As I had rather vehemently, yet intrepidly, attempted to address the many proposed developments in dann's last newsletter, I think I should be the first person to thank her for finally updating us on what's been going on since last June.

And what has been going on?

  • Some gods gone, some new ones.
  • Promotion of the content Rescue Team, as well as a reiteration about the introduction of Creative Commons and Public Domain being added at some point.
  • A pointer to Draft terms of services.
  • An advertising campaign possibly happening.
  • Information that the reason for no new features is because, no, developers won't get paid, But the new features will still happen.
  • Some new servers.

  • Not much, then.

    I'm going to comment lengthily on the Draft Terms of Services, and briefly reiterate an idea about the New Multi-media Features Implementation. I have already written my concerns and questions regarding Public Licenses in my review of dann's last newsletter, and they still apply as they have not been answered. (I'd also like the rest of my questions about the new features answered).

    Draft Terms of Service

    Here's a summary of my ramblings below:

    The only reason for having Terms of Services for this site is because the owners (presumably) developers (dann, presumably) would like the new features listed here to be implemented, and turn E2 into a media rich product.

    Before my comments devolve into an exploration of the evolution of E2, I must say I appreciate that, finally, we have a document in which input is requested before it is implemented.

    One thing I've noticed for a while is that from the owners of e2 there is nothing set in stone. There is no promise from the site's hosts that the site will not disappear tomorrow. The only thing promised to us as registered users is that our email addresses won't be sold on. Once one registers as a user, you receive an email that also reminds us that the management has content standards:

    "We're an open forum, but we have content standards - writing well and following the site's guidelines are key to becoming a successful contributor. To help ease you in as smoothly as possible, we ask that you do a few things.

    Your first stop should be E2 Quick Start. It'll give you the rundown on the site basics: what to write, how to format and integrate your writeups, and how to use our on-site messaging system. For specific help, you can check out the many topics in the Everything FAQ. Five minutes there can make a world of difference.

    We're a site for readers as much as writers, so take your time to get to know us!"

    There you go, we're an open forum with content standards; a site for readers and writers, and BSI won't sell our email addresses on. That's it. That's the agreement.

    When E2 first geared up, it became a dumping ground for what was in people's heads: what they knew about stuff, what they thought about stuff, and insane ramblings. Since much of what they knew included popular culture, and the game of E2 included levelling up, a phenomenon known as Noding for Numbers began. For example, noders posted the Bible, Synopses of television epidoses, every Magic: the Gathering card, and the lyrics to their favourite songs.

    In the first two examples, this wasn't a long-term problem. In the second two, it was, for these were mostly works of someone else's copyright. For several years, the site's lead Administrator, dem bones, resisted addressing this, with the only stated action that if a copyright owner contacted E2 about abuse, the specific material would be removed. It was only after established fiction editor and author Lucy-S's continued pursuit against plagiarized works and abuse of copyrighted materials that, in 2003, E2 began self-policing against this and found a way to incorporate copyrighted works under Fair Use.

    E2, as a community and a writing site, began to take itself seriously. It added guidelines for what was acceptable here.

    E2 is a site for writing and reading at the moment. We write, we read, and we chat about it in a wee little chatbox. In order for E2 to thrive, it needs fresh and continuing content. The owners believe that this will happen if features such as Multimedia Content, Registries, writeup comments and writeup 'tagging' are implemented. These features add a complexity to E2 that makes it more than a glorified forum with a killer-app and into a site with enough bells and whistles that it considers itself a Product rather than a Place.

    It's very easy to use metaphors to describe E2. What is E2 actually? If one reads "The E2 Backstory" one would find that E2 is a failed attempt to recreate the success of slashdot via a user-generated database acting like an encyclopedia. The users generated not just encyclopedia-like content, but also creative content and plagiarized content. Despite the site and its Engine not reaching slashdot's success, the owners of E2 kept the site running, completely relying on volunteers for all aspects.

    We're a failure. We're surviving on people's spare time.

    And still we keep writing, reading, chatting.

    And the owners and developers keep wondering how to transform E2 into a media-rich, widely used product.

