A perfect sea urchin

The Cyberculture Corner

Welcome to where I air my wrong headed views on cyberculture and the internet. I always have a lot to say and no one tells me to shut up. To return to the regular blog page, just click here.

I haven't Done it Yet

I'm not sure why I haven't gone out there to peddle web site creation? I got side tracked with Second Life. I don't want to get rejected. Those are two good enough reasons.

Actually while I was doing nothing, I did a lot of thinking. First, The Web Leagues went down late Friday night/early Saturday morning. When they came back up again, they had Wednesday night's pages. That meant they aren't backing up regularly and boy does it show. It's like having a hem of dirty slip showing. That The Web Leagues could die due to a lackluster but cheap provider was something that neither Haldis nor I ever considered, but as individual web pages become less common, the infrasturcture that supports them quietly deteriorates. Welcome to world of marginalization. Blech...

I also learned that Little Dragon Castle (Sorry no link for obvious reasons. Please read on.) is on the way out, for real, not just circling the drain, but pretty much dead. I'm not sorry. I still remember how Thadea got konked on her metaphorical ass when slamming their screen door on the way out. At the time, I showed my shrink her departure letter and he said: "You must be very angry." I said I was and with good reason.

It all started with a joke published to the team mailing list. It was meant to be harmless, but it was hypocritical in the worst way. Like many competitions, Little Dragon Castle prided itself on being "child friendly." I used to rant on this blog about how difficult this was. Actually, being friendly to older minors and not eight year olds is kind of a no-brainer, and that was our under eighteen audience thanks to COPPA. This was the summer of 2002. Yes, it was that long ago, but the story is still relevant.

Now back to what happened. The competition leader posted a joke on the competition-wide mailing list. It was a picture of a woman with too much breast and too little shirt. She was popping out of her clothes. Everyone laughed. Thadea winced and so did I. Then Thadea complained. She said that if we were going to be friendly to children, that meant teenage girls. Girls who were going through puberty were sensitive about their bodies, both the flat chested girls the precociously developing ones. Seeing a joke like this created a classicly hostile environment. The co-leader of the competition told Thadea she was being too politically correct. She had endured exactly this brand of "humor" in high school. Any way, young girls today were "too sensitive." The leader was hurt. He said maybe he shouldn't tell jokes any more. Thadea agreed and said he should refrain from humor if he could not keep it in reasonable taste. Thadea further answered that hearing such jokes from one's close friends was one thing, but when a kid hears such "humor" from strange adults, she loses respect for their maturity and it just plain hurts. Thadea lost the argument, kept the moral high ground, and left the competition in the most destructive way possible. Now Little Dragon Castle is gone, and neither Thadea nor I have one regret.

By the way at the time both Thadea and I thought that if the leaders at Little Dragon Castle wanted to run a clean, well lighted, space for the over eighteen crowd, that would be just fine. Kids don't have to fit in everywhere, but if you want kids, or the general public, you need to set a clean example and create a friendly environment. Friendly is part of "child friendly" or more particularly "adolescent friendly."

This month, I also learned why all my RSS applications went clunk on Facebook. Facebook changed its development language from FBML to I-Frames. Most I-Frames do not work on profiles. Say that ten times fast. That means to have RSS feeds in Facebook you need a page. It's doable. Most people won't do it. Some application developers are more equal than others. Some ideas are easier to express on Facebook than others. The corporation is in control. The trick is voting with your feet. I'm on Facebook a lot less now than I was a couple of months ago. A lot of things have soured me about it. To grow with your feet, you need a spine first. Now I have to go back to do RSS research. This hurts, but I can't warm up to Google Reader.

Meanwhile, page owners should not be so sanguine. They can no longer make i-Fame applications their default landing spot for fans. Facebook forces fans quite literally to the wall. It's time to kick Facebook to the curb, as one should kick all bad software. Some freeware is good and some....

Eileen H. Kramer -- November 24, 2011

Do I want to Do This?

