Friday, September 19 2014
This article was written by Charles Star. The views and opinions expressed below are those of Charles Star and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PBEMPlayers. Charles joined SimEnc in October 2010, and was its Chief Editor from January 2011 to January 2012. During his tenure, he greatly improved the organization, clarity, and visual appeal of the site. From his arrival until his resignation, he increased the number of content articles from fewer than 300 to more than 1200. To date, he has made 12,479 of the 23,042 total edits. His research in simming history has led to multiple discoveries of club origins and a greater understanding of the development of our craft. As Captain Dick Sprague he commands the USS Chuck Norris sim. Charles can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for the numerous supportive emails I've received in the wake of my December 9th article, The Wrong Direction for SimEnc. It's encouraging to know that so many others share my concerns for our community! Indeed, even though most of you don't take an active role in recording our history, it's clear that it still means a lot to you all. Unfortunately, the SimEnc Editorial Board doesn't seem to share our appreciation for history. Since my article was published, they have only strengthened their anti-consensus and anti-collaboration policies that are now strangling the once great site. One prominent community leader summarized it best:
"It's a shame to see SimEnc fall into that kind of trap. In a way it's the reverse of Wikipedia's trap, where the deletionistas seem to rule the roost."
After ignoring my emails and SimEnc posts for several months, Chas Hammer finally contacted me on December 12th. I can only assume that he did so because my before mentioned article was already making waves. After exchanging a few emails, Chas offered to open negotiations between the SimEnc Editorial Board and me to copy SimEnc's content into two separate wikis. Chas presented me with an initial split proposal, and I in turn gave him a counter proposal. Chas, on behalf of the SimEnc Board, then responded to that counter proposal on December 16th. To my surprise, they treated my counter proposal as if it were simply a statement of rights (which it wasn't). I was pleased, however, that instead of negotiating a split, they began by discussing the merits of their new policies. I found it odd that they presented a different reason to get me to the table and didn't state this objective outright, but I saw no reason to split hairs on the matter--there was a chance to save SimEnc! Instead, I should have seen the writing on the wall.
Negotiations/discussions continued until I ended them on December 20th after Chas refused to cease using what I consider to be an unethical negotiation tactic. Specifically, I declared the negotiations failed in accordance with the terms both Chas and I had previously agreed upon. Just 32 minutes after I ended negotiations, Chas publicly banned me from SimEnc for what he claimed was a "Failure to comply with SimEnc guidelines." Interestingly, I hadn't made a single content edit in over a week. I feel that it would be unethical for me to reveal any further details of the negotiations now since they were conducted in private. If, however, the Board were to agree to release them in their entirety, I would be open to publishing them under the right conditions.
I, of course, objected to the ban and immediately appealed it to the Board because I had not violated any SimEnc guidelines. The Board then officially denied my appeal on December 22nd. I was surprised to learn from their email that they had actually directed Chas to execute my ban (meaning they were able to bring up the matter, discuss it, vote on it, and complete it all in a little over half an hour). They also further stated that I was banned for two specific reasons:
First, they claimed that I was in violation of SimEnc's first pillar because I "(had) copied all of the SimENC [SIC] material, and plan(ned) to reproduce said material elsewhere... without the express permission of SimENC [SIC] and/or the members of the SimENC [SIC] Editorial Board." However, SimEnc's first pillar states: "SimEnc articles may be freely linked from other sites, and text within SimEnc may be freely quoted provided such quoted text is cited or credited." As can clearly be seen, quoting SimEnc content elsewhere does not require the "express permission of the SimEnc Board" or anyone else. Furthermore, I do not even plan to copy "all of the material" and to "reproduce it elsewhere," as they claimed. Ironically, one Board member already has done this very thing. S/he has not been banned from SimEnc.
Second, they claimed that I "(had) maliciously terminated negotiations without cause and (had) not been sincere in (my) desire to resolve these (policy) issues amicably." I am under no obligation to negotiate with the SimEnc Board, and discontinuing negotiations does not violate any SimEnc guidelines. Furthermore, under the terms Chas and I agreed to before negotiations began, either side was free to end negotiation at any time for any reason. Had I known that they would hold the terms to only apply to me, I never would have entered into negotiations in the first place. Additionally, they should know that my words are indeed "sincere" as I gave them a warning, which they didn't heed, before ending negotiations.
