?

"The New E2" was a group of features we looked at to steer us towards a print journal.

And that worked pretty well, didn't it? (please note that I am being sarcastic).

Community2 is now offline, and many of its features are in place here, many more on their way.

Why is C2 offline? There are many C2 features in place here? Which ones? What's coming?

Some features of "The New E2" are still in the works, but with substantial changes. These features are discussed below.

'the new e2' did not address adding multi-media content, multi-threaded commenting, XRF relationships, etc etc. In fact, the ONLY feature in TNE2 discussed below is users being able to delete their own writeups.

Code control - We're changing the way we look at source control and collaboration here. By the end of this month, or as soon as the development hardware is ready to go, we're going to call a code freeze on developments to the production codebase of Everything2. One of the new servers coming in will be used as a developmental mirror to facilitate orderly planning, development, documentation, and testing of the new codebase before deploying the featureset to the production hardware. This server will be open to our coder staff, edev, and to a group of beta testers.

The way I understand this is that code changes are currently frozen until a new server arrives. I think this server has arrived as there is a mirror devel site. So, if there is, can we the people get some teaser looks at how the new codebase is coming? Or is this all actually a pipe dream? Because there have been no updates about code being frozen, new server arriving, etc etc that I can find in root log or edev discussion.

New Features --Many of these features have been in the works for years, and are coming to be implemented soon. To be certain, this isn't a list of "what will happen" - it's a discussion of the goals towards which we're working on the back-end. Many of these will come to pass, some will wait until the next development cycle…

This reads as a disclaimer to the "by mid October" promise in the introduction. It also reads as if you are inviting public discussion somewhere about all of this. I wish you had.

…. It will all depend on how much code, documentation, and testing help we get.

It also reads as if the blame for lack of progress goes on all those who really aren't that excited about this.

Usergroups: … Finally, noders level six and above should be able to create their own groups.

Fantastic. Will there be the same deletion for inactivity that noder-created 'rooms' has?

User control of their own content: Noders will soon be able to remove their own writeups from the database, and move their writeups to new nodeshells.

Since some editors and admin ignore connected writeups when nuking a writeup, this encourages other users to do the same. Hoorah! More gaps in the nodegel! Hoorah! More Hardlinks to empty nodes! Hoorah! More chances for users to give up on E2 and wipe all their contributions in a huff! Just what the site needs.

This frees our editorial and administrative staff to concentrate on improving writeups, rather than filling nuke requests and title changes.

How difficult is it to look at a node, to see who else needs informing about the nuke request and to do the nuke? How difficult is it to push a few buttons? How many nuke requests and title changes are there in a week?

And what do you mean about editors and admin 'improving' writeups? Do you mean Mentoring? Node Audits? Chocolate sprinkles?

Nuke and title change requests will still be around, though, for requests on others' work.

Since there are more 'others' work' than active users, the staff actually won't have more time to 'improve' writeups, then.

A new facility should be created for our staff to review changes to writeups, and for users to flag writeup changes as "significant", or to be reviewed.

This is sooooooooo cool! I first requested this facility on 2000-05-25 at 05:05:50. (It's in node heaven, so that's how I know) In my request I spoke about how it could be implemented and how it could work. Alas, you haven't done either here.

New themes: … We're planning a contest, with a cash reward for the best new theme for the public face of Everything2. This will also allow us to modernize our printing capabilities, and increase interoperability with mobile users and those who rely on screen readers. Details on that will be posted as soon as the contest rules and XHTML semantic backplane of the site are ready to distribute.

I think this contest happened. I did vote on it, and read the contest and looked at the entries. I may be wrong, but I think they were all the same as e2 is now, just with different colours and different shaped boxes. How this effects some modernisation of printing capability and interaction for mobile users is not answered, explained or referred to in the contest rules. Or in this newsletter. I dunno. My head hurts.

Multimedia writeups: We will finally be allowing multimedia content on Everything2.

I like how the word 'finally' indicates that this sort of content has been in constant demand and that there would be much rejoicing on it being allowed.

I also like that if dann had hardlinked the word multimedia, it would have gone to a nodeshell.

