That's the title of the warning posts that I've been spreading around the fandom this morning as I got the news that Lycos Europe is shutting down both their email and their Tripod webhosting services next month. For some fandoms, this being a European thing isn't all bad; the US isn't affected (yet) and most of the active sites on Tripod (if there are any) would be on the US servers. However, for my fandom, this isn't good. The UK is where the widest fan base is, and I know there are still sites on Tripod. Tripod has been around a long while, and some fans moved on to other places - like MSN groups, which is also closing down next month.
Adding in the AOL Groups closure last year, I get the distinct impression that the fannish world is shrinking. Like being on an ice floe and all the edges are falling off, floating and melting away into the surrounding ocean, leaving less and less space to stand on. Many of the webmasters/groups owners have moved on in fandom; some have dropped out entirely. Now the information, pictures, discussions and fanfiction stored on these remaining sites, abandoned or not, will drop out as well.
Is this necessarily a bad thing? In a way, yes. A lot of unique material is going to be lost forever. I went hunting through Tripod's search engine, looking for sites specific to my fandom. None were terribly active, but one had some fanfiction that I've seen nowhere else, and another had some unique computer generated art. Will these be saved by their creators? Will they be posted elsewhere? At this point, I doubt it. How much more of this is tucked away in abandoned Yahoo groups, or Angelfire sites, or Geocities sites? What happens if these are shut down, too, as being "unprofitable" or not "best of breed"? In the greater scheme of things, I suppose they're not much of a loss. Fandom, as important as it is to some now, won't necessarily be important to the same people later. But even in closed canon fandoms, such as my own, there are still fans that come along, all fired up by their new shiny, and it's good to see where others have been before. It's good to know what the clichés were, who the BNFs were, where to find the fanworks that aren't in the mainstream, or where that plagiarist might have found the work s/he is stealing. Those unique contributions are lost, and it stings.
That's what's got me so determined not to let my own MSN Groups go quietly. I've spent the past couple of days copying all the custom pages and downloading any pictures that I don't have on my own hard drive. I hope to use them in building a new site elsewhere... but will that one day go the way these others have gone? I guess only time will tell.
I've been blogging about the pending demise of MSN Groups, and some about the replacements - most specifically Multiply and Windows Live Groups. Multiply because it is the chosen replacement for MSN Groups, and Windows Live Groups since it is Microsoft's own answer to MSN groups.
So far nothing has come close to the versatility and ease of use that MSN Groups has had.
No other service allowed for custom webpages, for custom logos and buttons and separated messageboards. Nothing was as easy to use as MSN Groups. Just fill out the forms and bingo! You're good to go. The webpage interface wasn't exactly WYSIWYG, but it was close and allowed for far more colors than Windows Live Groups allows for (in fact, WLG doesn't give you background colors for your discussion pages, which is the only place you can use HTML. Pretty much the same for Multiply.) You could easily hide pages, rearrange pages, add new albums, use the pictures from those albums in other spots... the learning curve was as shallow or steep as you wanted it to be. It accommodated both the novice webmaster and the more experienced. It was a great starting place for fandom groups; and a lot of fandoms were represented there.
What will happen to those many fandom groups? Well, some of them will be lost forever come February because their owners just sort of abandoned them to the spammers before this point. There's at least one Thunderbirds group I know of that falls into this category. It has a lot of interesting fanfic on it, but the owner has grown beyond it and has left it for the "lonely singles" spammers to keep it active (otherwise, it would have been deleted years ago). Some groups will migrate to Multiply, some to Geocities, some to Windows Live Groups... they'll be scattered all over, and harder to find. The close-knit communities that had developed over the years will be broken up, never to truly be reclaimed again. A lot of interesting and unique fandom creations will disappear forever. I've already had that happen once to me; the thought of it happening again makes me sick.
Is there a perfect solution to this forced diaspora? Not really. If you want to have the same flexibility as MSN Groups has, you've got to create your own website, and very likely, you'll have to pay for it. And if you want to continue having a free site, you'll have to pay in other ways, with intrusive ads or with a loss of those features you've become accustomed to. (Yes, MSN Groups has ads, but because of their placement, they are ignorable.)
As a side issue, I've been poking around the Windows Live team blogs for the past few days, and I noticed that they're not asking for feedback on WLG. Everything else, yes. Windows Live Groups, no. I think they know what kind of response they'd get there: a very angry one from a large group of disgruntled MSN Group owners.
So, we're losing a piece of fandom property. What's to go next?
ETA: I'm also aware that AOL is/was dumping their Groups. So there are more fandom communities disappearing. Let's hope that Yahoo doesn't join the pack.
