rec.arts.anime -- Broken or Split?

Copyright © Roderick Lee / HardKOR Vision-ary Publications, March 1996
All rights reserved.
When I first volunteered to write "Beyond the Web," one of the things I certainly never expected is the fact that due to independent reasons, both myself and my silent partner, Steve Pearl, would find ourselves absent for two months from that sometimes inspiring, sometimes infuriating, but always illuminating archaic forum known as rec.arts.anime. Thus, it was with pleasant surprise to discover that r.a.a. could still capture an audience's fancy during a con panel, in this case the "Offline, Online" panel at Katsu Con Ni just recently.

In addition to the two of us, also sitting on the panel were Editor-in-Chief Elliotte Kim, and two draftees from the audience, Anime Favorites Poll moderator and fanfiction and r.a.a. persona, Ryan Mathews, and C. Scott Rider, producer of U.S.-based anime projects, most notably the last two Running Ink titles, "Conscience" and No Enemy But Time.

With three prominent r.a.a.'rs on the panel and a receptive audience of r.a.a. readers, the topic quickly turned to the current proposal to split the newsgroup. Some background is in order here. As the net has grown over the past three years, so, not surprisingly, has r.a.a. And with that growth has come an increasingly louder clamor to split the group. These calls to split had become so commonplace that r.a.a. veterans became accustomed to waiting for one thread storm to blow over in preparation for the next one.

The distinguishing characteristic were almost all the same. A relative newcomer with less than two years experience reading the group decides that the group is too big and wants it to be split. There is the first problem. Someone wants their r.a.a. spoon fed to them without to research either news filtering techniques or the cumbersome process involved in splitting a newsgroup. Second, any proposed split guidelines were not viable. Discounting show-based splits, which are explained down almost immediately, by far the largest number of proposals are those based along the TV/OAV line, often under the additional assumption that almost everything released in North America is an OAV. To which the standard reply is: What about Ranma? Or Orange Road? Or Tenchi Muyo!? All of which have both OAV and TV versions. A non-viable split is worse than no split at all since an improperly configured split can actually result in two or three large groups rather than one large base group and smaller sub groups.

This problem persisted until last year, mid-1995, when, in the midst of yet another split thread, someone came up with the idea to derive a split based on product types rather than title genres or anything else deemed unviable. Building off that, Steve then devised a proto-proposal involving four groups, rec.arts.anime.fandom, rec.arts.anime.stories.d,, and my own "pet" project, The ensuing discussion was actually fairly productive, but, unfortunately, several people, myself included, became distracted by one of the minor points -- a renaming of r.a.a. to r.a.a.misc. Curiously enough, despite the productive and involved discussion, the thread died down before the typical September student rush. One wonders how things would have been different had the thread still been alive during the traffic boost.

With split talk out of the newsgroup again, I began planning an RFD (request for discussion) with Steve, with the goal to present it during the Online panel at AnimEast '95 in early November. Then, since the newsgroup creation process takes a minimum of two months, and we did not want the holiday season to interfere, we decided to launch the RFD at the beginning of 1996.

Thus, it took both of us by surprise to find an independent RFD posted less than a week after AnimEast by relative r.a.a. newcomer Stephanie da Silva. Now, the Internet is always portrayed as an anarchy, but with UseNet, that is the appearance, but it is not the reality. When it comes to newsgroup administration, which is where group creation and splits fall under, UseNet is exclusively dominated by a small, opinionated, oligarchic set of news.groups readers. And once an RFD is posted, there is nothing that anyone affected can do to stop its inexorable progress, other than to vote "No" when it is finally time to vote. While admittedly readership of news.groups is not restrictive, very few people have the need or desire to read news.groups all the time unless they are on some kind of power trip.

And since da Silva boasts about the number of groups she has created or split in 1995 alone, she definitely fits the profile of the power-mad news.groups regular. Needless to say, requests by several r.a.a. veterans to postpone her proposal fell on deaf ears. Moreover, her condescending attitude to established r.a.a. veterans like Steve, Ryan, Ken Arromdee, Gordon Waters, and myself have certainly not endeared her to the real contributors to r.a.a. Furthermore, as Steve noted in the panel, even those groups which he originally advocated have had their charters altered to the point that they are no longer the groups that most of us came to some kind of agreement upon last summer.

Therefore, a small, determined number of r.a.a. veterans are treating this as a hostile split proposal and will not be supporting it. "Beyond the Web" advocates a largely Negative position. We propose a Yes vote on those elements of the proposal which rename Megazone's r.a.a.stories hierarchy (And here's another problem. A moderator cannot rename his own group! Nor can the members of a group petition to evict an inattentive moderator.) and a No vote on everything else. (Actually, Steve and I are in favor of the r.a.a.misc renaming, but we already know the controversy that can stir up.)

Some might say that we are a bunch of elites and oldtimers who are resistant to change and want to keep r.a.a. our own private club. To be frank, anyone who believes that simply has not been paying attention. r.a.a. ceased being a private club long ago. Indeed, the number of active contributors who can claim to be "veterans" for five years or longer is less than the yen price of an idol card. Moreover, those who would accuse us of provincialism are flatly ignoring the fact that we had our own proposal in the works. It is not that we do not want r.a.a. to be split; it is that we do not want to be subject to the forced benevolence of an outsider who feels the need to "fix" r.a.a. as she sees fit, ignoring the wishes and insights of the people who actually use and "know" the group.

The Usenet split process is broken and outdated. The current guidelines do not fit with the much larger readership. In the past, da Silva's proposal likely would not have survived the group. Now, it is the group veterans who are on the defensive since a "hostile" proposal, if written properly, can glide through to approval easily. (All it takes is a two-thirds vote with one hundred more Yes's than No's. In a group the size of r.a.a., the lurker vote alone, which will most likely swing Yes, is enough to effect passage.) Support the right of r.a.a. to determine its own fate independent of interlopers. Vote No.

In the meantime, anyone for sci.muppets?

Copyright © Roderick Lee, March 1996