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MY FELLOW NODERS!

As you may have seen on the front page, on October 13, 2008 I started work as the new chief of E2. So, um yeah. I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole. Now that I'm here, and although I didn't just pick myself for the job and had a couple of drinks before accepting it (or maybe because of it), I suppose that I should try to answer the question on everyone's mind:

it was not a coup, honest

Why HIM of all people?

I have served on the staff for just over seven years. This makes me, with the exception of riverrun, Demeter, and N-Wing, the longest-serving staff member outside the BSI contingent. It's been a long time since I remarked with surprise that I was the first staff member, editor or admin, to have a seven-digit node_id. My job description until now has been pretty much what I described in my older quasi-autobiographical ed log. My username, by the way, until recently was Apatrix. I retired the nickname as its origins are 13 years, a continent, and several lifetimes away. Given the blurred relationship between my on-line presence and my real life, I no longer saw a reason to use a different name on-line.

Though my appointment to the top job was a bit unexpected, it is fortunately not entirely the step into the unknown that it could have been. We had a period in late June and July during which Katherine had real-life concerns that took up all her time and kthejoker retired from the chief coding job. At that point it was thought prudent and useful to have someone active and with available time handling day-to-day affairs in both departments. I was covering the position of lead developer on an interim basis and until someone more suitable became available while standing in for Katherine as acting director of operations since the end of July.

okay, so it was a teeny, bloodless coup, honest

Although I tend to think of myself as an "editor" type of admin I coincidentally have a technical background, too. Since early 2004 I've been a member of the group of core techs and server admins on top of my more visible duties. Bottom line is, I guess it's a combination of experience, technical understanding, and being a known quantity among the senior staff and management that made me a viable candidate for the job. This is all I can really say on the subject. Beyond this the results of my tenure in this position, whatever they may be, will have to be left to speak for themselves. History will absolve me. Or not.

alright, so a bit of blood was shed

And now a word from our sponsor

LOG! FROM BLAMMO!

All fine and well. Now what's your plan for the economyfuture, Mr McBama?

Alright, so this is my platform, if you wish to call it that:

Features

A top priority is improving E2's feature set and user interface. This is vague but I'd rather have it that way than make definite promises that may or may not be kept. I know I've been all rah-rah about the plans for the future in the past but the view from the top suggests that a hefty dose of pragmatism is in order and that timelines are fiendish constructs made from the concentrated essence of optimists who died waiting. Developments will be posted after they occur. If input is wanted or needed, there will probably be a forum thread. Speaking of the forum, I'm sorry that we cannot (yet) integrate it properly and combine logins but the prospect of trying to integrate a modern PHP message board into an antique Perl site gives me all sorts of nightmares.

Code development

Since I'm a tech but not a coder, I can not do much more than pitch in a little in the code department. As my stint in charge of code was never meant to be more than a stop-gap, the management and I have agreed upon who I think is the best person to lead the development effort. I will be depending on our new lead developer and our dedicated coding staff to deliver the goods at the pace at which it is possible for them to do so. As we rearrange priorities, some things may move more quickly than before and others might be left on the back burner. We don't have the staff time to handle everyone's pet projects (not even Oolong's and mine) but we will do the best to tackle the priorities and proceed with existing plans with the resources that we have.

Community

I think that the argument whether E2 is a community or not has been settled for good so bear with me even if you disagree or do not participate in the social activities. As the majority of the regular users have spent a lot of time together on the site and have been noding less than in the past, the community aspect has been sustaining the site at least as much as its contributors' collective creative drive has.

On one hand I believe that the community is an organic entity and will evolve spontaneously. On the other hand, the existence of structure and leadership make it a society that can be nudged in one direction or another. What the administration can and will do is try to provide more tools with which the community and its subgroups can improve their communication and enhance their presence on the site. E2 may never become a social networking site but some of those sites' properties are desirable and will feature in our plans for the future.

