Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Fall of Alternia

This post is not about some fantastical kingdom located in-between realities (though that would have been cool).  Alternia was actually an alternate history forum that was not in any way related to AH.com (Gasp!).  I know it is hard to believe, but AH.com was not always the behemoth of relatively polite discussion it is today.  At one point it had challengers for the crown of largest and most popular alternate history discussion group on the Internet, and Alternia was one of them.

Now AH.com does have their own story on the history of their unknown rival, but it is an incredibly bias and unfair history of the defunct community.  As someone who was there during the collapse, I want to provide a different and friendlier perspective on this failed forum.  While it may not be entirely balanced, perhaps after you have read my version of the events along with AH.com's version, you may leave with a better opinion of Alternia. Admittedly the entire story of Alternia is not known to me, however, I will do the best that I can to give you as detailed of history as possible. 

There were three versions of Alternia: Alternia 1.0 (which was founded by TheAdmin), Alternia 2.0, (a.k.a. Free Alternia) and the final good version Alternia 3.0, which is also the one I had the most experience with.  Believe it or not, Alternia was not a "wretched hive of scum and villainy" as some would lead you to believe.  That label was gained after a troll by the name Hashemite somehow managed to gain a position of importance in one of the earlier versions of Alternia.  He was later banned from both AH.com and Alternia.  Exactly where he is now is unknown.

Alternia 3.0, whose hosting was provided by administrator Hey, was discovered by myself in 2007.  I arrived after most of the members of OtherTimelines.com (which Korsgaard will speak of in more detail in a future post) merged with Alternia in April 2007.   I discovered quickly that Alternia had some top quality posters.  Among them were AH.com veteran Wendell, J. T. Tate, map maker Lord Sander and Changing the Times author Chris Oakley.  Alternians were generally welcoming and provided constructive criticism of my own work.  It was in this environment that I first introduced one of my more humorous creations: Sgt. Mitro.  Sgt. Mitro was a stereotypical Space Marine who gave advice on a variety subjects, though his advice always ended with him suggesting that the advice seeker should join the Space Marines where they would likely end up either killed or horribly maimed.

During my tenure there was a sense of growth and optimism in the air.  Alternia had absorbed several smaller forums and with OTL.com going defunct and being absorbed by Alternia, it was now the second largest alternate history forum on the Internet.  For many there was nowhere Alternia could go but up and some believed that it was entirely possible for Alternia to one day surpass AH.com.  Alternia continued to grow after the controversial banning of S. M. Stirling.  AH.commers such as the famous map maker Diamond and Matt left to join Alternia in protest over the ban.  Though Stirling did make one post on Alternia, he never became an active member as some claim.  Nevertheless, the controversy over at AH.com furthered the drive of many Alternians to make their forum the most important alternate history forum on the web.

The problem was that many Alternians began to take their rivalry with AH.com too seriously.  Alternia could be considered more right-wing in their politics then the more left-wing AH.com.  It was these political differences that caused many Alternians to leave AH.com, but they took their issues with the larger forum personally.  Anti-AH.com posts were very prevalent, and for a time I believed them.  Worse, as time went by, people cared more about arguing politics, and later forum politics, then actually discussing alternate history.  When an alternate history forum stops discussing alternate history, you know you are in trouble.

Alternia began to collapse shortly after I was chosen to be a moderator (trust me, neither event had anything to do with each other).  Apparently there were issues between the forum management and TheAdmin.  Though he was the original founder of Alternia, TheAdmin was not the highest ranking admin since he was no longer hosting the forum.  Hey, nevertheless, gave him admin abilities out of respect for his seniority.  Problems, however, arose between TheAdmin and other administrators who felt that he was somehow holding Alternia back. 

What exactly TheAdmin was doing to stunt the growth of Alternia I never discovered because events began to spiral out of control from that point onward.  Somehow a cabal of admins managed to convince Hey to remove TheAdmin's administrator abilities.  TheAdmin responded with an angry post on the forum attacking the current Alternia leadership, which got him banned.  The entire community erupted over this leading to more bans and people leaving the site voluntarily.  All of this happened during a weekend I was in Wisconsin with my girlfriend (and later wife) enjoying my real life, unaware that my virtual life was in upheaval.

As it looked like the site was about to spiral out of control, Hey was convinced by a group of moderators to reinstall TheAdmin's privileges and ban the admin involved in the banning of TheAdmin.  That, however, did not fix anything.  The banning of TheAdmin opened a can of worms that tore Alternia apart.  Issues with past decisions by Hey and the other admins were dug up and fought over.  The most contentious issue was treating the members of OTL.com as a special minority by allowing them a unique color scheme for their user names and always making sure one of their members was in a position of authority.  Others complained about how the forum was being administered and several people began proposing "constitutions", as if Alternia was a virtual state that needed to be governed.  Hey, meanwhile, showed poor leadership by doing nothing to calm the growing discord among the community.  In fact his participation on the forum dropped considerably.

