Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Now what?

The past few days have been tumultuous in the Legoverse. As everyone who reads this blog surely knows by now, on Saturday Brickshelf, the largest image-hosting site devoted to LEGO, went dark. Then on Monday it came back up again, but only for the next two weeks so we can all back up our images.

Emotions have been all over the place on this--anger at the pulled plug, sadness at the loss of a favorite site, elation when it came back, frantic activity as we started backing up, pride and hope as the community has jumped into action. Also, perhaps belatedly, a huge thank you is due to Kevin Loch for hosting such a great service for over ten years. I do, though, still have some serious concerns about the impact to the community. More on that below.

First, let's start with some positive action.

How can we save the lost history? - You've got two weeks. If you go to such forums as Classic-Castle, Classic-Space, and FBTB, you can see concerted efforts by people to save not only their own galleries, but also those of important builders. Check this Brothers-Brick post for links. There are applications for PCs by Bob Kojima and for Macs by Jim DeVona to help with this process. The hope is that at some point in the near future there will be a central location where we can all re-upload these galleries and preserve that communal history. There are also some rumors that the whole archive may be saved in some fashion. If anything comes of those rumors I'll report here.

Where can we post images of LEGO MOCs or go to see other people's MOCs? - There are, of course, hundreds of personal websites out there featuring people's creations. For more communal sites, there are a few purely LEGO offerings. It seems that Sean Kenney has quickly acted to add an image hosting feature to MOCpages, free for now but possibly for a cost in the future. It also seems that all of the thumbnails for old creations still exist on MOCpages, so you can see smaller versions of some of the images you miss. MOCshow is a new site that has sprung up to fill some of the need. We'll see how that site does over time. There are already some more specific community image sites, such as the MyImages albums for the 1000steine.de community (premiere German language AFOL site), the Customs gallery on From Bricks to Bothans (does that take new submissions?), the premiere Star Wars theme site, or for you customizers out there, the Minifig Customization Network has galleries of customized figs and accessories. Please let me know of other community image hosting and I'll link them here. In addition, there are other general photo-hosting sites, some for free, others for a fee (some with a free version and then a pay upgrade with more bells and whistles). Flickr has probably gained the most widespread acceptance within the community, with nice features like the ability to comment on photos and create themed discussion groups. I'd suggest starting by finding the tags feature and searching for images tagged "LEGO". Maj is pretty much the same as Brickshelf, so many are migrating their images there. I would caution that, since it has the same management as Brickshelf, it may face the same challenges in the future. Two sites that I'm less familiar with are ImageShack and Photobucket. I'll have to play with those sites to see how easy it is to find LEGO images. There's probably a good opportunity here for someone to write an application that scans all of these sites and aggregates recent LEGO images, much like ILENN does with blogs. There are also rumors of other LEGO image hosting sites in the works. I'll immediately report on any such sites if those plans come to fruition.

All of that said, some are raising concerns over a plethora of sites and urge caution as we consider our next steps as a community, as in this by Andrew, this by Steve, and this by Clifton.

I share those concerns, which leads to thoughts on why I was saddened by the disappearence of Brickshelf. There are two reasons - community and history.

Community - There have been many debates about whether the proliferation of LEGO forums is good or bad, usually formulated around the question of whether Lugnet should remain the "one true site" compared to other breakaway communities like Classic-Castle, Classic-Space, etc. Of course this argument has always ignored the fact that Lugnet was never the one true site, but rather the main site for Adult English-speaking fans, mostly in North America. Regardless of that, I've always been in the "Let a thousand flowers bloom" camp - if new forums are strong and useful, they will thrive and attract new members to the community, if not, they will die off. However, the one thing that has always anchored the community, through the growth, and death, of various splinter groups, has been Brickshelf. Even if I mostly read a forum devoted to, for instance, Castle, I can still follow and enjoy all of the great Space or Train or whatever creations. I also keep up with events; if someone posted a creation on Brickshelf and notes that it's for a contest, for instance, usually I could figure out what the contest was and post an announcement on my blog or some appropriate forum. If each segment of the community has its own image site-of-choice, we lose this connection between the different aspects of the community. Even more profound is the connection with LEGO fans with other primary languages. There's a pretty good connection between the English-language and European AFOL communities - primarily because of German, Portuguese, French etc. AFOLs who also participate in English-language forums. There is much less connection, though, with the Asian AFOL community, probably due to the much greater linguistic differences, making it harder for us to peruse eachother's websites. Except for the purely visual Brickshelf. Who hasn't, for instance, enjoyed the galleries of such builders as Moko or Sugegasa? Another aspect of community is the growth of LEGO blogs. In the past year there has been a rapid growth of blogs highlighting and commenting on great creations. Mostly we've found these on Brickshelf. Yes, there are other sites as listed above, but it will be much harder to find great MOCs. Finally, when an event such as BrickFest or some other gathering occurs, thousands of fans attend virtually, by checking out all of the galleries posted on Brickshelf, sometimes even while the event is still occuring.

Of course, all of these concerns will be lessened if the community eventually settles in to one main image site, whether one of those listed above, some new site, or a resurrected Brickshelf. We're still left with my second major concern - history.

History - The fact that Brickshelf came back for two weeks did help alleviate a huge portion of this concern. As noted above, there is a concerted effort going on to save those images. Assuming these are all gathered together again in the future, we will still have access. However, there are now hundreds of thousands of forum posts, blog posts, link lists and articles that become instantly obsolete on July 31. Our hobby is, at it's base, about an object - the LEGO brick and things that can be built of bricks. At a fest or a LUG meeting we can actually physically hold another person's MOC. Otherwise we are left with images. Post after post is based on the use of images to show off a MOC, highlight a particular detail, discuss a building technique, or preview a new set. Even if all of the MOCs currently on Brickshelf reappear on some other site, the links in all of those discussions are now broken. Some of these will be fixed - for instance the Classic-Castle admin team are working to preserve images from our "how-to" articles, contest winners, featured MOCs, etc. I've also backed up images of featured MOCs on my blogs, and will eventually fix those broken links. But it's impossible to go back and fix links in all of those forum posts.

If at some point a resurrected Brickshelf were to reappear, even a locked version without the ability to upload new stuff, that would be a great benefit to the communal memory.

Anyway, as I started this post, these past few days have been tumultuous, sad, stressful, but I do have confidence that the community will find new ways to express ourselves. A huge thank you is due to Kevin Loch for hosting our images for all of those years, and I hope he'll be part of a new way forward.


Andrew B. said...

Excellent post, Bruce.

Preservation of the community's history is indeed important, and I'm hopeful that we can come up with some sort of solution that will preserve Brickshelf as it is now (perhaps with images scaled down to no more than 800x600). Time will tell...

C. Straaberg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C. Straaberg said...

Hi Bruce,

Thanks for noting MOCshow in your post.

I agree with your concerns on splitting the communities, however several site owners are communicating and working on tighter integration between the sites.

In the long run, it may be more realistic to have several smaller sites than one big Brickshelf, although I would have preferred if Brickshelf could stay.

Carsten, Administrator of MOCshow.com

John said...

The user gallery at brickery.net has been opened. Register for free and create your albums! http://www.brickery.net/