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.

Time Grows Shorter Than We Think

Haldis wrote the following letter and sent it for the second time this morning:

Dear Alice or Amaranthine,

Can either of you please edit the robots.txt file for the entire competition to permit Alexa and other crawlers to spider the site.

This will allow a copy of the Webleagues preserved in the Internet Archive so that five or six years from now someone can find us and we can all explain what we did. I know that all of us are proud of our work here, and this will enable it to live on should something happen to the competition or should it close.

If you are uncomfortable editing a robots.txt file, you can send me a copy and I'll edit it and send it back to you as an attachment, and you can upload it.

THIS MEANS A LOT TO ME. When I redesigned my team this summer, I wanted very much for there to be an archival copy of it somewhere for all the world to see. I think most of us want an archival copy of the other teams and upper level rounds as well. I think this is something we all want as well should the worst happen. This is easy to do and I'd be glad to do it, and none of us will regret it. PLEASE....let's make sure the Internet Archive can make a current copy of the competition.

Haldis K. Guerrin
Team Janitor
The Art Leagues at the Webleagues

The numbers do not lie. You can see for yourself. Haldis is fighting in this round. This is a quarter final vote exchanging round. Fighters here are supposed to have campaigns. Mark has been around forever. Haldis is more an administrator than a fighter. Nobody is voting.

The numbers do not lie. You can see for yourself. This is a semi-final nonvote exchange round. For Mom holds the lead with a handful of votes per day. She is somehow on her way to the finals of the nonvote exchanging side of the competition.

It's over. It's that simple. We need to downsize to survive a while longer. Reducing rounds or merging teams will help a bit. Perhaps the time has come to merge the vote exchange and nonvote exchange sides of the competition since there are very few fighters with traditional campaigns at the Webleagues any more. This will make for larger rounds as the teams themselves shrink. Haldis' round should not be running with only two fighters. Fighting unopposed is demoralizing to serious competitors. Whoops, there are no more serious competitors. When winning becomes either impossible or meaningless, it's over, and yes, I feel very sad. Haldis is also going to go down as the bearer of bad news. That letter above is only the beginning.

Eileen H. Kramer and Haldis K. Guerrin -- 9/22/10

The Death of Site fighting

You knew this post was coming some day. Here it is. It's over. It happened before Haldis or I could say: "Prepare for the end!" It was here last week. I was the only one voting at my own competition and Haldis' team at the Webleagues had only three active fighters. One was on hold due to a round being on hold. One is away. I think he is burnt out, and one got sick. That dropped us from six to three fighters. We had a seventh fighter, but she retired and did not want to return to competition, even though Amaranthine wanted to plump up the ranks by resurrecting the retired. That's good short term strategy, but neither of Haldis' retired fighters wanted to fight.

It's over because the barriers to entry are high. Free, no questions asked, outside the gift economy, ad-supported web space is scarce and of poor quality. Since Geocities closed it's doors, there is one provider left (There are others but it takes expertise to find them.) and it's based in Korea. Second, new web site builder's go it alone. Their friends are all inside nice, comfy social networks. Friends who don't have web sites are less likely to vote for a fighter. There are fewer fighters so waging a campaign is often too easy. It can then become hard unexpectedly, a kind of brick wall effect I first experienced when site fighting. Any new site fighter now not only has to explain his/her passion but also why he/she has a public web site. So much for democritization of the internet. Blogspot presents an interesting case. There is no reason blogs can't compete as fought sites. That they don't raises an interesting issue discussed below.

It's over because there aren't going to be any new fighters. Without new fighters, we dwindle and competition becomes uninteresting. This is the immediate cause of death. I can blame a lot of external factors for it. Social networks are irresistable competition. The demise of MSN groups and Homestead and later Geocities made it harder to maintain graphically intense public sites. Spam made it hard to send and receive the reminder lists that are part of a campaign and harder for competition staff to keep track of fighters. COPPA wiped out the thirteen and under site fighters who were a large percentage of the population. Vote exchange made the cost of success unbearably high and locked some fighters into a painful pattern that led to burn out. Most fighters who became administrators were not cut out for the job etc... Haldis and I are both big time exceptions to the rule.

But that's not where we really went wrong. Site Fighting is dying now because of decisions made twelve to fifteen years ago. They were bad decisions at the time, and there were fighters Sara, Cari Cota, dBad Wolf (I don't know his real name), and me, who became admins and tried to fix the damage. We failed for a variety of reasons. I just plain did not know enough about site fighting and meshed too poorly with the culture of some of the members. I was able to build a male friendly and more culturally diverse competition. ZOID, however never had the numeric size for the more complex and fairer mathematical scoring to take. Some reforms like competition wide chat email lists are now standard features. Both Fantasy Fights, ZOID, and maybe the Rumbles introduced scoring with real numbers. The Golden Elite had a great attitude to customer service. All of us lacked the resources and to a large extent the technical expertise to take site fighting to a mass level.

