Saturday, July 27, 2013

Welcome to the ring, maybe?

To the managers of the rings to which this ring belongs:

Before we continue ... most ringmasters, as they apply to have their rings join other rings, don't seem to spend a lot of time thinking about one simple, obvious question. "How, after a visitor has surfed my ring, is he supposed to find his way back to one of the rings to which my ring belongs?" Really, from the standpoint of Webring navigability, shouldn't we be thinking of the entire ring being the site and not just the ring homepage? I've addressed that issue by including a new link on the navigation code marked "rings", which, when clicked on, will take the reader directly to the code for the rings to which the ring belongs. None of this business of expecting people to scroll down through a few pages worth of introduction, which they've already read, and then wondering why there is so little return traffic, as if the visitor had nothing better to do with his time.

That link is powered by another, secondary support ring built underneath this one, so as a ringmaster, I should be able to update that link throughout the ring instantly, ensuring that aside from relatively brief times after a site of mine has gone offline (and before I've become aware of this), that link should always be good.

To the would-be applicant to this ring:

How much really needs to be said about this, I wonder?

This is a ring for fiction written by and for adults, which is not to say "adult fiction" - I'm not asking for erotica, and I'm not going to accept porn. But I'm also not going to accept pages that sound like something written to appeal to high school students.

It is not a ring for all fiction written for adults. One can certainly write intelligent, emotionally mature science fiction and fantasy, and there is a place for such fiction. This just isn't that place. Anything submitted to this ring must fall, in very loose terms, under the category of "literary realism", not in the stricter sense of requiring banal settings populated by "ordinary" people, whatever those would be, but in the broader sense of being, as a relative of mine would so eloquently put it, "(excrement) that could actually happen." Don't set anything more than ten years in the future. Don't write about any superheroes, or aliens, or elves or witches. Let's try to avoid the whole spy genre, given the urge that will be felt to turn the spy into James Bond. Let's present a fictional world that strongly resembles the real world in which we inhabit, without using a lot of gimmicks or gadgets and without the slightest hint of magic or anything supernatural. Let us be focused more on character development and plot than on world construction, and do our (possibly amateurish) best to create something that, with straight faces, we could call literature.

Specifically, literary fiction - you are not to submit poetry to this ring. I know the difference between blank verse and fictional prose, and so do you, so don't pretend that you don't. We're not going to haggle or have a test of wills over this, and I'm not going to be nice to somebody who ignores this point. One of the more sensible suggestions I've heard online is that one adopt something called a "one strike and you're out" policy. If one has a reasonable policy, and somebody does something that he absolutely, as a reasonable man, should have known that he should not have been doing under that policy, as an administrator one should not give him a warning, one should just send him out the door, and be done with him, forever. If an applicant submits something clearly inappropriate, and then comes back later and asks "OK, is this what you meant", I will not look at that application, no matter what. If the applicant has won a Nobel prize in literature for what he has written on that site, I still won't look at his application, because it's a matter of principle. Rules don't mean anything, if they can be ignored without consequences following, and rules should apply to everybody when they are just and reasonable, as opposed to those written for the benefit of those seeking to game the system at the expense of the moral rights of others; eg. a rule requiring the member to refrain from defending himself, when being libeled by the friends of the admin.

What could be more just or more reasonable than expecting people to refrain from spamming a group? What legitimate moral concern fails to be addressed when such an expectation is met?

Q: Why were you telling people to use this as the ring forum, back when the real ring forum was obviously on Flickr?

A: (Updated, October 4, 2013) Note the tense. Flickr's redesign has fouled up navigability, and in response, I've stopped using the group on Flickr as the ring forum. The navigability issues posed by something like the current design were explained to them, and they responded by tweaking the redesign in such a way as to make those issues worse. I wish that was a joke. It isn't. The staff has repeatedly displayed an extraordinarily bad attitude toward its users, apparently thinking that their service was so unique and essential that no matter how badly they behaved that the users would always come back for more, and eventually, as arrogant people tend to, they overreached. In the course of any negotiation, if one's position would leave the one with whom one is negotiating with nothing, no matter how strong one's position is, the other party will walk, and that's what happened. I could not have left the ring forum where it was without grossly breaching the most basic standards of Webring navigability. I moved, not in order to "teach Flickr a lesson" or to make a point, but because under the circumstances, I was now obligated to do so.

