Part II · Part III

Hey, panamaus wrote a daylog! I bet it's another E2-referential love/hate thing. Oh crap.

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the day I created my account on Everything2. Although I have been almost entirely inactive as a noder and an editor for the past two years, recent technical changes that have taken place here have inspired me to return for a look around. I have also been traveling in New Zealand and Australia for the past two weeks visiting noders, talking with them about E2's past and speculating about its future. Heisenberg even insisted on interviewing me for the new E2 Podcast, and this more than anything got me back to thinking about E2 again, and wondering about where I fit into the future of the site. To observe my anniversary, I thought I would compose some of those thoughts to share with those of you who cared to read them. I promise they are not all bad.

The negative stuff (or "It's alright Ma, I'm only bleeding")

On my fourth anniversary as a noder, I posted an Editor Log that was somewhat controversial. It might still be here for you to read today had it not attracted way more enthusiastic attention than I was comfortable with. In it I outlined all the wonderful things about E2 that attracted me to the site back in 2001, and I expressed my dismay that virtually all of those things are gone. I confessed to a deep sense of guilt for participating in an organized effort to impose order on the chaos that reigned on E2 in its youth, and articulated my belief that E2 had lost its soul through the systematic and often aggressive methods that were used to actively raise the bar. Further, I maintained that the ever increasing baseline standards of comprehensiveness and quality for writeups created a passive level of intimidation that had a chilling effect on the quantity of new content and its once carefree, wild, even rebellious qualities. Finally, I explained the nature of a personality conflict that I had with another administrator who had treated me in what I felt to be an egregiously disrespectful and insulting manner, and that this was what had led me to resign from e2gods three months earlier.

I wrote a much more detailed series of paragraphs about the last part, but I've cut them out because all that's in the past, and it really doesn't matter anymore. To anyone except me, that is.

The neutral stuff (or "With God on our side")

Back when I fell in love with E2, it was the community of people who inhabited this place that won my heart. I wanted to help make the site better, and most everybody agreed that the best way to do this was to improve the quality of writeups. I never really thought that this would have unexpected negative consequences, but as the number of disgruntled users reached a critical mass early in 2003, Community2 was born. It was a wonderful concept, and would have been the perfect solution for E2's growing pains, were it not for a couple of problems. First, it was initially a closed project while coders worked on its development. This phase basically never ended, so only a handful of folks ever got to see or participate in it. Second, as people were invited in to test the system, C2 quickly turned into a refuge for ex-noders who had been banned from E2 or who had left because of negative interactions with staff. When I asked dann to create me an account so I could check it out, I found the "community" within to be little more than a vitriolic hatefest directed at Everything2 and everyone in it. Such hostility, coming not just from people with legitimate axes to grind but also a few individuals who'd done little on E2 besides rattling cages and pissing off as many people as possible, was nothing I wanted anything to do with. This was sad because I really respect dann and most of the people who volunteered countless hours of work on the code base.

I'm not sure what became of Community2. It has been gone from the web for quite a while.

The positive stuff (or "Don't look back in anger")

Trying to be positive about the future of E2 these days takes a lot of effort for me. If you thought the responses I gave to my E2 Podcast interview questions were a little "philosophical", well, I guess maybe I was trying to put an abstract smiley face on my mixed apathy and pessimism. I could go on at great length identifying and elaborating on everything I see wrong with Everything2, but I shan't bother. Bitching about E2 is such an old pastime that it has long since fallen out of fashion amongst most fled noders. I continue to maintain regular contact with at least a hundred of them as best I can manage, what with them scattered out around the globe. Godly egos aside, there is nothing wrong with E2 that could not be fixed with simple policy and personnel changes. What I would like to see most is for E2 to regain some if not much of the appeal it once held for many of us who have moved on. There are naturally several different ways I believe we could make that happen, and I'd like to explore a few of them here.

One of the things that I would hate to see occur at any point is to lose all of the hard work that so many people have done (including yours truly) to encourage quality writing on E2 and to attract writers who are seriously interested in submitting their work for review and feedback. This desire should immediately appear to you to be at odds with my wish for restoring E2's feral, anarchic historical appeal. That's because it is, completely. I believe in my heart of hearts that it is impossible to have it both ways, and if I were to suggest that this could be accomplished I'd be whistling out of my arse. Since E2 continues to struggle with the shackles of its past (all those "quirky" writeups that still haven't been deleted), the best way I can see to give everybody what they want is for a whole new web site to spin off from E2, just like E2 did from E1 back on November 13, 1999.

