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Everything2

From Academic Kids

Everything2, or E2 for short, is a large collaborative Internet community, currently at www.everything2.com. It describes itself as having "grown from being a very simple user-written encyclopedia to an online community with a focus to write, publish and edit a quality database of information, insight and humor."

Contents

Nodes and writeups

E2 users called noders create pages called nodes and add information in multiple writeups. Only logged-in users can create writeups, and only the author of a writeup or an editor appointed by the site administrators can edit a writeup. Writeups are written in a simplified HTML dialect and do not contain images. As of 3 March, 2005, 1,004,041 nodes and 441,976 writeups exist.

There are other types of nodes that do not contain writeups; for instance, the administrators can create "superdoc" nodes (similar to Wikipedia's special pages) such as Everything New Nodes and Page of Cool that allow interaction, and each user has a "homenode" where they can add a short autobiography or other text (or a picture, if they are level six or above -- see Rewards, below).

Links

Hard links in E2 are simply words or phrases surrounded by [square brackets]. Any words inside square brackets in a writeup will become a link to the E2 node of that title. If a node with that title does not yet exist, following the link will bring up the option to create it. Recently, partial support for external URLs has been implemented. A hardlinked URL will provide, in addition to the option to create a new node, a link to the URL. Heavy use of external URLs is discouraged, however, as E2 is supposed to stand on its own and contain a largely self-supportive infrastructure.

At the bottom of every node, the system displays up to 64 soft links, though each node can store an unlimited number thereof. ("Guest User" -- any viewer not logged in -- can see 24, a logged-in user can see up to 48, and the senior administrators ("gods") can see up to 64). These are two-way links intended to approximate "thought processes". Whenever a logged-in user moves from one node to another, be it through a hard link, another soft link, or through the title search box, the system creates (or strengthens) the bidirectional soft link between the two; however, some nodes -- namely the special pages and the user profiles -- will not display the soft links so created. By repeatedly moving from one node to another, users can and do deliberately create such softlinks; some users will use these soft links to make anonymous comments on others' writing.

Firm links are special, editor-created links that serve to redirect between nodes. Firm links are typically used to link multiple forms of a single name or title to aid searching and ensure that readers find the content that they are seeking. A typical use of firm links would be to permanently link the empty node titled 'U.S.A' to a node titled 'United States of America' that contained writeups about the topic.

Copyright policy

The copyright for a writeup rests with the author, and no agreement to any kind of license is entered into by writing on E2 (except for giving the site permission to publish). Authors retain the right to place their work in the public domain, release it under a copyleft licence such as GNU or Creative Commons or to request the removal of their work from the site at some later date.

For a long time, the posting of copyrighted song lyrics and poetry to the site without approval from the copyright holders, while certainly frowned upon, was not actually prohibited. E2 chose to only passively enforce copyright law, in a manner similar to an ISP. This policy changed in August 2003 to a more active one where writeups containing copyrighted material had to either conform to fair use guidelines (length limits, proportion of quoted material to new text) or be posted with permission. The policy change provoked some users to leave the community (see Controversy" below).

Rewards

The administrators loosely based E2's reward system on role-playing games. Every time a user creates a writeup, they earn one experience point (XP). Users with at least 20 contributed writeups and 50 experience points can vote (up or down) on a writeup, which has a 1/3 chance of giving or taking an experience point from the author depending on the direction of the vote and a 1/5 chance of giving a point to the voter. After voting on a writeup, a noder can see the writeup's "reputation," or number of positive and negative votes (administrators do not need to vote to see a writeup's reputation). The site's editors delete writeups that do not meet editorial standards or those whose removal has been author-requested. The only effect writeup deletion has on the author's XPs is that the 1 XP the author got for creating the writeup is removed.

New levels are attained by reaching a predefined, but arbitrary total of XPs and writeups, which are given in the FAQ (http://www.everything2.com/?node_id=444459). An 'honor roll' further rewards users whose writeups have a 'reputation' that has achieved a high interquartile mean by lowering the writeups required to achieve any given level by up to a half.

The system grants special powers at other levels of writeups and experience, such as "cool" (reward author with three XPs and send the writeup to the front page), the ability to create basic chat rooms on the site, space for uploading a picture to a user's "homenode", and the ability to hide one's self in the list of logged-in users.

Messaging

Everything2 provides two communication tools: the Chatterbox and the message system.

The Chatterbox is similar to a chat room. It appears as a panel on the right side of the page that logged-in users can use to read conversations and participate in them. Discussion of controversial topics, especially religion and politics, is limited to the "Political Asylum" -- a separate "room" of the Chatterbox dedicated to such conversations. The site's administrators used to have the ability to "borg" -- prevent from using the Chatterbox or message system -- those users whose behavior violated the unwritten standards of politeness and decorum. This was done through a bot called EDB (short for "Everything Death Borg"), which announced when it has "swallowed" a user. These silencings lasted for five minutes, though persistent trolls were silenced for a longer period -- sometimes permanently. As of 2003, the EDB was no longer much used, only making mostly token appearances for humorous effect.

