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.

The End of Site Fighting

This is the essay I have not wanted to write, but it is time. Haldis knows it is time, and now I know as well. For those of you who don't know, you can still see some rather senescent site fighting at: The Site Fights, The Webleagues, and ZOID CITY Community and Community Competition. Basically, the concept is simple. Folks build web pages. Folks enter them. Then they ask other folks to vote for them. Since most personal web sites are not that fantastic, though they are much better than most social networking profiles, most of the voters are other competitors. Some competitors even work out vote swapping arrangements. You can even swap votes in bulk at vote exchange boards such as Cherokee's Open Door Vote Exchange Board. This is not corrupt. Only fighters understand other fighters.

Site fighting has always been somewhat icestuous. Site fighting's weakness (and vote exchange's weakness) is that it is a textbook example of the limits of networking. Site fighters tend to socialize mainly with other site fighters. If you don't know a site fighter, that's normal. If you know one site fighter, you probably know twenty of us. This is one of the reasons that site fighting is dying. It's hard to become part of an insular community, and insular communities don't welcome new blood or new ideas.

A lot of outside factors, and the site fighting establishment's (Including me since I admin, though I claim to have an excuse, which was a job hunt in 2005/2006) reaction to them made site fighting less and less relevant. Rampant vote exchange ramped up the cost of winning and kept out those who think they can "compete on quality." Site fighting always competed with real life, so some of our best fighters were middle school students who did not have the lure of paid employment or high powered extracurriculars as alternatives. COPPA effectively locked out the middle schoolers and destroyed site fighting's farm league. Spam made it harder for fighters to maintain consistent email addresses or send out reminder emails that would reach their supporters.

Then web 1.0 (which was and is quite social) began to dry up. There were fewer choices for guestbooks. E-card fraud made sending cards suspect. Also, social networking displaced personal web site creation. Why build a site of your own when all your friends are on Facebook or Myspace? If none of your friends build web sites you won't either.

Last but not least, Geocities, died last spring. Obtaining access to free space to put up that first web site is now much harder than it was three years ago. Without free web space as the on ramp, access of new comers to site fighting is nonexistent. Without a lot of imagination and committment, this is the end.

Both Haldis and I can see it in the numbers. L'Asie D'Haldis is doing excellently at the Webleagues. The site is the kind of thing I used to rail against when I first started site fighting. Haldis is what I used to call a "flaccid fairy." In other words, she's a fighting admin who makes little effort to fight beyond a daily self vote. The reason Haldis is doing so frightfully well is that she went up against a weak field. No one else was waging a credible campaign. Haldis also is a regular worker and so has some influence (not really social capital except by the Brainstorms definition.)

Haldis has all ready lost two fighters from her team this year. One she has lost due to illness. She's had health issues fora while and now is sidelined with both family and health issues. Her second fighter fought for a couple of months and is a retired champion. This is the second time this has happened in fairly quick succession and again it's due as much to a weak field as Haldis' own success. Haldis' team has a habit of more or less socially promoting fighters so they usually don't survive very long in the upper division and come crashing back down to the team which has a revolving door. Now it looks like Haldis may retire a third fighter.

This drops her team from eight to five fighters, and due to the competition structure at the Webleauges, teams need five to six fighters to be viable. What this means is that in a typical week, you have one fighter in each quarter final round, one to two fighters in Explore the Forests (the semi-final round), and two fighters at team level. No one fights unopposed. That is six fighters. Should one of those fighters enter the top round and hang in there for a while (The fighter has to last four weeks to be retired), you have either an empty quarter final round, no representation at the semi-finals, or worst of all, a fighter going unopposed at team level. If there are few enough quarter final round fighters, those fighters also fight unopposed since two fighters from these rounds move on to the semi-finals. Having only two fighters in a quarter final round also means unopposed fighting.