Community2 was ahead of its time in this regard. For the longest time many of us believed C2 to be the testing ground for code changes in E2, but so far it has all come to naught. It would have been ideal if the Quality clique of E2 could have "started over" on a new site with a fresh new code base and an empty database. That way, they could have had a pristine site to develop content and incubate writers without all the rabble rousers and pirates and ninjas kicking up a fuss. Why destroy a perfectly good playground to build an office complex when there was already an infinite amount of available real estate next door? That's basically been the mission of E2 since things got "serious" - to destroy the old in order to create the new, but why did this have to be? All it's really been spectacularly successful in doing is sowing bitter seeds.

If I could close my eyes and make a wish for E2 and everyone who has ever been a part of it, it would be this:

Somehow, in the most basic and easy way possible, I'd like to split E2 in two. Run two web sites from the same SQL database; duplicate all the content and run the sites as clones on different hardware; set the sites up independently with scripts that can port data between databases on demand - something, ANYTHING that will work with the minimum amount of hassle. Both sites have to be completely open to the public. Post a news document announcing an official E2 schism, with one site (preferably the new one) on the path to The New E2 and the other one turned over to everything and everyone that has come before. Everyone would have their accounts automatically duplicated on each site, and could choose to participate in one or the other, or both.

This would preserve the noble mission that E2 has been working and striving for all these years, and yet give E2 back to everyone who loved it as a playground, an experiment, a place for EVERYTHING. Deleted writeups could be resurrected. New nonsense could not only survive but thrive. Pirates and ninjas and trolls could sail the high seas of E2 just as they did years ago, and maybe - just maybe, the magic could happen all over again. All those fled noders are still out there in the ether, for the most part. Word spreads fast on the Internet - they'd come around just to see if it was true. We could have it all back again, and the "writer's site for writers" could continue to create itself in whatever image it wanted without any interference, resistance or resentment. How perfect is that?

They say if you can dream it, you can make it happen. But it's not up to me. It's up to you.

Make the dream real.

Some clarity, for those who may be inclined to take me too seriously and develop constipation: This is just a pipe dream. I don't actually expect this to happen and am highly doubtful that it would work even if it did. Web 2.0 has replaced much of what people used E2 for back in the wild west days. Giving it all back to the trolls, so to speak, would most likely result in a giant collective yawn. People leave E2 and move on with their lives - they don't sit around pining about the good old days. That's reserved pretty much for noder gatherings involving alcohol. Nostalgia has it's place, and I figured that place was the daylogs.

Ramblings on Quality and Mediocrity

Ah, the public. Sometimes I think Americans are kinda like sheep. They follow each other, nose of one to tail of the one in front, in a sort of inane pack mentality. They also behave in the most interesting, contradictory ways.


The old lady who said "I've seen this place for seven years but there've never been very many cars outside until lately. We came in 'cause we see the parking lot full every Saturday night."

Overheard in a supermarket: Woman: "Well, hon, I really think we ought to go there for brunch Sunday." Man: "But their food is terrible." Woman: "Well, I wanna go. And I think the food is just fine." Man: "We always end up waiting in line because they don't take reservations." Woman: "Well, that's what I mean; that's why I think we should go there. It's popular. It's where everyone we know goes."

There's a man who lives near me who drives a big, American gas-guzzler with a "Buy American" sticker on the bumper (provided by one union or another). He bought his daughter a Kia. I asked him the other day about the car and he told me he bought it because it had the lowest sticker price of any car on the market.

I'm even guilty. There are more parts made in the United States of America in my Toyota Camry than there were in the Mercury Sable I bought my dad a few years ago. Both cars were assembled right here in the good ole U. S. of A.

About Marketing:

What causes one frugal consumer to purchase store-brand frankfurters when the all-beef, Kosher ones are only $1.35 more?

Who on earth are the folks supporting the skyrocketing growth of the "Dollar Store" or the "99 Cent Store"? Don't they know that all the merchandise within is either stale or will break upon first use?