This will include images, audio, and video, with creation tied to the voting / experience system.

:O

This will include ….

Sorry about that smilie of profound shock thing. First off, 'include' suggests more than images, audio and video. (and if one has a peek at the development schedule on the secret mirror devel site, the other elements are Mapping and equations.)

This will include images, audio, and video…

Does everyone remember that time when the powers that be decided we actually wouldn't allow copyrighted material here without permission? Does anyone besides me see a lot of problems with copyrighted material connected to adding images, audio and video?

This will … with creation tied to the voting / experience system.

What in blazes does this mean? We create using the upvote/downvote button? Or use up XP every time we add a pic? That we can upvote and downvote pictures and video and audio? What? Huh?

Images and video will work somewhat analogously…

Here I've deleted the bit where dann gets into a long explanation of how it would work. It's the only time dann actually does this, which indicates that of all the features and changes discussed, this is the bit he's excited about and wants to spend time towards implementing. However, he gives no examples of why it would work, nor why he want pics/vids/MP3's on E2. That's also pretty important.

…There will be image and video repositories, though, to find images which others have uploaded which you'd want to include in your own writeups.

So, if I create a lolcat meme to illustrate my writeup for pile of kittens, anyone can use that pic for their own writeups? What if I copyrighted it? What if I replaced the pic with gay panda porn?

Audio will be … an audio nodetype.

This is a great idea, especially with the podcast getting people providing spoken word versions of writeups.

Hey! It's a feature I have no questions about!

The heart of Everything2 has always been writing and community, and shall always be writing and community.

Don't forget hardlinking, softlinking and pipelinking!

Multimedia content, at least in the beginning, will only be allowed in writeups, with the possible exception of images in comments.

Hello. I just got back from running around the block a few times. Along the way I stopped and sat at a bench and got out my phone. My phone is great. People can call me, I can call them. I can send and receive text messages on it. That's it. It works for me. Anyway, I got back up and started leisurely strolling back to this but then my brain seized upAIEEE!and I went to a coffeeshop and read a newspaper. Then I went home and tried to nap for a bit. Then I came back to this.

'at least in the beginning' … what does this mean? Where else besides writeups (I'll get to comments later) could they be? Homenodes? The chatbox? Everything Finger?

Then I gave up trying to figure this out.

Registries: GTKY content should soon have a home again on Everything2, by means of registries.

I guess this is the place where I go into my spiel about most writeups on E2 actually being GTKY content, but I shall resist.

Taken from Community2, these consist of a question and a series of answers given by users, with the option of displaying the answers on their homenode.

Um. Why? Did it work on C2? Isn't this a feature that if I wanted it, I could do on Livejournal? Can we have examples of how this fits into e2?

The creation of registries will be available begininning with level four.

Why not just level one? Will anyone be able to answer the registries? Why didn't you use a spellchecker before publishing this newsletter?

Responses will be votable, but not C!-able,

Huh?

and able to be moderated by our editorial staff in the same manner as writeups.

Meaning if they don't like my answer they will delete it?

2 XP will be given for each registry response, with our editorial staff still maintaining oversight.

'oversight'? of what? The XP given out? Of crap answers to crap questions?

Syndication: … We'll also be standardizing our feed links and header data to allow cleaner interoperability with current standards and neighbor communities.

WE HAS NEIGHBOURS!?! When's the party?

This is the second time dann has used the term interoperability, which means a clear exchange of information between systems. Note the word 'exchange' as if E2 will be getting information from these standards and neighbours as well as them getting the information from us, which I don't think is the case here. The words 'cleaner interoperability' means it's messy now. Is it?

We're also working on a module for integration into Facebook's new plugin system.

I'm a bit excited about this because, even though I am not on Facebook, I know they are rich, and will give me money just by associating with them.

Also, the words 'integration' 'plug-in' and 'Facebook' used in the same sentence make me shiver and get Cronenberg/Gibson/Burroughs cyberpunkish emotional associations.

Writeup tagging and searching: We plan on doing away with the "person", "place", "idea", and "thing" designations, in favor of tagging of writeups.

