Monday, August 13, 2007

Wikifray blog and forum: a critique

If you include its earlier incarnation as Wag the Slate, wikifray has been in operation for about one year. Ender built it, and the rest of us came and participated and wrote and recruited people. I'm sure many of you share my feeling that it's been rewarding to participate in it, and to watch it grow.

It began as a collaborative project which Schad openly disdained for many months while others among us worked to make it viable. He later became supportive of it when he hit upon the idea of using it to launch his own venture (which began as a partnership with Ender, and continues now with Schad as the sole proprietor). Though I had certain misgivings, I was nevertheless excited about taking wikifray in a new direction,
and from early April, I offered what support and assistance I could. As you may have noticed, I'm a keener about this sort of thing, and I was very committed to wikifray.

The nuponuq forum was implemented in late April, and we switched over from blog comments to forum comments on April 30th. There was an immediate drop in posts and responses to posts. This was to be expected at the beginning, while people got used to the new environment, but I don't believe participation has come back to the quality it was prior to the change. If this diminished activity is due to the summer slowdown, you’d expect it to show in the number of posts, but not necessarily in the responses, or in the depth and quality of conversation. Summer or not, there are still a good number of people on the forum on a daily basis, but they’re not interacting the way they did on wikifray, where posts often engendered long and interesting discussions. In fact, this last while, the writing on wikifray has been better than ever, yet forum response has been thin and restrained. On the chart below, note that in terms of total number of posts, activity on the forum has increased over activity on wikifray, but check comments on your posts over the period before the changeover, and compare them to forum comments on your posts. Has the quality or frequency of the response changed? What about your posting - has it changed? (It's improved, right?)

Participation on the forum has a different feel. The ambiance seems to have changed with the loss of the egalitarian structure that wikifray enjoyed. As we were trying to attract quality writers to wikifray, we made the effort to create a welcoming environment. Schad’s behaviour, both before and after his project, has been inconsistent with this. He of all of us seemed most at home in the hostile environment of BOTF. That's not a problem per se—it’s just Schad—but it’s bad for business, and the business that it's bad for is something in which I once had a stake. And how did I lose that? I withdrew when I realized that Schad’s views on certain issues were so in opposition to mine that I could not participate as active support for his project any longer. I asked him to delete Write, Bitch from his server. He did that, and he also removed me from the admin forum on nuponuq. This was not unexpected, but it effectively curtailed my involvement in wikifray, as wikifray has become subordinate to the forum, and everyone who was active in wikifray development as an admin has moved over to nuponuq development, with Schad as the person in charge. Given our collaborative beginnings, this is a disappointment.

The following week, Ender, who's role had been up in the air before I dropped out, made an official announcement on the forum that he was no longer a partner in Schad’s venture. Schad responded with a gracious acknowledgement of Ender's work sourcing and adapting the bSpeak software for the nuponuq forum. He also thanked catnapping and skitch and John for their efforts. Although I’d put many hours in, both here and on other parts of Schad’s project, he left me off the list of people who'd contributed. This was not only bad form, it was plainly dishonest.

I was out, however. I had thought I'd stay involved in wikifray, but wikifray was now married to nuponuq; the two are interwoven, and Schad is the guy in charge. What has he done that warrants this status? He’s supplied server space, vision, and a willingness to benefit from other people's efforts. Ender and skitch have done most of the work on the forum software. Schad owns the software and the servers that host it, but really—the cost of the bSpeak software is negligible, and server space can be had anywhere.

Even though Schad had snubbed me when it came time to acknowledge contributors, I didn’t want to respond in a punitive manner. I put forum comment links on the new blog (shared with KarenOh), and I continued to participate on the forum. I treated him no differently than I had before. For his part, Schad took to being a jerk toward me. Disagreement is one thing, but he rarely offered argument. In keeping with his usual style, he’d berate me with insults to my intellect and mental health. Still, not a biggie, except in what it bodes for the future of this place, when the project is (hopefully) successful, and people are really invested in the community. I've been on forums with mean-spirited proprietors, and they are not creative and inviting spaces.

Quoting Geoff: “If your site offers a more comfortable medium for old-time Fraysters, then I welcome its presence on the net. I'm somewhat critical of it - based on what I've seen, you guys seem dangerously close to building a monument to everything that was unappealing about BotF.”

That’s not what wikifray was, and if that’s what this is turning into, I want no part of it.

It annoys me when people offer criticism without providing suggestions toward remedy, so here’s what I think needs to happen:

  • Restore the egalitarian structure. The wikifray forum ought to belong to and be governed by the members of wikifray. Schad needs to withdraw as a wikifray admin, and abstain from moderation and admin activity on the wikifray forum. Wikifray admins can moderate the wikifray forum.
  • Restore blog comments so that people can respond to posts on the blog if they wish to.
I see no problem with the following:
  • Wikifray members continuing to send their comments from their own blogs to the wikifray forum
  • Schad hosting the wikifray forum on his server
  • Schad taking posts and comments from the forum to publish in his magazine
  • Schad taking revenue from ads on the forum
  • Schad running the other forums as he sees fit.

Wikifray members: your thoughts, please.


Posts and comments on wikifray: c/p

Nov 5 – Dec 4....44.......10.........301......6.84

Dec 5 – Jan 4....43........9.........271......6.3

Jan 5 – Feb 4....58.......15.........504......8.68

Feb 5 – Mar 4....57.......16.........515......9.03

Mar 5 – Apr 4....51.......15.........434......8.5

Apr 5 – May 4....62.......14.........350......5.64*

May 5 – Jun 4....33.......11...........(n/a)

Jun 5 – Jul 4....47.......14...........(forum)**

Jul 5 – Aug 4....28.......13...........(forum)**

* prorated from data before Apr 30
** Jun 7 - Aug 13: 1873 forum comments