A few years ago I was fiddling around with a new web site called Claw & Quill, whose idea—put very crudely—was to have a story-focused archive site, as deviantART and its various clones/spinoffs didn’t do a very good job at presenting stories. There are a few reasons C&Q didn’t really come together, ranging from the canonical “bit more off than I could chew” to a decreasing level of motivation as a couple sites that did a much better job at presenting stories than the others (or even their own previous incarnations) appeared.
This brings me to Weasyl, yet another new art site following the DA/FA model. It has a cute name, a fervent staff, questionable typography, and a subtle existential dilemma.
Now, Weasyl seems to have a lot going for it: it performs well, it has the openness of deviantART, and it lacks the vague seediness that’s clung to some furry-specific art sites past and present. You can pretty much go down the feature checklist and find everything you’d expect—favorites, follow lists, journals, shoutboxes—and little you wouldn’t.
This is also its problem. For all of the sites—Weasyl and SoFurry and InkBunny and many past sites and one or two ones I know of coming down the pike—you can pretty much go down the feature checklist and find everything you’d expect and little you wouldn’t.
Yes, I know, site A has character profiles, site B has achievement badges, the terms of service are a bit different, this one is prettier and this one is faster and this one has an annoying shade of purple. But there’s something UX designers refer to “user stories,” little narratives that describe how different kinds of user would use the site. Here are three (really) simple user stories about one of these web sites.
- Bob goes to the site, logs in, clicks an upload button in the top menu bar, chooses the kind of submission he’s making, uploads the file, adds descriptions and tags.
- Alice goes to the site, logs in, checks her watch list to see if people she’s followed have uploaded new stuff, marks some of them as favorites, reads the journals of a few people.
- Ted logs in, clicks to the user pages of people he already follows and sees what they’ve favorited to find new artists to follow. One of them is Bob, who leaves a shout on Ted’s page saying “Thanks for the watch.”
Quick: which specific site are Ted, Alice and Bob using?
Folks, just how many times do we need to reinvent this wheel? I understand that there are so, so many ways that FA can be improved, but this is the art archive equivalent of decamping from LiveJournal to Dreamwidth. “Just like what you’re already using, but with a better codebase, more features, nicer sysadmins, different terms of service, and a fraction of the userbase!” Woo.
What’s worse, we already have our Dreamwidth to FA’s LiveJournal: SoFurry. SF is already better than FA if you’re a writer, has a very active userbase, and makes visible improvements with each passing month (if you haven’t looked it in a while, you might not recognize it). It’s arguably much better compared to FA than DW is compared to LJ.
So a new site for anthropomorphic fans needs to make the case that it’s better than FA and better than SF. Weasyl is casting itself as not just furry, which I don’t suspect moves the needle very much; while many furries don’t like deviantART, I’ve seen little that suggests DA’s users have been desperately casting about for a replacement site with nearly identical functionality.
Maybe what we need is something different. Furry fandom has an increasing number of sites trying to be the new FA, but nobody aspiring to be the new Yerf. Yes, I remember ArtSpots, but the fact that they didn’t succeed doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. And—again, just maybe—there might be a better model for such a site to mimic than what is, at its heart, the same thing deviantART was doing a decade ago. LiveJournal hasn’t been disrupted by DreamWidth, but it’s gotten the shit kicked out of it by Tumblr.
I do wish Weasyl luck—along with a wish for more rigorous unit testing—but even though we may “need” a better Fur Affinity, we’re not going to get one if what we keep trying to do is literally just build a better Fur Affinity.
(Originally published at Coyote Prints)