History of VideoSift Part II

I'm writing a series of blog posts about the history of VideoSift. This is Part II, but you can go back and read Prelude to a Sift and then Part I.

Launched from its slightly murky beginnings, the new VideoSift community was thriving in the first few months of 2006. Traffic was growing and more importantly, all kinds of people were pitching their online tents at Videosift - making it their web home.

@ant who worked within Blues News was sending us regular new visitors and many of those people were hanging around to submit more content - which in turn brought more people in from Google searches, blogs and other corners of the net. In a span of only a few months, we launched Sift Talk, tried out a “Sift Off”, and had our first big “Siftquisition”. The culture of VideoSift was evolving.

I got to know @lucky760 as a Sifter about midway through that first year. He helped us out with ajax scripting and some coding to improve how Siftbot works. Before his involvement, Siftbot invocations were all actioned once a day, on a schedule – all at the same time. It seems impossible now. I was so impressed by Lucky’s code wizardry and quick turnaround on everything that he soon became part of the small VideoSift dev team. In those golden months there was a lot of other community involvement as well. @ender worked with us to make a Polish VideoSift at VideoSift.pl (now defunct). It made a big splash and even got on the national Polish news.

As we grew, we had to expand the number of servers more than once. I really didn’t know how big we were going to be. Were we Digg big? BoingBoing Big? Metafilter big? Understanding this was important for planning – did we need to hire staff? Should we incorporate? Get offices? I’m sure these existential questions happen all the time on the web where online empire building can often be measured in weeks. In the end, we didn't do much except try and make sure that we had enough ad and membership revenue coming in to pay our burgeoning server bill.

Major updates rolled much more frequently then. VideoSift 2.0 came in September of 2006. (by the way this is both my most cringe-worthy and favourite Sift Post - comparing VideoSift to Jennifer Gray in Dirty Dancing? Really?)

At the end of the year we got a nice accolade from PC World Magazine. This was probably the nicest, unexpected thing that has ever come to us from outside the community.

Less than a year after 2.0, in August 2007, we launched VideoSift 3.0 – the first VideoSift coded completely from scratch by @lucky760.

At this point, I did something that is personally embarrassing to me – because it makes me look and feel like a media douchebag – and my actions led me to hurt yet another community that had nurtured VideoSift.

I contacted the infamous tech blogger Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. At the time, in mid-2007, TechCrunch was a sought after venue for announcing new web ventures. There were stories of people camping outside the TechCrunch HQ to get a word with the king makers there. I sent an email to Arrington announcing that VideoSift was moving to a completely new platform with VideoSift 3.0 and highlighting that we were leaving the open source Pligg in favor of our new content management system that Lucky created. I thought the fact that we were rolling our own CMS would give us some credibility for doing something new. His email back wanted more details on the move:

Michael Arrington: Yeah definitely. all over this. So tell me what the limitations were with pligg that led you to do your own thing. Since pligg is open source, why not just build on it?

Me: Hi Michael thanks for the quick reply.

Pligg is a good general CMS, but there were a few considerations for moving off:

We started VideoSift shortly after Pligg was ported from the Spanish language Digg clone Meneame.net written by a talented Spanish coder, Ricardo Galli. (http://meneame.net/) Pligg has gone through a lot of revisions and changes since then - and we haven't moved with them.

About 2 months ago, there was a serious security breach at VideoSift (and other Pligg based sites) that compromised part of our DB. The breach was based on a simple hack that would have been found by analyzing the Pligg source. Although the Pligg community was quick to respond and patch the problem- This pushed us farther down the road to closed source.

And lastly, although we were well on our way to writing our new software, we have some misgivings about the pending sale of Pligg. Pligg is licensed under the Aferro GPL which is pretty strict about the re-sell of code.

The new VideoSift has been rebuilt from the ground up to work well around video aggregation. Our community loves it, and we can't wait to launch it this Friday.

Everything I wrote in the email was true but of course this became the focus of the article - with the title of "Largest Pligg Partner Defects After Announced Sale".

I don't know how much this hurt Pligg, but the upshot is that I tried to get some publicity for our new site and in doing so, took a big dump on an open source community that helped VideoSift. To this day I feel sorry about it.

* * * * *

One thing I didn't understand when first starting VideoSift, was the natural cycles of a web community. I was shocked at the time to find out that some people just … went away. I took it personally that these people would invest so much energy into our community and then piss off without even a goodbye.

The personification of this phenomenon in the early days was a Sifter who called himself @SnakePlissken. Here was a witty guy who seemed fully engaged with VideoSift. He always had something interesting or funny to say. He also used Kurt Russell as an avatar- the actor who portrays Snake in Escape from New York. When someone uses an actual human (or animal) face for their avatar – I start to think that this is who they are. It’s a completely subconscious thing and probably just wired into my brain.

One day, in those first few months, Snake disappeared- without a goodbye – never to be seen again. I think that’s when it hit me that the relationships you make in a web community aren’t the same as the ones you make in school or at work. The anonymity means that while you might feel close and connected, it’s a tenuous bond, easily broken
without ceremony. I sort of made Snake into a local urban legend - sometimes commenting that he would come back in our hour of need - maybe he will.

I began to understand that there is a natural cycle to involvement in something like VideoSift. People go like crazy for months sometimes and then find something else, or scale back- some go and come back or commit virtual seppuku. I have to remember them all - and the difference is, that I’ve always been here, and probably always will be. I suppose it’s a bit like being an elementary school teacher and seeing kids cycle through. I’m glad that a lot of you have been held back. ;-)

Next chapter:
  • My disastrous meeting with the Reddit team in San Francisco
  • Siftpocalypse Now (Oh sweet Jesus, the database is completely gone)
  • The best Cheese Festival ever!

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