N.B.: Clampe now has his thoughts on the draft ToS posted elsewhere, so I've moved his section to this node to the footer.

In the last newsletter, I outlined a set of features we're working towards implementing here. Now that we've all had time to discuss what we're up to and laugh about the schedule, it's time for another update. I'm posting this update in a writeup to make it easier to organize such in-depth reviews1 as my last note to the site brought.

What is Everything Two?

According to our frontpage lede, Everything2 is a collection of user-submitted writings about, well, pretty much everything. You can write about what you know, and you can write about what you don't know but can figure out. You can write poetry, prose, paragraphs or tomes: whatever moves you, whatever makes you tick. We'll lend you our words. Lend us yours?

Everything2 is owned by Blockstackers Intergalactic (BSI), which consists of Nathan Oostendorp, Jeff Bates, Kurt DeMaagd, and Rob Malda. Our hosting provider is Michigan State University's College of Communication Arts and Science, which is coordinated by Cliff Lampe. Dann Stayskal directs the operations, overall vision, and administrative staff of Everything2. Jack Thompson is the Editor-in-Chief, in charge of the Content Editors, and all editorial decisions. Kyle Hale is the new Lead Developer, in charge of e2coders, edev, and our software development.

Administrative News

Retired gods: I recently swept through the senior staff and retired those who have been inactive for more than a year, and those who no longer needed their powers. This smaller, more flexible staff allows us to more effectively coordinate policy and direction decisions through admin-led focus groups rather than twenty page discussions. We've also had three members of our senior staff offer their retirement in the past six months: Lord Brawl, paraclete and borgo, our heartfelt thanks to you for your help on staff while you were able to participate! We will miss having you around.

Promotions: I've also had the chance to promote four noders to senior staff: in10se, Oolong, RoguePoet, and The Debutante. RoguePoet and in10se are joining the coder-side of the senior staff to help with our software updates, while The Debutante is becoming part of our senior editorial staff. Working both sides of the senior staff is Oolong, helping us both write the code that keeps us running and decide editorial policy. Likewise, kthejoker is now our Lead Developer, coordinating all concerns of our site's software.

Copyright questions: We still get a number of questions about this, so I'll reiterate from my last note: users who submit content to the site retain full copyright to their material. We're working on branching out our options to make open licenses available, such as Creative Commons and Public Domain. We have a group set up here to answer questions about fair use of materials in your writeups as well: The CST_Group has reviewed over 1600 writeups for copyright issues and we're still offering the CST Approved tag for compliant writeups. Message Content_Salvage with questions.

Terms of Service: Our site policy group has been working hard over the past six months drawing up a Terms of Service document which accurately reflects the practices we currently have in place. Its posted for your review at Draft Everything2 Terms of Service. Please let me know if you have any comments about it. It will be going into effect as soon as we've all had a chance to look it over and have our comments answered and suggestions addressed. Our policy group is still writing the first draft of our behavioral standards, which will be posted for similar review when they're ready.

Advertising campaign: We're still planning for our advertising campaign to launch with the new theme. As soon as we get the last bugs worked out of our Zen theme and integrate those themes which won the contest, we'll make PDFs available to download from the frontpage. If you're willing to print off and distribute these, or if you have an idea for a system of rewards for doing so, talk with Jack.

Technical News

New Features: First and foremost, my apologies for the lack of news on our feature developments. There hasn't been much to report, because we didn't have our act together very well. We spent months figuring out if we could pay our developers2, more time architecting and discussing the various features, and yet more time on more pressing matters. Now that Kyle has agreed to take on the position of Lead Developer, we're getting started. These new features should be showing up here as soon as our new team of coders can have them ready. Thanks also to the e2docs group for keeping up with all of this.

New Servers: We've got our new hardware in place, and we've managed to address many of the stability and speed problems. Last week, though, one of our servers threw a drive. This has caused a slight slowdown under peak loads, but we're doing everything we can to address it in short order. HTTP errors will never be a thing of the past, but we can minimize the effects they have on the end user. Many thanks to our hardware support group for keeping things in good working order on our modest budget.

