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.
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.
See Kevin’s post to the left?\
The way the pledge drive works is that if the goal isn’t meant, none of the money pledged will go to Ficly and no one will be charged. At this point to be so close to the goal is great, but Ficly continues to need that extra little bit to reach the ultimate the goal.\
I just wanted to clarify things, since I don’t think the process is intuitive.\
Thanks to everyone who has pledged!
A couple links for you to click if you’re into that kind of thing:
My SxSW Panel submission – Called From Doer to Manager, I hope to talk about making the transition from individual contributor to manager and the steps in between. I don’t know who’s going to be on the panel yet, but the first step is to get votes! So, if you think it would make a good SxSW panel, I’d appreciate a click.
The Ficly Server Support Project – We’re 13 days from the deadline and still \$76 dollars short. You can pledge as little as a dollar and it all goes towards paying Ficly’s hosting bills for the next year.\
There you go…
Ficly is doing fine, and it’s a nice break from work stuff to go play in something uncomplicated without a bunch of dependencies. The community is great and they produce some fantastic stories.\
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m enamored with Kickstarter and asked them if I could create a project for Ficly to see if we could get the community to help us out with the hosting costs for the coming year. I figured \$800 would cover the co-location facility and our Amazon bill (we store all the images people upload there and probably some other stuff in the future), and maybe some upgrades to Ficly’s box (I just realized I should add more RAM, for example).\
They said yes, and Wednesday night, I created the Ficly Server Support Project. In the first 48 hours, we’ve raised almost 75% of the total, and we still have 31 days to go!!\
If you can help out, I’d appreciate it. Ficly’s not going anywhere, but the help is definitely appreciated and makes things a little easier on Jason and me.\
It’s not done, but I nagged Jason enough so we’ve launched it anyway!! I present to you, my dear readers… Ficly. There’s a long story to tell about how any why Ficly came to be and why we couldn’t leave well enough alone. I might as well tell it.\
Building ficlets, for both Jason and me, was the best experience of our professional lives (he told me that, anyway, and I believe him). We had total freedom to do the right thing, which is rare, especially at AOL. We, along with Ari, Cindy and Jenna, built something beautiful. And then, it all sort of went weird. Everyone eventually left AOL, and I was left alone to keep the site kind of up and running even though I’d been told I wasn’t allowed to work on it anymore. Then, I left AOL last summer to go work at Music Intelligence Solutions on stuff I’d never done before.\
In December, AOL announced that ficlets would be shut down. I went and created the ficlets memorial, because it would be criminal to let all those stories just disappear. A bunch of valiant souls still inside AOL battled hard to get the company to either give me ficlets outright or donate it to a non-profit – it obviously didn’t happen. Jason and I e-mailed back and forth a few times about how sad it was to see ficlets die and that we really should do something about it. But, who’s got the time?\
It was Jason who pushed until I agreed. Jason got Tom Osborne and Owen Shifflett from Viget Labs to jump in and save the day (because you really don’t want me designing anything). They designed what you see on the site, and it’s more than I could have hoped. Our pal Joe helped out when he could, and I worked a couple hours at night during the week and a few hours on weekends when I wasn’t working late at the office. Five months later, and several helping hands later, here we are.\
I’m extremely happy with how it’s turned out, and with the reaction from the community so far. We wouldn’t have built Ficly if the ficlets community wasn’t so great. We did it for them, and because we have a lot of fun working together – even when it’s over e-mail.\
I don’t think of Ficly as a “side” project and we’re certainly not a startup. Ficly is an art project. We built it out of love – and a passion for fostering creativity. I think Jason put it best in an e-mail, “My job isn’t building web pages. It’s delivering happiness by the kilobyte.”\
I don’t know where Ficly goes from here. I know I have a laundry list of stuff I wanted to do on ficlets that we’ll probably get around to eventually. For now, it feels good to have done what we’ve done so far. It was hard making time for it, but I’m glad we did.
(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…
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.