How many times have you seen a guy who owns a new Cadillac park it and get out, only to reveal that he's wearing a polyester sport coat, a no-iron shirt from Sears and a pair of ancient synthetic pants? Don't people see your clothes more often than your car?

About Success:

Sales Managers invariably require that their underlings' sales for any given year exceed the previous year's sales by a certain percentage.

One in five new restaurants survives its first year in business. The ones which succeed offer something different creative and satisfying in a comfortable, clean environment. Price has nothing to do with the ratio of failures, statistically.

In the bookstore, the works that languish on The New York Times bestseller list are displayed in a prime location of the store, at list price. The books that don't sell usually languish on tables in the foyer or near the entrance with gigantic, day-glo orange "50% Off" stickers attached to their dustjackets.

Show me a person who gets accepted to Yale and I'll show you someone who's done their homework. Correctly.

Show me a web community with a small, eccentric user base and no redeeming value whatsoever and I'll show you this. Or this. Now, you show me a web community with a growing, diverse, intellectual, creative user base and I'll show you this.

The last employee who told me what was wrong with my management style then took a lot of time and effort to write a three page letter explaining why he thought it was unreasonable, when a crayon-scribbled sign that says "I'm leaving" would've done fine, received from me the following advice: DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU IN THE ASS ON THE WAY OUT.

UPDATE 15 March 07: A noder sent me two /msgs about this daylog that ought to be shared here. The first opined that I "shouldn't criticize "99 cent stores" because there are poor people." This assumes that there aren't places to get more wholesome foodstuffs at a value price nor goods that are more durable and thus a better value. I disagree. Better to buy a broom which costs $5.00 and lasts for years than one for $1.99 and breaks apart after a few uses. The second /msg I received, from the same noder, proclaimed that the entire writeup was insensitive and the small-text ending in an unsavory exclamation was downright rude. I haven't yet received a response to my /msg to this noder asking why the writeup is insensitive, nor received an answer to what was so rude about telling off (admittedly, in a very brusque fashion) an employee who thought himself indispensable and had the gall, after 2 years' experience in the business, to tell me, after over 20 years' experience, and three successful ventures, how to run my business.

I will admit that occasionally my directness is mistaken for insensitivity on my part by some, and arrogance by others. I herewith invite noders to call me on this, by way of making me a better person.

Perhaps I could've shortened the writeup and the metaphorical criticism of the "pack" mentality of fled writers and vast amounts of contradictory, moody writing which come from the same people. Perhaps I could've omitted the small type, which was indeed sarcastic and off-color, with the simple sentence, 'If you're gonna take your ball and go home, don't waste your time and mine explaining why.' So there, I've said it.

Personally I have a fine time here, and enjoy criticism, enjoy working within the limitations of a set of rules, both written and unwritten, which are to be followed or failure results. E2 has taught me more about writing in one year than I've learned in the past 15 or more. And for that I'm in the debt of each and every other noder.

UPDATE 16 March 07: 1. Thanks to all who offered constructive criticism and support. 2. The most precious of the feeback from those who were offended just made my inbox, and again, I'd be doing a disservice to those who're fans of "fair and balanced reporting" not to share it here: "Directness would be simply telling people you think their wrong. This sort of mocking diatribe is just being...abbrasive (sic) at best. Hostility and honesty are not the same thing."

UPDATE 21 March 2007: This came from a noder whose own homenode admits that he/she contributes little (but whom has been here over 6 years): "Bush was accepted to Yale, yet, by all accounts, was not intellecturally accomplished. Many notable figures in a position of power could likewise make the claim that they attended a prestigious university, but fail to make the case that it was due to their academic prowess. Bestselling books are often driven more by both the continued advertising they are given simply by being on the list and heavily displayed, but also by their ability to appeal to the lowest common denominator, their tie-in with other books or movies, or being recommended by someone with dubious standards for quality literature. Many restaurants fail due to poor location more than anything." (shaogo interrupts: Yeah. Choosing the right location is one of the myriad criteria for being a competent and successful restaurateur. I know. I've been doing it for 25 years.) "The desire to see constant sales improvement is hollow. The demands for constant improvement imply that hard work on the part of sellers is the only reason someone buys something and the completely ignore the concept of diminishing returns. Ultimately your small text close (and later explanation) comes off as arrogant. It brings to mind the same "earn your bullshit" (and more specifically, the interpretation that led to people thinking that complete bullshit was ok, but only if you worked hard enough to become one of the elite few allowed the priveledge (sic)) that got E2 into some of these problems to begin with. Not knowing the situation I can't comment on it fully, but honestly, it seems more reasonable to be honest, polite, and willing to accept criticism."

