Looking back: ficlets launching

I was going to just post a quote for today’s NaBloPoMo, but I was looking for old posts and stumbled on this one about ficlets launching.

Re-reading it, sixteen and a half years later, a few things jump out:

  • How many people I worked with, and thanked in the post, are no longer with us: Cindy Li, John Anderson and Suzie Austin are all gone, and gone way too soon.
  • How often I think about the people I worked with on ficlets, and how much ficlets opened my eyes to what working at a small startup could be like.
  • I thought that ficlets launched in 2006, but nope, it launched in 2007, and I left AOL in May of 2008.
  • How happy I am that all the links to the stories actually work (because AOL never owned the domain name, and didn’t make me give it to them, I took it back around the time I set up the ficly archive, and ta-da, all the stories live again on the web at their original URLs). I couldn’t do the same for the blog posts, unfortunately.
  • How much ownership we felt over the product and the community. Jason, Joe and I spent a lot of time “rescuing” the stories (thank goodness for Creative Commons licensing), and then building ficly.

Most of the hundreds of projects I’ve worked on over the years (LOL, decades) blur together into vague lumps, but not ficlets. It was just the absolute best, most fun, weirdest thing I’ve ever gotten to do, and I miss it all the time (because working at a startup wasn’t really like that – it was way scarier).

The last thing is just how strong my feelings are for the people I’ve worked with. I may do a terrible job of keeping in touch, but I really do love all of them. The products we work on, they don’t matter nearly as much as the people we work with. And none of it lasts, not the products, not the jobs, none of it – but the people, the people are what’s important, so act accordingly.

My Friend Cindy Li

Cindy Li smiling on top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco

I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years.  I’ve liked most of them, been friends with a lot of them, and loved many of them.  Cindy was definitely in the last category.

Cindy Li and I became fast friends and co-conspirators while we both worked at AOL.  We were on the CSS Working Group together.  We went to SxSW Interactive many many times (we had different but overlapping “gangs” at SxSW but we always intersected somehow during the conference – sometimes in the green room, where we’d try to distract each other’s panelists).  We went to countless dinners, lunches and dim sum brunches.  We caused trouble.  With our pal Jason, we built ficlets and came up with a t-shirt that became a bit of a sensation.

Matt Harris, Patrick Haney and Jason Garber sporting the Geeks Love * shirt at dim sum.

Cindy died on Monday, 10/15/2018. Cindy was amazing. She was equal parts creative, silly, kind, funny and smart.  She was a perfect co-conspirator.  She could take bad ideas and make them brilliant.  She effortlessly seemed to rally people to join the Cindy Li Vortex of Fun Adventures.

Cindy and Kevin making stupid faces for the camera.
Cindy tormenting Jason, one of her faaaavorite pasttimes.
Cindy, about to chow down on a steak at Austin’s Hoffbrau

Cindy brought people together.  She was the ultimate connector, and even though she’s gone, the connections she made with all of the people she impacted all over the world will remain.  After she was diagnosed, Cindy organized a small group of friends from all over the world into her support system.  We were all around, talking to each other about how best to help her and her family, and the whole while she was sick, she was there being the life of the party, right up until the end.  Even with her illness, she was connecting people and spreading love, kindness and empathy.

She was a vortex of love, and fun, and whimsy, and adventure, and you weren’t just along for the ride, you were an integral part of it. I don’t think anyone who knew Cindy thought they were anything less than 100% included and in on the joke, and that’s a rare and beautiful thing.  She was that way until the day she left, I imagine riding a Hello Kitty cloud on her way to organize an adventure with St. Peter and redecorate the gates of Heaven.

Her friends organized a site for sharing memories of Cindy as a way to share with her how much she means to all of us, and as a way for her sons to understand what she meant to us when they’re older.  You can share your own memory of Cindy by following the instructions there, read her obituary, and help her kids out if you’re able.

Ficly and Creative Commons: The Power of Open

[hang2column width=”250″]The Power of Open book cover[/hang2column]

I’ve been a huge fan of Creative Commons pretty much since they launched. If you don’t already know, Creative Commons provides several ways for you to license your work that expressly allow people to use it in certain ways. It’s sort of copyright** – allowing folks to do things with your work that they might not otherwise be able to do legally without a lot of complicated legal wrangling. For example, there are tons of CC-licensed photos on Flickr. Depending on the license, you can use those photos for non-commercial work as long as you provide attribution, all the way to mashing them up in any way you want with absolutely no restriction. This blog has been CC-licensed since the beginning of Creative Commons. All of my photos on Flickr and presentations are too.

