The "Official" History of ZOID CITY Community and Community Competition

There may be other less complete and certainly less complimentary histories of ZOID floating around the web, but this is the official one and with luck it answers the quesions: "where did all this come from? How did we get from there to here, and why are stuck where we are RIGHT NOW?" The answers may surprise you or they may bore you but there as close to the truth as I can get

Eileen H. Kramer/ZOIDRubashov -- 9/5/00

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Table of Contents
The Revelation 11/98 -- 2/16/99 A Good Idea Gone Bad 1/99 -- 2/16/99 From the Ground Up 2/99 -- 6/6/99
Getting the Kinks Out 6/6/99 -- 1/11/00 The Human Factor 6/6/99 -- 1/24/00 Hardly a Dead Loss 1/24/00 -- 6/1/00
Schism and Sea Change 6/22/00 -- ?? Where We Are Right Now7/12/00 -- ?? And What Do You Get Out of All This
Back to the Main ZOID Page Back to the All About ZOID To the Email ZOID Rubashov

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The Revelation

It was around Thanksgiving of 1998 that I made my first acquaintance with the Site Fights on a "spirit page" of a woman known as Secretive. Secretive had a page advertising what seemed to be a basketball team called the Phoenix Warlords. I couldn't exactly picture Secretive as a basketball fan so I took a closer look at the page. I like surprises. That was how I learned about Site Fights. This kind of advertising with "spirit pages" is called viral advertising, and it is the web site equivalent of word of mouth.

The reason I had never before heard of Site Fights was that I moved in academic mailing list circles and on spiritualist web boards. You have to be near someone with the virus to be infected, just as you have to be close by to hear of anything by word of mouth. Well, Site Fighting looked time consuming, and my site which was borrowing some bandwidth would need some work. I put off entering until winter break.

By then I was excited and ready to learn everything I could about the fights. I also considered it research. I had no idea how "native" I would go. What I became a part of was one of the best kept secrets on the net. Voting and Visiting competitions bring people together in ways that the fragmented internet usually can not do. True, the crowd at most voting and visiting competitions could be more diverse, but it is still a nice mix of ages, interests, and nationalities and of course skill levels. I was impressed. I enjoyed travelling from team to team to view sites, exchange votes, and then carry out my end of the bargain.

True I learned that my own team's site was a mess and complained about it, but by and large gathering my supporters and talking to them was a positive experience. So was cheering. I even won a DLoudest Cheer award.

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A Good Idea Gone Bad

So you may ask, "where did it all go wrong?" It went wrong in a lot of places only I did not notice. It went wrong when my graphics that I donated to my team, the Defenders, were not even acknowledged. It went wrong when a strongly worded letter about the condition of the web site precipitated the team manager's resignation. To this day I do not fully believe that I fragged DGeneral, yet I may have done just that. It went wrong when I realized by looking at the vote exchange board that I was the only one on my team exchanging votes which meant the only one with a real campaign.

It went wrong when I entered the War Zone. The War Zone at Site Fights is round four, and the first round in which one is up against people from outside one's team. It is also the first elimination round. A second place finish means elimination from the fights. That was all I knew except perhaps I could ask my team manager to let me fight again from round one or two. All of this was unclear and it did depend upon the team since some teams asked that fighters sit out a week. I did not know this at the time.

I knew I loved my supporters and felt close to them and the thought of not being able to write them, even if it was only to remind them to vote, made me indescribably sad. I was facing rejection. That was my reward for being my team's best fighter -- REJECTION. I had been thrown off an elite private mailing list in 1995, and the ghosts of that incident began to resurface. The demons screamed, and I told my supporters exactly what I thought of the Fights. Though I later apologized for my reaction to DMan's response to my letter, I still feel my original sentiments were correct.

I did not know at the time that fighters who have endured many defeats and many journeys through the ranks were common and fierce competitors. I did not know that two of my three opponents in the War Zone were just such multi-entrant fighters. What I did know was that my team managers and anyone else with experience who could have done so, JUST PLAIN DID NOT CARE ABOUT ME.

I often say that one personal letter would have been the difference between my becoming a loyal Site Fighter and ZOIDRubashov. All it would have taken was a personal letter saying: " we know how hard you try. We want you back." or "you probably won't make it this time, but we want you to try again."

I also want to add that in March of 1999, I did return to Site Fights for another campaign. I returned because I liked the people, the fighters, and even my team manager who was the Deputy from DPatrol (read Censors) who initially approved my site. I liked the fighters better than the people on an intellectual mailing list called Cyberculture who refused to take two minutes out of their busy day to vote for a fifteen year old fighter up against a secretly fihting team manager who had pull. I decied that Site Fighters, whatever their faults, made better company because at least they would have known what to do to fix a small injustice in an effective way.

Nonetheless, I knew that I would not be staying at Site Fights....Something else was on the drawing board.

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From the Grond Up

My relationship with Site Fights was always a passionate love-hate affair. As with a lover, I forgave Site Fights its defects as long as it loved me back or at least made a pretense of accepting me. With rejection, though, it was time to tackle the many things I found wanting in Site Fights.