So. The basic encapsulation of everything (something basically being one of these four identifiers), we're going to just throw out. I'm guessing by the way this is written that we are keeping the other designators. So. I use the remaining designators for my writeup, then I have to tag the writeup as a person, place, thing or idea if they are one of these things.

Or are we getting rid of all the designations in favour of tagging?

You know, I'm just asking.

This will also facilitate searching the content by metadata while we keep working on how to implement a full-text search as part of a later release.

I'm wondering if users are aware that full-text search within E2has been available to admin in the past. So, it's there. And since apparently we've got new powerful servers and doodads, we should all have full-text search within E2 that doesn't impact the servers that hard right now.

Anyway, I can full-text search E2 using a search engine.

Users will be able to free-text tag their own writeups, and the writeups of others, and will be given 1 XP for doing so.

Fantastic. So I can tag all my writeups with 'gnarl' and 'gnarl's writing' and 'gnarl's written writing' and 'green' and 'to do' and 'to revise' and GET XP FOR IT!!!!!!! I can tag Webster 1913's writeups with 'word' and 'noun' and 'verb' and 'adverb' and 'dictionary' and 'useful word' and GET XP FOR IT!!!!! I can tag every girl I fancy's writeup with 'cute' and 'hot' and 'cutie' and 'smile' and 'happy' and GET XP FOR IT!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our editorial staff will be able to moderate submitted tags….

Damn, there goes the 'breast' tag.

But I am digressing from the fundamental problems with tagging all of our writeups:

E2 has writing and linking. We hardlink in writeups, and we softlink to the nodes. Softlinks are the author's and readers' way of tagging the node with relevant material. Because softlinks are balanced by weight (showing the most visited softlink first), they are also informative about what is most important to the average reader.

Granted, this softlinking is limited as: 1. we can only see the first 30 softlinks made. 2. there is no definition of the difference between a softlink an author has made and a reader has made. 3. Searching nodes, we cannot see a relation between the word we are looking for, and nodes with connecting topics. 4. any node can be softlinked to another regardless if they have anything to do with each other. 5. softlinks are only connected to a node as a whole, instead of also connected to a single writeup in a multi-entry node.

Adding a tag system leaves all the same limits except limit number 5. However, this limit can be corrected without using a tag system if we were able to see softlinks made to a specific writeup, instead of a node as a whole.

Regardless of this, what we have now has all worked so far, because the readers of E2 like surprises. The readers often comment on a writeup via their softlinking. The readers follow the links, go with the flow, and are sometimes inspired to add content remotely connected to what they read.

If I want to find every writeup that mentions the word snarl, I'd use a search engine. If I want to find every book written about in E2, I'd use a search engine.

If I wanted to find all the reviews of books-- well, that's a different kettle of fish, which could be easily fixed with: a designated writeup type of a review, combined with a text search for book. But, um, when would I want to find all book reviews on e2? I'd normally be looking at one book review, and then follow the softlinks for whatever else I find.

Adding a 'free tag' system is just another bunch of words that diverts us from the tools and originality that E2 already has, which could be expanded and developed, without adding the whole 'tag' mess.

Expand the designations, allow users to have more than one designation per writeup, and those who desperately need a searchable taxonomy of writeups will be provided. Develop better ways to search the nodegel (searching for nodes with content, rather than all nodes. searching for both a designator and a specific word, ie, poem and 'love'. Just two examples.), and those of us hardlinking our writeups will have more apt material to choose from. Allow us to see softlinks made to specific writeups in a node, and we'll get a related pleasure to looking at tags on other sites. Allow us to choose to see more than 30 softlinks on a page, and we'll have more enjoyment of the insulting softlink game.

We don't need tags, we've already got our spraycan.

Writeup comments: We're implementing a system of threaded discussion on writeups which will enable users to contribute comments on a piece of writing without having to send a message.

OK. I've gone off for a little walk again. My screaming and flailing was thankfully interpreted as 'performance art' and I was tipped enough money to get lunch. While at lunch I tried to parse this sentence. Here's what I think it really says:

'Every writeup will have its own forum.'