I want to do it for ZOID. I am not sure I want Haldis to do it for the Webleagues. It would be good if there were more than one person involved, but I'm not going to herd cats. I'm going to try it and then ask others to pitch in. The idea is simple. I'm going to offer web site and graphic lessons and ask in return that a person participate in the community and invite others, all on the honor system. I'm going to pitch digital democracy, the prevention of a digital divide etc... I'll be telling the absolute truth.

As long as people still have computers, they can be prosumers. If everything migrates to Facebook and/or mobile devices, that skill disappears. I realize that the culture that supported DIY web site builders, has gone, but the builders may still be around. I need to find my way back to Multiply and make peace there since a lot of those folks have fled to that bastion, if it is still in business. An Invisionfree.com or Zetabaords board or several boards will have to be part of the community for the builders. We are going to need a graphics exchange. Cut and paste cheering is dead because there is too much work to do, and only so many to do it. I only need three or four individuals. Think of a snow ball. This will be a time investment, not a money investment. I all ready have the space for the comp. Haldis does too.

The message this time won't be "fighting and fun. Put up and shut up." This time it will be: "We are buiding community and democracy on the net. We run the show, except when we pay the bills, and we take control. Prosumers defend freedom. Take back the net!"

I guess I start my two pronged strategy in the next few days. It is going to ultimately mean fully outing Haldis. I'm also going to find out who is out there in the way of web competitions. I'm going to see if I can spill the benefits around. In an ideal world, or a world rebuilt to my specifications, there are a variety of competitions for a variety of ideologies, though not age groups. The boards are where competitors and builders meet. There are rewards for craft, creating a style sheet, low bandwdith sites, donations to graphic exchange, tabling, i-frames, etc... Also rewards for good practice, having your music load in the off position, Bobby compatibility etc...

I can dream. I should dream. Without vision the people perish, as it says in the Bible. I wish I knew the chapter and verse, but at least I have vision.

Eileen H. Kramer with help from Haldis K. Guerrin -- November 8, 2011

It's Not Getting any Better

I'm sorry this section of the blog has turned into one long lamentation, but so it is. the Web Leagues is dying. No, it's not dead yet. Haldis' team is back to eight sites and six fighters, three of whom self-vote. One of the nonself voters is the competition's creator. So it goes. Another is a former powerhouse who begged out for two weeks due to "carpal tunnel syndrome." Now that the two weeks has stretched into six weeks, this is a bullshit excuse. It does not take much keyboarding to self-vote and do nothing else. It is possible to reduce involvement without walking away. It is possible to ask a friend or family member to respond to a team leader's inquiries if one really can't type email. You get the idea. Any way, Haldis put the "injured fighter" back in. Neither of us mind ghost sites, especially good looking well maintained ghosts.

As the Web Leagues dies a slow death, distortions creep in. Haldis' team has three sites by one fighter. The problem with this is that the sites can fight each other as they did in the competition's top nonvote exchange round last week. That meant this fighter was unopposed, but no one bothered to put the fighter on hold. This week, the same fighter takes on the competition founder, also a member of my team and several others, but it's the site on my team that is fighting George's site. He won't win, and Haldis will lose a site to retirement, at least until late February of 2012, which right now feels an enternity away. That will bring the team down to seven sites.

Having only seven fighters, means that fighters at team level are unopposed. They are unopposed if Haldis has fewer than two of them since there are always two winners at team level, occasionally more if there is a tie. This is social promotion and it destroys any motivation to compete.

If Haldis has only one fighter at team level, it means that the next week, one of the quarter Final rounds goes missing a fighter. If enough teams field only one fighter at team level, it means quarter final rounds with two fighters only which means only one winner from that round for the semi finals, or it means quarter final rounds with only one fighter, that go on hold.