"Not knowing the situation" boy, that says it all. I responded that I guess my attempt at dry humor backfired. I guess I failed to convey (to this reader at least) my utter impatience with the acrimony of the moment continuing on and on. Another lesson learned.

Who am I?
Why am I here?
Forget the questions someone get me another beer

From Meat Loaf's Everything Louder Than Everything Else.

Here we are again.

What is E2?

I guess it's because I'm an existentialist, even an eccentric eclectic existentialist, that I just don't understand what the problem is here. Why the nearly semi-annual pissing contest over what is, or is not, Everything? I just don't get it.

Everything is everything. It's a community, it's a directory, it's a place for prose and poetry, for history and current events, for sports and music reviews, for recording great literature from the past and leaving our own mark on the future.

It's everything, right?

People wanted the bar raised. It got raised and people were unhappy. Copyright issues were a problem and got dealt with properly, but not without a lot of bitching in the process. There was an issue about new people not being welcomed and we were encouraged, as individuals, to welcome the new people individually whenever possible. That seems to be working well, but it's not perfect. What in this life is?

What is the point in dividing what is already here? Why have two places when one is working just fine? And, it is fine, pissing and whinging contests aside. Everything is fine. It works. It's not perfect but that's because it is inhabited by people who are wonderously flawed and silly and serious and intelligent and insightful. Want a higher merit rating, write better. Want to play ninjas and cowboys? That's why we have the catbox. Love poetry? Write it; just know it will be downvoted. Love factuals? Write them. They will, most likely, also be downvoted. Just as in the real world, the more popular you are within Everything, the more votes you will receive. If you haven't noticed it by now, that is how human beings work. Piss people off, be an asshole, you'll be downvoted. Fair? Maybe not. That's life.

And, that's Everything.

When Everything, and it's successor, Everything2, started, it was a fresh new way of using the web, a foray into some of the mass-participation online media that would years later be deemed part of "web 2.0". It is, I think, no coincidence that it came out of another such experiment, Slashdot.

Everything2 was in retrospect ahead of it's time. I hadn't heard of Wikipedia or LiveJournal then (My user details were imported into E2 in May 1999, LiveJournal also began some time in 1999, and Wikipedia began on 15 January 2001)

Everything2 has since been squeezed between these two successful models: Wikipedia as the single central repository of facts, innumerable personal blogs for talking about yourself.

Everything2 was exuberant, funny, deep, trivial, parochial, insular and yet somehow at the same time reached out all around the world to people of wildly different world-views. And I owe it a lot. Some of you ask, in confusion, where the magic has gone. I see it everywhere. On LiveJournal. On a multitude of blogs via RSS. On digg, on flickr, on upcoming, on Wikipedia, on my first install of WordPress (I had it up and running in under a minute).

It's all around us now, this web of communication, this multi-modal community-building. Of course since all this is not new now, it doesn't feel the same. Sites where you can write your words, post your art, and view other people's output fairly clamour for attention now. The world is changing, and the rate of change is not slowing down. That moment of time when this one site had such a gravitational pull over a few users is, I think, impossible to replicate again in the same way.

Childhood living
is easy to do
The things you wanted
I bought them for you

Sometimes it seems to me that I’ve been noding about this person, this thing forever. When she/it was young they were so easy to please and I was so eager to do so. It seemed like everything that she/it did was greeted with an air of anticpation. I don't care if it was a dirty diaper from her or some long forgotten classic, they were both greeted like the jewels that they are.

And so I tried to contribute to both entities. For her it was just a matter of being there at all the right moments. Simple things, when added up and taken into context seldom remain simple for very long. For here, my earlier efforts mostly consisted of dry factuals. There was so little of me in them that they could've been written by just about anybody.

At the time, I thought that's what the both of them wanted and needed. After all, what child, and in a way, E2, doesn't need a caring and concerned parent to try and look after them and provide them with love they need to survive in this world?

