Three-and-a-half years ago, I sat at my desk and made my pronouncement to about 40 people who were listening that we had begun work on Customize.org: EVO--a new version of Customize.org. Steve "revird" Driver has a recording of that announcement still sitting in his archives. For that matter, so do I.
The desk has changed--and so has the environment. I've gone from being a college student to a professional developer with several years of experience under his belt. I've gone from a 3 bedroom apartment with my buddies to a great house with a greater girl. And, I speak to you tonight having left Customize.org staff around 3 years ago to pursue my career. But Custo didn't change--and looking back honestly; how could it have? Three college students with jobs on the side trying to pull together a huge website engine? An impossible task.
But there was a more important aspect to what was happening--while we weren't ready for the challenge, neither was the rest of the Internet. I'd be lying to you if I said the EVO code we worked on 3 years ago bore any resemblance to the code of this EVO; but still, we had the groundwork in our minds. Making the site as social as possible, RSS, better forums, better user pages--it was all in the plans; but we weren't there yet.
Fast forward to Web 2.0--and you have a Web that's ready for EVO. A Web that's developed technologies to make interfaces beautiful, seamless, and truly interactive. And I won't lie--some of the things Mark & Steve put together just shocked the hell outta me when I saw them (really, is that color picker not the coolest thing ever?) Simply put: I think these two did a tremendous job bringing EVO to us and the enthusiasm they are both showing for continuing improvements, both now and post-initial-release is exciting to see. I'm looking forward to seeing EVO mature from its even now impressive state into a true Web marvel.
Having covered EVO and covered (at least briefly) myself--I now turn my attention to you. As cliche as it sounds smattered in all this talk of "Web 2.0" it is, not surprisingly, the most important point I need to make here. In the 3.5 years of near total stagnation, the user base has grown--but the true member base doesn't seem to have. I've come back recently to see some old familiar faces...but only a few new ones hanging around. I know one of the traditional problems the site faced was a constant perception of a high level of ego--both among the admins and among the most active users. And to an extent, at least during my tenure, this was probably deserved. The admins sat on their high perch and dictated things such as "rankings" for the submissions and what could and couldn't be said on the site. The most active users dictated what style was "good" and what style was "bad." Simply put, there was an aire of elitism that looking back I can now see clear as day.
And so there lies the most important aspect of EVO--the ego (from the admins) has been shed. No more rankings. No more ratings for the bourgeois members. The only "power" the admins have left is to remove submissions which are offensive--yes, even the Featured items are based on user suggestions rather than admin selection.
Tonight, I implore the community--especially the long-time faithful to do everything in your power to shed that ego. Welcome all artists, customizers, and even just the curious with open arms and show them why Customize.org is the premier place for skinners, artists, and their fans alike to congregate, share their work, and participate in what is, at its core, a tremendously fun hobby. All of us as Customize.org members have to make the choice; the admin staff has already shown us that they're ready to give up the ego.
09:23 pm, Tuesday, February 27, 2007 (6 years ago)
Great article Brian. After all these years, there has been a lot of maturing not only with the technology and ideas around the internet itself, but also with the mentality of many of our members. It is pretty obvious that an elitist community can't sustain much growth -- most new users are scared away before they have a chance of getting comfortable.
A lot of people seem to feel that there has been a real void in the customization community over the past years. Steve and I will be giving it our all in making sure we provide the technological foundation for allowing this community to thrive once again (yet unlike ever before). However, the extent of this happening lays in the hands of the community. It will require posts like this to help the site take shape.