Staff structure

As part of the evolution of the site into an entity that involves more people in its day to day operation (see below for the sociological jargon), the staff may need to change from a loose group of individuals appointed dei gratia into a meritocratic institution. The monolithic hierarchy of the site is such that staff members inevitably serve at the pleasure of the current boss but also have very broad powers of discretion. My good intentions are to "streamline" (isn't that a euphemism for downsizing?) the staff by delegating jobs to the people best qualified to execute them, taking away buttons that aren't being used from people who don't want them, and giving buttons that will be used to those who can use them wisely. If nothing else, this will apply the lessons that should have been learned in 2000 and prevent dumb accidents that could still easily happen. Ideally it would eventually allow more users to get involved in operations and policy and let us make better use of the considerable pool of skilled and willing individuals that this site is blessed with. However, the technical logistics of creating a modern, flexible access control system are considerable so at least part of this tentative plan will have to be pushed into the dreaded Long-Term Anxiety Closet for now.

Staff and user relations

This has been a sore point for many years. However, particularly under Katherine's rule, I believe that the conduct and attitude of the staff improved by leaps and bounds. Many of the beefs of the past should be left in the past to serve as a lesson and not as a source of resentment. I try to check my authoritarian streak at the door and pick up the Plus Three Enchanted Staff of Consistency instead. The staff are expected to do the same. We may slip up sometimes but the truth is that there's not a whole lot that we can't talk over and correct. In a nutshell, I am stating that, while the staff are charged with making executive decisions that you may not agree with, they are not and do not intend to be The Enemy. I am asking the public to work with the staff and not around or against the staff. On a personal level, I will do my best to listen and resolve disputes on a case by case basis and without prejudice.

the blood of our enemies shall stain the ground

So what sort of boss are you?

We have seen, over time, an assortment of leadership styles, ranging from the charismatic to absolute power corrupting absolutely. If I may express it in Weberian terms, I see the era of Ryan's leadership until about 2003 as an expression of the charismatic aspect. Ryan has a way with people and a personal presence that neither I nor anyone else who's been in charge possesses. The last five years, in my opinion, have seen more of a traditional style, in which the site was managed in a more patrimonial manner and by virtue of what Weber called "the authority of the eternal yesterday." The last step in the sequence is the legal-rational model, which is dominated by institutions and in which the offices are more important than the persons holding them.

E2 may not ever be able to become a republic or democracy but I think that a constitutional monarchy is a decent analogue for what I have in mind as the next possible step. The price for that may be a rule book and a level of bureaucracy that we're unaccustomed to, particularly for the staff. I'm basically advocating for the rule of law, which is a bit hard to achieve without a written law and a lot of time to write it. Constitutions are a necessary component of large, long-lived, heterogenous groups. That's a pretty tall order but it will be on my mind. Take all this bit with a grain of salt and consider it the musings of a new chief about an uncertain future and its inherent potential. It may be a long time before anything in this department changes substantially. Plus, this monarch still answers to the real gods.

I'm not Katherine. I'm not dem bones. Nor am I any of the lieutenants of the past. Each has a different personality and leadership style and none of them will exactly match mine. I am aware of their virtues and flaws and have my own set of each, thank you. Those who have interacted with me before have probably noticed that I have a big mouth and am not afraid to use it. I may be a bit more circumspect and aware that my words may carry a bit more weight for some. But everyone has his buttons and I'm no exception. Let's just say that I have a high tolerance for bullshit, a very low one for drama, and none at all for a threat to the site. Oh, and I'm not George W. Bush either.

I've expressed strong opinions on many of the issues that have been up for debate. On topics such as the reappearance of EDB, for example, or dealing with problem users, I'm inclined to moderate my radical opinions and defer to my staff's consensus. My position in the discussions of the past has been to keep EDB in his cage, against most of the bans imposed, and in favour of uncensored expression. While my presence may influence these things in a certain direction, established practice and staff opinion also have to be taken into account. And I may be convinced otherwise in the future.

