Letter to a New User


Welcome, new user, to Everything2. I've been around a bit, and these are the things I'd like you to know, before you had a good experience. You see, I was a bit luckier than you. You probably hit an Everything page in google, or somebody (or some thing) pointed you this way. I was pointed this way by Lucy-S. In fact, I wrote my first writeup on her computer. It's a lot easier to get links when your (then) girlfriend is leaning over your shoulder and showing you how to link.

I'm going to make a guess and say your previous experience is mostly with blogs and discussion boards. Or Wikipedia. E2 isn't like them at all. Discussion boards and blogs sometimes have poetry, short stories or worthwhile essays, but for the most part they're pretty simple, with someone expressing something really personal, and the gang making comments or playing some form of grab ass. It's one statement, a bunch of replies from people who probably know each other, and a few branches.

That sort of thing can be fun. After all, I have my own blog. But when you go read a stranger's blog, without any context of an ongoing relationship or whatever they're really pretty boring. There are millions of them out there, and you don't read them do you? So the first thing you need to do realize what works there won't work here.

You may contribute to Wikipedia. And if you do you note that Wikipedia really does want to be an encyclopedia. That means no opinions, no personal assertions, follow a fairly strict format. Good for them, But E2 isn't an encyclopedia. We have lots of factual writeups, I've done a few myself. But the difference here is that you don't have to follow Wikipedia's guidelines. We want you to put a bit of yourself into even factual writeups. You can express an opinion, or make a joke. It had better be supported with evidence and a clear logical chain, but you don't have to be soulless pedagogue. You get to have fun.

So the first thing you should do, is read. And not just one or two things. Spend a couple hours looking around. Lucy made me do that. And one good way to look is to click on one of the links in, or below the writeup you're reading.

Links are one of the big features of E2, that links all the parts of the database to each other. I'm not positive, but I'd bet that if you kept at it long enough you could start on any longstanding writeup and eventually make your way back to it through the Everything's system of links. Which is why we insist noders put them in when creating their own writeup. To put in a simple link you just enclose the chosen phrase in square brackets. Bingo, you have a link and it will glow blue to make it stand out from the text.

Now you know to read a lot, what a link is and why you need to put them in when you write. But how do you know what to write? In my case I kept clicking through the database and reading until I came upon the nodeshell Air to air combat. I read what was there and realized I could do better. So I wrote, and if you clicked on air to air combat you can read what I wrote that first day.

But my writing had a problem. Lucy had told me about links, but I failed to understand how to make a line break. I made them in the typing window. But they didn't appear in the text. I didn't know what to do. Then some guy named Jet-Poop messaged me and asked if I knew what a paragraph break was. And I messaged him back and said I had put them in.

Jet-Poop then did something Everything admins have been doing for a long time. He showed me how to put in a paragraph break. And you put in a paragraph break like this. You take a /p and enclose them between less than and greater than symbols:

Like this: </p>

Now, if you're really good you start a paragraph by putting in another of those only without the /. The reason Everything writeups often look so different from each other is that we format them using a few HTML tags. Formatting is often a pain in the wazoo, but if you know what you're doing the commands give you a lot of control over how your writeup will look. Like TV Magic Cards "it's easy once you know the secret".

One way to make sure your work looks like you want it to is to use your E2 Scratch Pad. Yours is in the Vitals part of your epicenter, generally towards the bottom of your page. Write it there, and tweak away until it looks like you want it too. And if you're not sure about something, you can make your scratchpad visible, and ask any editor (like me) to take a peek and make suggestions. There's also a nodet called TinyMCE which does a simply WYSIWYG formatting job that makes writing even easier, should you activate it. (It's in Writeup Settings) Me, I learned the hard way so I still do it the hard way. It's a senior thing. Plus Tiny MCE doesn't always act like it's supposed to, so I have to code. 