Since dann is also very excited about adding images and video and audio to be used in writeups and comments , I shall also assume that this actually says:

'Every writeup will have its own forum, and you'll have avatars and smilies and animated gifs, too!'.

Please god in heaven why why why why

This was one of many things that made me think this whole letter was actually an elaborate hoax, just to see who would roll over sycophantically and say 'wow! What great stuff for e2, just what it needs!' and who would point and laugh.

But, since this feature was something in Community2, and is also used on Slashdot to good effect, perhaps this whole newsletter actually is serious.

I'll treat it seriously, then: If I wanted public comments on my writeup, I'd put it on Livejournal. Other than that, the blab button works fine.

Comments will also be votable, but not C!-able.

What? No XP gain? Awwwww.

These will be moderated by the userbase on the whole, by means of "spam", "abuse", and "correction / corrected" button in the comment header.

"wow, this writeup made me cry. I need a hug." (abuse)

"hgus!" (spam)

"you didn't spell hugs correctly!" (Correction)

"sorry, I'm crying, too! I need a hug!" (Corrected)

"HGUS FOR EVERYBODY!" (spam)(abuse)(spam)

"hey! Why is this abuse?!Z"£ (etc)

These buttons will enqueue the comment to a list to be presented to the editorial staff for review.

Isn't enqueue a great word? It was made up by programmers to mean: 'add to a list', or even 'add to the end of a list'. What this sentence seems to mean is that, while editorial staff are happily 'improving' writeups, managing allowable tags, approving new pictures, videos and audio, and monitoring registry answers… they will be interrupted by some mysterious presentation that shows them some random comment that some random person has labelled as spam or abuse or corrected or something. I think.

Either that or it means that all comments with the buttons pressed on them will go to the end of a list that will be presented in some form or another to the editorial staff for review. Maybe in hardcopy. On linen paper. With perfume.

Noders level three and above will be able to leave comments on writeups.

Is this meant to be a subtle way of saying any noder under level three can't behave themselves? Because lord knows there are plenty of noders above level two who can leave comments like: 'PPPPPPPPPPHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH-LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL-
BBBBBBBBBBBB-TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!'

Other writeup features: Once a noder has reached level eight, he or she will be able to create writeups immune to votes and C!s if they so choose.

Is this a subtle way of saying only level 8 noders have Earned Their Bullshit?

This will be on a writeup-by-writeup basis….

I have no idea what this means. Maybe it means that even though level 8 noders may have earned their bullshit, if they try something funny with any attempt to create a writeup immune to votes or C!s the 'improving writeups' editorial staff will take this great privilege away.

Or maybe it doesn't mean anything at all.

…We will also begin allowing more than one writeup per user per node, for noders of any level who have as much to say about the city in Texas as the city in France.

I guess if I had something to say about Paris, Texas, I'd node it there. And for Paris, France, I'd do the same.

And if I had more than one thing to say about a subject, I could always think of an original title. Unless this is yet another way of making E2 into a 'blog' site, or it has now been decided that 'writeup does mean reply'.

Writeups should also be able to connect in a series, with "next" and "previous" links in the footer.

This is already done by most noders of a series of works. Using pipelinking. So, what's new about this? Would this footer be utterly customisable, or only have 'next' and 'previous' links? Heck, why not a header, too while you are at it.

Finally, writeups will be able to carry their own lede / summary / abstract as a separate text block for quick review through integration into user and site search.

This sounds like the place one would put 'keywords' (or tags, if you'd like). Sounds like a nice, useful feature for a writing site like E2. Dunno how it would look, work, or whatever since you haven't bothered to tell us. Again, having a lede or summary at the start of an article is already done by many users here without the need for a separate 'text block'.

Frontpage updates: We'd like to completely overhaul the front page, allowing users to see only the information they want, with dynamically controllable and orderable AJAX widgets.

Can't I already do this with nodelets? And aren't you blindly promising I can get only the information I want?

Social Network: We're adding the facility to link users by XFN relationship types, including friend, colleague, neighbor, and spouse.

