Once again it is cloudy but above freezing here in the American Midwest. It appears that North America is winning the Cold War seeing that everything from Heathrow to Tripoli is covered in snow while I can take the trash out in a t-shirt.
TRIGGER WARNING: HEATED ARGUMENT
Aerobe is a senior staffer and it's within her authority to invent and set up trials of novel features. The question that we must answer as E2 administrators is whether we can and whether we should go along with her proposal. Aerobe and I have both listened to (and sometimes argued with) members of the public, while at the same time other staffers were adding their input behind the scenes. We think that this suggestion can be made viable.
I can defend the idea behind trigger warnings, no problem. As a proof of concept it's socially responsible and inviting to certain members of the anonymous readership and to prospective members. I do have to question the usefulness and policy impact of the method used. As Aerobe explains, not being a code monkey the only available tool was categories. I can understand that argument but I cannot sustain it for the long term. It's a half-baked implementation riding on a half-baked system of content classification. We can do better.
First, lets get the absurd notion of censorship out of the way. There is no censorship involved. Even if you want to cry foul about involuntary tagging of content, as ill-advised as you may consider it it is still not censorship. A more valid complaint is the problem of where to draw the line if we are to categorise content in this way. This question has no easy answer.
What we do have is a suggestion that we accommodate a class of readers who have legitimate issues with certain types of content. PTSD, for those who have it, is not a joke. This class of readers is not the vanguard of the invading forces for the People's Republic of the Easily Offended (which I am sworn to defend E2 from to the last stroke of my keyboard). These are people who have a condition that makes them liable to undergo some individually varied but invariably negative experience as a result of trying to read certain pieces. Why should they feel the need to exclude themselves from our readership? What is the cost to us of enabling them to participate on a more engaging basis? Is it really that different from something like improving accessibility for the blind?
Let's think about who we are. E2 was not built by squares. It was built by people with all sorts of peculiarities, neuroses, quirks, psychoses, and, yes, PTSD, by people who add to the site by documenting their experiences with all the above. This is a community that plays drinking games with the DSM-IV at nodermeets (I have pictures). You may ask yourselves whether we really want to go out of our way to attract more people like ourselves. Well, guys, this is who we are, answer that question yourselves. This is not Literotica. We don't make a trade of publishing rape fantasies. Our war veterans are real. The bloodshed they witnessed is not imaginary. We are a real life site. We love our fiction and its writers but our greatest impact comes from real people and real experiences. Our readers are real people with real experiences and real issues.
An important point is that E2 has a very different scope compared to the site that typically uses trigger warnings. Blogs are personal; we have thousands of authors. Victim/survivor advocacy sites serve a specific audience; we're here for all comers, readers and writers alike. These blogs and message boards cited by Aerobe that support trigger warnings seem to contain a lot of sound and fury but unfortunately offer zilch in terms of code and protocol descriptions that we could use in order to coordinate with them. If there is a technical standard for trigger warnings, we will have to invent it because there is not a line out there that I would expect to read in an RFC.
I think that the main interactive relationship being examined is not the one between the reader and the site but the one between the author and the reader. This site's main mission as a consumer product is to facilitate relationships between authors and readers. I see nothing wrong with providing authors with a means of communicating to their readers that their work may affect them in a predictable, negative way, nor with giving the reader the choice to receive these anticipatory communiqués from writers.
In conclusion, I do not think that adding trigger warnings as a feature would compromise any of our principles. I recommend that we get on board with the idea but that the current experiment using categories be short-term, be maintained by a single user (already done) and offer authors an opt-out (also accepted). In the long term I believe that the only option compatible with the site's character is to leave this kind of content classification to the authors. The record suggests that the most effective and least confrontational policy is to give the authors control and ask nicely if they omit an expected warning. I will recommend that trigger warnings be made available to authors, possibly along with other means of content rating. I cannot promise that this will happen today or tomorrow since Jay and Co. are still working on key infrastructure components before work can resume on new features.
As you may have heard, while the proletariat toiled in the nodegel factories, the means of production on E2 changed hands. As much as it sounded like drama, there was not much drama and most of our talk about it was just us stalling while the necessary paperwork was set up and signed. Within 48 hours of the sale announcement several clear and viable options had emerged. Within a week the dust had more or less settled. Those involved gave either their tacit or express approval to a bid led by jaybonci. While the money was most definitely there and a number of us were and are interested in an ownership stake, we saw no reason to bid against each other so we let Jay put in his bid for sole ownership and will stand by to be taken on board when a bit more capital is desired.
I want everyone to know that both Jay and I are thinking bigger. Perhaps not quite $100 billion IPO big but a fair bit bigger than we've been able to as long as we were hobbled by an ownership that could not provide any more resources. E2 has potential not just as a commercial enterprise that can pay the bills but as an entity that can give its users much more for the same low cost—which will remain zip. I am favourably inclined toward the idea of adding premium features for a fee (think Livejournal back in the day) but that is not mine to decide.
None of this is meant to disparage what Blockstackers, Inc. did for the site. Whenever there was a crisis, it wasn't just us regulars in code and operations scrambling behind the scenes. Dann or I or OldMiner may have been the public face of the recovery but someone—sometimes Nate, sometimes Kurt or clampe and his students—put in a presence and delivered a solution. Unfortunately, though, we kept going from one stopgap solution and temporary accommodation to another as Nate and Co. ran out of time and money to invest in keeping an unprofitable site's nose out of the water. I truly appreciate that they decided to turn the site over to insiders for a very small fraction of what they invested over time.
We have no changes and that, this month, is probably news. Most of the BSI folks have been removed from the rolls but none of them were active staffers anyway. I submitted my pro forma resignation after the deal was sealed and was told to go nowhere so my crew and I will continue to operate the content and user side of things as before. With an active owner-coder I do find myself at the tip of a smaller personnel pyramid, divested of the site direction and coder supervision portfolios. It's a bit odd no longer being the go-to guy for bloody everything but I think I should just feel relieved and have another drink. On the other hand, being a beggar for punishment I filled the void by covering for DEB and grundoon as back-up head of the chanops/user relations department while they're unavailable.
Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. --Michael Palin