Music Class Part 1: LearnMonthly.com

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 5, 2019

Filed under: Music 38 comments

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I signed up for a music course at LearnMonthly.com. The course was taught by Andrew Huang, who is one of my favorite YouTube creators. The class ended today. I’ve turned in my final project and I want to talk about what I learned, what I made, and what I think about the LearnMonthly service. (But not in that order.) If you stick around long enough, I’ll inflict some of my music on you.

For those of you who are new to the site: I’ve been dabbling in music for a few years. It all started with my Bad and Wrong Music lessons back in 2014. I make music digitally and I don’t play any real instruments. I’m entirely self-taught. Music is a side hobby and I have no plans – or potential – to do anything with it professionally. Even after all this time, I’m still very amateurish in my work. Maybe this means I don’t have any aptitude for music. Maybe it means I do have some aptitude but it takes a long time to get good. Maybe I’ve hit a plateau due to odd gaps in my knowledge.

In any case, I signed up for this class because I really loved the introductory lecture on YouTube and I wanted to fill in some of those knowledge gaps. As far as that goes, I got what I wanted out of the course. I’m going to complain about the website here, but I want to make it clear up front that I don’t have any problems with Huang’s lectures.

First up, let’s talk about…

Monthly

I don’t know what to make of Monthly. Their website has no corporate information, no contact info, no About page, and no information on leadership. They don’t even have a mailing addressThis is interesting. What happens when you need to sue a company like this? I suppose you could track them down via payment information?. The only thing you can do is create an account to sign up for classes. As of this writing, they have just six classes. Three are for creating music, two are focused on drawing / painting, and one is on filmmaking. The business plan seems to be to partner with creative influencers to create an online course. The creator provides video lectures and Monthly provides the classroom framework.

Obnoxiously, the site obfuscates prices and curriculum until after you’ve created an account. For the curious, the music class I took was $280 for a 30 day course. The course consisted of about 14 hours of lightly editedThis isn’t the meandering ramble of a livestream, but it’s also not as tight as Huang’s typical YouTube videos. Overall I’d say the videos are pretty good in terms of information density. lecture videos, walking students through the process of creating 3 different music tracks.

I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that Monthly is a new startup and the team is still building the website and figuring out how everything needs to work. I’m also going to assume that one of the company goals is to add value to the creator’s lectures. There are already plenty of ways that a famous person can put video content behind a paywall, so it seems reasonable that Monthly ought to be aiming to do more than just host videos and process payment information.

Classroom Interactions

The best thing Monthly could offer besides a paywall is a set of tools for facilitating communication between students. It seems like this is the intent, but the features are either missing or underdeveloped.

There’s no way to know how many other people were taking the course. I’m going to assume it’s in the hundreds. The system divides students into classrooms, which are called “peer groups”. My group had 23 people. This seems like a good idea, but there’s nothing in the system to support these groups. You can go to the page for your peer group and see a feed of posts from other students, but those posts come from the general student pool and not just your peer group.

Imagine you’re at a wedding and there are hundreds of people standing around. You’re informed that a dozen of these people are at the same “table” as you, except there aren’t actually any tables. Your group is scattered among the crowd and there’s no way to tell if someone is at your virtual table except to look at their nametag and then consult the list of names for your group and see if they’re on it.

After a while you’re going to start wondering why anyone bothered assigning people to imaginary tables, since they have no bearing on behavior or organization.

Some random observations on how the site functions:

  • The only way to see what other people are doing is to look at the classroom feed. This feed is supposedly for your peer group, but it shows content from all students mixed together.
  • There’s no marker beside names to flag them as your “peers”. Again, what is this feature for?
  • The profile icons – which in this context is analogous to the “face” of a student – are very small, which doesn’t help when you’re trying to remember who’s who in a large group.
  • It’s literally impossible to collaborate because there is no way to directly message anyone. If you wanted to team up, you’d need to solicit in front of everyone, exchange contact info in public, and then go off-site to communicate with your collaborator. This may be intentional – a feature that allows direct messaging also allows harassment / trouble-making. However, these people paid almost $300USD to get in here. This isn’t 4chan and you don’t need to worry about creepy anonymous weirdos causing trouble with disposable sock puppet accounts.
  • You can’t have a thread attached to a lecture video, which seems like the most important and obvious thing that students might want to talk about. People could ask questions and ask for clarifications, and other students could respond. The stronger students could help the weaker ones and you’d have a better learning experience all around.
  • The only way to talk to other students is to upload content. When you create a post, you can only do so by selecting an audio, video, or image file to upload. The design of the system makes it clear that you’re only supposed to post to share your work. There’s no way to just ask a question in general like, “Does anyone have any tips on setting up sidechain compression in Ableton?” or “What are some good keys / chord progressions for musical genre X?” Sure, you COULD just upload a random image as a way to make a general postI actually did this. Huang made a love song called “Eternal September” and so I felt the need to point out that the term used to mean something very different., but it’s clear that’s not what the feature is for.