When are you adding? Wouldn't just 'contact' work?

This may have an opt-out button for those who'd rather not participate.

I may be wrong or just forgetting because I'm drowning in the spittle generated by rage and spite, but this might be the only feature in this newsletter with even a vague promise of being able to opt out of.

Polls: Polls will now have the option to be available to level one users….

Excellent. I can create a hundred level one users to vote on my chosen winner for a poll! Also, does 'now' mean now now, or now mid-october feature unveiling?

Nightly Email: Finally, we'll be bringing back the E2 Nightly Email….

Great! This has been broken for four or five years or something. Nice to have the vague promise that it will be fixed. Sometime. Hopefully.

Ad Campaign: Coinciding with the above updates, Jack will be running a grassroots international advertising campaign, something in between a flyering effort and a quest. …

Seems to me that this isn't between an effort and a quest, but it is both of them. Anyway, nice idea. Has it started?


Ok. So I've rather exhaustedly gone through this, and it really hasn't helped me any. It's got me reverting to reacting with sarcasm and cheap shots instead of constructively criticising and there's this tensing in my gut as if Everything2 is headed to hell in a handbasket, and if I post this it will just make it worse.

And I would rather help than hinder.

How can I help? I can challenge your dream. I can try to look at your ideas from a different standpoint. I can't code worth a damn, but I can mark-up writeups, and proofread them. I can continue to encourage and be interested in writers on E2. I can fight to the teeth to protect the work of noders who have noded and are noding for the ages.

I really like E2. I think it works, and that there continues to be great writing and creative projects done here.. I think it is an excellent place for someone to be encouraged to write, and to read lots of interesting things. I think there are some messy bits, and I think that can be worked out.

I think implementing the changes proposed in the development letter are, on the whole, detrimental to E2's soul.

And I think a lot of people agree with me.

Hey, I'm clampe!  I'm indicted above, so might as well respond to the "open letter". 

First, let me say, I'm writing this without consultation with Dann, Jack, nate or anyone else.  We do not have weekly meetings, or late night chat sessions, or even clumsy groping in the back of my 1978 Mercury Cougar.  I see kurt pretty often, nate when I can, and Dann and Jack deserve nothing but respect for putting up with the lot of us.  The only power I have is that I am busting ass to keep the bandwidth flowing to the site, and am trying to find more money for research and development.  I do not have a stake in Blockstackers, and no financial stake in this site at all.

OK, let's reflect on the newsletter which is being treated a little like Mein Kampf.  Let's start at the beginning, with a small and recent history.  The University of Michigan was no longer willing to host E2, since we'd always had a somewhat shaky relationship with them.  We were hosted by UM because both Kurt and I were grad students there, and dizzy was a sysadmin working in kurt's department.  Once both kurt and I graduated, it became hard for UM to justify providing free bandwidth to this crazy little site.

So Kurt and I hustled at our new department, at Michigan State University.  We talked to our boss.  We talked to his boss.  We talked to the CIO of the university, and to a group of lawyers who almost made me murderous.  E2 is a hard sell.  How I nearly killed myself masturbating doesn't look great to the Board of Regents, especially when it's unclear what the University gets out of the deal.  Luckily, our dean is a decent guy, and worked out a deal where some portion of ad sales would got to MSU as a donation, and MSU would serve E2s pages.

So we had bandwidth, and we had a little money from the often contentitious Donation Box, plus some straight out hardware donations from a kick ass noder who hasn't given permission to share their name.  We threw some hardware on top of our new pimp bandwidth, and the biggest issue with E2, namely slow pageloads, started to get better.

 At this point the decision was to let things go on as normal, or try to increase traffic to the site.  It doesn't take a deep look at the numbers to see E2 is in trouble.  Old noders leave for a variety of reasons, but it's hard to attract new users.  E2 is unfriendly to new noders.  No, really.  If a person has the balls to overcome the confusion of the interface and the insular language, and write a new piece of content, the overwhelming odds are that people will hate on it until a Content Editor deletes it.  Be honest.  If you came to E2 today, would you put up with that?  It's not that we need to grow for growth's sake, but rather we want to make sure there are enough users to move forward in the future.  It would be nice to, at the very least, to equal out the number of noders leaving and the number of noders joining.