But as we all know, love comes in many forms and wears many faces.

Graceless lady
you know who I am
You know I can't let you
slide through my hands

But now, the both of them are getting older. One, the little girl, is getting less confined and more and more self reliant and independent. She doesn't need dad to do many of things she was used to having him do. The other, this place, seems to meander about aimlessly between the debate of factual versus other forms of prose. Dry versus funny, fact versus fiction. Does it belong in a daylog? I won't even go into the whole poetry debate.

Neither of them should be considered lost though.

But just as with my kid, I keep coming back. I don't know, one obligation is born of the blood and the other just seems have grown inside it. While the warm embraces that once came so frequently have faded in number over the years, the ones that do come make up for their lack of volume by their sheer intensity.

Wild horses,
couldn't drag me away
Wild wild horses
couldn't drag me away

And so as I get ready to jointly celebrate my kids passage into her teens and what has become my six year visit here at E2, I kinda reflect back and know that I wouldn't be the same without either of them. One, the child, has made me an adult, the other, this website, has made me a child.

And that folks, is a pretty nice combination.

(All excerpts from the Rolling Stones fine tune called Wild Horses recorded way back in 1971 and released on the album Sticky Fingers)

90% of everything is crap

Every person approaches the Internet differently. There are a lot of nice "two types of people" dichotomies we can define using the Internet:

  • Readers vs. Writers
  • Anonymity vs. Celebrity
  • Social vs. Anti-Social
  • Technical vs. Creative

And so on.

Perhaps someone should ascertain what percentages of these types the Internet contains through a survey. I'm sure social data is already collected, but I don't see a lot of research on how people are with regards to the Internet specifically.

The one dichotomy that is probably the most relevant to the Internet of 2007 is permanent vs. disposable. In the age of YouTube, MySpace, and Google, what was once disposable has now become permanent. Nobody deletes any more; we just archive. And the museum of yesteryear is open 24 hours, neatly arranged and indexed for instant access and retrieval.

We are no longer in the business of forgetting.

At first glance, this seems promising. After all, how many untold treasures of prose, poetry, photo, audio, and video have been destroyed by the ceaseless crushing wave of history? Tens of thousands of libraries of Alexandria, dashed to bits and thrown asunder. And even moreso, the little joys of life, our personal bon mots, our histories, our stories can be preserved, too. Our place in the world has become a place on a hard drive.

But now the folly of this plan's simplicity has been laid bare by Sturgeon's Law: what if you throw a party, and everyone shows up?

The Internet has brought a lot of things to the forefront, but what it revels in most is its instantaneous nature. Breaking news, RSS alerts, fast recall, breakneck conversations with thousands of participants, the endless sea of blogs and websites clamoring for our eyeballs. To paraphrase Robert Frost, we are drinking truth from the biggest hydrant ever invented.

The technology to store is decidedly dumber than the technology to filter and search what is stored. As technology is an exponentially self-rewarding endeavor, we find ourselves falling further and further behind in our efforts to categorize and sort all of the information being generated and stored. The Internet's response has been to simply throw up its hands and hand over the keys of editorial discretion to the end user. "Ignore the things you hate! Tell us what you want to see! You're in control!" The path of least resistance reigns supreme.

But that's not how we roll.

Here at Everything2, we have made a conscious decision to put a particular public face on our website with regards to content of our writeups. Call it raising the bar, call it Node for the Ages, call it whatever you want. In one way, this decision has been a fairly evolved one - out of "I know it when I see it" has emerged several strong indicators of what is and isn't strong E2 writing and weak (and therefore unacceptable) E2 writing.

A consequence of this decision has been that many of the former writeups, primarily consisting of throwaway jokes, me-toos, opinionated executive summaries, and impossible to follow debates were deigned to disappear from the site into Node Heaven. In short, E2 decided it no longer wanted to resemble a forum - in the Internet or the social sense.

On a grander scale, E2 decided that it was still in the business of forgetting. Ephemera simply didn't have a seat at the table any more. It was relegated to the chatterbox where banter and personalities could emerge separate from the writing. This deliberate segregation of noder-as-author and noder-as-member was not exactly instantaneous, but it was abrupt enough to cause considerable consternation.

