Astounding Websites dies
April 11, 2001 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Astounding Websites dies This evening I received an email from "Big" Dave Bastian with the sad announcement of one of the best online design communities the web had to offer. (more inside)
posted by Brilliantcrank (33 comments total)
Here is the email as received:


Hi. "Big" Dave Bastian here.

This is the first--and last--group email to Astounding users.

Due to circumstances beyond my control (but perfectly within Glenn Davis's), Astounding Websites is dead. I am prevented, by threat of lawsuit, from any discussion of the particulars.

Glenn has been good enough to release the two review forums, but that is all.

The site will be back, but under a new name and with a new design. The rationale behind the new site will be the same: recognition and peer review of good material on the Web.

Management will regroup during the next few days as we decide our next move. In the meantime, I am welcoming all serious suggestions for the new site, including a new name.

Thanks for all your past participation and support,


Dave Bastian
posted by Brilliantcrank at 7:02 PM on April 11, 2001

Here's a Metafilter post from July 9, 2000, discussing the site.
posted by waxpancake at 7:07 PM on April 11, 2001

How in god's name does a community site in which people want to spotlight good design come to threats of lawsuits?

Have you people lost your damn minds?
posted by gsh at 7:07 PM on April 11, 2001

Gsh, has who lost their minds?

I mean, damn minds.
posted by alan at 7:34 PM on April 11, 2001

In Dave's usual penchant for exaggaration and paranoia, there was no threat of lawsuit on the revelation of the particulars. There was a threat on the publishing of a private letter I had written to him in which I stated that the contents of the email were not for public consumption and in which he desired to make public. There was private information in that email that, quite frankly, is none of anyone's business. In a telephone conversation today, that ended amicably, Dave asked what he should tell people if he couldn't just publicize that email. At that time I told him to tell people I shut it down. Talk about my reasons, etc.

If Dave chooses to play the hurt victim, so be it.

But for a bit of enlightenment, you might want to consider some basic facts.

Astounding has an audience of, oh, 80 people. No, that's not a typo, it's about 80 people. And if you eliminate the admins and a couple of duplicate accounts, that brings the total down to about 70 people. Astounding was getting 40 vistors a day on average. Hardly an Astounding number.

I nearly shut Astounding down in December. At that time Dave volunteered to run it and I agreed to let him do so. There was an announcement about big changes coming and Dave was sounding bright eyed about making big changes. Things seemed good.

However, there was a failure to communicate between Dave and myself. He stated today that he felt he was working in my shadow and was afraid to make any changes. I, on the otherhand, kept watching hoping to see those changes and nothing was happening. In fact, for nearly 4 months I had been asking him to update the leadership page to reflect that I was no longer in charge and that he and the other admins were in the hierarchy, yet for reasons completely beyond me he never would claim responsiblity. Consequently, to all outside eyes, and unless you were one of the regular 70 visitors, there was no indication that I wasn't really involved in the project, but instead a clear labeling that it was and always had been me at the helm.

In the end, my decision to shut down the site boiled down to two factors. First was the lack of any action on the part of Dave to actually take public control of the direction or to even indicate leadership changes that should have been reflected in multiple places on the site. The second was, as I noted earlier, the poor numbers representing the site's useage.

Dave had spoken of moving the site to another name. I gave my permission for him to duplicate Astounding's two review sections at whatever he creates for the new site.

Astounding Websites is dead. Dave's email, while inflammatory in other ways, was accurate in that count. The DNS has been changed to a navel-gazing pointer in a bit of DNS humor. And 40 people a day will need to find new reading material.
posted by gdavis at 8:10 PM on April 11, 2001

actually, here
posted by owillis at 8:25 PM on April 11, 2001

I'm surprised that so few people were utilizing Astounding as a source for their blogs. Maybe the redesigned site aught to emphasize appearing significant/authentic, rather than, as I saw it, cliquish and fun. It would also help to get creative when registering with search engines.
posted by giantkicks at 10:46 PM on April 11, 2001

Since when was poor numbers a reason to shut down a non-profit site?
posted by prolific at 11:35 PM on April 11, 2001

Glenn conveniently omits one salient fact: he would never agree to release the domain name. The DNS for the site was always in his control. Of necessity, I have acted cautiously all along; a misstep on my part would have someone pushing the red button.

I'm not taking it personally. It was a community, not the enterprise of any individual.

