If you go to wetheliving.com, site of the long-lived and popular OWL and ATLANTIS discussion sites (as well as other infrequently patronized ones such as PSYCHOLOGY) you will see that it has closed up shop. But all you will see by way of explanation is this:
" As of May 31, 2005, OWL is closed. The Wetheliving site is expected to be up through the end of June, at which time it will be taken offline."
This fits the pattern for Objectivist ventures across two decades, be they websites, educational undertakings, activism, clubs, or small magazines. They close (or become hollow shells) rather abruptly and only the most cryptic one line embarrassed explanation is normally given (or none as in the case of OWL and wetheliving). Yet knowing why - what mistakes were made, whether the size of the audience was underestimated, etc. - would be extremely helpful to a movement which is not heavy on size, resources, or business and organizational knowhow.
There should be "transparency" and not just hype or rosy scenarios followed by dead silence in Objectivist undertakings as they close up shop and slink away. [This applies as well to ongoing organizations.]
So I'm starting this thread for the principals or anyone who knows anything. Carolyn, want to elaborate on closing down Enlightenment? What about Aristos? The Daily Objectivist? Robert gave a cryptic explanation on Solo about Atlasphere ... anyone know anything more detailed or useful. What about FullContext magazine?
And now Wetheliving? Why did they close? Why did they only give a few days notice so no one had time to get in any last posts...and why not enough notice that the archives would no longer be online ...in case people had hundreds of posts up there that they thought they could access in the future...and now have lost their writings?
For online ventures, it is not unusual (or Objectivist-specific) for websites and mailing lists to disappear with little explanation. This is one of the main causes of "linkrot."
Specifically regarding the Atlasphere, it appears to be up and running just fine. Perhaps you meant the Atlas Society?
I have a page on my own website dedicated to tracking sites and mailing lists that moved, disappeared, or became, as you put it, "empty shells." Wetheliving.com will be duly added the next time I update that page. (Any other additions or updates to that list are welcomed.)
Nope. They're all here in New Zealand. I'm just annoyed that the demonstrable superiority of Kiwi minds, buttressed by thick hides, over feeble, chronically neurotic American psycho-babble mind-substitutes, buttressed by sissy-skins, has latterly been so obvious as to make the plot transparent.
Phil, I would hazard a guess that most of the entities you mention have a single "fountainhead" behind them who eventually tires of the work and begins experiencing net loss rather than net profit in accordance with his values. Running these sites and organizations can be quite a thankless job. Since you mentioned clubs, I should say that clubs of all stripes and not just Objectivist ones rise and fall over time for similar reasons.
Occasionally, a well-conceived and well-structured corporate entity with clearly defined roles and responsibilities will form and last for generations. This happens in the business world all the time. Whereas a sole proprietorship will last as long as the sole proprietor does business and continues to live, a corporation can literally be immortal. Notice that the ARI and TOC have immortal corporate structures whose offices can change occupants.
Wetheliving closed because Jimmy Wales decided he could no longer support it. Many of us had stopped going there because the signal to noise ratio was so low. I was extremely disappointed that no one could pony up the money to keep The Daily Objectivist archive on the web. There was lots of good stuff there. I think Carolyn is pretty engrossed in AI research right now. I sent her an initial draft of a mini-paper I had written a few months back and she gave me some terrific feedback, but Enlightenment must have been a hugely time consuming undertaking.
I think people just drift in and out of activist phases within Objectivism. However I agree with you that the ignominious ends to many of these ventures is worth looking at.
I am requesting information not merely on venues and ventures that have totally folded, but ones which have downsized or eliminated major portions of their activities, such as a print magazine for Aristos and a conference and frequent website updating such as Enlightenment and the Atlas Society (I mistakenly said Atlasphere..thanks Richard).
Guesswork based on nothing more than a Great Destroyer or a witch doctor or hypothesizing nothing more than burnout with no actual facts to support is not informative either.
"I would like to hear what you have to say as well as everyone else's." [Bill]
In my case I have had four ventures or projects over the years with varying degrees of success and longevity: starting campus and community clubs, 'franchising' lessees of the Peikoff tapes, a print publication called "Classics Review".
I'll talk about the last one first, and since I don't enjoy talking to an empty room only about the others if this thread takes off:
"Classics Review" was a one-man newsletter launched by me in the mid-80's. It reached 350 paying subscribers, 95% Objectivists along with a few libraries, if I recall. Its purpose was to review and recommend classic books that readers had not heard of. It only lasted a few years. As to reader response and why it petered out, I can address that in a separate post...Is this of interest to people? In how much detail?
Thanks, Jim. You are someone who takes these kinds of exploratory and analytical and problem-solving threads seriously, and I really appreciate it.
> "Wetheliving closed because Jimmy Wales decided he could no longer support it."
This is still a bit vague and cryptic. I'm not clear whether you are saying financially ... or that he felt the quality was low and he didn't want his name associated with it or that he thought it was harming not helping the reputation on intellectual quality of Objectivism [I would tend to agree with the last, especially with regard to the Atlantis discussion group slimefest, last time I looked.] It doesn't explain the lack of a transition or answer the questions I listed at the end of post 0.
> " I was extremely disappointed that no one could pony up the money to keep The Daily Objectivist archive on the web."
I've never created a website with a high volume of material, but it doesn't strike me that it would cost too much to store text as opposed to photos. And there are places like Yahoo and Google that do it for free, don't they? Much more recently, why was it necessary to instantly, ruthlessly toss in the garbage all the OWL posts ever made?