The message system lets users send private messages to other users. The messages are stored in the user's mailbox to be read when they next log in. The main use for the message system is giving constructive criticism to the author of a writeup; however, it can be and is used like any medium of private communication.

History and society

The predecessor of E2 was a similar database called Everything (later labeled "Everything1") which was started around March 1998 by Nate Oostendorp and was initially closely aligned with and promoted by Slashdot. The E2 software offered vastly more features, and the Everything1 data was twice incorporated into E2: once on November 13, 1999 and again in January of 2000.

The Everything2 server used to be physically located with the Slashdot servers. However, some time after OSDN acquired Slashdot, and moved the Slashdot servers, this hosting was terminated on short notice. This resulted in Everything2 being offline from roughly November 6 to December 9th 2003. Everything2 is now hosted by the University of Michigan.

E2 is operated by the Blockstackers Intergalactic company. Everything2 is privately owned, and though the long-term users of Everything2 view it as a collaborative work-in-progress, the owners do not usually consult Everything2's user base prior to policy decisions (see "Controversy" below).

Writeups in E1 were limited to 512 bytes in size. This, plus the predominantly "geek" membership back then and the lack of chat facilities, meant the early work was often of poor quality and was overburdened with self referential humor. As E2 has expanded, higher quality standards have developed, much of the old material has been removed, and the membership has become broader. Many noders prefer to write encyclopedic articles similar to those on Wikipedia. Some write fiction or poetry, some discuss issues, and some write daily journals, called "daylogs". The userbase, like the Internet in general, tends to lean left politically and culturally. There are conservative voices as well, however, and while debate nodes (of any kind, political or not) are rarely tolerated, well-formed points of view from any part of the political or cultural spectrum are welcome.

In common with other online communities, E2 has a social hierarchy and code of behavior, to which it is sometimes difficult for a newcomer to adjust. Moreover, some people complain that new users are held to a different standard from established contributors, and that their writeups are singled out for deletion regardless of content. Another complaint is that all too often, site administrators remove articles that they do not agree with or which they do not see explicit value in, thus biasing the content of the database. Others dismiss such complaints as unjustified; they observe that few communities treat newcomers exactly like long-time members, and they claim that those who learn and obey the rules are usually -- though not always -- treated fairly.

There is no consistent, written site policy on acceptable behaviour. Bannings can and do happen for antisocial behaviour or for disagreements with site policy (or administrators), but are not based on any written guidelines given beforehand, and the reasons are not always publicly stated afterwards. Bannings and deletions of all writeups sometimes happen without prior warning that this might be the result of the user's actions. As with other site decisions, the rank-and-file E2 members have no input into these decisions, and are not encouraged to debate them. Though these decisions are broadly accepted, some current and ex-members of the site believe that this amounts to mismanagement, and point to accumulation of disgruntled ex-users as evidence of a problem.

Everything2 solicits donations and states that the accumulated funds are earmarked for bandwidth and colocation costs, but does not disclose the specific details of how these donations are spent. This policy has met criticism due to concerns that the donations may be mishandled, and discussion of the policy has even been linked to the banning of a user.

The management regard Everything2 as a publication, to which authors submit content. Although Everything2 does not seek to become an encyclopedia (even though the contents of Webster's 1913 dictionary have been assimilated into the database), a substantial amount of factual content has been submitted to Everything2.

Everything2's strength is in its lack of an enforced neutral point of view. On all topics it is possible, even encouraged, for Everything2 to have several articles ("writeups") under the same title ("node"), by different authors, presenting different points of view (though not simply arguing). The collective rating of the opinions offered is reflected in the votes given to the competing writeups; ones that achieve a substantial negative rating may be removed, and ideally several contrasting perspectives would remain. Even on uncontroversial topics, dry factual accounts can coexist with first-person anecdotes. Both are valued according to their quality.

On topics in the popular consciousness, and subjects of interest to Internet users (or Linux geeks), Everything2 will usually have some quality opinions and factual content. There are however a few writeups that are attempts at humour of the fallacious, trolling variety, and some authors with ideological axes to grind. If you doubt the veracity or slant of a writeup on Everything2, you should look into the rest of the output of that author.

Policy is that "Everything2 is not a bulletin board". That is, writeups that do not stand well alone, but only reply to other writeups, or add a minor point to them, are usually discouraged. This stops flame wars on controversial topics, but unlike on Wikipedia, there is no easy way to make a correction to another author's article. You can only discuss it with the author concerned via the messaging or chat systems, petition a content editor, or write your own complete writeup.

The flow of new material into Everything2 has slowed greatly by 2004, despite the Internet's population being larger than ever. This could be due to an emphasis on quality over quantity, adverse reaction to management decisions, or due to the great success of other sites with overlapping target demographics (for instance, Wikipedia for more factual and less personal content, and LiveJournal or other blog sites for more personal/subjective content). Recent re-indexing by Google in 2005 has reversed this slow-down, although content-submission rates continue to remain lower than in previous years.

Software

E2 is run by the open source Everything Engine, a Perl-based system; its data is stored in a MySQL database.

Related projects

Other resources

hu:Everything2 simple:Everything2 sv:Everything2

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