Talkin' BookCrossing

Wings

I buy BookCrossing.com wings every month or so. Five dollars for a month of extra benefits and ad-free BookCrossing is a bargain. Besides, the money goes to support the site’s operation, and I know that it is an expensive business, run with a handful of staff and a team of unsung volunteers.

Bruce and Heather Pedersen are the management team, and every year the attendees at the annual anniversary convention are treated to their presence, where they show the latest improvements in the site, discuss the future, and take questions from the keen BookCrossers who attend the gathering.

They couldn’t make it to Christchurch in 2009, and when Bruce showed us around BookCrossing.com headquarters via video chat, we got an understanding why not. The whole site, computers, administration, Supply Store, is run out of Bruce’s garage in Sandpoint Idaho. And it’s not a huge garage, nor is it the fabled garage of the wildly successful startups like Amazon and Apple.

BookCrossing.com isn’t going to make its owners rich. It plugs along, it makes a lot of people very happy, but I suspect that a good deal of the time it goes backwards when the bills come in. 

So I pay my five dollars a month and I am happy to do it. But I very rarely have wings beside my screen name. I find someone in the forums who looks like they could use a set and I nominate them as the recipient. And every now and then, they notice and squeak happily in the forum, that they are “flying with their new wings and thank, you mystery winger”.

Of course I just copied the “fly-by winging” idea from others, back in the early days, 2003 or 2004, when the first CEO Ron Hornbaker brought in the idea of paid “wings” (appearing either side of screen names) to help pay for the runaway tiger he had created, burning up bandwidth at a staggering rate. 

There are any number of Mystery Wingers in a site founded and maintained by generosity. I usually keep my own role quiet, but every now and then some kind soul sends me a gift of wings and it just makes my day. And my month. I have no idea who it is, but I make sure to thank them in the forums. 

A couple of weeks ago I bought wings for a lady BookCrosser. She’d been having some hard times and I thought she could use a lift. She had stormed out of the forums, saying she’d never return. 

She never mentioned the wings in the forums, but that’s okay. It’s a pleasure to give. 

Now, the forums can be a rough and tumble sort of place sometimes. I wish they weren’t, but over the years there have been death threats, obscene language, trolls and spats. Sometimes I’ve been involved, because I do love a meaty discussion, but although at first I gave as good as I got, I’ve tried to be more polite and restrained. 

This morning I woke up early, checking the site to catch up before a long trip. (We’re just coming into Singapore as I write this.)  To my astonishment, I got an error message, saying that my account had been suspended. Astonishment is too mild a word, really, but after I checked that it wasn’t a site-wide glitch, I sent a request for information using the contact form. 

A few minutes later I received a personal email from Bruce. He’s one of the sweetest guys I know, and he sounded embarrassed. Knowing him, he was, and far more than I. 

He named no names, but indicated that some of my recent posts had exposed the site to possible legal action. Well, colour me jawdropped! Again, too mild a word, really. 

I’d be guessing if I named my own names, but over the years, I’ve accumulated my share of enemies on the site. I’m pretty sure that the fellow who made the death threat a few years ago is still around under yet another different nom-de-cursor. I ignore his trolling. 

My surmise is that a complaint was made against me threatening a lawsuit, and regardless of merit, the cost of a legal defence is sure to be in the thousands. Especially if it is made in another country with a lawyer working for free.

I’d really hate to be the guy responsible for Bruce missing the Dublin convention. Or even ending the site for good.

So, thanks everybody for the kind words via PM, email and Facebook. I really needed a lift this morning, and it is a boost to hear from some of the loveliest, most golden-hearted people I’ve ever met. I had the mother of all tension headaches before heading for the airport, but after a bit of meditation and cat-stroking I think I’m on track again.

Please, no petitions, no angry complaints to Bruce on my behalf. His hands are essentially tied, a hostage to legal threats. He’s a darling and needs no grief. 