So some of the desire to change stems from a  desire to reflect changes in the environment of sites like this.  E2 started when things were pretty different.  Before Livejournal.  Before Wikipedia.  What types of things would help update E2 to make it more competitive in a world where there were a lot more options than when it started?

Well, the interface is pretty ghetto, so we threw open a contest to see if the noders could do better.  We got some nice designs, though my sense is we're still looking for somethng really evocative for Guest User, who represents 90% of our pageloads.  I think multimedia was another piece of low hanging fruit.  Having read (I think) every criticism of the development plan, I think video is a bad idea.  I think photos could still work, with the same quality assessments we use with writing in nodes.  We were hoping to encourage more types of participation, which is where the idea of discussion pages came in.  Right now every WU is a serious commitment in time and energy.  Is there a way to lighten that up for people still experimenting with the site?  Is the only way to particpate on E2 to devote a ton of time to it?  We thought being able to attach a note to a node might allow that.  Or maybe tagging.  The process issues with any of those design changes would be huge, and we're not forgetting that even if we haven't mapped it out completely.  We've also seen some great ideas we didn't have in the development letter.  Better chat features.  Better search features.  Moving the vote button to the bottom of the write up. Big boobed strippers serving everyone delicious coffee drinks.

Which brings us to the rub.  There are no paid engineers on E2.  There's not paid anybody on E2.  Consequently changes have to happen when they can.  Our estimate of mid-October turned out to be too ambitious.  Partially this is because we are hoping to figure out a scheme of paying the E2 developers to code new features.  We have gone more slowly on that than Dann at least hoped, in part because we want to make sure no one gets screwed in the process, and in part because we're split into a million different directions, like all of you.

I think the tone of the development newsletter implied that these were the changes that were coming, no feedback needed thank you, and this was all decided without you.  This is not what was meant.  New features will need to be introduced slowly, and taken away if they don't work.  We'll likely start by offering a "bounty" to pay for the ability to post pictures.  We'll start there and see how it goes.  I've been busting my ass to write grants to get more money for E2, but academic grants have a 1/10 success rate.  Hopefully more money will help, but that's not clear.  Dann and Jack have both done incredible work in their domains, and are waiting on others to get crap done to start putting new features in place.  We'll get there.  We're looking for talented coders we can pay to do this work, but we don't have a ton of money, and the codebase is a little crazy.  I doubt I can find an undergrad who can just step in and get it done.  

Or...  we can go as have been and the last noder left can shut off the lights.  I don't know what the future holds, though everyone associated with the "administration" of the site is willing to listen to feedback. Instead of deleting content should everything be considered "in progress" until it receives a certain amount of upvotes and then goes into the official database?  Should we rethink levels given changes in content standards?  What other ways can we help people transition into participation?  (not that I want everyone who comes to E2 to be a participant).  There are a thousand similar questions most of you have already raised.

There are no intentional secrets,  no cabals in place.  My name is Clifford Arthur Cochise Lampe.  My email is lampecli@msu.edu, as it says in my homenode.  My phone number is 734-383-5242, though I live in the eastern time zone so take that into account when you call.  I'm an assistant professor at Michigan State University.  My wife's name is Mary Beth, I'm a Democrat, and originally from Holland, MI.  I work about 74 hours a week, but I'm willing to answer any question you have and promise a reply.  I may not know the answer, but I'll tell you if I don't.  If you have code, let me know.  If you have good ideas on how to improve E2, let me know.  If you want to lob accusations, that's fine too.  My name is Clifford Arthur Cochise Lampe. 

 

Hey.

Clampe's letter was big-picture. Here're some specifics for you. I suggest you read this entire node as the context might be nebulous without it.


