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.

This One Really Hurts

Haldis lost a fighter last month. Haldis loses fighters every now and again, and they are irreplaceable. That should hurt, but this one stung especially hard. Usually departing fighters lie. They have an operation, a family emergency, want to spend more time with family, which for some reason is utterly sacred etc... You try to get them back after a leave of absence and they have vanished. That is how fighters leave. Every one knows they lie. Everyone accepts it. It still is ugly.

What's worse though is when a fighter tells the truth. In this case, the recession got one of Haldis' best, Pecos Bill. I can forgive him for saying Thadea's web site had too many words. Pecos Bill is a sincere man with many interests. He's a never married, fifty something year old, handicapped man in Colorado Springs. He sings. He makes amateur web art. He is an avid sports fan. He is someone at whom Brainstormers would never look twice. The Art Leagues at the Webleagues has given Bill a place to shine and be respected. His church and Toastmasters may do some of that as well. Now they need to do more.

The recession got Pecos Bill. He lost his father, and could not find work, was denied disability (Were the economy better, he would not need disability. Someone would hire him.), and had to stop site fighting. Haldis has begged him back before. She did not have to flatter him. He was (and I'm sad to use the past tense) one of her most spirited fighters. Read that as one of her most engaged fighters.

This time there was no begging back. She wrote him privately, giving my phone number. Saying to call me if there was anything he needed. Yes, I'd put a check in the mail to Pecos Bill. It would be money I could afford. Site fighters know and love other site fighters. It's a bond that outsiders do not understand.

Pecos Bill did not respond. George, another fighter on Haldis' team, knows Pecos Bill personally. He said winters were rough in Colorado Springs. I know from NPR that the local government in Colorado Springs turned off the street lights and cut back on most services. Yes, Colorado Springs is a tough place in winter. It will be tough this spring and summer too.

A few days ago, Haldis heard from Pecos Bill. She reminded him he was not rostered, though still on the team mailing list. She lists him as retired rather than dropped by request. She said it was good to hear from him and that if there was anything he needed.

And yes, I'd sarifice Haldis for Pecos Bill. It was a no brainer. I agnoized over it for about a half hour a few weeks ago. Now the decision is behind me.

Then Sunday, Haldis heard from Pecos Bill again. This time he sent a Valentine's graphic. Because Bill has technically dropped out of the Webleagues (more than technically. We are both in a state of denial, and sometimes that is a good thing.), Haldis can't award him any spirit points, but the currency is worthless because there is nothing those points buy. There is another essay about how the Webleagues is well beyond the point of no return, but I'll write that next.

Haldis put the graphic in the the Team Gallery. It is about four rows down, and on the team's front page. And of course she thanked Bill for the graphic. I hope he finds work and has time to fight.

Unfortunately, there won't be much of a competition left when Pecos Bill comes back. Haldis and I both have rink side seats to see how a competition dies from within. What we see is not pretty. Before I go further let me state and let Haldis tell you that NO ONE AT THE WEBLEAGUES HAS MALIGN INTENTIONS, but there is a highway to a very hot and sulfurous place paved with intentions that are impecable. Here is how the Webleagues is dying.

A Flakey Provider: This is one neither Haldis nor I suspected, but Sara doesn't always pay her bills to her upstream provider. As a result, the Webleagues server has gone down a couple of times, once for a few days around Christmas and once for two days in January. This is way too much down time. Other times it has crashed and restored with backups that were close to a week old. Again, this is hardly sterling service.

Staff in Denial: Being in denial can be a good thing. As teams shrink, it lets us continue to carry on. On the other hand, denial can produce some very strange results. For example, the lack of fighters means scores, especially on the NVE side are lower. Spirit point awards that effect scores need to be in line with current numbers or they knock the hardest working fighter out of first place so hard, he or she can't make up the difference. The main job of an NVE is voting and asking his/her friends to vote. If working on a challenge the top brass has created wipes out that effort, something is fundamentally wrong. I'll get back to this, because it is wrong on so many levels it is not funny, and it is probably one of the most damaging practices at the Webleagues.

Meanwhile, BoomBoom has offered to move the competition to another server. This is a lot of work for a dying enterprise. He has said he would do it and then forgotten all about it. I don't think he wants to do it. I don't think he can stand up and say "no!" None of the top brass is prepared to set an end date, or do what it takes to fix things. Denial means mismanagement.

Ghost Fighters and Fighters Spread too Thin: These are both effects of denial. Haldis has never wanted to play cop so she has nonselfvoting fighters on her team. Some have excellent sites. Some said they'd only be gone for the week, and have really disappeared. She keeps them until they are really gone, as in their web sites vanish or their email bounces. She self votes them in the upper and team levels. Sometimes they do well enough. Sometimes they lose. They are not real fighters so offer only minimal competition. They are like filler candidates at a job interview.