But those who founded site fighting were no better. Daryl Dickinson, Don Gesgke, Sarina, and Deputy Joanie (I wish I knew her real name.) just did not have what it took to cross the first hurdle when there were two hundred and fifty fighters all in one place. The reform splits and the schism of June 22, 2000 was a sign of failure. If site fighting had been the success it should have been, we would not have had the site fighting world of the early twenty-first century.

What went wrong went wrong early, and none of us repaired the damage. What went wrong was that the Site Fights and also Don Gesgke's early competitions were groups of friends having a good time. There were many male as well as female site fighters, and the teams had names like D'Contenders who included a boxer as their mascot. As the 90's wore on, site fighting feminized. By the time I signed on in 1999, site fighting was mostly female. It was also de-skilling fast as ordinary web site owners in rented space who had nowhere to mount scripts became the majority. This last was a minor problem.

The major problem site fighting faced was one of identity. If you are going to move from being a group of friends to being a mass movement, you have to be friendly and open to diverse outsiders. This is a tough decision to make. RAOK made this decision and to this day we have members from all over the world. LOTH, to a large extent also made this decision. The Site Fights could never bridge this gap. You could see this in the rules which demanded a very high standard of child friendliness and which forbade South Park. You could see it in the lack of celebration of nonChristian holidays at the fights. Now South Park can be raunchy, but it is just not that offensive. Keeping out South Park says no rowdy, male teens. The middle aged ladies don't like them anyway. Rules at other competitions prohibited sites espousing harmful witchcraft. Somenhow game cheats were OK. Information on how to make gun powder was not even though you can find this information in any library. The site fighting rules and some of the site design were enough to keep out large segments of web users via self selection. Often those included were high school and college students who could have grown with the fights, invited their friends and roommates etc... Call this a missed opportunity.

To make matters worse, The Site Fights lacked transparently and was corrupt in the way that only small stakes operations can be. The Web Brawls was the first major split from the Site Fights, and it split over the issue of Fairies (volunteer staff) being made to vote for sites the Team Leaders favored. That is stacking the deck. Fighters could not complain about poorly run teams. Fighters never knew how many votes they received. An atmosphere like this doesn't make for trust.

Then there was vote exchange. On one level vote exchange made sense. The only people who vote for web sites day in and day out are fellow fighters. If site fighting were more well known this might not be the case, but a small amount of vote exchange can be healthy. Once you are using a vote exchange board or voting for a hundred sites a day, you are "voting blind." You are carrying a tremendous work burden, and if you are the right sort of compulsive person who can buy love one exchanged vote at a time, or who thinks they are buying it (I'm that kind of person), vote exchange is wierdly compelling, addictive, and in the end leads to a very painful sort of burnout. Vote exchange also raises the cost of success way above where ordinary people, the kind who don't get sucked in easily can reach. It makes a mockery of spirit (expression of support for your team and giving your fight free publicity). It also drives away any one who thinks voting should be at all merit based. They use what I consider a weak moral argument against vote exchange, but the argument has a grain of truth in it. The problem, however, is not vote exchange or even self voting in itself, it's too much vote exchange. Capping the number of sites for which one can vote in a large competition, can easily bring vote exchange to heel. Limiting vote exchange lists also can help.

What would have helped site fighting down the right road? Liberalizing the rules to welcome all law abiding, personal sites. I did this with ZOID, but I was too much an outsider to make ZOID a large enough competition. Second, Site Fighting needed to develop traction in the real world, not just a single article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. We needed to have public scorings at county fairs and advertising in nonweb media.

Third, and this should have come when we were strong (That meant circa 2000), we should have built our own farm league, and given out web space and site building instruction. Site fighting had an interest in making more site builders.

Fourth, we should have limited team size and grown like mad. Yes, The Site Fights should have reached thirty, forty, a hundred teams. Now what would have happened with a site fighting competition of six thousand which I invisioned when I grossly overestimated the numbers back in 1999? Well at some point it splits. It has to split. There are going to be vast cultural differences among the fighters. The teenage boys swapping dead baby jokes in the corner are not going to be best buddies with the mothers of angel babies. Site fighting is pretty much all they'll have in common. The splits though should be amicable. The dead baby joke boys on the Devil's Own (a good name for a team)would compete in one division while the Angel Baby sites would have their own area where they would not have to rub noses with the dead baby joke boys. There might be a community mailing list or board, but there would be areas where polite conversation would be enforced and there would be places to blow off steam. People who liked to support dead baby joke sites and other sick sites, would have their favorite sites for which to vote. Diversity would encourage merit voting because outsiders (real fans!) could find sites they really liked.

Better yet, a site owner whose creation didn't fit one group's cultural norms would not be told "scram" but head up the road and fight in a different division.

Gradually, there would be hometown divisions, academic style divisions, and a good statistical scoring so that everybody could see how tough divisions were and how tough individual sites were. Eventually sites from different divisions might or might not fight one another in upper rounds, and people would turn out to watch the public scoring which could be televised or just done live from a big office or classroom or the town square on a warm night. A booth at a county fair would be an ideal scoring venue and the scoring computer could be hooked to a large screen.

