The Power of Community

Written by David Butler (davogones), April 9, 2006

Many of you can probably remember a time when I was very active in Zelda Legends, constantly writing articles and posting new content to help get a grip on the Zelda storyline. In recent times, however, I have become much less active. Why? The reasons are personal, in part, but there is another, much more important reason: I am not needed anymore, except as a facilitator. The Zelda community today has the power to analyze the storyline in a reasonable and responsible way. In this editorial I will explain how this (happy) change has come about, and what my vision for the future is.

Seven years ago, when I entered the Zelda fan community, the best web site I could find was Zelda Headquarters. But being very curious about the Zelda storyline, their web site was not enough. In order to figure anything out about the storyline, I had to gather the source materials myself. I created a web site to keep track of things. I started by simply writing out a more complete Zelda storyline. Then I started referencing a few source materials, such as manuals and web sites. As people visited my site and made comments, I started writing articles to defend my interpretation of the storyline.

As more and more people came by and made comments, I began to find that I was the only one who had actually studied all the available source material and taken all the evidence into account. To put everyone on the same level, I started posting source material, such as manuals and quote FAQs.

There was a period of my life when my main hobby was running this web site. There was always something to keep me busy: writing articles, posting on the forum, responding to mailbag entries, making text dumps. All this I did myself.

When it was suggested that I make an encyclopedia, I discovered what a truly massive project it would be to write down and codify all Zelda knowledge into this encyclopedia. Even assuming I stayed interested in the project, there was no way I could complete it on my own in a reasonable amount of time. So I solicited help, and received plenty. Around this time, I also started getting more content submissions from my visitors. And I began to notice that the forum discussions were reasonable and intelligent without any supervision from myself.

These things came together to make me recognize the potential power behind the Zelda community. In the years I had been running the site, the Zelda fan community had matured. Most incoming Zelda fans were intelligent, had studied much of the source material, and were willing to contribute. If I could only find a way to utilize this immensely powerful resource, I would no longer have to do all the work on the site myself.

So my motives were, in part, selfish. As I progressed through college, it became more and more difficult to find time to run my site. So I wanted other people to run most of it for me, while retaining control over every aspect of the site. So I started directing my energies into making the site manageable by a staff, rather than contributing content myself. I completely redid the site, writing a backend which would allow for staff to edit and add pages, and allowed for a centralized login system so members could contribute comments and fan art.

My efforts paid off. The site began to run itself with very little input from me. My staff members contributed a great deal of content themselves, with minimal or no supervision from me. And I was satisfied to let things stay that way for quite a while, as I slid further and further into the shadows. College and a crappy personal life drained any motivation to do any substantial content work on the site.

Recent developments, however, got me thinking more about the community and its motivations. What motivates people to contribute to a project that is not their own? What reason do people have for spending so much time contributing content to a web site when the lion's share of the credit goes to the site's webmaster? In other words, what induces people to work together toward a common goal?

Let's face it: a lot of people start Zelda web sites because they want glory. They want their web site to become "big" and "popular," so they have something to be proud of. Web sites are difficult to start and difficult to build, so most web sites have a short lifespan, or eventually end as failures. A more modest goal, for those who still want glory, is to contribute to an already existing, well-known web site. Most gamers know about GameFAQs.com and IGN.com, and would be impressed if you told them you had contributed to one of these sites.

So is selfishness the only thing that makes the Zelda fan community work together? It is one contributing factor, but it is not the only glue. When selfishness is the only motivation, we see web sites bickering with each other, inflated egos, and the like. But a lot of Zelda web sites aren't like this at all. Rather, there is a spirit of cooperation and collaboration among a fair number of Zelda sites. I believe this kind of cooperation comes about when the primary motivation is love of the series and and an appreciation of everyone's talents.

Every Zelda web site has its own strengths. No web site is the perfect resource for everything. When webmasters are humble and realize this, they can appreciate each other's work and give credit where credit is due. And when everyone contentrates on their strengths, more gets done overall. If everyone wanted to cover everything, then every web site would be a clone. There would be no variety.

I have a vision for the future of the Zelda fan community. My vision is that of a community united: united in its love of the Zelda series, and in its dedication to having fun with it in the online world. When fans reach out to each other, they can work together.

This vision is alive in some people in the community today. One effort to carry out this vision was the Zelda Alliance. This was originally planned to be a place where Zelda webmasters could come together, interact, and have their work appreciated. There was some bickering and mistrust, however, and the project never got off the ground. A more recent effort, less ambitious but more successful, is the ZeldaBlog. Here, representatives from different Zelda web sites can post about any Zelda topic they wish. Although it has more members than active contributors, it is a good start towards building community and harmony between different Zelda fan sites.

The wiki concept has gotten me very excited lately. A wiki gives anyone the power to easily contribute their knowledge, simply by editing and creating pages. This is what I originally had planned for the Encyclopedia, but technical and time constraints kept me from carrying out this vision. When I discovered Media Wiki, the php-based software that drives Wikipedia, I saw a very valuable tool. Thanks to Wikipedia, the wiki concept is something that many fans are familiar with and can easily learn. I installed and tested the Zelda Wiki about a year ago, but again technical and time constraints kept me from releasing it immediately. When I finally released the Zelda Wiki in the beginning of 2006, I was very impressed by the initial response. The Wiki has some hard-working people on it, and has the potential to go very far.

So what is my role in all this? I have given the Zelda community the tools it needs to fully appreciate the Zelda storyline. As long as fans are active - playing the games, reading the interviews, referencing the manuals and text dumps, thinking about the storyline critically - they don't need me to write articles telling them how to think. The Zelda community has the power to figure out the Zelda storyline on its own, thanks to these new tools and this new spirit of cooperation. What I have achieved with Zelda Legends is small in comparison with what the community as a whole can accomplish if it works together.

Comments

Mary_Link says:

"When selfishness is the only motivation, we see web sites bickering with each other, inflated egos, and the like. "
That line made me think of Life of Brian.

But that was a very well written article! Yay!

Turless says:

Very true. It's easy for new Zelda fans and other visitors to think little of the accomplishments made by well established sites such as this one, but even only slightly active members can realize the work and 'team spirit' required to really make an online community successful. It's nice to reflect now and then on how far everything has come. l;happy.gif

Link_Dream says:

Wow. I never thought about how important it was to stick together as one large comunity rather than just a site. Thats pretty cool.

Hylian Fox says:

I have many, MANY, Zelda sites in my favorites. But this one is one of the absolute best! I like, nay, LOVE, to see and hear many fans opinions obout various aspects of the series. Such an inspirational saga and a large, intelligent and cooperative fan community just makes me all sunny inside!

Truly, no other video game series in history has united so many close and brand new friends as Zelda has. ( I love you Melora, can't get enough of those scans!)

With Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass on the way, with new characters, settings, gameplay ideas, and just simply extreme innovations, It is only safe to say that that the Zelda community is only going to bigger and better!

I can only praise God for that! l;n_n.gif