Re: Copyright of submissions

It's true that someone requesting the use of a node somewhere else could just message the author, but a. that requires the copyright requester to register an account which is, frankly, nuts, and b. but you're forgetting the content here by fled noders - their work will remained untagged as to copyright status, leaving control with the authors, but going forward, if a user decides to leave his nodeshare around (as I hope they would) it's much easier to know a piece's usability outside of E2 if it's tagged as being released under a certain license. Also, in a secondary way, it gives users another option other than slash-and-burn if they decide to leave.


Re: Behavioral standards

I don't want to go into specifics, but violations of our "Be Appropriate" standard have been a more serious problem than isolated incidents, serious enough that we felt a codification of our behavioral rules was necessary. We truly wish that "Be Appropriate" (as Dann puts it; "Don't Be A Fucking Dick" is more my speed) was enough. It wasn't. If you read over the rules, you'll find that they won't negatively affect almost the entirety of our userbase. Keep doin' what you're doin' and you'll be fine; we're not gonna start censoring the catbox or anything.


Re: Staff interaction

It's true that we have the Everything Finger, but it's clunky and only does half the job - anything that makes it easier to find the help that noders need is better for us in retaining talent, and a one-stop shop is better than three clicks to help that isn't intuitively obvious.


Re: Relationships with other sites

Without new contributors, we're dead, period, and the web is a far bigger and more competitive place than it was in 1999. The more sources we can funnel writers from, the better, and the more exposure we get to other communities featuring bright and talented writers, the better we can carve a niche into the web and hold it. We don't know WHERE yet, not explicitly, but adding cross-linking buttons on a level that's compatible everywhere (or, okay, at Some Interesting Places, anyway) is a good start.


Re: User control of their own content

We've actually got a feature in the works where any writeup deleted by a noder will, if the deletion leaves a nodeshell, put the nodeshell in question on a list in a separate nodelet with an attached bounty so that holes don't stay holes for too long. Think this, but prominent. It'll also encourage noders to branch out and learn, to research a topic they haven't touched before and run with it, or a nodeshell with a particularly poetic lilt and take a stab at fabulating in it. It's hasn't even been close to coded yet, but it'll help with that if and when it happens.


Re: New themes

Gnarl was actually right in his interpretation of the new themes submitted for the contest - The submitted themes were gorgeous, but not particularly 'new', though I understand how hard it can be to break out of the mold of this website we'all spend so much time at - it's tough to think of radical changes once you're used to the interface. If anybody'd like to do a complete redesign, or at least mock one up, show me, or Dann, or Two Sheds; I'm sure the perspective would be handy, contest or not.



...And the rest of it, we're still working on.

But really, I think some of y'all are missing the point. The whole point of the development newsletter was to give the userbase a heads-up as to where we are right now, how we're thinking, and what we're thinking of making modifications to. Some of the changes will have to shake out over time; some will get refined during the development process; some will probably get abandoned all together. We've been asked over and over where we are with site updates and what we're thinking about doing to keep us alive and vibrant and growing, and we talked about it, and put together a document saying, "hey. You asked; sorry it took so long. Here's where we're at."

Well. Here's where we're at. Some things, we don't know yet. You'll know when we do.

Rest easy. We really, truly, love this place.



--Jack

you know what to do

As yet another proposal for how to change Everything2 hits the nodegel, I am astonished to admit that have something to say. As an ex-noder1 (disregard this identity; Banquo's ghost is not Banquo), I think I have a useful perspective on this question.

To say it, I want to talk a little bit about Everything2. Bear with me; I am going somewhere with this. When discussing a journey, it is often best to understand your starting point.

What is E2?

First, what it isn't. E2 is not a writers' community. The people who write for E2 do not own E2. They do not have a real say in how the place is run. Even the content editors and gods, who are still writers, don't have a deciding vote in where the site goes, or how. And the people who run the place don't node. golFUR covers this very nicely above, but it bears repeating.

Make no mistake. Everything2 is not a democracy, but a dictatorship. Usually, it's a fairly benevolent dictatorship, because the dictators are pretty decent people. But I've seen admins go sour here, and seen the damage they can cause, both to writing and to writers. It's not pretty, and there is no mechanism apart from admin consensus for correcting the situation. Do not invest more than you can afford to lose.

E2 is a community of writers.

