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.
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.