And please, please, please, no hassle in the forums. No names have been named, and guessing won’t help, nor accusations against people. Pointless, really, as all of the likely candidates probably think that they are on a mission from God, their cause is righteous and any weapon is justified against the Great Satan. 

Besides, I want to see the forums properly monitored, the terms of use enforced, and adding to the heat doesn’t aid that aim. 

Jesus said, “Love thy enemy.” Buddha said the same. I forgive whoever it was, and if I have caused offence, I apologise whole-heartedly, for none was intended. If people wish to express support, make a surprise winging. Not me. Surprise the person or persons most likely. And support the site. 

And if you are still with me, thanks for listening.

–Skyring

20 comments

  1. ResQgeek /

    I posted a link to this in the forum in the discussion on this topic (really more of an series of expressions of puzzlement and outrage than a true discussion, but still). I’m hoping that the the suspension ultimately is a temporary measure, and that eventually, this will blow over and the threat of legal action will go away and you will be able to rejoin us. In the meantime, I hope that you will continue to stay in touch with us through other venues.

    • Skyring /

      Thanks all! I made the post in transit through Singapore, feverishly cutting and pasting over a slow connection while they refueled the 380. Now in Heathrow, with a little more time. I’ve polished up the post above a little, clearing up a few points.

      I haven’t checked Facebook yet, nor the site, so I’m still in the dark over a few things. Bruce and a couple of others have sent emails, and it looks like I’ll be back on deck soon.

      Apart from BookCrossing, one of the joys of my life has been the School of Practical Philosophy, a worldwide institution with numerous names and companion groups, but all teaching a fusion of Eastern and Western philosophy. I’ve learnt a great deal, I’m a lot happier within myself, and I’m seeing the world through fresh eyes.

      I mean every word of what I wrote above. BookCrossing is a breath of fresh and generous air in a world where everything comes with a price tag. The forums are the public face of our shared movement, and they are far too often far too visible as a place of temper and hostility.

      I know one cannot force people to love each other if it is not in their hearts to do so, but there should be some way of solving disputes in a natural and cooperative manner. Wikipedia springs to mind, where a community of total nerds has found mechanisms that work.

      A couple of months back, I made a complaint about some fairly savage personal attacks. I mentioned the site’s terms of use, which said this behaviour was frowned upon. The response I got back from a Support Team member was “Well, I’m frowning now.”

      This was one reason I began this site. To highlight not only the positives, but to open up some of the negatives about BookCrossing. I’ve been purposefully avoiding using the site as a source, to leave clear air for the newsletter, but that comes out so infrequently that I wonder why I bother.

      Again, thank you to my friends for the words of support. In the grand scheme of things, this is only a tiny ruffle in the stream of life, but how precious is the affection and understanding of those sharing the flow!

  2. This is an extremely decent post to make. It speaks volumes about the kind of person you are. I hope you get the issue with the site resolved and am quietly supportive, even though I never use the forums myself.
    Liz Broomfield recently posted..Infer or imply?My Profile

  3. Cassiopaeia /

    Good afternoon Skyring,
    A gentleman through and through!
    Hope your banishment isn’t for too long, it’s not the same without you. Take care and looking forward to keeping up with you here for the duration.

  4. edwardstreet /

    lovely

  5. Cassiopaeia /

    I left a post earlier and it seems to have disappeared, this is a test just to see if it meetd a similar fate!

    • Skyring /

      Sorry! I posted the above in the few minutes I had wifi in Singapore. It’s been a long flight to Heathrow since then and I haven’t had a chance to moderate comments. It is set to let posters with previously approved posts to comment freely, but that first post has to be approved first, lest spammers get through.

  6. otakuu /

    You are a prince amongst men. I hope people come to their senses soon. **Hugs**

  7. Sorry to hear that. Personally I left the BookCrossing forums years ago and have not missed them. I’m sure you’ll put some of the time you’ve gained to other productive pursuits. And I expect you’ll keep in touch with all the friends you have made over the years via non-forum/non-BookCrossing means.