The result would have been a world where people would gather together and talk about the sites they supported, and their friends and relatives who were fighters, or their own sites if they were fighters. There would have been tens if not hundreds of thousands of site fighters. Blogs and public Facebook pages would be fightable. People would like their favorite fighting sites on Facebook if Facebook could gain a foothold.

We all know by the way that none of this happened. Presumably one could still start a farm league and one would be beginning from scratch since the old culture has largely died. There is no time like the present, but it's me and what army. I'm going to let it go even though it will hurt.

What hurts a lot is that Haldis' team is not being preserved in the Internet Archive. A robots.txt file that nobody knows how to fix is blocking preservation. I will probably put a copy of the team (with the vote buttons remmed out or going nowhere) on the Hopefulviper.us web site or rather Haldis will do it. With the death of site fighting, there really is no more reason for either Haldis or Thadea to exist. Thadea got too busy, and Haldis grew up and also got too busy. They vanished into real life with thousands of other individuals who at one time or another were site fighters or admins.

It's just a matter of weeks to months until it's over. I hope the end for the Webleagues is not ugly but I know there is no such thing as a soft landing.

Eileen H. Kramer with hope from Haldis K. Guerrin and Thadea G. Myers -- 9/20/10

"And we were all there in one place..."

If you are of a certain age, you will recognize the line from the song American Pie. Now bring on the fire. Let's burn down Facebook. Open the cage and let us out. There are a hundred and sixty of us on Facebook. Of that group, thirty-five are native Arabic speakers, most of whom are Kuwaiti or at least have roots in that country. Kuwait does not have the same kind of citizenship as the United States.

At first Candi, my first in command, could not believe the arrival of the Kuwaitis was real. She believed they were spammers. I saw the profiles and knew otherwise. I like them as a group bcause they are gregarious and not heavily into games that I have not yet blocked and/or hidden. They appear to have some sort of family relationship. Perhaps they are in business together. I'm not sure of any of this.

I am trying to make them feel at home in RAOK. This is RAOK's second demographic shift. As an open group on Facebook, such shifts are ievitable. We need to embrace them. I have wished everyone in the group, which includes them, a Happy Ramadan and an esay, blessing-filled fast. I have translated my status into Arabic via Google, and posted both the English and Arabic versions of it. I am waiting to see if this provokes any one who should know better. I will confront my provoker if it is outside RAOK and explain that hospitality is important and unlike a certain, right wing, talk show host, I am not a believer in "borders, language, and culture."

I had five years of French in high school, and think one of the few good things about Facebook is taht it takes nonRoman script. RAOK was and has pretty much always been an international group. As second in command, it is up to me to see that it is a welcoming group, for everyone. Besides, what I do is really small potatoes.

On another topic, please save the date of September 15. You don't have to do anything but visit the site, Joindiaspora.com to see if their source code is out. I am hoping these four students from NYU can drive a stake through Facebook's black, little heart. We don't need monopolies for social netowkring any more than we needed them for site fighting. I will write a piece on the death of site fighting later this week, but I am just not up for it tonight.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 9/12/10

Under Facebook's Heel -- And What I'm Going to Try to Do About It

What a way to start a new month? Facebook announced that boxes on profiles and pages (Groups don't get boxes) are going to go away. This means users have no choice in how to display or whether to display applications that they enjoy. This is an intellectual freedom issue, since not all applications are just cut and tried diddly bits of graphic and special points and games. RSS feeds and assorted widgets bring in the news. Until the boxes are booted, Facebook users could easily display what they thought was important for their visitors to read and what they themsleves read. Page and profile applications also include Static FBML and HTML boxes. These boxes let users display whatever they want in a variety of code, including home built widgets. With the new changes, these are an endangered species. Facebook may not care about White Rights groups, but it is free to ride roughshod on intellectual freedom and it is doing this. I am feeling it. It hurts!

So what can I do about it? I could join a group that is making a petition to "get our profile boxes back!" You know those groups do nothing but scream "We are powerless!" to the whole world. I could go elsewhere. Why should anyone be involved with Facebook? My friends are there, and two groups I care about are there. To leave, is to leave behind those groups.

I do have a solution. You know I had a solution with the now defunct MSN Groups too, but this one is simple. I'm going to start with RAOK where I am the acting Admin. I'm going to try to wean us off of using Facebook totally. We have Wiki. We have a mailing list too, but email is fraught due to spam. I'm not sure how to rescue LOTH.

I don't consider the Wiki an optimal solution. A bunch of us renting server space that can run Caucus software would really be the best out there. That's not going to happen. Getting one other person to help edit the wiki and add to it would be a big break through. Yes, it's me and what army if you want to know the truth. But I hate being used. At least Facebook has not decided to degrade to death. Providers can do that too, and as a monopoly, there is no reason for Facebook to provide "great service." Just keep that in mind.

The question then is what to write on the Wiki. A wiki demands longer articles than the boards where I have microblogged for three years. I all ready have a blog. The wiki means more depth. The wiki is uncharted waters. The wiki might or might not be multilingual. The wiki can handle all sorts of images arranged all sorts of ways. The wiki takes html. Can all of you see where this might go? The wiki has potential, but it hates lazy folks. I have to stop being lazy.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 9/2/10