"How can I help?"

If you can volunteer some help, we'd love to speak with you:

  • If you have input on the Terms of Service, behavioral standards, or any administrative development, contact me.
  • If you can help edit or moderate, or will be available to help with the advertising campaign, contact Jack.
  • If you can help code in Perl, JavaScript, XHTML, and CSS, or if you're wiling to help out as a beta tester, talk with Kyle.
  • If you can help maintain our documentation, let wiccanpiper know.

-- Dann Stayskal

1 - I'll respond to these if I need to.

2 - We determined we don't have the money for this.


Hi all-

This is clampe, your friendly neighborhood bandwidth provider. I happened to pop in when there was a high level of consternation about the Terms of Service mentioned below. Part of the document makes it seem like the owners (BSI) claim perpetual license rights to your content. I want to clarify that everyone involved with e2 is 100% and completely devoted to the idea that authors own their content. The purpose of that passage was to indicate that *you* give *us* the right to display the content while it's on the site, but obviously the phrasing isn't clear enough to this point.

So let me say it again. Writers on E2 have full ownership of their content, and can keep it here or remove as YOU SEE FIT. We're privileged to host it here for however long you want, but if you get a book deal and want to remove it, do so. We'll work on the DRAFT of the ToS to make sure that's clear for everyone.

OK, thanks. I don't want to steal thunder from Jack or dann, it just seems like rumors were running rampant and I want to make sure that as far as MSU and BSI are concerned, your content belongs to you.

*smooches*
Clampe

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS NO LOLCAT REFERENCES

As I had rather vehemently, yet intrepidly, attempted to address the many proposed developments in dann's last newsletter, I think I should be the first person to thank her for finally updating us on what's been going on since last June.

And what has been going on?

  • Some gods gone, some new ones.
  • Promotion of the content Rescue Team, as well as a reiteration about the introduction of Creative Commons and Public Domain being added at some point.
  • A pointer to Draft terms of services.
  • An advertising campaign possibly happening.
  • Information that the reason for no new features is because, no, developers won't get paid, But the new features will still happen.
  • Some new servers.

  • Not much, then.



    I'm going to comment lengthily on the Draft Terms of Services, and briefly reiterate an idea about the New Multi-media Features Implementation. I have already written my concerns and questions regarding Public Licenses in my review of dann's last newsletter, and they still apply as they have not been answered. (I'd also like the rest of my questions about the new features answered).

    Draft Terms of Service

    Here's a summary of my ramblings below:

    The only reason for having Terms of Services for this site is because the owners (presumably) developers (dann, presumably) would like the new features listed here to be implemented, and turn E2 into a media rich product.

    Before my comments devolve into an exploration of the evolution of E2, I must say I appreciate that, finally, we have a document in which input is requested before it is implemented.

    One thing I've noticed for a while is that from the owners of e2 there is nothing set in stone. There is no promise from the site's hosts that the site will not disappear tomorrow. The only thing promised to us as registered users is that our email addresses won't be sold on. Once one registers as a user, you receive an email that also reminds us that the management has content standards:

    "We're an open forum, but we have content standards - writing well and following the site's guidelines are key to becoming a successful contributor. To help ease you in as smoothly as possible, we ask that you do a few things.

    Your first stop should be E2 Quick Start. It'll give you the rundown on the site basics: what to write, how to format and integrate your writeups, and how to use our on-site messaging system. For specific help, you can check out the many topics in the Everything FAQ. Five minutes there can make a world of difference.

    We're a site for readers as much as writers, so take your time to get to know us!"

    There you go, we're an open forum with content standards; a site for readers and writers, and BSI won't sell our email addresses on. That's it. That's the agreement.