Lack of security penalized new fighters who worked hard. What good was friendship and fun if keeping them depended on constant and strenuous campaigning?

Lack of Communication. Fighters do not know how many hours per week a campaign takes, how many supporters they need to carry, or even their scores. I did not know what would happen upon my second place finish in the War Zone.

Blind scoring. The ten point system does not let a second place fighter know whether she is fifty votes behind or nipping at her opponent's heels. Without good information, good decisions are not possible. The ten point scoring system is therefore inherenetly fraudulent because it conceals information.

An uneven and inconsistent team structure. New fighters do not know that choice of a weak team can leave them with a fast campaign and a brick wall in the War Zone, or that on a strong team they may never make it past the second or third round. They do not know that different teams score differently. They learn this only after their campaigns are underway.

Approval rules which are censorship, that screen out strongly worded political sites, unpopular artistic expression, and "those people."

Snitching and the inability to complain about those in charge.

A lack of attention to intellectual growth and personal development

If there was going to be a new voting and visiting community, it was going to have to have a new structure. This meant building from the ground up. For several weeks in the spring of 1999, I passed around drafts of the documentation that would become the backbone of the ZOID site. The Approval Rules contained clear definitions that allowed almost all personal sites to compete and their owners to join. There were houses, ZOID's equivalent of teams, but no intermural competition to "weed people out." Members are after all human beings, not noxious plants. All fighting was at large. ZOID scored by the percentile range method which gives fighers a brutally honest picture of where they stand. ZOID also would feature a one-pass voting booth so that voting would not involve opening an endless series of ballots.

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Getting The Kinks Out

With the end of my second Site Fights, campaign, ZOID moved from being a mass of documentation to becoming a web site on Geocities, and in late June 1999, we moved to, our present home. The front page, the Main Navigation Table went through several redesigns. Exhibition Areas where you can see elaborate links to fighters' sites on display, were originally at the House Sites. There was a work requirement. We began looking for additional members.

We staged our first practice fight, a few scrimmages with links, and then finally real fights. Our ballot software provides us with a one-stop check off form with a SQL database behind it. I created a spreadsheet template for tallying percentile range scores.

Our first problem was that ZOID was just plain designed way too large. I had designed ZOID after experience with Site Fights, and limited experience with Web Brawls. I had designed ZOID for four hundred fighters not four to eight. Some things just plain did not work. Work requirement was one. Houses also functioned poorly. Many folks who joined ZOID did not want an added layer of beaurocracy smothering them. Multiple exhibition spaces were also a bad idea. Scoring late at night was exhausting.

Fortunately, we adjusted and improved. There was no reason not to have a single exhibition area or release the " ballot snapshots" of raw scores. I also created a schematic to further explain statistical scoring. Eventually the work requirement became every other week, then largely unenforced, and then voluntary. Over time the house structure also collapsed. This was through group consensus though I fought it for as long as I could. I had one of the largest house sites at ZOID, Vessels of Clay which is now ZOID CITY Sound and Vision. Our approval rules and Sunday-Thursday alternate week fighting schedule have stayed. They seem to work well.

In November of 1999, ZOID faced its greatest technical challenge. The hard drive on my computer went bad. Fortunately, it gave plenty of warning and I did back up most of my files, but all historical records to ZOID were lost. Fortunately, I was able to set up for competition and score from work. I was even allowed into the building late at night with my pass key. I am very grateful to my understanding employer and to Public Safety at Columbus State University for helping keep ZOID flying.

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The Human Factor

ZOID CITY's greatest challenge, however, was never technical. It is in fact amazing how little money and skill it takes to put a web site competition community together. It costs less than $10 a month to rent ad-free web space that lets you run CGI, not that we run our own ballot. The outsourced ones are simply better.

The problem is recruiting. It is not that I am lazy or that ZOID is inherantly bad. It is simply that we have never had the base of campaigners to create the necessary viral advertising. Viral advertising is powerful because the first task of any advertising is to say "look at me!" Viral ads do this because they go from friend to friend. One is simply more likely to listen to a friend than a stranger.

Instead, I have used targetted direct advertising, looking for Site Fighters who have a "re-entry decision, " those about to be eliminated, and writing to them asking them to join ZOID. This was and still may be an effective strategy though it is controversial. I had a ten percent positive rate for my letters which I have been told by those in sales is excellent. The strategy also came at a price. It is in your face as is any direct email. My colleagues also would not do it. This was not due to moral scruples. This was due to the fact that they found Site Fighters distasteful and advertising and sales distasteful.

Direct marketing is also high stress. Twice I was flamed by Site Fights brass, Taz, currently of Site Wars Mystical Warriors, and Kat Daddy of DTigers, now called Site Wars Jungle Cats. Both of these staff members threatened to complain to my email provider and ISP. I refused to back down. I hunkered down and used the anonymizer when posting for vote exchange and I got a separate email address for recruiting. This was both in case I lost the email address, and also to keep the flames out of my mailbox.

