Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The times, they are a changing

A Brickshelf folder Originally
uploaded to
Flickr by Repoort
The net of 10 or so years ago was a far different place. Things were much more primitive. If you wanted to present content, you had to arrange for your own page and image hosting (or use a free site, remember GeoCities?).

In particular, the nascent online LEGO hobby community had few or no options for hosting pictures. And how could one share one's creations without pictures?

Enter Brickshelf. (site description at Brickwiki)

Kevin Loch, an AFOL living in the DC area, set up the Brickshelf site to allow for fan hosting of images. The user interface was fairly rudimentary. Log in, select or create a folder, and upload images. Fixed thumbnail sizes, no description text, and simple keywords. Uploading multiple images required placing them in zip files. No slideshows, no user groups, tagging, communities, user profiles, etc. Just images. Moderation of images occurred by hand. Copyright of the images was retained by the owner (unlike, say, Commons which requires a free license of some sort) and the subject could be anything (as long as it was LEGO related).

Brickshelf was a huge hit. Everyone in the LEGO community kept their images there. People linked to images from their LUGNET posts, from their personal web pages, and so forth. Kevin even added a repository of instruction scans (with the tacit approval of LEGO themselves, as the scans hosted were for sets already out of production) Fortunately, Kevin worked somewhere that bandwidth was inexpensive and the millions of images hosted in the scheme were not a huge drag. Or so everyone thought.

Kevin introduced some ads, and accepted donations. People urged him to update the interface, broaden the appeal and try to monetize the site. But after the initial spurt of development, the site underwent little or no change for years. In 2002, the instruction scans were removed (eventually to be moved to Peeron, another fan operated site), as part of setting up an LLC, and some ads were added but little else changed.

Fast forward to the summer of 2007. Brickshelf, now 10 years old, was struggling to keep the lights on., and no one knew. One day, visitors saw a discontinuance message and the topic was widely discussed on LUGNET and many other sites and blogs., an image hosting service also run by Kevin Loch, but with a more general focus, stayed up. The outage turned out to be a warning, the next day it was back up, but with a notice that it would go down by the end of the month, which Kevin explained on LUGNET.

Welcome to Flickr - Photo Sharing (20080414)Flickr page originally
uploaded to Flickr by camflan
A huge amount of discussion ensued. People vowed to help save it, complained bitterly at the loss of a free service, stated they were going to host elsewhere and loads of other things. Eventually the discontinuance was rescinded and a membership scheme introduced. But the dominant position of Brickshelf as the most widely used image site was at an end. There has subsequently been a large upsurge in use of Flickr and at other sites, with new groups forming there and the like.

So earlier this year, when Maj, com went away for a day or two, and then come back again, it was with far less fanfare. It seemed like almost no one noticed. After the temporary disappearance of Brickshelf last year, in which many fans expressed dismay, sadness, or even outrage, this seems to have elicted little comment.

That may well be because it no longer matters as much. To stay dominant, first mover isn't always enough. Sometimes you have to change with the times. There are so many well capitalized hosting solutions now, and people have learned to use them instead of Brickshelf, that the loss may not be as missed.

Do you have things you rely on that you would miss if they were gone? Are they the same things as they were 1o years ago?

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