If the shortage of fighters works its way entirely up the line, the top round goes on hold for a week. Holds cause most fighters, and certainly most nonvote exchange fighters to disengage. Disengaged fighters walk away, sometimes with a bullshit excuse and sometimes with no excuse at all. Site fighting and having an open web site is no longer mormative. The cost of creating new fighters is prohibitive. That vote exchange, a very conservative culture that was somewhat hypocritical, and COPPA all kept site fighting from turning into a mass phenomenon is moot. These days it's external forces that are the real problem. There are simply no new fighters and not much motivation for existing fighters to stay.

The Web Leagues can take four courses of action to deal with this problem. First we can do nothing. This is the worst course of action because it means that the Web Leagues will die badly. We'll die when someone runs out of money (no site fight runs at a profit.), we end up too short staffed to run and have no staff replacement or the staff gets spread too thin, or when the staff have a conflict and one or more walk away. We will end suddenly and with no warning to fighters, creating more distrust and making it harder for the remaining competitions to survive.

The second course of action is a planned exit, and that is just what it sounds like. We make a decision (or rather the top staff makes a decision, not to renew the server space.). We set an ending date and several months in advance let the fighters who are not staff know. This lets everyone collect their graphics. In fact, we make sure that everyone gets graphics, finds other competitions, etc... We might even consider merging with another competition or downsizing.

That brings us to solution three: a series of stop gap measures for another year or two of competition. First, we need to be transparent about what is happening and get all the fighters who are the least bit active on one page. We get rid of all nonexistent sites. We don't do an activity purge. We want the maximum number of fighters to cure if they are inactive. We don't want to kick out any one who still has a decent web site. Then we tell fighters, if there is engagement the competition will continue. We need to make a decision by four or five weeks before the server rent is due. We publicize the number of actual votes cast in each round weekly. We encourage keeping up the competition by voting. This works to some extent. It has worked at ZOID.

In addition to encouraging engagement through transparency, we also probably need to downsize Webleagues and do something about both social promotion and fighters unopposed at upper levels. We may need to do a consensus among the fighters on the team and competition lists, but we could just downsize condensing the two quarter final rounds into one. This would go a long way to stopping social promotion at team levels.

The final solution, if you'll pardon the phrase, is to drop the cost of entry. This solution costs both time and/or money. It can start by talking to people we know who might be likely to build web sites. Neopotism helps here. We find them free space or cheap paid space, help them with html, and get them to load the sites and fight them. We will probably need to make more use of the Cheer Board, but that is doable. It will take a lot of time to nurture new fighters, but with five or six a year, we are doing a lot better than we are now.

If we really want to go all out on this solution, it will take money. We can become our own web space provider. At this point the solution should be global, and take in more than the BoomBoom-Amaranthine-George nexus of competitions and possibly more than those three or four plus ZOID. The initial investment would be less than $1000.00. That is not a lot of capital as these things go. It would then cost about $100-$200 a year to keep it going. If five or six of us chipped in, we could make a go of the initial investement. If we wanted to monetize or asked for donations periodically, the system could be affordable long term. We'd have not only web sites, but our own network of boards for communication since fighters will need to support each other.

This is what The Site Fights should have had. I was fool enough to launch ZOID with a mailing list discussion list, but a web board with some very structured conversation might work. Building a subculture on something other than vote exchange is important. I would limite vote exchange because vote exchange carried to excess produces abuses such as blind voting and creates a barrier to entry that keeps out individuals with full time jobs or school activities.

If we really go all out on creating new fighters we are also going to have to become fully public. It won't just be us and our friends. We are going to have to accomodate different cultures and points of view. I tried this with ZOID. To some extent it has worked. There is also a gender issue. Whenver Haldis or I have run site fighting teams or comps, we have become the refuge for the Y chromosome crowd. Being male friendly is a must. Being teen friendly is helpful. Streamlining COPPA or doing an end run around it would really be helfpul. 5013c status anybody? I can still dream, but do Haldis or I have the energy to fulfill those dreams. For a lamentation, this is ending on one very positive note.

Eileen H. Kramer with help from Haldis K. Guerrin -- November 7, 2011