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Human Condition: Barriers to entry
On the assumption that people care, I'd like to apologise for not writing here in a while; work's been very exhausting, and when I get home there's not much more I want to do other than play some Oni.

One of the things I've been wanting to do with my journal, and I'll start now, is to write some little diatribes on things I've learned or drawn conclusions on with all my dealings with other people. Mostly, this has been through administrating the VCL, and perhaps folk that use that service can use this to gain a little insight into why I run things the way I do. And, who knows, perhaps people's comments may change these things a little.

The first diatribe is on 'barriers to entry'.

When the VCL was founded, by Brian Antoine, there weren't much in the way of rules to speak of. Essentially, it was a bunch of artwork that Brian managed to collect from various sources and published it initially through a FTP-only interface, and a Web interface later (which, incidentally, got Brian into a little trouble, but all that's cleared away now).

Over the years as the VCL has become more and more popular (or, simply, just large), more and more rules and guidelines have been established. This has, to many, spoiled the 'free and easy feel' of the VCL, but they were put in place to address a very pressing need.

A lot of the quality of the artwork on the VCL had been taking a nosedive. Folk may remember that the quality of the scans, let alone artwork, around the start of 2000 was pretty horrible. People were pressing me to put some sort of 'talent restriction' onto the VCL. I didn't want to do this, because it was a large deviation from what the VCL was, but also it was a recipe for political disaster. For example, who determines what's 'good enough', and can it be applied consistently, or even apparently consistently. Even today, sites like Yerf are still considered somewhat elitist because of their talent requirements, which have not been totally alleviated by their 'council' approach to acceptance.

Instead, I put in place a new rule which I felt addressed the issue directly.

The 'issue' was the lowered 'barrier to entry'. In around 1996 and '97, having access to all the necessary equipment to scan and upload images to the Internet were hard to come by. Scanners were expensive. Internet access was considered a 'novelty', and folk that had both were much more likely to have invested a lot of time into their craft. In this there was a 'natural barrier to entry' that helped prop-up the perceived quality of artwork that was out there.

As scanners became cheaper (to the point of being 'free' with one's computer), and Internet access considered a staple service, those barriers to entry came down, and we started seeing a lot more beginner artwork, and hastily-scanned works, appearing on the internet.

Even on the VCL there were some barriers. However, as we make the VCL easier to use, so too do we make it easier for the beginner to upload their work, which is great for the beginner, but not so great for the viewer that wants to cut down the number of images he or she wades through to get to something they find interesting.

One thing that I did on the VCL was to require images to be well-scanned before application. In this, we put up an 'artificial barrier' to weed out those that hadn't spent a lot of time with their work. However, tools are now becoming easier to use, and folk are also discovering paint programs, both ones that run on the computer, and ones that run over a BBS, such as oekaki (or e o kaki, as I believe it should be termed).

So, another artificial barrier was raised on the VCL, and that was to require at least some amount of artistic skill before joining. The 'guide' is to ask for work that at the very least has well-proportioned, solid-looking characters. Even with this low bar, it's still very hard to be objective about things, and I doubt it'll get raised any higher for the time being.

One artist, and friend, objected to us putting up even this restriction, calling it a slap in the face to our existing 'all-inclusive' policies. I agree, however, it was either that, or go under a flood of new applicants. However, the artist mentioned that things like 'usenet' (usenet newsgroups) was a much better place, since it had no rules.

However, I disagree. For starters, posting to newsgroups has it's own 'barrier to entry' simply because it's hard to set up. Sure, those 'in the know' can set it up pretty easily, but again, most artistic beginners have no clue about it, or even know it exists.

Secondly, groups like fur.artwork are only useful because the amount of traffic going over it is relatively low, and contains a reasonably high-quality average of artwork.

'Jumping ship' from the VCL to something like usenet only works because everyone hasn't yet piled onto usenet. I don't think usenet would be anywhere near as usable, or subscribed to, if there were some 350 images/day being posted to it.

Having some barriers to entry, be they artificial or natural is not just desirable, it's necessary.

Comments welcome.

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To state my bias right off--I, through general arrogance, am fairly confident that virtually any entry standards imposed on a gallery will probably include me, and it's much easier to agitate for higher standards when you don't think you're part of what will be cut. (In my experience, everyone wants entry standards...right below them, personally. There are a few exceptions on philosophical grounds of course, but as a general rule of thumb, nobody wants gallery standards higher than themselves or a long way lower.)

VCL, like Elfwood, is, in many regards, already too large to be an ideal gallery for someone like me who's making art for money--it's easy to get lost in the shuffle, and prospective employers are more likely to troll through a smaller place with stricter entry requirements looking for artguns-for-hire than through something as large and open as VCL. But that's okay. I post to VCL not for purely monetary reasons, but because I like VCL, it's a friendly cool user-friendly gallery with lots of fan exposure, and furthermore, I know there's a lot of people who look at my stuff via VCL and wouldn't see it any other way. And I get regular e-mails that start "I saw your stuff at VCL, and wanted to say "Cool!" which may not put bread on the table, but puts a warm fuzzy feeling in the soul, which is as vital to an artist's continued well-being as anything else. (I also have gotten work via VCL, so it's not at all an either/or proposition, I hasten to add.)

However, I'm a pretty atypical user, so ignore me for the moment. The two big users of VCL are art viewers, who want to see a lot of art (but not overwhelming) and all those artists who want their stuff out there for various reasons too numerous to list, but for whatever reason don't have access to a lot of other galleries or personal web-pages. Artists want THEIR art seen. Viewers want to see art they like, in comprehensible doses. If it's just for the artists then it wouldn't be a problem, but the viewers are also part of the equation--and here, of course, is the fear that a lot of crappy art is as lethal to a gallery as a choke-point, which I can completely empathize with.