So now you know all you really need to know to live long and prosper in the Everything universe. First you read a lot and get the lay of the land. Then you find an empty or weak nodeshell where you possess the knowledge and skill to better what's there. Then you write using simple links and basic formatting. Voila! You are a noder, and if you've done it well and with basic respect for little things like grammar and spelling upvotes and C!s shall follow. Pick up the finer points as you need them.

Of course some of us like to write in our native word processor to take advantage of things like our spellchecker. By all means. That certainly makes it easier to adapt something you've written for another venue and adapt it to E2. In that case, once you're done you might want to drop it into the Text Formatter tool. That will create your paragraph breaks for you, and send it right to your scratch pad with just a click.

Unless you use Microsoft Word. Microsoft uses this thing called "smart quotes" which are generally pretty cool when you print from Word, but completely confuses the Text formatter. If you use Word, ignore the formatter or it will screw up every apostrophe and quotation mark in your piece.

Of course your first writeup may get deleted. Sooner or later everyone gets axed (it's even happened to me). Look at it this way. Remember that blog you wrote with 42 comments? When was the last time you re-read it? In fact, when was the last time anyone else read it? And the readers were probably all your friends. At Everything2 the things you write will be read by people on different continents. Including Antarctica. Everything writers include people who have been profiled for their works on national radio and newspapers. Yeah, people who've received actual paychecks for words. That's pretty heavy company. You'll log in two years from now and because you linked your writeups and chose the right title discover you got upvotes (and chings) on something you wrote two years earlier. And your first writeup doesn't have to be good enough to sell to Playboy. You just have to show that you took your work seriously. You get to practice and know someone will read it.

So you see this isn't like your buddies' blog. It's a community for people who write about Everything. 


As many of you know already, E2 is on the fringe of the media buzz surrounding this new Google project, Knol, on the fringe because Knol sounds suspiciously like this place, right here. Quizro pointed it out to the hosts of CNet's Buzz Out Loud podcast who had a lively debate over us, and Wikipedia, and Knol and the whole deal. Wanting to let the guys know that we, as a collective, shouldn't be talked about in the past tense, I shot them this email. Figured you'd all like to know.

Hey guys. This is Jack, the current Editor-in-Chief of Everything2.com. We've been all abuzz about your podcast from yesterday (it's nice when the media comes to me instead of the other way 'round) and I've got a couple of things for you.

1. E2 isn't dead. We still have a hell of a community and a fantastic group of writers, wits, conversationalists, editors, authors (published or not) and experts on various fields running up and down our halls and, though we take some getting used to in terms of acceptable style and whatnot, we love new people. I'd like to encourage your listenership to drop by and say hello - we'll leave a light on for ya.

2. We're not particularly worried about Knol; we were amused by the similarities in nomenclature more than anything ('noders' and 'knolers' had me in stitches, lemme tell ya). We're not particularly worried because our focuses seems, at this early point, to be different - unlike wikipedia and unlike what I've read of knol so far, E2 accepts the more casual, fringe elements of the written word - we take first-person narrative and essays, poetry, scene-setting, serialized content, the whole shebang; if it's well-written, not entirely pointless and exists outside of itself, we'll take it. We'll take philosophical extemporizations and mathematical proofs and scientific definitions, too, but we were called Everything way back when for a reason: we're not an encyclopedia because encyclopedias, to keep their utility, leave extraneous stuff OUT.

3. We've never had aspirations to be the 'next big fill-in-the-blank' in any field, just to keep doing what we're doing and hope that those people who decide to accompany us enjoy the trip. We fight a lot and have differences of opinion on all sorts of things but in the end, those of us who work on, with, or for E2 do it because we love it; it's an entirely volunteer effort, and we do what we can to keep it floating.

4. Fess up, Tom: What was your E2 Username? I swear I won't tell.

I'm always available for questions - feel free to email me at jack@everything2.com if you wanna talk.

Take care,

Jack Thompson
Editor-in-Chief / Everything2.com

(No, not THAT Jack Thompson. Yes, I have the shirt.)

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