Unopposed fighting in a vote exchanging (serious campaign) situation is a kiss of death. Quite simply, with no one against whom to compete why bother. Fighters coast through on a kind of social promotion and then go up against someone who really knows the system and hit a brick wall. In a system where fighters are not eliminated (modern site fighting, though not the kind of fighting I was involved in back in 1999.) and where they see their scores, this may motivate them to improve, but it is a long time coming. It can still leave the fighter bewildered and unhappy, set up for a fall, etc... In elimination fighting, this coast and smash set up is a recipe for making new fighters miserable, and miserable fighters don't stay.

In a nonvote exchange set up, unopposed fighting still doesn't do much to educate. Nonvote exchange fighting exists to let tired types like me and others who can't get site fighting out of their blood keep their hand in. It offers no excitement for newcomers, but I don't think site fighting exists for newcomers any more.

And yes, things can get even worse. Thadea (Note, I site fight and admin under a number of personnae. Thadea is Haldis' aunt. I also run a competition under my own name. I have been site fighting since 1999.) was in in a competition that died and she watched her team become subviable fairly quickly. I couldn't help it. I was job hunting and could only care for the team. The energy for recruitment was just not there. I still regret that. For the longest time, Thadea had only two or three fighters on her team. I think a few other teams were nonviable. This of course meant a lot of empty space in upper level rounds. It made the competition look unattractive. Downward spirals are hard to stop. That, by the way is where the Webleagues are currently heading.

Lack of viable teams and viable competition is, not, what actually kills most competitions. Usually, the administrators crap out. Adminning is harder than fighting for most exfighters. I am a very weird exception to the rule. I prefer adminning any day of the week. I keep the balls in the air. I don't let them drop. I can turn teams around on a dime and put them to bed and not blink an eye.

Of course most would-be admins can't do this. Eventually, they plead "family" which means they get bored and dump the team. Soon other admins take over and end up running more than one team or upper level round. They end up over extended. Thadea and Haldis once merged two teams and ran them side by side and then pulled them together. Getting all the records which were nonexistent was the hardest part. Eventually the overextended admins give up, and the competition dies. Teams merge. Sometimes whole competitions merge.

Haldis sees some of this at the Webleagues. We are merging with two smaller, failed competitions. Haldis' friend George is an overextended admin. I know where this goes. I cried when Thadea's competition died. I sat in Jason's deli and wept and wept. I don't want to cry a second time.

Part of me also wishes someone would wake up and put the Webleagues out of its misery while there is still a competition to retire gracefully. Seeing competitions dwindle away hurts. If we can't grow, we are doomed. Better to end it when the next yearly payment for server rent or the domain name comes due. Make a planned exit. Give everybody time to spend their spirit points. Have an end of comp party, whatever. Go out gracefully and without tears.

Now, would I heed my own advice to the Webleagues brass? Not yet... but I have lost a site. A young man who joined ZOID while in high school has now graduated from college, studied abroad, and his site is gone. I searched to see if it moved. I will email him and see if he has another site. If he tells me he is not interested, I will be happy. If his email bounces, I will expect it. I have another unpleasant chore to do as well. I need to see which other of my competitors have disappeared. Unlike Haldis' team at the Webleagues or Thadea's erstwhile team at the Golden Elite, ZOID's exhibition/ballot page can downsize gracefully. It holds thirteen fighters now. It will still look full at ten or eleven. Four of those sites are fielded by one fighter, and I can field an extra site or two. I think though there comes a point where I'm going to have to draw the line. I know where it is too: three unique competitors with support, and six to eight sites. Once we reach that line, the competition is no longer viable and it will be time to close up shop.

The server payment for ZOID comes due in early June. I don't think I will be ready to close then. I am hoping there are still sites at the end of the clicks, even if they have moved. There are currently only two of us voting reliably each week. Somehow that doesn't bother me. We vote for sites other than our own. I see the support they get. ZOID was built to be scaleable and is scaleable in both directions.

If ZOID is above viable size, it stays. If the census crashes and burns, I have my first hard decision to make. The next round of hard decisions will come as I begin to eliminate chronically nonsupported and nonselfvoting sites. I'll take them down one cycle and see if their owner notices. If he/she doesn't, the site is gone. If ZOID becomes unviable, I'll set a close date. Most likely this will be around the end of May 2011. It's time to think to the future, even if it holds unhappiness.

