A solution to the cooperation problem

What to do when everybody wants to get along but can't seem to
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  • Wednesday, June 13, 2007

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This editorial has been written by evkl. It expresses the views of the writer, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.

This is an editorial by evkl.
About the author

evkl is the chief of staff of Bulbagarden and editor emeritus of Bulbanews and Bulbapedia.

We are living in what is effectively a niche market from the get-go. Pokémon is a niche interest. Certainly, judging by anime viewership and game sales, it is quite a large niche, with quite literally millions around the globe who share a common interest, but it is not even a notable plurality in the human race, much less a majority. And there is a significant amount of overlapping content needlessly: within the Pokédexes, within the episode reviews, within the card write-ups. That is a short list, which I know goes on, but I will forsake an exhaustive list, as brevity is the soul of wit, as they say.

A conglomerate fan site— even with different forums —would be ideal, naturally. It would save money (shared server space and top-end domain names), save time spent digging around for data and appeal to every interest in the fan community, as the community is, effectively, controlled by various factions, each with its own interest. It could produce one robust, data-filled, well-coded Pokédex that essentially every fan could use and a well-fact-checked episode guide database. The idea of limitless potential is perhaps slightly exaggerated, but it would not be extreme to suggest there would be a significant amount of room for growth through connectivity and ease of use. But this is probably the worst thing that could possibly come out of the fan community as a whole.

Two key reasons for this are the need for rivalry and the problems of bureaucracy. Both could be solved with the presence of a cooperative license among fan sites.

Rival sites inspire competition, which inspires progress, and progress spurs fan interest in periods of "downtime" in the franchise. Without sites competing for better product, there would be little use for innovation, which would make the conglomerate-site quite boring. Without this progress, and with a user desire to somehow "pass the time," the fan community would slow significantly during the period between game releases. There would be nothing new on the site, nor any promise of something new to be excited about. Fans would have no reason to "stick around" on the forums, which are the main source of returning users for our Web sites. Discussion about the future and its prospects is a significant motivator for debate, and more features allow this discussion to move more smoothly. Rivalry drives the "economy" of fan sites.

Bureaucracy is another primary problem for any organization. The more people we involve, the more needless jobs get created, which, in turn, slows down progress and innovation, compounding the problems created by the first point. If a project has to go from conception to preliminary approval, and then to managerial approval, and then to "owner" or "board" approval, and then back down to the planning stage, and so on, it will take forever to accomplish. By keeping each site relatively small, with a staff certainly maxing out in the double-digits, we ensure that progress can go quickly. To use a Bulbagarden example, from the inception of the Bulbapedia to its public release, about three months elapsed. We had about 10 people working on the project in prerelease, and everything rolled very smoothly— and look at everything now.

The main solution to this problem, which would maintain both the integrity of a free-market competitive system and reap the benefits of a cooperative site system, would be a cooperative licensing agreement regarding data among major sites. The licensing agreement would ensure that people outside of the consortium would be locked out of the data, but those within it would collectively share their data (although not necessarily their scoops) in order to benefit each other. Data, once they are released, are ultimately in the public domain anyway— but the compiled source data are not always easy to establish in a usable format.

The wording of it all would be pored over incessantly, I'm sure, but it can certainly be done. It wouldn't be overly difficult to find a handful of charter members— medium-to-large sites would be more than willing to sign on. The benefits outweigh the risks for everyone, saving time on menial tasks and reserving it for innovation and new projects which benefit the community at large. It won't be an easy pill to swallow for everyone, without question— there will be some who will want to protect their work, and that's fair but misguided. A collection of data, simply by being put out there, can be taken if someone puts in time and effort to copying down factual data from one place to another in a tabular form. There's no intellectual property rights protection going on. All it amounts to is helping each other out towards a common goal— a good, user-friendly site. And, as Zhen Lin said, we could use a little more collaboration in this community, instead of constantly being at each other's throats, as we have been in the past.