This entire system seems to be designed to discourage or even inhibit interactions between students. This is the one thing Monthly could bring to the table, and the system seems to be going out of its way to prevent it???

The User Interface

I have the same gripe with Monthly that I have with Patreon and PayPal: The site is putting aesthetics above usability in a way that’s harmful. Look at this monstrosity:

So many scrollbars! The only reason those exist is so the pretentious UI designer can bathe the site in whitespace. I realize that large blank spaces make the site more attractive, but I’m trying to get work done here, do you mind? If you’re designing the front page of Monthly, then by all means spread the text out with as many square miles of whitespace as you like. But once we get to the business end of the site, you need to let go of your precious whitespace so people can communicate. We’re using the entire screen here, and yet somehow we barely have room for just two tiny single-paragraph posts. The most important items – the text of the posts and my reply box – are criminally small.

The whole classroom is an infinite-scroll feed like we’re browsing Pinterest or something. Do you have an ongoing exchange with MusicDave505 on the track he posted two days ago? Well, the only way to check that post is to come to this page and scroll down until you find it, and then scroll down in the sub-post box until you see if there are any new replies at the bottom.

The site actually enforces user interactions. There are several assignments that are nothing more than “Comment on these three randomly assigned uploads from other students”This is the ONLY time your peer group comes into play.. That would be fine if the system actually facilitated conversations, but this design makes everything short and ephemeral. There’s no room to read anything and even less room for writing.

I don't know what the web designer is trying to do here, but they're doing it wrong.
I don't know what the web designer is trying to do here, but they're doing it wrong.

The interface is sending the user a clear message: “Keep your reply short and simple. No complex discussion or feedback here”. Which means that 90% of all user interactions look like this:

Great track! Love the vibe!

Nice track. Love the bassline.

Great track. Cool synth!

Neat track. That breakdown is amazing.

Now, that’s nice for encouragement. But I don’t think students are paying $280USD for “encouragement”. I paid it because I wanted to learn stuff, and this UI makes it very difficult to have productive conversations on technical topics.

The system even sends you emails like, “Barbara Songsinger just commented on your post!” But it doesn’t tell you which post! And if you click on the link, it just dumps you at the top of the page. From there you have to scroll down through the endless spew of activity from all other students until you find your post, then check the comments to see if the new one from Barbara is there. If not, keep scrolling down the page to find your second-most recent post, and so on. In a class with hundreds of people, your stuff is going to be really buried. Sending a user an email notification that they need to manually search through the entire post history of the class is a feature that borders on griefing.

I know I saw one or two semi-useful exchanges between students over the last month, but without the ability to track and link individual posts, those discussions are lost in the noise. I can’t refer back to them a month from now for a refresher or revisit that one track where a student described their production workflow.

Wrapping Up

This ad makes it look like a celebrity is going to send you a personal video message. I never got any instructor feedback on anything I posted. Huang left short comments on a LOT of tracks, but I suspect that the large class size makes real personalized interaction impractical.
This ad makes it look like a celebrity is going to send you a personal video message. I never got any instructor feedback on anything I posted. Huang left short comments on a LOT of tracks, but I suspect that the large class size makes real personalized interaction impractical.

Monthly is in a terrible spot, market-wise. If you want to learn things on the cheap, then Skillshare has orders of magnitude more material for a fraction of the cost. It’s true that the Skillshare instructors aren’t witty smooth-talking presenters like Andrew Huang and the classes can be a bit dry, but it’s a far better value for the money. At the other extreme, if you’re looking for celebrity-led instruction from professionals then Masterclass has bigger names and slicker production values. Masterclass has classes from people like Gordon Ramsey, Deadmau5, Steve Martin, Aaron Sorkin, and Ron Howard. You can get access to instruction from any of those superstars for just $90USD – about a third of what Monthly is asking! For $180, you can get access to all of the celebrity courses at once.