I won't comment further. You must draw your own conclusions.
posted by Big Dave at 11:36 PM on April 11, 2001

Big Dave: You must draw your own conclusions.

Here is mine... Get over it.
posted by DragonBoy at 12:31 AM on April 12, 2001

Whatever. The cool kids tore down their clubhouse.
posted by Outlawyr at 5:50 AM on April 12, 2001

"Cool kids?" "Clubhouse?" Outlawyr, as a member, you should know better. That was not the spirit of the thing at all. It was an open community for anyone who wanted to share a wonderful site they'd found, and explain what they liked about it. Exclusivity and cliquishness were not part of the agenda.

The idea was to promote good sites that might not be widely-known, to promote independent sites in general, and to foster something beyond "link lists" — the ability to discuss websites as we discuss music, movies, and books.

(I don't say: here are the 20 CDs I like; I tell my friends what I love about the music. Maybe we could do the same thing with websites. That was one of the ideas.)

It's a pity to see it die. That's all.
posted by Zeldman at 11:12 AM on April 12, 2001

Zeldman, I have too much respect for you to disagree with you here.
posted by Outlawyr at 11:19 AM on April 12, 2001

I respect you, too. I'm sorry if you felt it was a private clubhouse. Nobody intended to create that vibe. I didn't mean to discredit your feelings.
posted by Zeldman at 11:28 AM on April 12, 2001

JZ: Didn't we talk about how we were just going to throw dodgeballs when they said stuff like that? You remember, at the last club meeting, when we were dividing up the porno...

I'm starting to think that Derek's book is actually just going to be one of the Harry Potter books with a new cover, since it seems that successful community sites are the product of some sort of arcane ritual involving blood sacrifice and incantation. I'm sorry that Astounding didn't make it, because the concept was good - but I also didn't feel compelled to spend time there, which was obviously not a unique experience.
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 11:31 AM on April 12, 2001

Uncle Joe: I would reply if I could, but my thoughts are copyrighted by Eric Costello.
posted by Zeldman at 11:41 AM on April 12, 2001

I didn't like the bbs (as opposed to the community) itself. Every community I've become a contributing member of have had one thing in common, ease of use. IMHO Astounding was a pain in the ass to use.

I don't like threaded messages, the one-after-another sorting like that used here at MeFi is much easier to wrap my little head around. The unlabeled icons didn't make things easier either.
posted by Mick at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2001

Zeldman: That explains a lot.
Earlier today I was trying to napster a copy of "Every Day I Write the Book" and instead I got a bunch of notes from your publisher.
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 12:32 PM on April 12, 2001

You know, for years I thought that song was "Every Day I Ride the Bus." I liked it better then.
But I never realized Zeldman wrote it. Now I have even more respect!
posted by Outlawyr at 12:42 PM on April 12, 2001

Silly me, I thought Eric Costello wrote "Everyday I Write the Book".

Anyway, I liked Astounding but since I'm picking a nit, I agree with Mick. The UBB felt kind of out of place there, and it didn't encourage a repeating visit from me (although Zeldman endorsements helped). A MeFi-style system? That probably would have been cooler.
posted by hijinx at 12:54 PM on April 12, 2001

I said I wouldn't comment further, but this has gotten blown out of proportion, and what with all the finger pointing, I feel the need to set the record straight (despite this, it will always remain a case of "he said/he said" ).

The missive posted at the top of this thread was sent only to current AW members; I felt some obligation to explain, in very general terms, what had happened. The fault is mine for not adding any directive not to make it public. But i doubt that would have done any good, anyway.

Obviously, I don't agree with Glenn's misrepresentation of the situation at all--yet I also don't wish him ill. I respect Glenn, even when he yells at me over the phone. He really is a good guy with good intentions.

What it all boils down to is stubborness on both our parts. Unfortunately, a site had to die over a guessing-game whose rules I didn't understand until too late. Glenn's rules, incidentally.

I asked Glenn several times to release the domain name, which he gave every indication he would do, last December. Despite my requests, he never did. At one point I asked him to name his price; he replied that he intended to just transfer the domain. I thought that an incredibly generous gesture. But then nothing ever came of that. Instead, after I wrote to him yet again, in an email dated 3-24-2001, he said:

"I've given it a lot of thought since we last discussed it. I guess I'm just not willing to let go completely. I'm perfectly fine with you running the show and all that but it was my brainchild and I'd rather hold onto the domain for now."