    Regards to Kerri, and enjoy your trip to Vienna.
    thebiblioholic recently posted..Happy 100th Birthday, Oreo!My Profile

  8. (Dunno if my other comment went through. This site’s comment system seems to think I’ve already said what I just wrote.)

  9. I’m complete speechless. About the fact what happened (although not knowing any details). As also your great post here.
    One thing is for sure: BookCrossing is a great community and of course it has black spots… where most other communities rather have their black holes… Take care my friend,
    Wyando

  10. Megi53 /

    I do hope your temporary suspension isn’t because of your splendid “junk on the side of the road” thread, which I was enjoying very much.

    After the DC convention, I asked the BCer to whom I used to be closest (met in person, exchanged gifts for birthdays and Christmas) if anything was said by TPTB about how they were planning for the site’s future in view of the fact that e-books are becoming the preferred medium of reading. She hasn’t spoken to me since!

  11. mojosmom /

    Whatever the substantive rights or wrongs were, I think the way this was handled by BC was outrageous. To present this to you as a fait accompli, giving you no opportunity to respond to whatever the complaint was before being terminated, was totally wrong.

    In any case, I am glad to see that you are back!

    • Skyring /

      When I was on the Support Team, years ago, I almost terminated a well-known BookCrosser’s account without a moment’s thought. It was over a comment I directed at you, actually, but the innocent timing was outrageously poor. Luckily I paused and sought comment from my team peers and we decided that it was not malicious.

      Bruce is a vet, not a human resources or legal department. If he didn’t fill in all the forms and take all the steps, he has my forgiveness and understanding. And my support, because I am sure this event will lead to improvements in forum behaviour, including my own.

      I have the fondest memories of those early forum days when we shared excitement over our new passion for giving away books and found friends. In some cases, more than friends, and I only have to think of Miriam and Asher to know that more came out of this place than a mountain of books!

      Am I back? I haven’t checked yet. Believe it or not, but I am typing from the most unergonomic seat in this Vienna hotel room, because we have both slept for eight hours straight, and Kerri could use some more without my interruptions and iPad noises.

  12. meganh /

    Dear Skyring,
    you are a much loved bookcrosser by so many of us and I am pleased to see you are ‘back in the fold again’.
    I sincerely hope that something good will come out of this in Forum behaviour in the future.

  13. M. Hague /

    Hello Skyring: I didn’t know anything about your troubles, but I am sorry to see what has happened. I do remember you well from Toronto, London and Amsterdam. I think you were the fellow who gave me a great big hug at the Rijksmuseum, where I was having happy fits seeing the art I had studied at university – for real. Anyway, I think you’re swell, and I dearly hope everything will work out and you’ll be BACK 100% on the BX’ing site/Forums, etc.
    Best to you, Bookgirrl

    • Skyring /

      That was a happy moment, running into you in the Rijksmuseum! What a fantastic place it is! I loved Amsterdam. And I had a great time in Vienna this weekend. Must write an article about the superb OBCZ I found there at Cafe Einstein, the original smokey student bar. My wife and I weren’t able to go through some of the grand galleries this time, but had a quick look through the Albertina, which has some really good collections, including a mouthwatering wall of Cezannes.

  14. I have no idea just what has happened, though I’ve seen hints flying about cyberspace. All I can say is, “I’m sorry.” I don’t really frequent fora any more either, certainly not CC, when I peeked to see what all of this is about it all looked very foreign. I’m just glad BC brought me the friends it did at the time, and, like you, I have good memories of the fun we used to have. To everything there is a season I guess. Hope we stay in touch!
    Linda recently posted..Steve McCurry Exhibition Santa Cruz de TenerifeMy Profile

    • Skyring /

      Feel free to duck back into Chit Chat. We’re having a bit of a party at the moment, trying to bump all the snarky stuff off the front page.

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