Eileen H. Kramer/ZOIDRubashov with help from Thadea G. Myers and Haldis K. Guerrin -- 4/23/10

What Can Save Site Fighting

You know I have to write this companion piece. I am a site fighter after all, and site fighters believe there is always next week, a better competition, a better way to admin, and nothing is ever hopeless. In that spirit, I offer my cure. It boils down to two words: money and time, and probably also skill. It is possible to save site fighting. It would also take a lot of work.

Here is the plan: We need to build community. We can't just take in the odd web site builder. We need new blood to come in droves. The reason is that if you build a web site, you need to know you have an audience and that audience is.... other web site builders. That means we need to provide free no questions asked (no huge amount of skill required except a willingness to learn html) free web space. That means a teaching role. It means some emphasis on quality, but not too much judgementalism. Styles vary. It means that those building web sites do so as part of a community of other web site builders. Site fighting was supposed to be about community.

We need to do a lot of education. HTML is just the beginning. (Yes, I know you need CSS, frames, template....Save the argument because that's not my point.) We need to teach netiquette to avoid drama. We need to teach scam avoidance. We need to teach not being a bandwidth hog. We need to teach protection against spam. We need to teach how to use the web for quality and learning. We need to teach how to deal with those who have different ideas and how to find communities of interest. We do have to draw a line that keeps erotica and a totally G rated environment safely at the ends of the curve and as walled off areas with special rules.

We need to have a strong committment to intellectual freedom. Sites about politics, religion, South Park, etc... are all welcome. We need to teach about copyright and intellectual property.

A really successful community will not just exchange votes (I have no problem with limited vote exchange. Vote exchange boards are a bad idea but I'll save that for another post.) it will grow through social capital (real definition, NOT Brainstorms definition). Ordinary people will see site fighters as people who do things together and have fun together and are skilled and intresting folks. They will be able to see themselves in that role. Remember, personal web sites are owned creations, not borrowed space. The space may be free, but the site lives on a hard drive or flash drive and it can find a home anywhere, there is server space or it. It is portable unlike social networks that hold their members captive, and there are ways to make web sites interactive (guest books, boards, blogging software etc...)

So how would this all start? First we need the money and expertise to set up a community that can give out the web space. Then we need a core group of at least ten and no more than fifty individuals to act as the pioneer settlers. We'll need a web board or two. Spam is an issue so giving everyone a private area in the main web board may solve the problem of garbage. The fighting could run three weeks on with one week off or every other week. It should run year around since long breaks are about the worst thing you can do for most fighters. Site fighting is part of the social experience.

With luck the community reaches two to four hundred members and then it continues to grow. By now we will need plans to scale it up. Remember five thousand is the size of most Ivy League universities and small towns. The goal is 6,000 people before the community splits and forms other like communities. The goal would be and it is lofty to make site fighting a household word. The goal is that when people come in to work they discuss friends who are fighting or their own competition experiences. People talk about sites they support and the merits of one fighting/creation community over another.

Can it be done? It takes capital. It also takes influence. Are there ten to forty of us willing to set up such an enterprise? Will be be starting from scratch and rewriting a lot of the rules? Yes, we'll rewrite some of them? Will we handle COPPA? We're going to have to and that's just life or we are going to have to find a way to restrict only to fighters who are thirteen and older. It can be done, or at least it could be? Remember, I am a site fighter who believes nothing is impossible.

Korê in Limbo

I haven't written Kor&ecric; in New York in over a week. I've had trouble writing my way through a fairly sophisticated and very painful spousal kidnapping. I'm in over my head because I have never been a parent of a middle schooler in real life. I got some good legal advice on how the court proceeding would go so this makes for a good setting, but the court case is days away, and meanwhile, poor Minerva hangs in limbo. I'm not sure how Sammy will feel when he returns, and what about Kyril. I'll get back to writing. The story is not dead. I promise.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 4/21/10

In the Grand Style

I have apparently survived the activity purge at Walk the Walk. There are over a hundred of us survivors right now, which is fairly impressive. The length and persistence of this purge and the asking people to leave if they refuse to participate or have a low level of interest either invites folks to lie or just to boggle. I've raised my hand when asked. I am "in" for now, and you can ask: "what is the harm?"