But, this post isn’t about my blog. It’s about Ficly (and ficlets, may it rest in peace). Back in 2006, when we first started working on ficlets, I wanted everything to be CC-licensed. Part of the motivation for that was so we could use share-alike licensed photos from Flickr. The other reason was that the share-alike license perfectly fit the premise of the site: anyone can add sequels or prequels to your stories. It took a lot of convincing to get the AOL lawyers to sign off, but after they did some digging, they realized that they didn’t have to do any work writing an additional Terms & Conditions document for the site, since the Share-Alike Attribution license (for the sticklers, out there, I think ficlets used by-sa 2.0) covered it all.

A few months ago, someone from the Creative Commons reached out and said they were writing a book of case studies of sites that use CC licenses and asked me if they could interview me. And of course, I said yes! Well, I’d totally forgotten about it until I got an e-mail that the book, The Power of Open is out now, and my little interview made the cut! You can download the PDF from the site, buy a copy for yourself, or just check out this screenshot of the page about Ficly.

I’m proud to be a part of it, and proud of the ficlets and Ficly communities for creating and sharing almost 70,000 stories with the world.

Someone Doesn’t Like the Name “Ficly”

(the ficlets bit starts about halfway through)\
Well yeah, when you say it that way. Seriously, I think stories will still be called “ficlets” because calling them anything else would sound silly.\
In other news, Jeremy Kieth and Simon Willison both posted about ficlets’ use of Creative Commons. Why did we do it? Well, I wanted to use flickr’s CC-licensed photos and I thought it would be only fair (and possibly required by the license on the photo) if we also licensed the stories under CC. It also fit with the whole concept of the site. Every sequel and prequel is a work inspired by the original, so we might as well allow the inspiration to expand beyond the “walls” of ficlets. It didn’t really develop that way, but it could have. My favorite by-product of the discussion with the lawyers about using CC was that it ended up meaning we didn’t really need any other user agreements. By agreeing to post under CC, you free up anyone to use the stories pretty much however you want. I didn’t think I would be one of those using them, but here I am…

The Ficlets Memorial

Finished and installed just in time, the ficlets memorial is up and running. It’s on my Dreamhost account, so it’s not going to be super speedy, but I’ve cached as much as I can, so it shouldn’t be too slow.\
I’m not entirely happy with it, but I didn’t have time to do much other than make sure I had all the data and that it’s navigable. Thanks to Alexander Grässer, I was able to get all the mature stories as well and now have a full archive of the site from last weekend. The stories should be up-to-date as of this morning, and I’ll do another update tonight before ficlets gets shut down for good.\
I have more plans for the data, and the design, but they’ll have to wait.\
Update: Someone asked if they’ll be able to “take ownership” of the stories in the memorial. Since I don’t have any user data (like how you logged in, your AIM screen name or OpenID), I can’t confirm that the person trying to claim the stories is the original author. AOL won’t budge on giving me the database, and I’m tired of asking. As for how the original ficlets will be included in ficly, I don’t know yet. I’m hoping to at least let people use them as inspiration, but I’m not sure how that will work.\
If someone wants to get the stories and do something else with them, I’d be happy to share the data. I’m planning on creating several sharable versions of the data at some point, but I just don’t have the time right now. The best I can do is a MySQL dump (which won’t help any “normal” people). I’ve never tried creating PDF’s in Rails, so I’ll probably play with generating those from the stories (mostly because I’m curious how many pages The Big Book of Ficlets would be), but that will have to wait.

Categorized as ficlets

Ficly: Live After Ficlets

Like a phoenix from the ashes, something new is in the process of being born. I give you ficly. It’s not much now, but we’re working on it in our spare time. Jason (he was the driving force that brought everything together) has been pushing things forward while my job’s been crazy and while I recover from my epic sinus infection. He got the awesome folks at Viget Labs to help us out with the visual design, which you can get a taste of on the landing page. Right now, all you can do is sign up to be notified when we launch… and that’s about it. But, we’re slowly making progress and I hope to have something for real up in the next couple months (maybe by ficlets’ 2nd birthday at the beginning of March).\
Why do this when I have a full-time job (a more than full-time job, really)? I need a hobby, and I feel a responsibility to the ficlets community. If AOL’s going to abandon them, I’m not. Nothing made me angrier in my last couple years at AOL than when the company shut down products without giving the communities that loved them a place to go. I never quite understood how the company could repeatedly stab their users in the back and then expect them to remain loyal to the brand. And now that it’s happening to my users, well, there’s something I can do… so I am. First, I’m working on a “memorial” to ficlets that will preserve all the stories and keep them pretty much as they are now. That’s pretty much done, I just need to clean a few things up and get it installed in production and it’ll be ready to go. I plan on launching it on the 16th, the day after ficlets shuts down.\
Ficly may take a while to get done. It’s strictly a part-time thing for all of us. But, I’m not done exploring short fiction and community. I never got to “finish” with ficlets (that’s a story I’ll also probably never tell), and there are some experiments I want to try that I’ll never get to do working with music technology (my day job).\
I hope you’ll come along for the ride. We’ve got some fun stuff planned.

Secret Fantasy Revealed!

