There's been a lot of activity on the forums again, and this time it's in a thread regarding site growth which has sort of spun off in a bunch of different directions. I feel this is an important enough topic to try to respond to some of the things brought up, specifically about how I handle feedback and a few words about website growth (or lack thereof).
Let's start with the latter and a very brief history lesson. Some time before FUMBBL launched, I was looking for an online league that used SkiJunkie's JavaBBowl client. I found none, and decided to start a small one with people from what is now the TalkFantasyFootball forum. I was manually handling match results at the time and after some growth, something automated was needed and that became the birth of FUMBBL as we know it today. From my perspective, this was a fun little league I ran for fun, and with the website becoming a reality it turned into an advanced hobby project for me.
16 years later, I'm still working on the site. It's still very rewarding to me to see things improve and see people enjoying the site and playing the game. I have a day-job as a developer (data warehousing, reporting and analysis for the financial industry if you are interested), and in order to avoid burning out I have to deal with the site very differently than my job. I don't do deadlines for the site. I don't make promises of what code I work on or when features will be done. I sometimes develop things that are high impact, sometimes low impact things. I have no super strict todo-list and don't have formal organization for a lot of things. What it actually comes down to is that this is still a hobby project. I don't want to feel I'm breaking promises if I don't finish a feature at a specific date, or if I am in a low-energy phase of my life and don't write a line of code for the site in a given a month.
So with that as a background, let's get back to site growth.
Do I want the site to grow? Of course. I like the fact that so many people enjoy the site for what it is: A free site without obnoxious ads (how many other sites do you use that don't have ads), where people can play a game that's obviously very niche in a way that suits you.
Does it sting a bit that we've lost so much traffic since our peak? Honestly, yes. The site is better than it's ever been and the loss of people means that people outside european time zones have fewer options to play.
Do I intend to figuratively break my back to make this growth happen? No. The amount of people on the site has never been the primary driver for my work here. There's no financial incentive for me to have more people (although cynically speaking more people = more donations) on the site. I'm working on the site because it's fun (even if there are times I arguably push myself too hard), and because it's an incredible learning tool for me. Not only the technology part, but I have also learned a lot of things about communities, leadership and how to take myself less seriously at times.
So how does this tie into feedback? Well, a lot of the feedback I see and receive directly is often in the form of "You should change this, because it would make my life better". Sometimes, these are easy-win changes that make sense and take me 10 minutes to actually implement. If I have the time, I do those things directly. If not, half the time I forget about the suggestion until someone asks again and the other half of the time I add the feature later. More often, though, the suggestion is something that takes much much more time and planning. My recent activity in FFB Server/Client updates comes after many many hours of trying to figure out how the code works. For those of you who don't already know, Kalimar is the original author of the FFB code but he has been busy with life lately and I simply ended up taking the time to get into it in order to fix some of the bugs that have been reported. Some examples of suggestions are "the client should be scalable"/"client is too small", "Blackbox should be changed/merged with R", "improve the new user experience", "Add templates to team creation", "Add name generation which takes race into context", "post more on social media", "Communicate tournaments better". The list goes on.
Now, because of who I am, I look at lists like that and think to myself that these are all good ideas, but it all takes a LOT of work to actually get done. And that work would be on my shoulders. So at this point some people say "get another developer to help", or "open source it, people will flock to help because it's the solution to all problems!" (said with an angel choir in the background as appropriate). Unfortunately, this doesn't work. With the HTML5 client project I started this summer (call it 6 months ago), I made it open source (https://github.com/christerk/ffbclient
). Some people offered to help, and there were a few small contributions but as an experiment of how much help would potentially be available to me in terms of development effort it was a huge failure. The amount of time I spent helping these friendly people who at least showed interest was larger than the sum of their contributions. And mind you, I don't mean this as a slight towards them at all. It's just how it goes. Software development is HARD. It takes a lot of mental energy and most people have day-jobs. The people who know how to write code generally speaking do it all day at work and I can 100% relate to the mental drain that can create. It's one thing to want to help, but it's a completely other beast to actually take the time necessary from your life to actually commit to a project like this (if you're a developer, you'll probably groan at that pun).
Yes, I would LOVE to be able to do all sorts of improvements to the site. I would LOVE to have the energy to maintain social media. I'd LOVE to be able to come up with solutions to everyone's problems in a way that makes them all happy.
That latter point is pertinent to some of the posts in those forum threads though, so let me address that a bit. I alluded to this in a response I made as well, but I'll bring it up in this blog as well for completeness.
Let's say that you are playing against someone and in the first half you kill their legendary wardancer. In the second half, another of their players get injured to a foul and shortly thereafter, they disconnect from the game. Suspicious? absolutely. 100% done on purpose? No.
The site has a disconnection policy that is pretty strongly biased towards finishing the games you start, and I can absolutely see how it can feel unfair to have your favourite team "locked for 2.5 months". Quite clearly, 2.5 months is a lot of time, and it's not anywhere near to be the policy of the site. The long time in this case comes from the fact that the FFB Server has a long-standing bug that prevents staff members (including me) to forcibly concede a match. While it's sad that some people have been waiting for 2.5 months, that's the coach choice of action given the options that are strictly technically available to the staff at this time. Is this the fault of the staff? Is this the fault of the coach? Is this the fault of me for not having taken the 100 or so hours of time to learn the FFB Server code enough to actually fix the underlying bug? You make the call. I'm not quite ready to tackle that particular bug, but I will. Not because of this particular match, but because there are times when I want the staff to be able to concede matches.
And to repeat what I wrote in the forum thread:
When approaching staff members (and me), it's much much better to have a friendly attitude and have an open mind. Staff members aren't out to "get" anyone on the site, and are explicitly asked to avoid dealing with people they feel that they have a hard time being objective towards. Personally, I don't have that luxury because I am in the position of being the "highest instance". The people who whine and complain on the forums have a tendency to only retell their own side of a story without providing any kind of background. Staff generally speaking don't bring up support tickets or how they're resolved to anyone but the affected coach. If you report someone for offensive language, a staff member will often just respond with "thank you for the report" and then someone will have a chat with the offending coach without reporting back to the person who wrote the report. This obviously means that some people have the wrong impression that staff members don't care about the rules.
And I will again reiterate that the staff, including me, are people and we work with incomplete information. We do the best we can to make the correct decisions and make the correct calls but it's inevitable that sometimes we'll make mistakes. Most coaches can accept that things aren't perfect and will simply move on, while others... Not so much.
At this point, if you're still reading let me give you a virtual vote of 6 for your patience. This has been a pretty significant wall of text. :)