So far, the enthusiasm and positivity has been amazing. The beta testers have been doing a great job brainstorming ideas and tracking down bugs. When we fully launch, we will see an influx of new users. How us regulars react will really be a test to see if we can shake off Custo's negative stigma and keep moving in a positive direction.
the way i have been treated by the more talented and recognised artists within this community is testament to the increased maturity and eventual removal of the elitism mentality at custo. up until mid last year i was just a lurker, then i began to become active. naturally, i had many questions, and these were all answered by some of the greats around today. these people became my friends. it is not necessary to name them, because they know who they are. from helping me fine tune skins to even modding a wallpaper for someone they barely knew - people here do care.
i believe as long as these values (and people) remain, then the future of custo is secured. however, i also believe that as times do change, and community needs do as well, it is up to the site admins to respond to the requests of the community (as with the much awaited arrival of evo). a place with an ongoing dialogue such as that will only result in diversity, a more cohesive environment, and ofcourse, great customisation tools for us all to indulge in.
@kinetx - thats a good point, Custo has always had a lot of great people with good intentions. DS and I certainly aren't trying to discredit any of those people, but to just point out that this stigma does exist. I believe the root of the problem was that the rating system was designed in 1998 for a small site, and even though there were people trying to make it a better place, Steve and I weren't around enough to make it happen.
Great post ds, couldn't have said it better myself. I think these past few years have been necessary for almost all of us, we've all grown up, either gone through college, got a job, moved out or just moved to a different place in our lives. I know I needed to grow up and get some life experience, and going through uni did that for me.
Luckily the web grew up too in that time, we've now got better tools, cheaper hosting, more solid business models, and everyone online (on broadband no less). The time is right for everything we ever planned for EVO to finally become a reality! I'm so excited about where this is gonna go, already we can see the beginnings of a new, exciting, refreshed community.
And customization isn't going away, with vista, widgets, myspace layouts and all sorts of new areas it's only gonna get bigger. We need to embrace all areas of customization, and make sure we have in place the help for those who are just starting out. At the same time we must maintain our reputation for quality and our strong (but "personal") community. It will be a fine balance, and we'll need to push the boundaries of what is possible, but with EVO I absolutely believe we can do it.
All you need to do is produce a stable, useful platform for people to attach themselves to and let it go. This platform is exactly what lamp and revird have finally delivered, now it's up to the community. Pretty cool.
As far as elitists go, there's going be people like that in any community, it's how you absorb and use those people that matters. Same goes for trolls, idealists, know-it-alls, dumbasses, cool guys, etc. You roll all these people into a big wonderful blob and that's when something wonderful happens and a collective identity emerges. A growing, huge community like this can't be structured around a few people's ideas of what's good or bad. It has to be allowed to sort itself out and find it's own way. EVO allows this.
great read. i, like kintex lurked around custo for around two years or so before joining. it's true that getting people to appreciate your work at first was quiet difficult, since custo had a reputation of raising the bar, and sub par submissions mostly got shot down (i remember a few of my first works getting deleted :P) but, it was a good thing (for me at least), it helped me improve and work even harder. and in the end, the feedback was great :) although for most new users im sure the experience did kinda scare them off. but, now, with evo. i do hope things take a turn for the better. with new and existing artists coming up. now would be a good time to join in and show off your skills or improve on them.
on a side note, a big thank you to everyone who took part in the development of evo. you've all done a grand job! congrats guys :)
Unusually well said. Of course, it goes without saying that the whole of the change that we have undergone, and the rest to undergo as a community begins with these new developments that we are all a part of.
This site is something to be proud of. Let's make this community something to contribute to, as well as something that contributes.
great article ... and the Evo rendition of customize is great for addressing many of the problems you've outlined... the real test will be when guests and newbies can join in and see how the wonderful custo community copes with the new mix... I'm sure it will be fine ... but it will be different
Coolios. It finally came about. I remember lurking around some two years ago hoping to catch a glimpse of what was to come in the EVO department. Props to lamp, revird and all that have worked on this and also for founding this awesome community to begin with!
Nicely written article DS, i gotta say. I've been basking in nostalgy the last couple of days trying to catch up with all the familiar old faces and i'm glad to see that so many has stayed or came back.
Oh and by the by, DS, bring back the Q&A's! They rocked!