Does that sound like someone who wants his name removed from the site? My folly was in being too deferential--my miscalculation was in trying to be diplomatic about the site's severance from Glenn. I acted cautiously out of concern that too much change too quickly would have Glenn pulling the plug. Now he claims the opposite is true. I wish I'd known that; Glenn refused to answer any of my email requests for clarification in the last 2+ weeks. Yesterday, he told me it was my fault for not picking up the phone.

I have not yet developed the faculty for mind reading.

Yes, Glenn asked at least three times in as many months about updates to the leaders page, but NEVER did he say: "Please remove my name from that page." if he had, I would have responded gladly, with the proviso that he also transfer ownership of the domain. In either case, that "leaders" page had always carried the headline: MEET THE ASTOUNDING FOUNDERS. Glenn's name on that page hardly constitiutes an inaccuracy.

What Glenn also doesn't say is that his administrative privileges were never revoked. He could, at any time, have removed and/or added any comments to "Site News" that clarified any beef he had with claims of leadership. Also, it was fully within his power to demote himself from his admin status. That, also, he never did.

It was he who announced the changes in community leadership, in a post dated 12-24-2000, but instead of announcing it in Site News, where it would be permanently displayed, he choose to do so in the more transient "General Discussion." Again, he had the administrative privileges to move it at any time had he cared to do so.

In the end, I felt no incentive to take Glenn's name off the "Astounding Founders" page because, quite simply, he owned the domain. Until he transferred ownership, how could I in good conscience claim otherwise? Also, my efforts at AW increasingly felt like a work-for-hire arrangement. I grew to believe that Glenn really did want it both ways: he wanted to let someone else do the chores, but he still wanted ownership and control. To my way of thinking, it was a little like renting a house and being told you can make any improvement you like, but with the sure knowledge that if you make any improvement that does not sit well with the landlord, on a whim you will be booted out into the street. Who in their right mind is going to start tearing down walls until they're confident that they're investing in their own equity?

Perhaps all this presumes too much, because, in the end, I think the site belonged to the community. I certainly never thought of it as "mine." I was just the custodian. I'm not terribly bothered by any of this--regular AW members know me and what I stand for. What I regret is the messy pissing contest this has become.
posted by Big Dave at 2:16 PM on April 12, 2001

Ahh, I guess part of the joy of the bloggin experience is that end up knowing far more about some situations that you ever would have cared to. Isn't there a better place for Glenn and Big Dave to work out their disagreements than here?

Akk ... I'm being a wet blanket again, aren't I?
posted by bclark at 2:38 PM on April 12, 2001

So, let me get this straight. AW is closed for a reason other than lack of funding?
posted by rschram at 2:43 PM on April 12, 2001

Dave do be sure to zip if you're done now.
posted by gdavis at 2:49 PM on April 12, 2001

That's right--Glenn pulled the plug because he can.
posted by Big Dave at 2:53 PM on April 12, 2001

::SIGH: Glenn Davis' Ego strikes again...

Hang in there, Big Dave....
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 6:32 PM on April 12, 2001

I was not a regular visitor (if I had would it have made a difference?) and I don't know any of the people involved.

Moving on, there seems to be enough emotive reason on display here to suggest that we could pull a team together to get 'Inspiring Websites' off the ground, no? (And yes, my suggested site name sucks)

One thing ALL web 'communities' are guilty of is lack of action - but then everything on the Internet is free...
posted by snowgoon at 11:53 PM on April 12, 2001

So, wait, you mean Glenn Davis is an ass?

Stop the presses!
posted by Outlawyr at 5:16 AM on April 13, 2001

Dave: If it's really just a community of 80 people, it should be pretty easy to pick up stakes and start up somewhere else. Especially if you still have a mailing list.

It sounds like you were right to tread carefully, but I think I would have given up at the point he wanted to keep the domain but hand over the work involved. Those kind of collaborations tend to be more of a pain in the ass than they are worth, regardless of the specific people involved.
posted by rcade at 6:13 AM on April 13, 2001

Maybe ask Matt if he will let you set it up as part of the Metafilter network and use the mefi code?
posted by Mick at 10:34 AM on April 13, 2001

Concerned parties and members of the press may contact me via my mefi profile info.
posted by Big Dave at 12:12 PM on April 13, 2001

There's also a new Discuss program from Ben Brown that looks a lot like MetaFilter and is available for download now.
posted by rcade at 9:04 AM on April 14, 2001

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