    When E2 first geared up, it became a dumping ground for what was in people's heads: what they knew about stuff, what they thought about stuff, and insane ramblings. Since much of what they knew included popular culture, and the game of E2 included levelling up, a phenomenon known as Noding for Numbers began. For example, noders posted the Bible, Synopses of television epidoses, every Magic: the Gathering card, and the lyrics to their favourite songs.

    In the first two examples, this wasn't a long-term problem. In the second two, it was, for these were mostly works of someone else's copyright. For several years, the site's lead Administrator, dem bones, resisted addressing this, with the only stated action that if a copyright owner contacted E2 about abuse, the specific material would be removed. It was only after established fiction editor and author Lucy-S's continued pursuit against plagiarized works and abuse of copyrighted materials that, in 2003, E2 began self-policing against this and found a way to incorporate copyrighted works under Fair Use.

    E2, as a community and a writing site, began to take itself seriously. It added guidelines for what was acceptable here.

    E2 is a site for writing and reading at the moment. We write, we read, and we chat about it in a wee little chatbox. In order for E2 to thrive, it needs fresh and continuing content. The owners believe that this will happen if features such as Multimedia Content, Registries, writeup comments and writeup 'tagging' are implemented. These features add a complexity to E2 that makes it more than a glorified forum with a killer-app and into a site with enough bells and whistles that it considers itself a Product rather than a Place.

    It's very easy to use metaphors to describe E2. What is E2 actually? If one reads "The E2 Backstory" one would find that E2 is a failed attempt to recreate the success of slashdot via a user-generated database acting like an encyclopedia. The users generated not just encyclopedia-like content, but also creative content and plagiarized content. Despite the site and its Engine not reaching slashdot's success, the owners of E2 kept the site running, completely relying on volunteers for all aspects.

    We're a failure. We're surviving on people's spare time.

    And still we keep writing, reading, chatting.

    And the owners and developers keep wondering how to transform E2 into a media-rich, widely used product.

    The draft version of E2's Terms of services points directly at this attempt, while placing limitations on user's creativity:

  • It is promising a set of tools directly referencing the new features ("Description of Services").
  • It gives no information that the provider of these services is Blockstackers Intergalactic (BSI) or MSU, which shows that E2 and its current content is itself the provider.
  • It introduces "Acceptable Use Guidelines", which allow it to remove any content it deems detrimental to potential advertisers (for example, I have written nodes which describe ways to shoplift, damage cars, and mail drugs; all these writeups would violate the guidelines); and keeps Members from being anonymous or pseudonomous (see the first point 3 in the use guidelines as well as point 1 under "Discretionary Use"), as well as collaborative (second point 7 in guidelines).
  • It now indicates it can terminate or inhibit a Member for any reason ("Discretionary use").
  • It becomes a licensed owner of all of our content whether existing now or no longer existing, to use however it would like ("Proprietary Content Rights") and also prohibits us from promoting any content besides our own anywhere else (last paragraph of this section); it says it can sell our email addresses ("including your identity and information about you, e.g. contact information, demographics, etc.").
  • It does not promise to not remove the site tomorrow ("General Storage Practices").
  • It appears cut-and-pasted from enough other ToS as to barely avoid breach of copyright.
  • These terms of services, as drafted, change E2 from a metaphor, a community, an amorphous experiment, into a Product. It changes our (noders) default ownership of our expressions into a potential ownership by E2. It limits our ways of expressing ourselves, especially if done anonymously. I don't really like what it portends; I liked how I was able to use this database creatively, and forge friendships with other users without any fine print, just common sense and a bit of inspiration.

    Compare this:

    "Locking of a user account should be permanent, and automatically queue all of their writeups for deletion which have been posted under a closed-license. Their open-licensed work should be moved to the everyone account. This is a necessary evil required by our Terms of Service (currently in last stages of draft), which is itself a necessary evil required by our offering of multimedia content. Such is life." -- from the last point of "Locks and Forbiddance" in Everything2 Fall 2007 Feature Set Developmental Specification.

    to this:

    "We're an open forum, but we have content standards - writing well and following the site's guidelines are key to becoming a successful contributor." -welcome email to new registered user.