    The draft version of E2's Terms of services points directly at this attempt, while placing limitations on user's creativity:

  • It is promising a set of tools directly referencing the new features ("Description of Services").
  • It gives no information that the provider of these services is Blockstackers Intergalactic (BSI) or MSU, which shows that E2 and its current content is itself the provider.
  • It introduces "Acceptable Use Guidelines", which allow it to remove any content it deems detrimental to potential advertisers (for example, I have written nodes which describe ways to shoplift, damage cars, and mail drugs; all these writeups would violate the guidelines); and keeps Members from being anonymous or pseudonomous (see the first point 3 in the use guidelines as well as point 1 under "Discretionary Use"), as well as collaborative (second point 7 in guidelines).
  • It now indicates it can terminate or inhibit a Member for any reason ("Discretionary use").
  • It becomes a licensed owner of all of our content whether existing now or no longer existing, to use however it would like ("Proprietary Content Rights") and also prohibits us from promoting any content besides our own anywhere else (last paragraph of this section); it says it can sell our email addresses ("including your identity and information about you, e.g. contact information, demographics, etc.").
  • It does not promise to not remove the site tomorrow ("General Storage Practices").
  • It appears cut-and-pasted from enough other ToS as to barely avoid breach of copyright.
  • These terms of services, as drafted, change E2 from a metaphor, a community, an amorphous experiment, into a Product. It changes our (noders) default ownership of our expressions into a potential ownership by E2. It limits our ways of expressing ourselves, especially if done anonymously. I don't really like what it portends; I liked how I was able to use this database creatively, and forge friendships with other users without any fine print, just common sense and a bit of inspiration.

    Compare this:

    "Locking of a user account should be permanent, and automatically queue all of their writeups for deletion which have been posted under a closed-license. Their open-licensed work should be moved to the everyone account. This is a necessary evil required by our Terms of Service (currently in last stages of draft), which is itself a necessary evil required by our offering of multimedia content. Such is life." -- from the last point of "Locks and Forbiddance" in Everything2 Fall 2007 Feature Set Developmental Specification.

    to this:

    "We're an open forum, but we have content standards - writing well and following the site's guidelines are key to becoming a successful contributor." -welcome email to new registered user.

    Necessary evils within necessary evils or open forum with standards? I like the second choice more.

    Let me try to make this clear: in the first quote above, dann, the author of the feature specification, directly says that the only reason for Terms of Services is due to the potential development of Multimedia content. There is no guarantee that there will be Multimedia content. There is actually no need for the Terms of Service as drafted.

    However, if the evil is necessary, lets try to make it not evil... Instead of going for an encyclopediac-like and cut-and-pasted Terms of Service, let's try creative...

    The Proprietery Rights Content of the ToS is being hashed out elsewhere, here's my suggestion for the rest of it:

    Be cool. Everything2 reserves the right to kick you out. We will be cool and not rip you off.

    Multi-media Features Implementation

    As I've suggested before, just not too coherently, I think the new features would be best used in a separate site, with E2 integrated (via linking) for content support. Existing members can import their content in this new multi-media driven site under its more stringent Terms of Service. New members drawn to the new site, might find the original E2 to be a place to also be. E2 can continue to exist as a place for writers and readers, while this Extra E2 grows and thrives into a potentially successful Product for writers, readers, social networkers and multimedia artists and producers. This becomes a win for every current member: the fled/inactive contributor; the innovators; the socialites; the developers, and E2's original creators. It respects the current content, while tempting its authors to a greener pasture. It springs forward from a survival story into a new volume.

    Update, 22 Jan 2008 In light of clampe's answers and history below, I've adjusted my summary, and propose the following rewrite of the Terms of Service (with additions regarding Proprietary Use to be added):

    Be cool. Everything2 reserves the right to kick you out. We will be cool and not rip you off. To report any abuse please contact us via email at e2abuse@everything2.com, and by post to: Everything2 Copyright Agent/3115 Broad St./Dexter, MI 48130 /United States of America

    Anything else that is necessary to add?

    Also, the fact that clampe continues to tell it to me/us straight, with no quibbles, no dithering, just a reiteration of what is what and how it came to this, makes me want to ask him for a big old hug, too.

    Update, 10 March 2008 After a lot of dithering, the powers that be have removed the Draft TOS from normal view (you can still read it if you look at the page's source) because they 'got a lot of grief'. As I understand it, new drafts have been mooted, but Jack and Dann are staying silent as to progressing it. Which, sadly, is not surprising. One step forward, several giant leaps back.

    Update, 20 November 2008 Before quitting as Editor-in-Chief, Jack admitted in the Everything forums that he and dann lied to all of us: they weren't working on the ToS or exploring solutions, but instead gave up on it very quickly with the explanation that they were too scared to run it by a lawyer. Oh well, at least it was owned up to.