I must say I'm not impressed.
There is a bland uniformity to the site, and it seems that the entire group is dedicated to chat and discussion - not necessarily sharing information or being a repository of such. My MSN groups were more than just discussions and messageboards - they were/are a place to go and have questions answered, to find both information and pictures, to post creative ideas in an eyepleasing format.
They are unique, and easily identifiable. When you visit, you know what they're all about. Not so much Windows Live Groups.
Just for comparison: screencaps of IR Central at MSN Groups and Tracy Island at Windows Live Groups. Which one is more distinctive? Which one is more appealing? Which one promises more dedicated information? You tell me.
Well, it's officially over. We had our regional TGIO (Thank God It's Over) party last night. It was really cool to see all these new faces - and sad not to see some of the old ones. My final word count: 61,084. I'll update the ML Wiki later on with the cookbook stats. I actually went through the entire affiliates list and counted those who weren't homed with Greenville, and those who were and didn't participate. Brought the number of 245 affiliates down to 74 active participants. Of those 74, 27 finished the course. That's 38.5% win ratio, which I think is pretty cool for our area.
My story is far from finished (but y'all knew that, didn't you?). I'm making a commitment - call it a pre-New Year's resolution - to write 1000 words of fiction a day. Whether it's on one of my WIPs, my NaNo novels or what, 1000 words should be a piece of cake - as long as there are no extenuating circumstances, like going away for the day or becoming deathly ill.
I'm also going to solicit concrit on this year's NaNo novel from my f-list. When I say this, I mean a tightly filtered list of my personal friends in a f-locked post. I really think this has potential to be a published work - as in printed on dead-tree products and sold in stores - but if I post it to somewhere public and digital, like Fictionpress, it's been published already, and that puts me in a bind. So I'll be posting sections here for constructive criticism, and if you want to help me with that, please let me know so I can add you to my concrit filter. Please don't ask to be put on the list just so you can read the bits and pieces; I need the honest feedback so I can polish this story to a fine sheen.
In other matters, Windows Live Groups finally made its debut. I created a group called Tracy Island just to see what the service has to offer. I'm still thinking heavily about creating my own website; it will allow for so much more creativity as far as webpages are concerned. I can use HTML in discussion posts, but I have to put up with their themes on the home page. No more caption games if I move it all here. I do like the photo upload function, and I can create albums. I'm asking the members at IR Central and Tracy Island IR to check it out and give me their thoughts. If it meets with approval, so be it. If not, Plan B.
MSN Groups has finally made it official, and created a page for helping Groups ease over to Multiply. So, I went over there to poke around, and ended up joining Multiply (which gave me a personal page) and creating a sort of personal group.
There seems to be a way to change backgrounds and colors - kind of like LJ, in a way. I can put pictures into the Welcome section, and have separate albums for the various pictures. Found out, however, that though there will be photo albums transferred, the actual photos won't be. They'll have to be uploaded from my computer - Multiply doesn't have an uploader function that will work with MSN. In the case of Tracy Island IR, and its background site, I'll have to download to my computer and upload to either the site itself, or to photobucket. Some of our graphics (such as the logo) are at photobucket already, but a lot aren't. And to add them to the pages, you have to use HTML. Not a problem for me, but for my assistant managers? Might be.
From the comments at the Multiply Migration help site, the messageboards are a mess when they import over. I'm half tempted to import it (as in IR Central) all anyway and see how much of a mess it is, then decide whether or not to keep it.
I'm still of the opinion that starting from scratch at a new site of my own will be better. But I promised I'd wait to see what Live Groups has to offer.
At least I'm not at AOL...
Not impressed, though I keep eating them. Hubby says he'll take them to work. I'll have to come up with something else for the kids' lunches.
Not terrribly impressed with the sites I've looked at to replace MSN Groups, either. I went so far as to sign up at Convos, thinking - from their demo - that I could use pictures in the welcome page. No such luck. Text only, on a white background. Can change the text color, size and font, but that's not really much use. Not when I'm used to custom buttons, custom fonts, colors on black, pictures and tables. I'm going to look at Multiply again, maybe sign up and poke around as myself - but I don't hold out much hope for any of the things we have at MSN Groups. I'll also wait until I see what's going on with Windows Live Spaces, then make my final decision.
Not feeling at all sanguine...
partly_bouncy sent me a link last evening, saying that it might affect me directly. Boy, was she right! The link is here, and the gist of it is that Microsoft will be shedding their MSN Groups as of February, 2009. They'll be launching a new "social networking" service called Windows Live Groups in November, but existing MSN Groups won't be segued over to the shiny new service, they'll be sent to this other one, called Multiply.