    Necessary evils within necessary evils or open forum with standards? I like the second choice more.

    Let me try to make this clear: in the first quote above, dann, the author of the feature specification, directly says that the only reason for Terms of Services is due to the potential development of Multimedia content. There is no guarantee that there will be Multimedia content. There is actually no need for the Terms of Service as drafted.

    However, if the evil is necessary, lets try to make it not evil... Instead of going for an encyclopediac-like and cut-and-pasted Terms of Service, let's try creative...

    The Proprietery Rights Content of the ToS is being hashed out elsewhere, here's my suggestion for the rest of it:

    Be cool. Everything2 reserves the right to kick you out. We will be cool and not rip you off.





    Multi-media Features Implementation


    As I've suggested before, just not too coherently, I think the new features would be best used in a separate site, with E2 integrated (via linking) for content support. Existing members can import their content in this new multi-media driven site under its more stringent Terms of Service. New members drawn to the new site, might find the original E2 to be a place to also be. E2 can continue to exist as a place for writers and readers, while this Extra E2 grows and thrives into a potentially successful Product for writers, readers, social networkers and multimedia artists and producers. This becomes a win for every current member: the fled/inactive contributor; the innovators; the socialites; the developers, and E2's original creators. It respects the current content, while tempting its authors to a greener pasture. It springs forward from a survival story into a new volume.

    Update, 22 Jan 2008 In light of clampe's answers and history below, I've adjusted my summary, and propose the following rewrite of the Terms of Service (with additions regarding Proprietary Use to be added):

    Be cool. Everything2 reserves the right to kick you out. We will be cool and not rip you off. To report any abuse please contact us via email at e2abuse@everything2.com, and by post to: Everything2 Copyright Agent/3115 Broad St./Dexter, MI 48130 /United States of America

    Anything else that is necessary to add?

    Also, the fact that clampe continues to tell it to me/us straight, with no quibbles, no dithering, just a reiteration of what is what and how it came to this, makes me want to ask him for a big old hug, too.

    Update, 10 March 2008 After a lot of dithering, the powers that be have removed the Draft TOS from normal view (you can still read it if you look at the page's source) because they 'got a lot of grief'. As I understand it, new drafts have been mooted, but Jack and Dann are staying silent as to progressing it. Which, sadly, is not surprising. One step forward, several giant leaps back.

    Update, 20 November 2008 Before quitting as Editor-in-Chief, Jack admitted in the Everything forums that he and dann lied to all of us: they weren't working on the ToS or exploring solutions, but instead gave up on it very quickly with the explanation that they were too scared to run it by a lawyer. Oh well, at least it was owned up to.

    OK, I want to answer gnarl's questions and comments here, because he summarizes some of the misconceptions and issues that have surrounded this process. I'm just going to answer this from a large-scale view, since I think some of the specific points raised are covered in Draft Everything2 Terms of Service response. I would reiterate that the terms of service are a working draft.

    His summary of the process:

    "The only reason for having Terms of Services for this site is because the owners (presumably) would like the new features listed here to be implemented, and turn E2 into a media rich product."

    Nope. The Terms of Service are a noder-generated deal. Here's the whole history of it. Some evil noder (no, not you, another evil noder) posted something that belonged to someone else not on the site. That person wrote us a letter asking us to remove it, which Jack took care of right away. However, this good copyright holder had several unkind words to say about how hard it was to find an address on the site where such concerns could be addressed. Consequently, we thought a clear DMCA process was called for.

    Other noders were reflecting on conflict they've had amongst the ever-tranquil participants on this site. Being called a "douche" seems like a violation of the "be cool" injunction that has served as our organizing principal to this point, but to whom, and what are the right and responsibilities of the noders? Really, the e2gods and the Content Editors only have tradition on their side, with nothing protecting them, or the people they edit.

