Hey y'all. Got two things for ya.

Re: Site Changes and whatnot

I'd like to clear something up in regards to the new content types that're in the works.

There seems to be a lot of concern floating around that the future of E2 will have less of a focus on words and the various combinations of them and more on shiny media-related things. That isn't the plan - the purpose of us including image and audio and (to a lesser extent) video support is to a. make our pages look less like, as Clampe said, 1996 is calling and wants its shit back, and b. to add flavor to our writeups. E2 will still be a writer's site with a writer's site's standards, just with added flavor. E2 isn't the new YouTube, or the new Flickr, or the new Digg, so rest easy.

On a totally unrelated note:

New Content Editors

We've got some new blood in the CE's group; do your best to welcome Eien_Meru, TheLady, Karma Debt and Shaogo to their new positions, and feel free to use and abuse them to the same extent you would any other admin. Enjoy the new buttons, guys and gals.

That's the big stuff. Be sure to check the frontpage for incremental updates. Be good.

Appearances matter

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.

Technology and aesthetics change. We live in a multimedia world. In 1998 Everything was a state-of-the-art experimental web site and mod_perl was a cool novelty. Busy, comprehensive front pages short on graphics and packed with links were the norm in the 56K era because extra page loads were the devil and Javascript sucked (still does). The idea of a new look and new technology is at the very least interesting. Some people seem to be insisting on keeping the site state-of-the-art-in-1998. Let's see why that's not a viable choice anymore.

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:

  1. Continuity. We want people to still recognise it after it's changed.
  2. We want ease of use for visitors and participants, including staff.
  3. Guest User accounts for over 95% of traffic.
  4. 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.

Temporarily concluding

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.

Another E2 milestone for me. I love this place (it has, indeed, saved my sanity if not my life at one time or another).

I didn't think that my application for Content Editor was that polished, nor that the nodes I'd selected were particularly well-chosen, but I got the job.

It does make a lot of sense for me, though, because as I wander about the nodegel I often find typos, misspellings and other things committed by long-fled noders whose work is very good, but is ever so slightly tarnished by these errors. And I've oh-so-very-much wanted to do something about it.

And thanks to my job, I get to spend a lot of time on E2. In fact, sometimes when I'm sitting in a corner with some papers spread on a table and using my laptop, it a) convinces the staff that my job is tedious, demanding, and very important (ha!) and b) keeps drunks from the bar away from me because they think I'm in the middle of something important (which, actually, I am). So at the very least, E2 has rescued me from the occasional over-served patron who wants to give me a "high five" and go on and on about "dude, you've got the best place here! No, I really mean it, the best!" Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Yesterday I was trying really hard to put up a writeup and I kept getting server errors and the system seemed so slow. Then today I spotted an entirely new user interface and realized something had happened. Something that I initially found quite daunting; no, make that scary.

My first thought when I realized what was going on was "oh, good. Now when I press the Random Node button I can do something about a bit of the nodegel that perhaps could use a bit of improvement."

The most important thing I've taken to heart about my new appointment is that now I have a chance to do more; in fact a responsibility to do more for E2 than ever before. Overwhelmed is an understatement. I wanna take the nodegel and shake it like an apple tree; but that's the exuberance in me. Should I really do that, a few apples may hit me in the head. And my friends will testify, I have borderline symptoms of enough head trauma; I need no more.

Well, I'm going on and on. Suffice it to say that I am deeply honored and quite surprised. I hereby promise all of you that I will do the very best I can to make this a friendly, quality place (just like the one I found when I got here a year and a half ago). I encourage all to fill my inbox to overflowing with suggestions, comments and questions. This, after all, is a learning experience. And absent the wonderful ability to learn (the way humans in particular do), I might as well be a carrot. Scratch that; I'm fat. I'd be a big old turnip.

Thanks to LaggedyAnne who found a typo in this piece! Oh, the humanity!

Real Editor Editorial

When I was first invited to join the estimable ranks of the E2 Editors, I asked several people—what does an editor do around here, anyway? Several fine folks said something like this "...CE's are not really editors, they are more like administrators." It is an axiom I have heard several times in my time here.

Now that I have been a Content Editor for a few months (and I am no longer the newest kid on the CE block), I'll have to confess that the 'real editor' distinction confuses me a bit.

First a quick note about my background: during my 12 years (approximately, plus subsequent freelance work) in the wide world of print, I've done layout, copy editing, and loads of proofreading. I even did some ghostwriting. But, I have never worked for a major publisher, thus I don't really know how real editors work. I've had colleagues who have worked for nearly every major publication in this part of the country, but not one of those is exactly a flagship of the periodical or newspaper industry!

Most of my time here is spent reading—I proof, critique, and comment. That certainly sounds like what real editors do. I mean, I guess the guys at the New Yorker have professional proofreaders who do nothing else, so it could be argued that we CEs are just glorified proofreaders. The thing is, at most small publications the editors are the proofreaders. If the organization can not afford full-time proofers, the editors need exceptional proofreading skills. Even for big organizations, I think it would be a good idea for the editors to be good proofreaders—I see mistakes in major publications from time to time (it's always a little disturbing). I noticed a very common error in a paperback novel from a big name publisher just a few weeks ago!

An editor for the Wall Street Journal probably does more copyediting than we do around here, but the nature of E2 means we can't really change people's work. Still, there are plenty of times that we might gently (or not-so-gently) suggest a noder edit, clarify, expand, or otherwise clean up his or her own work. I'd say that's pretty similar, given the constraints.

Of course, we spend a lot of time working with new noders and encouraging the established talent. That could certainly be seen as an administrative function, but almost every real-world editor I've ever known (or known of) does quite a lot of that. The fact that we suggest ideas, encourage writers and acknowledge our talented staff by /msg (or email) rather than by phone hardly seems significant.

On a related note, real editors (at least at magazines and newspapers) spend a lot (in some cases a whole lot, apparently) of their time coming up with new ideas for articles, features, and that sort of thing. We do the same thing, quite often. When I was new, I found several of the editors were very good at offering advice on things I might enjoy writing about and groups I might want to join. I work to continue that tradition by suggestions to other noders, and I still get suggestions for my own work from other members. It seems to be one of the many wonderful things about this crazy place! This is also the point of quests, of course.

There seems to be the idea that editors, real ones, who work for real magazines and book publishers, are required to have a sort of specialized training. Most editors for the big boys are highly educated and literate, to be sure, but the fact is, there is not a lot of agreement as to what the title editor even entails, let alone what qualifications one should have. It would be nice to believe that all editors are highly qualified professionals, but looking around seems to indicate otherwise. In a few cases, the title is even honorary, "because no one knows what to call you," as a friend of mine (herself a former editor) said.

Many editors are writers, and of course that arrangement is echoed here at E2—many of the editors are specialists, some are very brilliant generalists, but all are picked out of the world of noders at large.

Of course, we CEs also get to participate in management decisions, to a certain extent. Of late, for example, we've been discussing (maybe debating is a better term) the upcoming addition of pictures and video to E2.

While, in that function, we are undeniably administrative, I don't think it is an unrealistic duty for an editor to have. Most of the editors I've worked with spent a lot of time doing sundry administrative tasks, some participated in layout changes, gave input on directions for the publication, and even made some of the decisions (sometimes, in really small organizations, the editors make all the decisions!)

On one final note: I am aware of one major difference between E2 editors and the big time. It seems that, in the last few years, several editors have been caught abetting malfeasance on the part of their writers (plagiarism on one hand, passing fabricated accounts as fact in another). In my experience, the editors around this place tend to pounce on anyone who plagiarizes or fabricates. It keeps us honest!

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