Why I Agreed to be Lead Developer

You were sick, but now you're well again, and there's work to do.
- Kilgore Trout, Timequake

I'm here, above all, because I care about writing, and I care about reading. George Orwell said it so well in Why I Write that this has been listed here as my official motto for years:

So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.

There's more to it, of course. I'm not just here for the reading and writing, I'm here because I've found that I often get on well with people who feel like that about writing, and about life - the kind of people who are attracted to this site, this delightful mess built on the idea of inviting all kinds of writing, about anything, and really appreciating it if it's written well.

So for a long time I've been one of the many people here on a sort of low-key mission to help people write well. I started e2science to encourage and enable people to write lucidly and engagingly about science. I accepted a role as a content editor mainly to get more tools to bring better writing to the fore. Finally as a coder, I have been working to break down some of the technical barriers that have kept people from writing as easily as they could. For my money the site is a lot easier to use, far better-looking and very much less intimidating now than it was a year ago. There's a lot of work to be done yet, though!

This is why I've volunteered to be Lead Developer, while alex (formerly known as Apatrix) takes up the reins at the head of Everything2. Because although I'm not any kind of a coding guru, I think I can see what needs doing here, and I can see a lot of how to do it, and I care about this place too much to see it going on being undone.

What I'll Be Developing

I'm hesitant to announce any Grand Plans, because we've seen way too many of those things come and go over the last few years. My top priority for the time being is to fix things that I consider to be clearly broken. That means sorting out various things about the user interface which make no sense, making it easier for readers to find things they're interested in, and changing the parts of the levelling and XP system which have proved counterproductive. If you're curious about some of the bigger changes we're looking at, check out the edev section of the Everything2 Forum - which incidentally I see as a major tool for helping things to get done by combining our thoughts and efforts. We really don't have a lot of coder-admins active on the site right now, but I'm optimistic about us being able to complete these projects, especially once we've got the development site online - which will be soon.

Once we've got a site which is free of major interaction design problems, I'll be happy to start thinking more seriously about more contentious changes - things which are not so central to the basic reasons for the site's existence. Maybe that'll be soon, but we'll have to see how long the core stuff takes.

On a less technical note, I think that another reason the site hasn't been flourishing the way it should* is that we're still trying to shake off the vestiges of a kind of Only The Best Is Good Enough culture, which stifled growth for a long time. People can't always get it right! Fail again! Fail better! There is no other way! If people feel daunted, even intimidated, by a perceived demand for quality, then this site cannot do much to help them to improve as writers, and we are failing in the thing that made us great in the first place. This is why we're retiring the Honor Roll as soon a possible, to replace it with something that rewards well-received writing without penalising less successful experiments. It's also part of the reason why we want to move away from 'nuking' unsuccessful submissions, instead marking writeups that haven't gone down well as drafts, for easy reworking if the author wants to - although there are various other reasons why that system would make far more sense, too.

I don't know if the technical fixes are all that's required, but I'm pretty sure they will help. For the rest... well, it's not hard to give good feedback, to politely suggest ways that things could be improved, and to make people feel welcome... is it?

* I should note here that reports of E2's imminent doom are not borne out by an actual graph of the site trajectory: writeup submission rates haven't particularly dropped off in the last two and a half years.