Three of Haldis' fighters have multiple sites in competition, and one has three sites on Haldis' team plus one site retired and competing as "defending championship" in Site of the Year. This isn't a bad practice on its face, but the problem is that it spreads the site owner too thin. None of the sites is competed effectively, and owners stop playing to win. Many of those with multiple sites are staff members. Somehow this makes it even worse. When I fought at Site Fights I called this the "flaccid fairy" problem.

Corruption: LET ME STRESS, NO ONE AT THE WEBLEAGUES IS BEING DELIBERATELY DISHONEST, but sometimes corruption takes the form of abuse of power, and it can occur as a result of ordinary or noble intentions. In this case, a member of the top brass created a puzzle for which she awards fifteen (15) spirit points if you finish it. Fine.

The problem is that these points count at upper level when no other points accept those awarded for self-voting count. If a fighter cheers, donates graphics to a team while in upper levels etc... he or she gets no spirit points (extra points) added to his/her score. If he does the top brass member's puzzle he or she gets fifteen (15) points.

What really hurts is that NVE upper level fighters earn on average about five points a day and fight for four days. To overcome the advantage of completing the puzzle, a fighter would have to close to double his/her score. Statisically a fifteen (15) point bonus is multiple standard deviations above the mean score. In other words, it distorts things fiercely.

The puzzle makes the upper levels about pleasing a certain top brass staff member, and not voting. THIS IS NOT FAIR. And yes, altering the number of points for the puzzle or allowing spirit points from other sources or not adding the points to the score, but awarding them through the Spirit Point bank would fix this problem. This problem, however, is not going to get fixed.

Forgetting That Competitions are for the Public: Here is why: Not long ago, a top brass member sent a letter explaining her late scoring. She has a new job. She is frequently too tired. I had no sympathy and neither did Haldis. Our reason is that she's a site fighter. We all know what site fighters do, though Haldis and I try not to be as blatant about it.

My reaction as I read the letter was: "Maybe you should let someone else manage until you get used to your new job routine." Put another way, scoring is important. Scoring promptly is ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ANY STAFF MEMBER AT A WEB SITE COMPETITION DOES. Scoring provides feedback that keeps fighters engaged. When fighters disengage, they have one foot out the door. When fighters leave, we can no longer replace them without a lot of investment.

In other words, I don't care how tired you are. Adults go to work tired. Being on staff at a competition is work. Cari Cota, who was one of the best and under whom I worked at Thadea, asked team leaders to get back to fighters mail within twenty-four hours and to score promptly. She knew whereof she spoke. Sorry, you have to score, even if it costs you sleep. You have to get to a Kinkos if you don't have web access. Haldis and I have done just that with the Art Leagues.

Then we had the top brass member who lost her brother. She put the competition on hold for a week and took away our end of month break in January due to her bereavement. We were all supposed to understand and if this was a family or a small group, sure it would be OK. But this is a public competition! You don't get the right to tear up the schedule on which others depend to suit your personal life.

THE WEBLEAGUES IS NO LONGER SUITIBLE FOR NEW/VIRGIN SITE FIGHTERS. I've done the though exercise quite a few times in the past few weeks. I imagine myself a virgin site fighter with a web site on Tripod/Angelfire or some other free provider. I knock on the door. I get approved. Maybe my team manager scores me. I think the teams have a wonderful "retro" looking design by the way.

I make it to upper levels and.... Where is my score? I think: "This is easy. Fighters only earn five to six votes per day, and everyone can vote twice per day. If my friend and I vote and someone else is voting for me, I can win. Wow, this feels great, except I have to wait all week for my scores. Hmmm...my team leader didn't treat me like this."

I make it through the quarter finals. Now there are four of us, two from one team, one from another team, and me in the semi finals. I get two friends from work to vote for me. They think it's weird, but they are excited for me. They think I have a really good site. I explain about the double voting. I am ahead every day by all of two votes, when there are scores. Then someone in third place does the puzzle. Ooops. "How did he/she get so many points? Why did the puzzle count and my cheers not count? I wrote my own cheers, but they count the same as cut and paste? I'm working just as hard. Why don't I get rewarded too?"

At least the Webleagues doesn't practice elimination fighting, but a lot of what I am describing is reminiscent of the Defenders at the Site Fights in 1999. Are we really that far back in time?

Most of what I describe above is stuff that the Webleagues can fix. That along with a downsize could keep the competition going another year. It takes some honesty. It takes admitting there will be an end date, but then we can work to delay it, but first, pleaase, let's clean up our act.

Eileen H. Kramer and Haldis K. Guerrin -- February 17, 2012