But, even before the redesigns of the summer of 2013, I was already moving away from the use of Flickr as a host for the ring forum, offering this by way of explanation:

"First of all, what you saw (and see) on DeviantArt is only a temporary location, which I'm using while I look for another host. Yes, there is some merit to joining the group, in spite of this, because its host isn't a bad network on which to have a presence (as long as you avoid the chatrooms and company fora), and I'll be asking for feedback about where we should locate out of the members there. Said social network is free and easily joined, so you're not going to be giving up a lot by joining, even if we don't stay. The group will not be discontinued, it will just stop being the ring forum after a while.

There was a group on Flickr which was going to serve as the forum for this group. You might still be hearing from it, in a sense which I'll soon explain, but it will not be used for its originally intended purpose, if it will be used, at all. Lately, I've been rather disillusioned with Flickr, finding that it has fallen far short of my earlier expectations, both as a company and as a community. My thought, when I started becoming as deeply involved with it as I was to become, was that photography was the sort of interest that could tie a lot of different in interests together, bringing together a wide variety of people who could learn much from each other. I don't know whether or not this could ever have been the case, say if the Flickr staff had been prudent enough to refrain from setting their system to allow users to post their photos to dozens of groups at a time. What is clear is that under the culture of Flickr, as it currently exists, such a vision would not be a realistic one.

When I mentioned not submitting blank verse as fiction - that's very close to something that somebody really did on Flickr and yes, he should have known better. The character I keep running into on Flickr is the spammer with the well developed sense of entitlement, the person who will walk into a group with a posted rule announcing a six group maximum for photos in the pool, post something off topic which he has crossposted to 70 groups, go into the discussion section of the group to make a scene after his photo has been removed from the pool, and then protest the lack of "transparency" in the management of the group when his little tantrum is deleted. The attitude that is frequently found is that all groups are supposed to be photo dumps, that being able to spam the group or groups of one's choice is an entitlement and that rules are made to be ignored, unless they've been put in place to enable the better established and connected trolls. These are attitudes that have done nothing to build community, and certainly haven't made Flickr a good place to start a writing group. I have yet to see anybody try that and really succeed, unless one counts that group a pack of teenaged girls started for posting their romantic fantasies about the Jonas Brothers to be a "success." The rest of the writing groups have been silent.

The culture is what it is, but that doesn't mean that we can't get any use out of it. This ring will be promoted, in part, as a side effect of an active engagement on Twitter. Twitters that have pictures and other rich media on them are likelier to be followed, so I'll run a Flickr group or two through IFTTT into the same twitter on which I'll be announcing updates to the ring. People who specifically want to follow updates to the ring should be able to do so, I would think, because a tag (#ring) will be attached to the tweets about the ring. This is easily done, or at least so I've been promised, as a user, because IFTTT allows that as an option on the feeds one runs through the service. We'll see if that works, but it should. IFTTT has proved itself to be highly reliable.

Relatively little has changed. My lack of faith in Flickr was vindicated, and that faith had already been leading me to see alternatives to Flickr. About all that changed was that I cut the links to the Flickr group on the homepage for the group serving as the ring forum, and send everybody to what had been the companion group on DeviantArt, instead. The Flickr group has been put on indefinite hiatus, in part because of the behavior of the membership, and in part because of the behavior of Flickr.

Q: Why have both a ring forum and a ring management list? Isn't that redundant?

A: In the long run, it will be, but for now, my rings are quite small, and people can be very hesitant about posting to fora with few members and little content. The ring management list is there to give the other fora a jump start. As each of them become active enough to be self-sustaining, the ring management list will be demoted to being little more than a place to get in touch with me, the ringmaster, personally, and for me to ramble on about G-d knows what. I'm a blogger, you know. We're like that.

I'm sure that there will be other questions and if so, and they're intelligent questions, I'll answer them on this blog. Yes, the one that you're on, right now. General instructions for joining the ring can be found here.