Do you remember when Hooping.org launched back in 2003? For starters there wasn’t a video of the day feature, mostly because there wasn’t, y’know, a video to even feature. YouTube hadn’t even arrived yet, but our community forums were awesome and thriving. In 2005 though, back when we were on a fly-by-night server, our forums were hacked and all was deleted. We were so sad! Our hosting company, who’d promised nightly backups hadn’t done any. We changed hosts, and we decided to move our community to a new place called Tribe.net, creating rockin’ hoop community forums there. These early years were something of a golden era in the hooping community in that we were all in one place. We all basically knew each other. When you saw a hooper on the street the odds were high you’d been talking to them online. While our Hula Hooping Tribe on Tribe.net prospered, the unfortunate part was many who came later we’ren’t really aware that it was an extension of Hooping.org, especially after Ariel Meadow Stallings from Hooping.org stepped down as moderator. Following her, Xta was chosen to take over the position and she did an amazing job as well.
After a few years on Tribe though these problems began including major outages, sometimes for days at a time. It became clear that our off-site solution had been short-sighted. Tribe had significant problems. They’d gone down from a staff of 35 people to a staff of two. Their phones had been disconnected. The servers were overloaded. Mark Pincus was at the helm and, well, he wasn’t paying attention. He was entirely focused on his new start-up, Zynga. Y’know Yoville and Farmville and Mafia Wars? That’s Zynga. That’s what he was doing while ignoring Tribe and it’s all made him a fortune several times over.
Anyway, when the second to last staff member at Tribe handed in their resignation, I started looking into bringing the forums back to Hooping.org. After investing a few years worth of community thought and input and love and energy into a web network that didn’t belong to us, that could vanish at any moment taking all of our content with it, I started researching software programs. I narrowed it down to two, Elgg and Ning. Ning was offering free social networking that was easy to set up, but it had the same problem Tribe did – it didn’t belong to us. I went with Elgg because it was designed to build your own social network on YOUR website, not theirs.
Elgg was this entirely open source social networking package by the people for the people. It was just so gosh darn politically wonderful and everybody working on it was all volunteer and so happy, how could it go wrong? Well it did. For starters, with nobody really having Elgg as a job a lot of people weren’t taking it all very seriously, and a rift began between those who were working hard, and those who weren’t. Hooping.org launched our new Elgg forums and they were pretty good and going to get even better, but they had unforeseen problems from the gate, not that they couldn’t have been overcome, but we were going to need to hire some help to fix it.
Meanwhile, back at Elgg the hardcore types working on making it all happen decided they should be doing this for a real job and began working on a pay-for social networking Elgg website. As the complaints about Ning started rolling in, it only fueled them more. “We could make money!” they said. “But that wasn’t the idea,” said the others. Meanwhile, over at Ning, which is owned by Netscape bazillionaire Marc Andreessen, they began having major issues too, issues of the untrustworthy kind, cutting network administrators off from accessing their own files, and once their communities were settled in – even began charging for their “free” social networking service. I guess they couldn’t get them the normal way, so they pulled a bait and switch. I felt I made the right decision with my choice, even if it the right decision turned out to be a wrong one.
At Elgg we have yet to see the paid Elgg service they’ve been promising and I have serious doubts about it. If they ever make it happen it’ll be good, but it’s the making it happen part that worries. And the do-gooder volunteers at Elgg, for lack of a better term, really tried to keep their original Elgg project alive for fun and for free, but there weren’t enough of them now, and quite frankly they were the lazier set to begin with – and the result was, well, a big mess. Over the past year I’ve been trying to hire someone who knows Elgg to help Hooping.org and the problem has been nobody does. I posted ads on elggexchange.com and in Elgg’s support forums countless times and heard nothing. Elgg has two partner web developers listed that you can hire to have help you and the first never answered any of my emails, and the other told me, “I’m booked until November. Do you want me to put you in the calendar?” Meanwhile, the problems were growing. Hooping.org’s forums became overrun with spam robot accounts, like a veritable platoon of them, to the tune of thousands actually, and as I stayed up late at night trying to delete them all one at a time as seven more arrived, I began to feel like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke.
Needless to say, under the circumstances, I’ve been left with no other alternative other than putting a fork in the current forums for good. They’re done. Bubbye! They’ll be gone soon and on the off chance that you have anything in there you’d like to salvage, now is the time to do so my friends. I’m so sorry this round didn’t work out for us. Yet all that is the past. It’s the stuff we can’t really change, and rather than focusing on the things we can not change, let’s focus on the things we can, shall we?
Heading back to the drawing board I began looking at building new community forums differently, ultimately deciding on still using open source software by the people for the people cause that’s just how I roll, but unlike Elgg, WordPress has been around for seven years now and is used on millions of sites. Buddypress, the WordPressy social networking little sister, is rolling right along now too and Hooping.org 4.0 has been built using both and the two sides are fully interactive with one another. It may not be that cool to you that you can comment on a post on Hooping.org with the same account that you can update your hooping group with, but I think it’s pretty freakin awesome.
Wordpress doesn’t look like they’ll be going anywhere or selling out anytime soon either. If we should run into problems again, there’s a veritable platoon of knowledgeable support available and I’m already well connected into their support forums. Rather than hire someone to do it all this time around who could simply disappear again, I decided to go to work and learn it myself, even built a couple full test sites first before building what is Hooping.org 4.0 just to ensure that I have this stuff down. The new site certainly appears to be incredibly solid and I have to say that knowing the wiring and plumbing of the entire building from the groundup this time is great in the event that something does go wrong, And Hoping.org 4.0 really is taking technological leaps forward across the board. We’re movin’ on up people! Were movin on up!
My cynical friend recently asked me why I’d revamp this when it will likely mean little more in compensation and a hell of a lot more work? Why? For the same reason I started Hooping.org to begin with. It’s all about community. As a result of Jason Strauss handing me a hoop at a party on April 26, 2003, my life was forever changed. I have scores of friends around the world that I never would have met and you probably do too. If you don’t yet, you will. Hooping is profoundly important to me and the community is almost even more so. I don’t know if I’d still be hooping all the time if I was doing it all by myself alone in my apartment. The fact that you are keeps me in the groove.
Being invited to help mediate a conflict in the community recently reminded me too that I have a very unique seat here in the front row. I see things and hear things that most of you never know about and with all of that comes a unique perspective, a rather paternal one. I care about this movement, where it started, where we are, where we are going. And in spite of some doses of drama and politics, the hooping community is truly a phenomenal one to be a part of. Having met scores and scores of hoopers from all over the world, it’s amazing to say this, but I can count the ones I don’t care for on one hand. Those odds aren’t even remotely true of any other population I’ve ever encountered. We hoopers are beautiful, magic, fun, loving people and I invite you to join me again and stay tuned as we launch Hooping.org 4.0 and help spread that hoop love to even more. Friends you haven’t even met yet are on their way, some important friends for life.
The new website is currently being tested and will launch as soon as I know that it’s solid and if you’d like to help us kick the tires from every angle, please send us an email. You’re help would be most appreciated. A new era for Hooping.org awaits.