There have been some pretty disturbing things going on in Fountain Pen Network over the last few days. Sweeping rule changes have been introduced which, of themselves, will affect most members little if at all. It’s the implication and consequences of these rule changes that are at the heart of the unpleasantness.
Which is the worst thing that’s been happening?
The admins asked for feedback. In the thread that followed some members made measured and polite criticisms. Wim replied with what appears to me to be an explosion of arrogance. We’ve seen this before in the “private” communications to individuals who were being rebuked or expelled, but up to now it has been kept out of the forum. He then withdrew posting privileges from those involved. Is that the worst thing?
Unsurprisingly, the new rules gave rise to a number of threads where members questioned the rules (some of which were not very clear) or made suggestions for better ways of raising money. Several of these threads have been deleted. Is this censorship (which, truth be told, we should be used to by now) the worst thing?
The rule changes are about making money. To conduct trading at anything less than the lowest level, a premium account costing $90, $180 or $360 must be purchased. This is serious money. It has been asserted (no evidence was forthcoming) that FPN costs $25,000 p.a. to run. David Isaacson has said that FPB costs around $200 to run. Admittedly, FPN is huge in comparison with FPB but the comparison does make the figure of $25,000 look suspect. It has been suggested that they’re doing it wrong but they can hardly be doing it that wrong. I don’t believe that figure. I think we’re seeing a community being turned into a meal ticket, perhaps with a sale looming on the horizon. Is that the worst thing?
FPN has always treated members with contempt, even the most knowledgeable. Long a bone of contention, the Conway Stewart forum has been the most evident example of this. It has always seemed strange that there should be a Conway Stewart forum rather than a British Pens forum. The appointment of an employee of the resuscitated Conway Stewart company as a moderator clarified what was going on there. It has been shamelessly used as a marketing tool for the company ever since. Those who complained were unceremoniously booted out, with the result that FPN lacks expertise on British pens now. Is that the worst thing?
I don’t know. It all leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
For myself, I was never particularly fond of FPN. Too much Montblanc and ink for my taste, and the bulk of the discussion rarely rose above the “What ink should I use in my purple Monteverde?” level. Whereas groups like Lion & Pen and the Fountain Pen Board gradually move forward as shared information is absorbed by the membership, FPN’s huge size and very poor search facility ensures that it remains static and the same questions are asked over and over again. I took part because I could help a little with repair and history questions, and because it enabled me to push awareness of the excellent qualities of British pens, which is my primary purpose in all of my involvement in the world of fountain pens.
It all reminds me of nothing so much as England’s (things were a little different in Scotland) long and bloody struggle towards democracy against monarchs who believed in their divine right to rule. I don’t say the outcome will be the same, sadly. In fact, I suspect that the tyrant will triumph, in this Lilliputian rerun of history. Still, the LiveJournal example suggests that even tyrants may need to move with caution if they don’t want to see their investment drop like a stone. In the end, for all forms of internet social networking it holds true that their only value is the members’ input. Lose that, or lose the best of that, and you’re finished.