Everything2 is a community. The node says it, and I have seen it. One of the first things my husband did when he got home from the hospital, the day our son was born was to node about the baby. People wanted to know. I was here when Hermetic died on September 10, 2001. I was here the day after, too, and through the dark times that followed. They would have been darker without the mutual support of the chatterbox.

Everything2 is a community of writers. Writers in the broadest sense: people who write. There is no requirement that a noder be, for instance, writing The Great American Novel. It's enough to want to play with words, to produce prose, and to care what other people think of it. It gives everyone something to talk about, a shared endeavor.

But the community is more important. Words are dead until someone reads them.

The Proposed Changes

There are really two classes of proposed change that are interesting: Administrative Changes and New Features. New hardware and good code control are like parachutes - you only notice them if you don't have them. But the meaty bits are the ones that may affect the community of writers.

Behavioral Standards & Staff Interaction
This is crucial. There are two ways this could go: either a codification of the existing relationships and rules, or some attempt at a new direction. In either case, the temptation will be to produce a set of rules. This is bad, because there is nothing a disruptive user loves more than a set of rules to game. Leave that to Wikipedia. What E2 needs is more like a Constitution: a statement of powers and principles (preferably including some mechanism for checking out of control admins as well as ordinary users).

New Features, aka Toys that Distract From the Writing
Usergroups. Multimedia. Tagging. Comments. Bells. Whistles. They feel like cruft, don't they? But really what they are is Christmas presents, not yet unwrapped. Some of them will be the shiny gadgets that break in three days, or are ignored in four. But some of them will last, because enough users will find a purpose for them. (This will not necessarily be the purpose for which they were written. That's half the fun.) But it's not worth getting too worked up until they're more than vaporware, and since the coding is volunteer, that could be a while.

Connections to the Big Wide World
This is the scary one, isn't it? But E2 is dying, guys. It's withering. The heartbeat of the site is the pace of new material marching through the New Writeups nodelet. How many writeups are posted a day? A dozen? Fewer? E2 needs more writers. And you're not going to get them by staying in your walled garden. Semantic URLs are a good first step, because then nodes become quotable and linkable2. But it may take more - active pushing of Diggs, active trawling for members. Whatever it takes to bring more people in, do it.

Fsk the Admins, What should Noders do?

The thing is, the admins may own Everything2, and they may run Everything2, but they are not Everything2.

E2 is a community. So be a community. Play nice in the catbox, write good stuff. Love, or if you can't face it, hate silently. When the rules make it easier to be a community, applaud those rules; when not, break 'em till they're thrown out4.

But most of all, relax a bit. Have fun. Otherwise when all the new brilliant writers come in to throw themselves at your feet and learn from you, they'll get bored and wander off again.


  1. As a few people know, I am evilrooster. I was an active member of Everything2 for just under 2 1/2 years. I ended at L6, and 236 of my write-ups survive to this day3. My most popular writeup is cited above as a community standard. And, though I left, and though I will not return, I still have great affection for E2 and for noders past and present.
  2. by ordinary mortals
  3. Yes, I expect that someone will comb through them and delete a bunch now that I've stuck my head above the parapet. Just do it for the right reasons, mmmmkay? And consider whether you could have spent that time noding.
  4. Or you are. My mother was. These things happen; there's a whole other Internet out there to play with.
It is nice that the members here care so much and feel so involved. It speaks well of the community that it produces strong feelings. It is also worth being reminded, though, from time to time, that this is not a democracy and that we are guests of the owners here.

Yes.

The question remains, who are the owners of everything2? And why is that? Is that all about financial contribution? Surely that should be respected!

But money being what it is, that is, solidified work, what is the purpose of those owners in giving away their time for nothing? And we, the rest of us, are guests on what terms exactly? What do we owe the people who are donating their money? If you throw a party and no one comes, you are the owner, yes, but what good does it do you? Are we, we non-financial-givers, entitled to some voice in this thing?

I don't know the answers to these questions. In my book, the folks who pay the money call the tune. But...if these efforts require the (unpaid) efforts of other (unpaid) people, who calls the tune then?

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