One of my big points as an admin has been transparency about the workings of the administration and its goals and views. I intend to continue in that vein. If I make executive decisions, I expect to be able to explain and justify them. If there's disagreement, I expect a sensible argument and not rhetoric or name-calling. Feel free to tell me that I'm wrong and a grotesquely ugly freak but, should you do so, I expect you to treat the claim as a hypothesis and prove one or the other. I may not reply but I'll certainly give it some thought, take a good look in the mirror, and might even agree with you in the end.

Glasnost and perestroika it is, then. Of course the last guy to say this presided over the end of an empire. And all this is just talk that is waiting to be followed up with action. At any rate, peace and love, and hold the fan mail.

-a.

Why I Agreed to be Lead Developer

You were sick, but now you're well again, and there's work to do.
- Kilgore Trout, Timequake

I'm here, above all, because I care about writing, and I care about reading. George Orwell said it so well in Why I Write that this has been listed here as my official motto for years:

So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.

There's more to it, of course. I'm not just here for the reading and writing, I'm here because I've found that I often get on well with people who feel like that about writing, and about life - the kind of people who are attracted to this site, this delightful mess built on the idea of inviting all kinds of writing, about anything, and really appreciating it if it's written well.

So for a long time I've been one of the many people here on a sort of low-key mission to help people write well. I started e2science to encourage and enable people to write lucidly and engagingly about science. I accepted a role as a content editor mainly to get more tools to bring better writing to the fore. Finally as a coder, I have been working to break down some of the technical barriers that have kept people from writing as easily as they could. For my money the site is a lot easier to use, far better-looking and very much less intimidating now than it was a year ago. There's a lot of work to be done yet, though!

This is why I've volunteered to be Lead Developer, while alex (formerly known as Apatrix) takes up the reins at the head of Everything2. Because although I'm not any kind of a coding guru, I think I can see what needs doing here, and I can see a lot of how to do it, and I care about this place too much to see it going on being undone.

What I'll Be Developing

I'm hesitant to announce any Grand Plans, because we've seen way too many of those things come and go over the last few years. My top priority for the time being is to fix things that I consider to be clearly broken. That means sorting out various things about the user interface which make no sense, making it easier for readers to find things they're interested in, and changing the parts of the levelling and XP system which have proved counterproductive. If you're curious about some of the bigger changes we're looking at, check out the edev section of the Everything2 Forum - which incidentally I see as a major tool for helping things to get done by combining our thoughts and efforts. We really don't have a lot of coder-admins active on the site right now, but I'm optimistic about us being able to complete these projects, especially once we've got the development site online - which will be soon.

Once we've got a site which is free of major interaction design problems, I'll be happy to start thinking more seriously about more contentious changes - things which are not so central to the basic reasons for the site's existence. Maybe that'll be soon, but we'll have to see how long the core stuff takes.

On a less technical note, I think that another reason the site hasn't been flourishing the way it should* is that we're still trying to shake off the vestiges of a kind of Only The Best Is Good Enough culture, which stifled growth for a long time. People can't always get it right! Fail again! Fail better! There is no other way! If people feel daunted, even intimidated, by a perceived demand for quality, then this site cannot do much to help them to improve as writers, and we are failing in the thing that made us great in the first place. This is why we're retiring the Honor Roll as soon a possible, to replace it with something that rewards well-received writing without penalising less successful experiments. It's also part of the reason why we want to move away from 'nuking' unsuccessful submissions, instead marking writeups that haven't gone down well as drafts, for easy reworking if the author wants to - although there are various other reasons why that system would make far more sense, too.

I don't know if the technical fixes are all that's required, but I'm pretty sure they will help. For the rest... well, it's not hard to give good feedback, to politely suggest ways that things could be improved, and to make people feel welcome... is it?

* I should note here that reports of E2's imminent doom are not borne out by an actual graph of the site trajectory: writeup submission rates haven't particularly dropped off in the last two and a half years.

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