I feel very fortunate that every time I made a substantive post, I also wrote it to an "owl postings" file on my own computer. There was a lot of thinking about issues I'd like to write on later. Just like postponing hard disk backup, I would suspect that was true of many of the small minority of better posters. And many of them may now just be SOL: "Thanks for playing. Good bye and good riddance. Don't let the door hit you on the butt on the way out."
> "I think people just drift in and out of activist phases within Objectivism."
True. The issue is what are their own words for why they drift out.
[ After this inductive, empirical, data gathering step, we can better address what can be done to ameliorate the situation, if anything. ]
I don't think this is special to Objectivism. Such ventures come and go among people with intellectual interests, part of the reason being that the startup costs for a website, magazine or club are so low. In The Fountainhead, when we first meet Toohey, we read that he'd worked his way up writing for a variety of little magazines, all with "new" in the title and all by then defunct.
Only Jimmy Wales can tell you why he pulled the plug on We The Living when he did, or why he left just one month for former participants to save material from OWL and other forums on the site. (I quickly downloaded everything from OWL during the months that I was active there.)
The signal to noise ratio on OWL was disappointingly low, for a lot of participants (that's why I eventually left). I never had the slightest desire to participate on Atlantis, so you'll have to ask others about that.
I helped Walter Foddis out at Psychology for a while, so I may be able to address the low level of activity there. The Psychology forum was the kind that needed at least one person to be a "content provider." Walter offered items for discussion once in a while, and so did I, but neither of us was interested in doing so on a daily or weekly basis. The only participant who did have some ambition of taking on that role was not a psychologist, and most of his contributions were news clips, some of no apparent relevance to the field, and all cross-posted to other lists; after a while, most of the other participants ignored them. A couple of controversies (like a fierce dispute over the utility of "energy" techniques in psychotherapy) brought heightened activity to the forum for a month to 6 weeks--after which the major disputants were pretty much burned out, and never contibuted anything of note again.
One thing I noticed after email access to We The Living was cut off at the end of May 2005: the volume of spam arriving at my home email address went from 10 to 15 pieces per day to nearly 0. Spoofed addresses at wetheliving.com had been frequent; now they vanished. We The Living was poorly defended against spamsters, and I doubt that security upgades would have been worth Jimmy Wales' while. I also recall the email server being out of service for several extended periods.
It's not just people with intellectual interests who launch short-lived ventures, then lose their enthusiasm for them.
In our work on music history, my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to interview some entrepreneurs who started independent record labels in the Chicago area; we've put together detailed histories of several others whose founders are long dead. Independent record labels have always depended on the dedication of one or two individuals; if those folks run out of money, or their interests change, no more label. This wasn't just the case with boutique outfits like Hy-Tone or JOB or Seymour; it seems to have been true even of the small percentage of independent labels that made substantial profits, grew, and lasted a decade or more, such as Chess and Vee-Jay.
I would donate money or hardware for the purpose of providing archival access to a comprehensive collection of defunct Randian web sites and mailing lists. This would best be done by an organization that has a critical mass apart from the proposed archive - perhaps SOLO, if Joe Rowlands were interested.
> Only Jimmy Wales can tell you why he pulled the plug on We The Living when he did." [Robert C]
I don't think the principals in these various ventures are the only ones who could shed light.
I wonder if the principle of and the need for "transparency", full disclosure, full explanation, prior wider-than-the-inner-circle discussion, polling, and questionnaires in movements and cooperative and funded-by-contributors ventures is clearly understood by leading Objectivists?
The failure to non-cryptically explain to contributors why the Atlas Society - a really, really good idea with the potential to 'grow the base' enormously - was cut off from funding springs to mind. "We decided to spend our money differently" does not constitute an explanation.
> "The signal to noise ratio on OWL was disappointingly low, for a lot of participants (that's why I eventually left)."
The "noise" and nonsense problem has been fatal for -every- Objectivist list that is largely unmoderated or self-policed:
i) Most Objectivists simply don't have a lot to say across that span of time without becoming repetitious.
ii) There is an attraction factor to fruitcakes and loose cannons and verbose pedants, and there is a seldom-resisted temptation to others to waste too much time and water down the level of discourse answering inanities. Which doesn't work.
iii) Bad money drives out good: There are always a few who seem to post every day on every thread sucking all the oxygen out of the room. These "frequent flyers" tend to be those with the least to say that is worthwhile ... and after a while, other people become inactive because the former were not moderated or given a posting limit. The too-frequent flyers also the ones most likely to be "frequent flamers".
iv) Most students of Objectivism simply don't understand the philosophy or its application from A to Z, having never gone through the taped courses (you can't get it just from the essay collections + novels). So there are endless elementary topics and they keep getting repeated and discussed with a lot of flailing errors, so that even those relatively new get bored and turned off.
> "A couple of controversies (like a fierce dispute over the utility of "energy" techniques in psychotherapy) brought heightened activity to the forum for a month to 6 weeks--after which the major disputants were pretty much burned out, and never contibuted anything of note again."
For a time, as on Solo now, one can find quite a few thoughtful and intelligent and articulate people worth reading. But they will ultimately move on to other things, burnt out from fruitlessly arguing with the unwashed - and those who do not bathe on principle.
If I were ever to start a list it would be a *heavily moderated* one.
Did I mention that bad posts drive out good ones?
Side issue: Robert, I hadn't thought there was a whole month to save things from OWL. I only got a few days notice via email. But if most people had that much time that would seem fair and adequate (and thus I would withdraw my sarcastic "good bye and good riddance" crack).
Jeff and I have discussed having SOLO archive other sites/forums. OWL seemed like an obvious choice. We have a bit of bandwidth and disk space to spare, so it's certainly possible. The real issue is if the owners want to make the content available to us, or if they even still have the content. If anyone is really excited about that, you can try contacting the previous owners and letting me know.
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