Now, I've seen this happen before. Back in 2005, they sent all their groups that were listed as "adult" or "18+" off to World Groups - a situation that both pleased me and displeased me. Pleased me because it meant that the groups started by Loony Lucie the plagiarist were sent off to the gulag, and displeased me because I had to go to World Groups to keep an eye on her from time to time. (I did not like them!)
Now they want to send everyone else off.
I'm of two minds about the situation. I haven't been happy with MSN Groups for a while now. The storage space they allot you (unless you are an MSN subscriber) is abysmal; I paid $20-$30 last year to have enough for the two groups I run. The HTML coding allowed is limited, and though I was able to work with it, there was always more I wanted to do. The upshot of it is that I've been seriously thinking about getting my own domain and webspace and creating my own site. It would be a stiff learning curve, but I think I'd like the challenge.
And truthfully, I haven't been too impressed with what Multiply (or Google Groups, or Yahoo Groups, or some of the other services I've looked at) have to offer. I've seen a screenshot for the new Windows Live Groups and haven't been impressed with that, either. So, I might find myself with a lot of HTML coded pages and nowhere to put them.
Well, I still have time to see what's what-- the utility for moving the site over isn't ready yet. I'll probably have a better idea of where to go once I do some more exploring.
This would have to happen at the roughest time of the year, financially... sigh.
But it all makes me very, very glad that we moved IR:TNP off to its own site, even with all the problems we had with the forum.
(I drafted this entry before the events of September 8. See the relevant post for more details on that. Didn't want people connecting the two... which shows my state of mind since, I think.)
"That's the main thing I've found with fan-created sites; as real life closes in, the site suffers because, let's face it, real life trumps fan-stuff every time." Me, August 23, 2008.
I wrote this when I recounted the revival of an archive that I'd thought had been dead/dying, but that has been resurrected in a new form. My question was - and still is - will the owner's commitment to his archive endure? I hope so, but knowing his past history, I'm skeptical.
However, during the past couple of weeks, I've come to realize something else that affects fan-created sites of all stripes: the "bright, shiny, new". This happens when a new, cool show/movie/book/what-have-you catches someone's attention and they basically drop the fandom(s) they're currently involved in like a lead weight to reach after the new thing. This isn't always a bad thing; people do mature in fandom and moving out of a fandom isn't always precipitated by a new one coming along. Sometimes it's not a dropping of one fandom, but an adding of another, with a fan giving both equal attention. But, in my own experience, it's often the first case that leaves archives, websites or messageboards abandoned by their owners - unless they turn the sites/boards over to someone who is responsible and enthusiastic about carrying it on.
Why is this particular observation coming to me now? Because I think I've got the "bright, shiny, new" myself. Not for another fandom. But more for other websites, other opportunities on sites where concentrated participation is de rigeur. Sites where, if you want to be read, reviewed, whatever, you must reciprocate - and reciprocate a lot. Sites that require focused daily attention.
Now, this isn't always a bad thing, either. For any one site to have a lively, panfandom atmosphere is rare, I think, and can be an interesting place. FanLib was like this; a lot of writers bravely read outside their fandoms, outside their comfort zones, and not only read but reviewed and gave good constructive criticism. I enjoyed that immensely, both from the giving and the receiving ends.
It's just that, for me to participate to the level that was expected, I found I had less and less time to devote to those fandom-specific ventures that I myself have started, or that have been entrusted to me by others. My own sites, in particular my MSN Groups, have languished, with only the occasional news item and the monthly caption contests keeping the sites from looking like they've been abandoned. My C2 community has been comatose for the past couple of years; I keep wanting to revive it, but never seem to have the time. I have seen so many things happen to other sites - their owners don't want to destroy them, but they don't have the time or inclination to keep up with them, or add to them. It makes me sad and irritated when the only posts I find on an otherwise interesting site are from "lonely singles" spammers that a somewhat interested group owner could remove with a couple of clicks.
And it's not just sites, it's fanworks, too. How many WIPs have fallen by the wayside due to this? I've been moving like molasses on my own three, and I get angry at myself about it. I'm determined not to abandon them, but it gets harder and harder to make the time to write each day. There are other storylines clamoring for my attention, not just in fanfiction, but in my role play as well. The role play comes first, the WIP second. When will the new ideas get their time if I'm determined to finish what I've begun before I start something new? (Not to mention that NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!)
So, which way do I go? Do I reach out to the newer sites, give them my time and energy? Do I go back and concentrate my efforts on my older sites? Do I shrink my fannish circle or do I expand it?
It's time to reprioritize and decide what is most important to the fan in me.