Ever since Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton) blogged about being a fan of Ficlets, a site that Kevin helped create, I have been harboring a secret fantasy that someday Kevin and I would be at some geeky, computer conference-thingie and we’d run into Wil Wheaton, who would be all, “Kevin, my good man! Glad to finally meet you. Love Ficlets. We must do dinner tonight!” and then, I would GET TO HAVE DINNER WITH WIL WHEATON. How awesome would that be? []{.Batman! .sentence, .run-on .Holy}\
I met Wil Wheaton once. I was a teenager, living in Tucson. I bet you can guess how I met him. Yep, Star Trek Convention! My best friend, Elizabeth, talked me into going because there was nothing to do on a Saturday if the Wildcats weren’t playing basketball. We ran into a fellow classmate and OMG, how embarrassing was that? Wil talked for a bit and some fans gave him some Dr Pepper (I’ve always known we’d be great dinner companions!) and he told some funny stories. Then it was time for autographs and embarrassing things came out of my mouth. True story. I ended up with a signed, glossy 8×10 of The Next Generation cast though, so. After we each received our autographs (embarrassing things didn’t come out of Elizabeth’s mouth, damn it), we went left to some deserted area of the convention hall to kill time before her mom came to pick us up (that is how young we were!). A little while later, Wil ended up there so we got to chat some more. Thinking we’d wasted enough time in that section of the hall, Elizabeth and I wandered to the left and ended up seeing Wil again. As he went in to and then out of the men’s room. At this point, the conversation was a little awkward, heh. I swear we weren’t following him.\
So, yeah. That is my story. I went to one conference with Kevin, but Wil wasn’t there. I can’t say I was too bummed though BECAUSE I WAS TOO BUSY EXPLORING PARIS.\
Tell me your school-era famous crushes and/or secret fantasies, internet!

Categorized as ficlets

Save Your Ficlets!

I’ll have the graveyard up and running by the 15th, but if you want to save your ficlets (which I highly recommend since I’m not getting mature stories and can’t get your drafts), you should follow Chris Meadows’ great tutorial.\
And, if you want to be sure your stories are saved in the graveyard, I wouldn’t right anything after 5PM on the 14th, just in case.\
Also, if you want to get really angry at AOL, go read Wil Wheaton’s great eulogy for ficlets (yes, that Wil Wheaton). I know why AOL won’t turn it over, but I still don’t understand it. But, whatever, onwards and upwards, right?

Categorized as ficlets

Ficlets Est Mort

It was announced on AOL’s People Connection blog today, that ficlets will shut down for good on 1/15. I’ve known for a couple weeks that this was coming, thanks to some advance warning from friends still there. Here’s the comment I posted on that entry:

I knew this was coming, I just didn’t know the day. I tried, with the help of some great people, to get AOL to donate ficlets to a non-profit, with no luck. I asked them just to give it to me outright since I invented it and built it with the help of some spectacular developers and designers. All of this has gone nowhere.\
I’ve already written an exporter and have all the stories (the ones not marked “mature” anyway). I have pretty much all of the author bios too. Since I was smart enough to insist that AOL license all the content under Creative Commons, I’ll be launching a “ficlets graveyard” on 1/16 so at least the stories that people worked so hard one will live on.\
I have mixed feelings about ficlets’ demise. On the one hand, I’m proud of the work we did on it. I’m thankful that AOL allowed me to build it with a truly amazing group of talented folks. I’m humbled by the community that ficlets attracted and the awards that ficlets won.\
On the other hand, I’m sad that I wasn’t allowed to keep working on ficlets. I’m disappointed that AOL’s turned its back on the community, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.\
So, to all the ficleteers out there – your stories will live on, and there may be a couple more surprises in the works before 1/16 if I have my way. Be on the lookout… I’ll post any news to my blog.

I’ll do my best to keep up with the stories as they’re posted so none get lost. If your story is marked “mature”, I haven’t figured out how to crawl it yet. I also haven’t gotten stories’ tags yet, but I have gotten all the author bios and have preserved the prequels and sequels as best I can. I have a little Rails app already done to display everything, and will be providing a downloadable feed of all the stories I’ve scraped so anyone’s free to re-purpose the stories for their own mashups.\
I still have a lot to say about AOL that I’ve been ignoring since I left back in June. I’m not sure I’ll ever write publicly how I feel about the company – because I’m not sure how I feel. On one hand, AOL gave me a career. I started there in tech support as a 20 year-old kid who had no idea what he wanted to do. I left as a 33 year-old System Architect, leaving to go run a team of developers and build really cool web apps all about music (that we’ll be launching soon). On the other… well, let’s just say there’s a lot of “other”.\
If I have my way, there will be more news in the short fiction department in the next month or so… let’s just see how things work out.\
Also, I should have known the ficlets community would do something so kickass it makes me cry… check these out:

Categorized as AOL, ficlets