The times they are a-changin', they say. Actually, the times have changed and they have changed in many and big ways. E2 exists on a web that's very different from what it was in 1999. We all do. What is E2 today, being little different, on the technical level, from the time of its inception? It's a web site on which a certain type and number of people congregate and exchange ideas. It's a web site of significant appeal to the broader public, since the vast majority of its visitors are Guest Users, not account holders.
We no longer are even close to being a state of the art web site. We're burdened with a clunky, Victorian interface derived from Slashdot circa 1998. It doesn't look retro-cool like an art deco frieze. It just looks old and worn, like that floral couch that you'd dearly love to replace with a La-Z-Boy. If you're an editor it's even worse as buttons, links, and checkboxes pop up in places in which they're handy but were never meant to be. If you're an admin, it's the same mess squared. I have to scroll down a screen just to find my Epicenter.
We have to consider a number of things when contemplating changes to the site's appearance:
- Continuity. We want people to still recognise it after it's changed.
- We want ease of use for visitors and participants, including staff.
- Guest User accounts for over 95% of traffic.
- Guest User is not just the consuming public, it's also future contributors.
Everything2 dot commercial
We're creating a product. It's free to the consumer. This doesn't mean that we don't want to "sell" it. We think that we have something worth looking at and worth using. We would like to enhance the quality of that looking at and using part. The package is important because, well, we're giving the world a gift wrapped in (almost literally considering its provenance) yesterday's newspaper when a little effort will give us the opportunity to make it pretty and put a nice, festive bow on it. This, of course, will find people in opposition who believe that a plain, brown wrapper is sufficient. That would be fine if we had a plain brown wrapper. We don't. We have some sort of 1970s pastel candy stripes with polkadots and blue elephants saying Happy Birthday on one side and Kwanzaa on the other. I do hope that the designers come up with a nice, plain HTML 3.2 lookalike as an option. I won't count on it so I'll just get with it and enjoy the pretty. You should do the same.
We're creating a product. This means that we're often spending hours hunched over a computer because we have a poor sense of ergonomics and because we want to create and share something from our hearts and minds. We want to quit working harder than we need to on the logistics and technicalities of posting. I suspect that we're the last web site of our size and type to still be requiring that writers enter their own mark-up by hand. We want to be able to better determine the destiny and character of our work. The content licence option is something that I've wanted for years, as is the non-votable writeup. I'd also love to see anonymous posting, which is not part of the plan yet, in the future. You get more control over your work. The visitor gets to enjoy more of your work as you feel more comfortable posting it. Everyone is happy.
We're creating a product. This product will be advertised. Do I like advertising? Dear $DEITY, no. It's something that I will accept because E2 should retain,
if not increase its mindshare in order to get out of a stagnant present. Someone on the staff used to say (might still do) something to the
effect that we were well on our way to becoming a dozen good writers in a circle jerk. This may be good enough for that dozen writers but it's not good enough
for the management. There will be traffic. Some of it will stick around. Some of those who stay will change the site, as they always do. The standard of content
will change and we would like it to be less rigid. I'd like E2 to be more than a little ivory tower on the fringes of the known internet. In order for this to
happen, we must be more inclusive and that's part of the vision for the future.
More than text
Now, I admit I'm not sold on images, even less on audio, and least of all on video, but I understand their possible utility. There. I said "utility." I want to
see what images can do before dismissing them as fluff. I will probably rarely if ever listen to audio but will trust the public's feedback on audio nodes.
Multimedia do have arguments in their favour. You can't describe the Mona Lisa's smile or Banksy's art, which are sublime as visual pieces and only as
such. You can't describe a chord progression to the uninitiated or draw Rachmaninov's concertos in ASCII art. You
can? I'm impressed but unconvinced.