Finally, my ban is in violation of the "Interpretative Guidance" portion of the SimEnc guide: "content concerning a disciplinary action must summarize all major points of view and do so in a neutral fashion." I can assure you that "Failure to comply with SimEnc guidelines" neither summarizes all major points of view nor does so in a neutral fashion. On December 26th, I officially objected to the Board's findings and asked for further clarification on the ban. They have yet to respond.
Where do we go from here?
Unfortunately, SimEnc is still headed in the wrong direction. Pick any metric (e.g., total edits, new information, new articles, new users, active users, etc.) and SimEnc is weaker now than it was when the Board was first introduced back in August. Since my negotiations failed to turn SimEnc back toward a collaborative model, I must revisit the five possible scenarios, in order of net good provided to the community:
5) There is no community wiki.
If I fail to act, we will see scenario #4 play out. If I act, we will see either option #2 or #3, both of which are superior to #4. It is for that reason that I hereby announce that I, along with a few other individuals, have begun development of a new wiki. Its mission will be to become as complete and accurate an encyclopedia of simming history as possible. Unlike SimEnc, this new wiki will always be based on collaboration and consensus decision making among users. We expect to publicly launch the new site in about two to three months. Here are a few hallmarks of how this new wiki will work and how it will differ from SimEnc:
1) You can edit with confidence: The mission of the new wiki and its core principles will never change. You won't visit one day to find that the very nature of the site you had been contributing to has changed, as has happened at SimEnc.
2) You can edit any page at any time: All content pages will be open for normal edits. At no time will pages be arbitrarily locked or will anyone be able to claim ownership of a page to prevent progress, as is required on SimEnc
3) You may post any and all information that is germane: All applicable information about simming history will be welcomed. At no time will relevant information be refused for political reasons, as is common at SimEnc.
4) You have a voice: All new policy proposals will be publicly displayed and open for user comment for at least one week before being voted on by administrators. You won't sign in one day to find a new policy implemented without your voice being heard, as is standard at SimEnc.
5) You may qualify to become an Administrator: Once a user has completed a requisite number of edits, he or she may apply to become an Administrator. The applicant will then be asked to complete a small task to demonstrate competency with both the technical and policy sides of the wiki. At SimEnc, there is a negative correlation between participation & competency and Board membership.
What about SimEnc?
Chas Hammer and the SimEnc Board have been made aware of their mistakes and they have refused to correct them, even to the point of unjustly punishing SimEnc's biggest contributor in a vain attempt to reinforce their failed policies. Have their actions have now risen above general incompetence to gross misconduct? I don't know, and I'm not prepared to take a position yet. I think a reasonable argument could be made for either side. Regardless, SimEnc can no longer be trusted as long as it is under Chas's ownership and the Board's leadership. For that reason, I discourage anyone from continuing to participate at SimEnc. And should Chas and the Board suddenly reverse course now, what's to stop them from simply changing again in the future? Nothing. SimEnc, as we knew it, is dead.
Let me be clear about this: This is not the fault of any single Board member. So please do not go harassing any one of them. As with any closed group, an individual member cannot be blamed for the actions of the group as a whole. We don't know what's happened behind closed doors and can't begin to speculate on who supported which measures. I place the blame for SimEnc's demise squarely on Chas Hammer. He is the owner of SimEnc, and he created and instructed the Board: The Board failed under him. When I made my 12,000+ edits, I trusted him to protect the project. He didn't When other users made their edits, they also trusted him to protect the project. He didn't. The only honorable option for Chas now is to dismiss the Board and turn SimEnc over to someone (or a group) who 1) has an appreciation for simming history, and 2) can be entrusted to protect the ideals SimEnc once held. Only that will prevent the new wiki from launching.
What can you do?
First, stay tuned here. Future announcements about the development and launch of the new wiki will be posted here. If you have any suggestions or recommendations on how it should operate, please do send my way. Your opinion matters! We will always continue this policy of allowing everyone to have a say in policy matters.
Second, we are looking for a few individuals to join our Marketing Board. The Marketing Board will run the front page of the wiki, advertising, recruiting, awards, and relationships with other sites (essentially, anything non-content and non-encyclopedia related). Marketing Board members will not be eligible to be Administrators, and vice versa. This Marketing Board would likely better suit the talents of the members of the SimEnc Editorial Board, for example. So if you're interested in contributing in this manner, please email me.
Again, I can't thank everyone enough for the kind words and messages of support. Even in the midst of this unfortunate controversy, we have many reasons to be optimistic. I think the future bodes well for our community. In fact, I can't wait to see where we go next.