And yet, what can you do? The fact is that people come to VCL to look at art they think is cool, and if it gets flooded with art they think is uncool, they're less likely to come by. The sieve, of course, is a big help, but the VCL, and all other big archives in this situation, seems to be in the bind of either getting a rep as a dumping ground of bad art, or of all the angst that develops when you draw a line in the sand and say "I'm sorry, Victoria, your work just isn't good enough." There are a lot of measures that can get people excited about cool art in the VCL, but the sheer size is still gonna be daunting no matter what.

The set up based on presentation--no oekaki, no bad scans, etc--is a good start, in that it hopefully weeds out the casual scanner, so that you're limited to those who care enough about their work to spend even the minimal time polishing it. But it seems that you'll still need more than that, to say "You have to at least be able to draw a figure," or what have you, and I can see why you'd do that just to limit the overcrowding and keep VCL healthy, and I can't object on philosophical grounds--you may be judging the quality of the art at a very basic level, but that may be exactly what the VCL requires in order to thrive. People are still clambering to get in. If this was a tree, you wouldn't let it grow in every direction--you'd prune it where neccessary to keep it healthy, and if you didn't, it'd overreach itself, one good frost'd come along, and bam, we'd have a dead tree on our hands. (Okay, horticulture's not my strong-suit.)

Anyway, long winded as this is, I don't have a better answer, and I think what you're doing is probably the best thing to do under the circumstances. And regardless, I'll keep posting my stuff over at VCL as long as I post it on any art archive, 'cos gosh darn it, people there like the stuff, and that's why I'm doing art in the first place.

First, a correction: Oekaki is okay. To us (or me), it's just another medium, which can be used for good, or evil :) Oekaki is one of the main reasons the second artificial barrier to entry, the artistic requirement, got raised, because a oekaki picture is automatically a 'clean scan'.

One thing I'm hoping to do is to change the way people see and view the VCL. Rather than the 'big group of artists with a big slab of art' feel, which is becomming more and more overwhelming, I'm going to emphasise a more 'lots of galleries, pick the ones you want to see' feel, much like livejournals or the internet at large.

LiveJournal does not have a 'all recent livejournals' page, because that would be just crazy to have to try and read. However, that's just what the main pages on the VCL are like. Instead, people will be encouraged to pick a reduced number of artists to look at, and even be able to share their selections with other people in a 'subscription list' kind of way. This should keep the VCL apolotical, since it's not us making the decisions, and should make the VCL a lot more managable, and attractive, to new viewers.

Oh, my bad...I knew oekaki had come up somewhere, but my brain was fritzing. I can definitely see it as an issue, though.

I think modelling it on the Livejournal kinda filtered method is a great idea, actually--provided people have those "subscription list" kinda things, people will have a great way to locate nifty art. Of course, the amount of work involved boggles the mind, but I think it's a good solution.

I would agree that the barrier for entry to newsgroups is higher than that to a web gallery. News has become this weird backwater of the net; while there are still people who frequent it, it's not something a newbie tends to find out about for ages, if ever. I gave up on newsgroups years ago, deciding that it was imply eating up too much of my time. If not for the fact that the artist in question also maintains a mailing list, I would not see his art any more, because I just don't want to hassle with newsgroups any more, at all. Nobody's art is worth the hassle of sorting through newsgroups to me.

I put my stuff up on galleries to have more people looking at it. Sure, it's a little bit of ego-boost when I toss stuff at a new-to-me gallery that's supposed to have 'high' entrance requirements and get in without an problem... but I've been putting my stuff up on DeviantArt, too, and that's even more of a dumping ground than the VCL, even at its lowest points. (And that hideous puke-green... *shiver*)

If the only barrier to entry is 'able to properly fill out a web form', you're going to get anybody and everybody joining, all doing their best to help prove that Sturgeon's Law is painfully optimistic. People will repeatedly re-join under new names if they're kicked off; people will create new aliases for no other reason than to harass others... ask a long-time Furrymuck wiz about why they no longer allow people to join up with Hotmail/Yahoo/other free webmail address, or an AOL address.

I'm all for elitism and barriers to entry. There's way too much crap out there, and I have no desire to look at it all. Any and every method of filtering the information overload down to things I'm actually interested in seeing is welcomed. And I'd love to see a web gallery whose standards were so high that I might have trouble getting in - unless it was simply a case of 'you must be THIS obsessed with detail to get in', it'd give me something to strive for.

Sturgeon's Law just needs to be applied recursively. 90% of everything is crap, including 90% of the 10% non-crap that is implied by Sturgeon's law.

Well... I read it and I don't really have much to comment on. But I do want to say that... I, at least, understand the need... it doesn't seem to make any sense to get all bent-out-of-shape about it anyway. Especially since I think that you're doing it as fairly as anyone possibly could.

(Second reason for commenting: To let 'cha know that I read this. It's very refreshing to read someone's journal when it's well-written, about furry stuff (usually), and when it's not, it's still interesting.)

(sorry for the belated comment!)
I don't envy the decisions you have to make with VCL. You're under the scrutiny of a heck of a lot more people who are used to a certain status quo. On the other hand, your bandwidth and patience is not limited, so you have to draw the line somewhere. :-D

Yerf is less controversial now that it was when apps were private, or at least I hear less whining overall. There are still folks who complain that the standards are too high, but you can't make everyone happy. That's probably the most important lesson I've learned with regard to adminning an archive - you can't please everyone, so you have to do what's best for you and the site.

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