The addition of the Honor Roll compounded what panamaus deems as the "serious" E2, and since its inception, the quality of the average E2 writeups has risen dramatically, while the quantity has diminished just as dramatically (if not more so.) Simply put, it's been 7 years, and all of the cells that incorporated E2's body at its birth are dead. And yet it moves.

We have undergone so many makeovers, so many identity crises, so many "what E2 is" discussions, that to rehash them all would be personally ungratifying and logistically impossible (there's a 65,000 character limit on these things, you know.) But if I were to sum up the major "problem" with this website, in my eye, it would be this: false advertising.

In 2007, website domains are more often noted for their complete inscrutability - what is a "Google", a "Boing Boing", a "Digg"? - than their insightfulness. Domains that aren't complete gibberish are usually used instead as a direct form of sloganeering. And ours is a lie in every way. We acknowledge this in our FAQs ("what everything is not" sounds more like a koan than a point of order), in our aesthetics, in our power structure, in our core philosophy. And the lie is doubly compounded by the very nature of the "You are the Man of the Year" Internet that has sprung up around this website.

In the age of anything goes, a site called "everything2" has the highest standards.

I would, however, like to offer a light rebuttal to panamaus, or at the very least a counterpoint: one's contributions to this site do not have to be governed by merit, or reputation, or the bar. There are great writeups, there are good writeups, there are okay writeups, there are barely passable writeups, but they are writeups all. I could give you a few examples of writeups which barely pass muster, but I'm sure you've seen some for yourself. People who place pressure on themselves to write things on this site which will garner accolades and approval do so voluntarily. If I had one regret about the site, it would be the extent to which we do place value on these sorts of trappings. But they are nevertheless trappings most users choose to wear.

I look back on early E1 and E2 documents and marvel at how far we've come, how different the site is from its intentions, what a long strange trip it's been. I suspect in 7 years people will look back at this writeup and others like it with the same bemused detachment. But the honest truth is that we are a niche in the Internet, not the beginning and end of it. We have our community, and we know that not everyone will agree with our philosophy or fit in. That's our bed, and we have lain in it for quite some time. Because we're not looking for everybody, and we're not looking for everything.

We're looking for 10%.

I don't write daylogs very often because I figure if people want to read about my boring day-to-day activities, there's always Livejournal where they can be bored at their leisure.

But I'm tired of watching E2 bleed talented noders because they're afraid. And I don't think it's fair to blame the administration. Merit whoredom has just as much to do with the users than it does with the people who keep house around here. And maybe it's because I'm sort of a dinosaur and I don't really understand the merit system that I really just don't give a damn about it.

E2 isn't dead. Not yet anyway, but if people keep acting like there's a grim, cowled line of grey-robed judges waiting to cast all their works into perdition, E2's death will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

E2's not like that, not unless we make it that way. I left E2 for over a year once, mostly because real life got in the way, and when I came back, E2 was a little tougher and a little less laissez-faire. So I worked a little harder and stopped composing all my writeups in the little textbox that says to enter your writeup. I still never thought about whether or not something was worthy to be here. I'm a bad judge of my own work; part of the reason I come here is to get other people's opinions, even if I don't always like them.

To me, E2 is about writing. And I think writing is about taking risks. About trying new things, about pushing yourself just a little bit harder. Sometimes, most times, these things won't be brilliant. That's okay. Not everything has to be brilliant. But when I think of how many potentially spectacular writeups have been lost or may be lost because someone is afraid that they'll drop in merit, I want to tear out my hair and howl.

fuck merit whoredom.

fuck perfectionism.

fuck worrying, "Is it good enough?"




Write some more.

A gathering of long-absent dinosaurs who flock together as sheep (thanks shaogo).

I haven't written any form of day log since 2003 or thereabouts. I still have nothing of note to say beyond the fact that e2 will never be other than that which it was (and is), regardless of the evolution of policies and personal philosophies.

Numbers are irrelevant. I'm nigh 100% certain I used to be a few levels higher (or lower?) than I am at present, despite years of nearly complete inactivity. The logic of this isn't important; the policies governing the logic are even less important. e2 will forever be the place that taught me others value the written word as I do, that relative strangers can drive across countries (and get speeding tickets in both countries across which they traversed, mind you) to meet each other face to face, only to write notes to pass to one another in a fancy restaurant - writing is just that fabulous.

Show some love.

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