Hello dear forum people. I wanted to write a word about things to you as it has been brought to my attention that not all is as happy as it might be in the world of the Fry Forum. You can imagine how much this distresses me. I am one who (to a fault, to a glaring fault, I am well aware of it) hates confrontation or unhappiness of any kind and so I tend either to pretend it isn’t going on or I run away from it. Well no good doing either in this case, so I shall take the bull by the horns, grasp the nettle and grapple the metaphor to the ground.
I understand from Andrew Sampson that we cocked up royally in upgrading the forum to WordPress. In fact many of you would regard ‘upgrading’ as quite the wrong word. Firstly, we never told you it was happening and secondly it altered the experience for you in ways that many of you found objectionable. Andrew works inexpressibly hard for and with me and is as committed as I am to making the site a good place for anyone to spend time, but he would also be the first to admit that his direct Australian manner can seem abrasive to more sensitive souls (myself often included!). It’s bred in the bone, part of the culture (and the reason for Australia’s unparalleled sporting success?) but is never meant to offend or to express contempt or impatience. He sees the shortest distance between two points and can straight-line his way there without passing the square marked tactful… a gift, but sometimes a tricky one….
You may wonder why I haven’t involved myself in forum governance. I will tell you. A lot is to do with sheer cowardice and indolence. It’s all I can do to keep my head above water with my diary as it is without involving myself in the political and housekeeping issues of the forum. I want people to be happy, but there seem to be countervailing opinions as to how that is best achieved and it would be crashingly inappropriate of me to “take sides” – it’s not my business to do that and would be so unfair on you. So I keep away from forum business and hope that you manage it well without me. After all, if I was there the whole thing would be a weird controlling vanity project, not a free arena at all.
I will certainly get out my chequebook and pay for the forum upgrade (without too much self-pity you should know that we’ve already spent six days on forum coding, at the cost of delays on other Samfry projects and there is still much more work to be done) but I would beg you to be patient. I know how large problems seem to you when you are inside the forum every day, and the solutions probably seem simple and easily achieved from your side. Oh, how I wish they were. The very success of the stephenfry.com site causes it to be very expensive to run and while work on the CMS and structure has enabled maintenance to be much more rationally undertaken it is still a formidable ask for a personal site that has only just started taking ads and which is still very far from paying its own way.
But above all I want you to be happy, and I hope you can be happy in the way one used to be happy in grotty student accommodation. We never complained in those days about stained sofas, stuck doors, creaking floorboards and drippy walls. As we age we tend to get a bit fussy about things – I’m just asking that for the moment you put up with a bit of inconvenience and hope you can regard it as a lark. It is certainly not a sign that we don’t care.
You are the most loyal of all the website visitors and this gives you the right to feel a certain kind of ownership. But I want the site and the forum to be welcoming to all. When new neighbours move in on the street nothing is more dreaded than the Resident’s Committee which lays down the law on “how things are done here”. A feeling that there is an elite is far from what any of us would want, I’m sure.
• Kindly welcomes
• Genuine friendliness
• Consideration and appreciation of others
• Acceptance and friendship
• Intolerance only of rudeness and unkindness
If you like my works and my deeds, what I say and what I do in the world, if you are admirers, fans or followers of my life and career, then I would hope you might feel that I try and stand for friendliness and openness, and that I can only be distressed by in-fighting, turf wars, possessiveness and resentments. I am not trying to overstate the problem, I am happy to note that the forum has not disintegrated – I am saying all this as a pre-emptive measure. To stop things going in that direction as I fear they will if we don’t all pause and consider.
It is all a result of your frustration at the unwelcome and mishandled changes and we accept full responsibility for that. Without Clare and the moderators things would have really been difficult and I owe them all a huge debt, as do all users of the forum. A hundred thousand unnoticed actions from them have kept things going. But let’s concentrate on making sure that the forum welcomes newbies, alienates no one and acquires – like Chesterton’s angels – the ability to take itself lightly.
If I were a corporation who made money from this website I would be duty bound (if I was an honourable corporation) to hire the five or six full time staff necessary for the running of the forum and the recoding and maintenance of its tools and environment. Sadly I am not a corporation and (at the renewed risk of self-pity) I just don’t have the time or the resources. The more Andrew can concentrate on new revenue streams for the site, the more we can pour into improving it. Which is all we want to do.
So I hope, for my sake (he squeaked forlornly) you might do your best to enjoy the forum as it is for the moment, being as forbearing and friendly and patient and good-natured as you can be. If you have what builders call “snagging lists” (this tap drips, that banister is loose etc) then by all means present them, but I hope you understand that we can’t leap in and fix every problem – big as it may seem – at a moment’s notice. It’s a huge site, and as you probably know, the amount of traffic it deals with involves complexities of hosting and server clustering of a kind that make one’s poor head spin.
Well, that’s it. I should have dropped in earlier I expect. Apologies for not doing so. My love and thanks to you all.
To the future