A moderator by the name of Albus Dumbledore was the most vocal agitator during the chaotic collapse of Alternia.  He was a major proponent of getting rid of the special status of OTLers, among other changes he wanted to make to the forum.  He because very unpopular with members with his constant demands for change.  Many accused him of being motivated solely for the sake of gaining more power in the forum, so Dumbledore resigned as moderator, but kept pushing his "reforms".  I myself because so disgusted with arguing with him, which took away actual discussion of alternate history, that I resigned my post as moderator and began limiting my time at Alternia.  Dumbledore's one positive contribution during this chaotic period was his crusade to end the tension between Alternia and AH.com.  Sadly this goal became moot after the forum finally collapsed.

Though there were many factors that caused the collapse of Alternia, in my most humble opinion I feel they were made worse by Dumbledore's action.  Perhaps he had the best intentions, but he caused fights over things that were better left ignored.  When Dumbledore stopped posting for a couple of weeks to go on vacation, things began to return to normal.  No one was writing posts on forum government and interest in alternate history increased.  When Dumbledore returned, however, things became worse.  Dumbledore's renewed calls for reforms reignited old arguments and the forum collapsed as users left to form successor forums.

The largest and most successful was Different Worlds (later renamed Other Timelines), which was formed from among the OTLers.  They ignored forum government issues and instead focused on alternate history again.  Alternians like Hey and Dumbledore were given preemptive bans, yet Dumbledore's ban was eventually overturned.  When a general science fiction forum created by TheAdmin was absorbed by Different Worlds, it was discovered that a poster by the name of Mithrandir was actually Dumbledore.  Dumbledore was allowed to stay, however, since he had behaved himself while on the other forum and was unwilling to start anymore fights over forum governance.

What lessons can we learn from Alternia's legacy?  First, avoid becoming to enamored with off-topic discussions on politics and religions.  If you are not careful they can spiral out of control and destroy your alternate history forum.  Better that communities adopt a "No Cross, No Crown" policy and tell their users to seek debate on those topics elsewhere.  Certainly the Internet has no shortage of such places so there really is no reason to sponsor them at your alternate history forum.

Second, the small size of the genre makes it very difficult to challenge an already entrenched institutions like AH.com, the AH wiki, Changing the Times and other alternate history communities.  Unless your product is unique enough, it is unlikely to survive competition with another community that already exists.  Better to be on the ground floor of bringing alternate history to a new medium (does Google Plus have an alternate history group yet?) then challenge something that already exists.

Believe it or not Alternia does still exist!  Over at Zeta Boards you can find the little known fourth version of Alternia.  Old Alternia veterans like Straha post there, but sadly nothing new has been added since July.  Perhaps Alternia truly is defunct, which is likely for the best.  I rather remember Alternia as it was, a welcoming community of alternate historians always willing to listen to a new idea.

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Mitro is founder, editor and contributor of Alternate History Weekly Update.  When he is not busy writing about his passion for alternate history, he spends his time working as a licensed attorney in the state of Illinois and dreams of being a published author himself one day.

8 comments:

  1. What happened to Alternia was a shame, I was one of the OTL refugees and had finally come into my own on the site when it went down the tubes.

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  2. I was the administrator that set up 2.0 and 3.0. I wish we had been able to contain the problems more... I miss this group.

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    1. So you are Hey, right? If I remember correctly he was the one who set 3.0. How did you find this post?

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    2. Hey Mitro, not sure if you remember me, but I stumbled upon this link earlier today and shared it with Chingo as well as TheAdmin. It was a rush of nostalgia. Hope all is well.

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    3. I was Chingo. I was the person that set up the forums and ran all that jazz for the site. I also merged the forums.

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  3. Hey Mitro! This is TheAdmin. I really appreciate your accurate take of the situation that regrettably led to Alternia's downfall. I loved being involved in the administration of all three sites, it was truly an experience I'll never forget.

    Iokua sent me the link to this today, really brought back a lot of old memories. Looking back on it, there are lots of things I would do differently-but I still look back with fondness at these days.

    Hope all is well!

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    1. Also, a side note: should any former Alternians wish to contact me, my email is megapal92@gmail.com. I'm always ready for a good discussion or catching up on old times!

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  4. Wow, good to hear from so many Alternians. Guys (and gals if Tink reads this) don't be strangers. Weekly Update would love to have you onboard.

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