The Dark Side of Running a Big Fan Site

Written by davogones, May 10, 2003

Over the last couple years, a funny thing has happened: my small humble site has grown big and popular. While it is satisfying to see my hard work enjoyed by so many people, popularity is not all fun and games. Over the last year or so, certain behaviors have become more and more promiment among my visitors. These behaviors are a drain on my time, energy, and enjoyment. I've finally gotten so fed up that I decided to write an editorial, so people realize what I have to go through and what they should avoid.

My site started out small, both in content and ambition. I merely wished to understand the storyline, since I basically knew nothing. So I started a web site which would examine the facts. Along the way, my education was helped by a lot of great, knowledgeable Zelda fans. But soon I found that I was starting to know more about Zelda than most others around me. Somebody even said that if Zelda were taught as a subject, I would be the professor. (That was arunma, in case any of you old-timers are reading this.)

As my site improved more and more, and as other big Zelda web sites disappeared, my site became more and more popular. I always appreciate messages giving me criticisms and new theories. But soon people were e-mailing me asking how to beat a dungeon or find an item. Way too many people. I wouldn't mind so much, except that I have GUIDES on my site. I kept replying over and over telling people to look in the guides available right on my site. But the volume of mail did not stop. Finally, I simply forbade gameplay questions, and deleted such messages without mercy. I have neither the time nor the desire to answer questions that are answered better in guides I have already gone to the trouble to post.

For a time, all was good again. I responded to a reasonable number of good theories every day, in my inbox or in my forum. But I found that I was responding to the same questions over and over again. Normally, when this happens I write an article. But some topics were so limited that writing a whole article wouldn't be worth it. How useless would a one-paragraph article be? So, I decided to launch a mailbag. The question and my response would be there for the whole world to read. Hopefully, I thought, this would reduce the redundancy of the questions.

You know how technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but actually makes it harder by giving us more to do? Same kind of situation here. I expected the mailbag to be a place where I would leisurely give a thoughtful, detailed answer to a couple questions a week. And so it was for a few months. But then, all of a sudden, my site started to grow. New people flooded in. Some people decided that my convenient mailbag would be a good place to mail me over and over and over again. Now, as you can imagine, this gets rather annoying after a while. After all, if you want an ongoing discussion, my forum is perfect for that. But not many people were abusing the mailbag, so I tolerated it.

And I have tolerated it for quite a while. But in the last six months or so, unprecented numbers of people haved flooded in and gazed at the convenient mailbag. "I'll ask a question," they thought. "No, two or three. Oh, now I have a couple more questions. Oh, I just remembered another." I could tolerate this for a while, but it started to be a hassle, especially since I was doing the mailbag by hand. So I took some time to program a new mailbag app that would make things easier for me. Now I could respond a lot quicker, and messages hopefully wouldn't pile up so much.

But once again, my life was made harder rather than easier. Seeing responses more quickly meant people could respond more quickly. Soon, I was getting something like twenty messages a day, many from the same few people. And lots of people were posting multiple times a day. The height of this madness came the month Wind Waker was released in the U.S. I answered 245 mailbag entries that month. Finally I decided enough was enough, people could only submit one message a day.

But has the madness ended? No. Lots of people said, "sorry for ignoring the one message a day rule, but I just thought of something else to ask you." And I was still getting a small group of people mailing me every single day. This is hardly the way the mailbag is supposed to work. If you look at the mailbag on every single other fan web site, they only answer like twenty questions a MONTH, and they give detailed answers. This was totally ridiculous. I was getting so much mail that I could only give a cursory, unsatisfying answer to most questions. I was becoming more vicious and bitter. So finally, now I've instituted a "one message per week" rule, which I fully intend to enforce without remorse.

Some people even have the audacity to complain when I don't satisfy them. As a good friend of mine put it when I whined about this: "You don't owe these people anything!" If my away message on AIM says that I'm away or busy, it really means that I'm away or busy. How is anybody justified in cussing me out for being away or busy all the time? I cannot spend all day sitting next to my computer waiting for people to send me messages so I can get involved in hours of conversation. I'm in college, I try to have a life. I'm busy. Period. And people even complain when I stay off of AIM. If I'm busy and don't want to chat, what right does anybody have to complain that I'm never on? Give me a break!

I also got complaints when somebody cussed in my mailbag. I agree, people shouldn't be cussing. But these people were acting like it was all MY fault. What kind of person was I, letting people cuss in my mailbag? Did these people consider how overworked I am, how I don't have time to read every single word but just skim to get the gist? No, I was the bad guy. C'mon, gimme a break.

So what's the upshot of all this? Not only is this behavior extremely annoying, it drains me of time, energy, and inspiration. I don't think many people realize this, but I'm ONE guy running this massive web site. Given the unprecedented number of visitors, I simply do not have time to give personal attention to each and every one. Back when my site was small, I could afford to give detailed answers to all inquiries. But now, this simply isn't possible. It is a regrettable situation. If people would look around my site a bit and think things out on their own without asking me first, I think we would all get a bit more out of life. I'm not your personal game counselor. I don't get paid to do this. I joke about how I create extra time for myself and how I hired a monkey to help me. But the sad truth is, all the work you see here comes straight out of MY OWN personal time, which is very valuable to me. And in my second year of college, this time has become even more precious to me. Hours spent wading through junk is not my idea of well-spent time. Especially when I have to study physics, math, philosophy, and computer science.

I keep complaining that my time is wasted. So what could I be doing if I had more free time? Two things: improving myself personally, and improving this web site. I won't mention how I could read more literature and philosophy if I didn't have to waste hours every day responding to mail. What I'm more concerned with here is the effect this annoying behavior is having on my web site. People complain to me all the time that I haven't written any articles in a long time. These people are wrong. I write an article every single day in the freaking mailbag. Responding to so much mail totally drains me. "Oh," I think, "I feel like working on that canon article right now. Or working on that Nintendo interviews feature. But I'll look at the mailbag first." Crud, fifteen messages to slog through. After 45 minutes of this, I'm so exhausted that I don't feel like doing anything else.

Responding to so much mail drains me of the energy and the inspiration to do other things on my site. I could be doing great things with the content, if people would just quit bugging me to death! Instead of asking me a million questions about TWW, why don't you just wait patiently until I've typed up a quote faq and written an article? I can't do these things if I have to answer piddling questions every day. And improving the content on my site is infinitely more valuable than answering a bunch of questions. I want to finish my storylines, but they require long stretches of free time to get done. Draining me of my time only means that you'll never see that storyline you want to see in your lifetime. Even when you complain that I'm not finishing it, you're just contributing to the problem. It's like Dilbert's boss asking him for a status report on why he can't ever get anything done.

That's enough negativity. Despite these annoyances, I do enjoy what I do. I enjoy thinking about Zelda and researching information about it. I do not plan to give this up any time soon. So don't worry. However, people should understand that many other webmasters have quit for similar reasons. They have been crushed by mass quantities of stupidity, complaining, and backstabbing. Webmasters are not supposed to be babysitters for the idiots of the world. If you see yourself doing some of these things, don't be offended by my diatribes; just reconsider your actions. I don't suggest that people stop asking questions. Rather, I want people to first think things out for themselves, try to help themselves, instead of relying on others. I did not gain my Zelda knowledge by bugging some other Zelda fan to death for answers. I found the sources myself, studied them deeply, and figured them out. If Zelda fans want answers, this way of learning will serve them better. One should seek answers from a human being only when one is totally stuck, and has absolutely no where else to turn. In the end, life is about figuring out the answers yourself. By all means get guidance along the way, but do not abuse the privileges you have been granted.