The bottom line is that nothing forces anyone to put anything other than pure, unadulterated text in their writeups. This will remain the mainstay. I also
think that the fear of being overwhelmed with junk is unwarranted, and even irrational. I think it was the.web.hermit who said it rightly in a day log that the noding public will weed out AV crap just like it weeds out the text junk. Doubters: you need to put more faith in your fellow noders,
if not in the staff.
Getting To Know Y'all
One of my favourite quotes, perhaps apocryphal or incorrectly attributed to Mohandas Gandhi, says that "I contradict myself because now I know better". I'm
guilty of the slaughter of perhaps thousands of GTKY nodes, some more innocent than others, during my tenure as one of the original Prophets of the Raised Bar.
That was 2001. I still believe that it was the right thing to do at the time. Times have changed. Today is not 2001 any more than it's
1998. The standard of content needs to return to a balance because it's currently too heavily weighted towards massive noding opera. We've ended up trying
to compose symphonies and trying to make other people do so by heaping scorn and downvotes on the "lesser" work. Y'know what? Sometimes what we could do with is a
few silly drinking songs. Like, fun.
The social aspect of the site has grown to become the most powerful force behind the continued existence of E2. When I started chanting the mantra "E2 is
people" to anyone who would listen and to some who wouldn't, I did not fully realise the extent of the truth in it. We want the people. Many of these people,
especially the old users that we'd like to hang on to, want the inside jokes and frivolity back. Our compromise is the sandbox of the registries, perhaps other
features that will be thought up in the future. I witnessed the progress and success of registries on C2 and saw that it was good. Let there be GTKY.
Let it be in its place. If the old kings of the one-liner like zot-fot-piq and Pseudo_Intellectual and like-minded users can agree to this compromise,
frivolity and GTKY might be the spice of the future and not a nuisance of the past. Having mentioned C2, I consider it a success in the way it explored and
enhanced the community aspect of a site like E2, not an abortive alternative or a poor relative.
We, the People
So, if E2 is people, what kind of people is it? What kind of people do we want? We want writers. We want artists. We want encyclopaedists. We want people who
can feel like they're welcome here. We want people who are happy just adding a few things here and there. We already have many people just like that. We want
more. I'm not happy with the retention of existing users or the rate at which we acquire new users. More users means more content. More users will mean more good
content because we already have proven that we have the ability to reject poor contributions.
We will not be overrun by some imaginary riff-raff, as some dissenters seem to think of them, coming from YouTube or DeviantArt. These sites, and others like
them, have their own audience and to suggest that people will move en masse to E2 from any site of the kind is rather absurd. C'mon now, the lonelygirl15 wannabes
will not be falling all over themselves to take over E2, though we will doubtlessly acquire a few more catbox divas, which is hardly a new phenomenon. We can
absorb them or they'll go away just like the others before them. It's not like we haven't had our own lonelygirl15s already.
We do have a significant overlap with that part of the web in the sense that our users use other social sites. I have an empty Deviantart account, several
Livejournal accounts that I never use, a Facebook account and a YouTube login that I can never seem to remember. I probably also have stale, unloved Myspace, Slashdot, and Xanga accounts whose passwords I've long forgotten. Most of us do. E2 is the hub of my presence on the net. Granted, I don't seriously use any of the aforementioned sites but many of us do. I believe the idea to offer noders the ability to involve these accounts is a good one. I believe that no site is an island. E2's traditionally insular attitude has served us and run its course. We ought to see what happens if we poke some holes in the wall and call them windows to the world.
There is a vision on E2, of E2. There always has been a vision, albeit a fuzzy, poorly focused one. This time I believe that we have the vision, the will to pursue it, and the resources to back it. I've disagreed with at least half as many proposed changes as I've agreed with, truth be told. I've argued for others that were rejected. But when the whistle sounds, I'll be on board and I'd like to see those who believe that E2 has a future, whether they're skeptical about the changes or applauding them, come along for the ride and see for themselves. We all know that the result may well look nothing like the vision because that's how visions work. Your presence will shape the vision and the future as much as mine will.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.