The "harm" is that you can't make people participate on mailing lists, Facebook, etc.... without drama. The punitive tools aren't there. The carrots are meager and the sticks just mean a smaller group. If you want to maintain a very small group, by the way, activity purges are excellent for keeping your group small and select. Just keep the conversation cozy to insiders. Invite in the outsiders, and then purge them for inactivity when they can't find a way into the conversation. This is a bloodless way to kick people out. The one leaving actually thinks it's her fault.

That is NOT what is happening with Walk the Walk. There is a game here being played with drama and a desire to get everyone to make lots of noise. Of course given the way these things have gone in the past, especially for Haldis, that is never enough. Noise for fun stops being fun way too fast. There is another type of noise that is far louder and more impressive.

The question is when not if Walk the Walk will turn ugly. The group will undoubtedly look for a scapegoat. Someone will step into the role, perhaps trying to stop something harmful or ridiculous. I've all ready seen and silently sidestepped an invitation to join a family quarrel between a mother and daughter. It won't take much for something worse to come along. Freeloading relatives and friends who have overstayed their welcome, controversial glurge, prayer over something controversial, etc... can all turn from heated conversation to caustic drama. Then it's time to toss the scapegoat out on her ass with great fanfare and when it's done, after everyone has taken a breather, it's time to find scapegoat number two.

Sometimes to make it more fun, members will throw in a little extra manipulation including tales of how unhinged and miserable the group makes them. Perhaps they will complain of physical illness, and a suicde threat adds extra excitement to the mix.

With a group this large, the chance is that I am going to be able to indulge in the all-too-human impulse to watch the blood on the tracks which makes some rather pretty patterns. Chances are good, if I play the conformist, I can watch someone else suffer. I won't be able to save them without getting hurt on their behalf, so I won't be able to prevent this. I can leave. I probably should, but I don't have a good reason yet, or do I?

Eileen H. Kramer -- 4/21/10

Three Groups and a Short Fuse

Let's get it straight. No one has done anything to me...yet, well not anyone about whom I can safely blog. There is some self censorship. Anyway, I am a member of three groups on Facebook. The three groups are basically the only real reason I am on Facebook. One group has made me an admin. I did not ask for it. I am not the leader. I do a lot of day to day instigation. The group, which is RAOK has more than doubled in size since I started instigating, and has nearly zero drama.

The second group is LOTH. I have been stimulating, but LOTH is a closed group and nonmembers can't read the posts so it is opaque and more or less hidden. It has grown from thirteen to twenty-three members, has no drama, but... given the current leadership which has jerked the group around from one location to another (Sorry, that's what they did, and it's done so that's that.) there are limits on growth. I do what I can and am going to keep doing what I can.

The problem is what happens if the current leadership cracks down, tells me what I can and can't post, and basically throws their weight around in a way that does more harm than good? Hey, no good deed goes unpunished and I don't care if they kick me out for writing this. If the group is alive and thriving without me six months from now, more power to them. If the current leadership leaves me alone, I can live without gratitude, pats on the head, or even extra powers. I want to see there be a LOTH. I have my own motivations for that and you all know what they are: VENGANCE!

The third group is called Walk the Walk. Yes, I am naming names today. The leader thinks she can order members around. She has just conducted her first activity purge. People are sort of listening to her which I find a bit scarey. Activity purges are ugly. As a Facebook group leader you can't make people do things. If you try it just gets ugly. I don't care much for the leader's choice of videos or for all the touchy feelie stuff she requires. I avoid the videos. I participate on the board. If she wants a victim, I'm handy. Once again, no good deed goes unpunished. I am very glad I have this blog.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 4/16/10

Almost Ready to Go

Nothing much is here yet, but the proverbial test post.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 4/14/10