    There's no way I can be more clear about this: the "owners" of E2 did not initiate this Terms of Service process. We have *no* goals other than making sure you have fun and feel like your shit is covered. The idea of us envisioning this site as a "product" is well outside anything we've considered. Dann has done a good job explaining the roles of BSI and MSU. BSI is the legal owner, with a contract for provision with Michigan State University. I'm not an employee of BSI, nor is Jack or dann. Nate and kurt are principals in BSI, and kurt also has an appointment at MSU. We're all super-cool with adopting whatever terms of service the user community decides on. If we wanted to take E2 and make a "product" out of it, it would be much, much easier to start from scratch and code the whole thing in a different language. I have to confess, thinking of E2 as a saleable product made me squirt a little milk out of my nose.

    So I think it's up to the userbase what you want to do. As I said above, "we" are willing to go along with whatever "you" want. We're fine keeping the status quo (with the addition of the DMCA process since we are trying to protect other writers' content) or adopt whatever conditions you want. I wouldn't blame the e2gods and Content Editors, including dann and Jack for resigning if you don't offer them protections that would be in a Terms of Service, but I think that's up for the userbase to decide.

    Let me address the site changes really quickly as well. We've thought about the idea of starting "E3" or something similar and forking, but there are several problems with that. It's still possible of course, and if we make a major enough change to the codebase (like port it all to php) we'd likely try it. It's not a huge priority for me to do that however, since I think *this* site can handle some change. It's not a matter of failing. We have a large audience, and people are still writing and reading. I miss people who have left, but turnover is natural. The problem becomes we're not attracting many new members. The numbers show we're not very sticky for new members, and some things may help fix that. What's wrong with trying to attract new voices to the nodegel? Some changes probably won't happen. Video doesn't really seem like it's needed. Some will, and some have been. kthejoker and Oolong have been quietly making many improvements. I asked the content editors for the 5 things we could fix in the next couple of month, and the list was pretty consistent. 1) Stop the freaking 500 errors 2) make direct messaging (i.e. catbox) less of a clusterfuck 3) semantic URL's so we can cross-link E2 more easily with other sites 4) get a solid WYSIWIG editor in place and 5) bring back the nightly email. I'd still like to see pictures on the site, or more capacity for external links, but this is something we can user test and see how it goes. As I've said many times, if a new features sucks balls we can remove it again.

    Let me say one more time: everyone is committed to the writers on E2 maintaining sole and un-molested rights to their content. Everyone is committed to the writers on E2 maintaining sole and un-molested rights to their content. I would have hoped that our 10-years of commitment to that principle, even in the face of changes other sites have made in opposition to that trend, would buy us some slack, but hopefully this clears some of it up.

    Now, pardon me whilst I go steal lollies from babies, check in on my slave camps of grannies knitting socks, and take my evening bath in the tears of a unicorn.

    Clampe, thanks for clearing things up on the reasons behind this move. Knowing why something has been started makes it much easier to have a stab at what might really be needed.

    My suggestion would be:
    • Keep with the "be cool". It's flexible, and all inclusive.

    • Have a non-legally binding set of community guidelines to make it clear to noders what is and isn't acceptable, but recognise that however much you pin them down they will never be applied consistently to different people. Even if you try to list every single possible good and bad case, it's still going to be open to interpretation, just like the law.

    • Put links on the top or bottom of every page to

      • a contact page which includes abuse@

      • a copyright page which includes DMCA contact information, noders' rights (maybe something like the suggested for writeups, in Draft Everything2 Terms of Service response and a derivative-permitting CC type licence for code), and E2's own copyright in the bits you want to protect

    • as for indemnity...what can you ensure? Would this be enough to run past official lawyers?

      E2 is presented as is, {edited to add} for entertainment only, and does not constitute advice to you.{end edit} No responsibility can be accepted by the owners or administrators for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any inaccuracy, error, or interaction within this site or in connection with use of this web site.


    Simple, and open seems far more useful and far safer than not-entirely-perfect legalese.

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