In addition, I exchanged votes with Site Fighters. This at least brought them to our ballot and even got three of them to switch. It also wreacked havoc with the distribution of scores. I used to feel sick every time I scored the competition. Due to our small size, I fight, adverise, campaign and score. I don't have the pull of a certain Site Fights team manager but I do have a campaign or at least I had one. I also let people know my status as Head of the Board of Trustees and I let every one know that the site I campaign for is mine.

Meanwhile, starting about November of 1999, Site Fights began running a defamatory ad. You can learn about the ad at this site. The web site explains why the ad was fraudulent and how it created a hostile atmosphere. Once again, I angered the Site Fights brass. Yes, I am very good at this. This time it was Seska or DStarla, manager of the Starfighters. We exchanged some correspondence that sickened and saddened me. She threatened to take me to court. Very few things scare me less than the threat of a law suit. Meanwhile, I set up a guestbook on the site about the ad and invited high ranking Site Fighters to the site, by signing their guestbooks. I let the word get around and soon the guestbook, or Steam Pit as it was called, filled with ugliness. Ten days after the site about the defamatory ad opened, the ad itself vanished from Site Fights.

All this anger and the resulting stress had a cost. In late January of 2000, I dropped my vote exchange. It was making me sick to vote. I had become burnt out. With the end of vote exchange, recruiting also came to a halt. I continued to run competitions and hope that some day my funk would leave me. No one else wanted to advertise. We were all set to stagnate.

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Hardly a Dead Loss

Yet time spent not recruiting or exchanging votes was hardly a dead loss. I spent most of the time creating more graphics for ZOID CITY Sound and Vision. My graphics skills improved markedly. I taught a one credit course that semester, and finally ended up spending three weeks in Europe, partially at company expense. I spent a lot of time thinking, and when I returned I began to recruit again.

This time the results were not as promising as they had been the previous fall. Some of this is undoubtedly due to the bad blood between the Site Fights staff and me. The staff may have sent around letters warning of me. I am always grateful for free publicity though at times I also saw eliminated fighters retained. More importantly, Site Fights, had become more serious about retention. Web Brawls was always more serious about it then Site Fights. Web Brawls has a policy of dropping Challenge fighters back two rounds uniformly and letting them know about this well in advance.

Site Fights now had many nonelimination teams. This is not ZOID's doing but the presence of Fantasy Fights and Rumbles as well as Web Brawls probably started the trend. An eliminated fighter can go elsewhere. That was something I already knew. Site Fights was finally learning.

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Schism and Sea Change

On June 22, 2000 the Site Fights tore iteslf in two becoming both Site Wars and Site Fights. Efront had purchased Site Fights and those team managers who chose not to go along with the change set up their own competition. They may also have taken some of Site Fights' corporate assets with them, most notably a web space reseller and CGI provider known as Seventh Gate. DMan insists that the breakup was over the creation of new teams. No matter what the cause, the split was over power and money, in other words, politics. You can read about the schism here. The schism and the rise of Fantasy Fights have changed the complexion of the voting and visiting world. My current vote exchange list contains eleven site fighters and eight fighters at other competitions.

In addition, when I cruise the Site Fights rosters looking for fighters to support or invite, I find I have a reject rate of twenty-five to fifty percent. This is due to slap together sites that are unloadable, crippled, or unreadable or which look unfinished and filled with broken graphics. Site Wars currently tends to attract better sites because they are a newer and younger competition.

Meanwhile, Site Fights has started its own hosting service as has Site Wars. This enhances the viral advertising base since both of these competitions make a lot of remotely hosted CGI goodies available. Also the quality of sites at these providers is probably better than some of the slap together offerings created elsewhere. The reseller option is not yet an option for ZOID.

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Where We Are Right Now

On July 12, 2000 Evander, my white blue-eyed boy of joy, formerly 11.5 pounds of neutered tom cat love (He weighs less than nine pounds now. I think he has lost half his body weight.) was diagnosed with feline leukemia. He is in the end stages of his disease. I am clearly in no shape to take on the rigors of direct recruiting. I have reaquired a modest vote exchange base, and that is the best I can do.

I would like to do the hard thing and expand and advertise ZOID beyond the traditional voting and visiting competition markets. The site quality will be better. The new members will be able to handle life on a mailing list, and differences such as the fact that ZOID is noncommercial and nonprofit will matter.

This is a tough crowd, and to attract them, the ZOID site needs to make sense and work perfectly. This has meant a massive revision that I have been slowly working on for the last month or so. This history is a part of that revvision. The last part of the revision will be a check over and clean up of the Portal Project and a face lift for the Main Navigation Table as well as a rewrite of our manifesto. As of September 29, 2000 the main Navigation Table is revised and rechecked for typoes. The manifesto is rewritten and I have yet to touch the portal page. Watch us change. Watch us grow!

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And What Do You Get Out of All This?

ZOID CITY Community and Community Competition serves as the community service requirement for my job. In addition, I have improved my human capital. My graphics skills have gotten better, and I have become skilled enough at using remotely hosted CGI that I gave a paper at COMO, a librarians' convention in Georgia in the fall of 1999. Most importantly, I have brought together people whose paths would not otherwise cross. That is what a voting and visiting competition community is all about. ZOID may be small, but we are a success.

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Last revised 9/5/00