Monthly is way too expensive to compete in the low end of the instructional market, and it doesn’t have the star power to compete with the high end. Don’t get me wrong, I love Andrew Huang. He’s made of pure talent, he worked hard on this course, and his lectures were solid. But he’s no Deadmau5, so $280 is a pretty big ask. I feel his work was good, but the Monthly site isn’t really adding value or pulling its weight in the partnership.

The one strength Monthly has over other platforms is that the classes are built around active instruction rather than passive lectures. You get assignments with due dates and you turn them in with other students. That’s a really good idea! But then the Monthly interface is almost deliberately designed to negate all the benefits of that approach by making communication as cumbersome and ephemeral as possible.

Is Monthly new? Since they don’t have a proper “About” page, I have no idea. Maybe we’re looking at the alpha version of a site that’s about to grow and expand. Or maybe Monthly is happy with their platform and this is as good as it’s going to get. I will say that I do not recommend the site as it exists now in November 2019. Andrew Huang’s ‘s lectures were good, but Monthly’s position in the market makes no sense. The company needs to either make a proper classroom platform or drop its prices to match competing platforms. As it stands now you can go elsewhere to learn more, from bigger names, for way less money.

My guess is that Monthly is a pre-IPO startup and the terrible UI is the result of wanting to make the site look sexy for potential investors who can’t appraise usability but they can tell if something looks sufficiently “Web 2.0”. The other explanation is that something is out of whack with the company priorities and they have a web designer run amok.

That’s it for the Monthly platform. Next time I’ll talk a bit about what I learned from the class.

 

Footnotes:

[1] This is interesting. What happens when you need to sue a company like this? I suppose you could track them down via payment information?

[2] This isn’t the meandering ramble of a livestream, but it’s also not as tight as Huang’s typical YouTube videos. Overall I’d say the videos are pretty good in terms of information density.

[3] I actually did this. Huang made a love song called “Eternal September” and so I felt the need to point out that the term used to mean something very different.

[4] This is the ONLY time your peer group comes into play.



From The Archives:
 

38 thoughts on “Music Class Part 1: LearnMonthly.com

  1. Kathryn says:

    Were there subtitles or transcripts available for the videos? I haven’t bothered pursuing any online instruction because I assumed it was all inaccessible.

    Interesting that most of the online instruction is passive. I could see that for, say, a class about how to change a light fixture, but for something creative, I’d want it to be interactive for sure. I can’t imagine taking a creative writing class (something I would like to do someday when I have the time) without exercises and feedback.

    1. Shamus says:

      No subtitles or transcripts.

      For the record, it wasn’t just a lecture in the sense of someone talking to a camera. The view switched back and forth between Huang and his screen so you could see what he was doing in Ableton. So that’s nice.

      But yeah. Non-interactive.

      1. Jordan says:

        A lack of subtitles on ‘professional’ content is just shocking. Here in the UK it’s been the law for a couple of years that on-demand video services need to provide subtitles for their content. If you can charge that much money, you can pay for a transcription.

        That said, obviously for music classes one assumes people’s hearing won’t be the issue. But poor spoken English can be.

        1. Kathryn says:

          That assumption would be incorrect. Now that I have access to a much wider range of sound (via cochlear implants), I’m taking voice lessons and also working on my piano skills. I don’t rely on subtitles as much as I used to with hearing aids, but it’s still much easier for me with them, especially when I also don’t have lips to read.

          But even when I had hearing aids (and 85% loss), I still played piano and danced. I didn’t have the musicality of the best dancers, of course, but I was perfectly capable of finding and moving with the beat, even though my loss is in the lower frequencies.

          As for composing, I’m not personally interested in it, but I don’t see any reason a deaf person couldn’t be. I mean, we can’t all be the next Beethoven, but we don’t have to let ourselves be limited any more than necessary. (She said, right after admitting she never bothered to view videos without subtitles…) (Although in my defense, some of that is habit! I’m still learning how to interpret sounds I never heard at all for 35 years.)

        2. Syal says:

          Hell, my hearing is great, and I miss spoken words through sheer distracted apathy. Always Be Subtitlin’.

        3. Drathnoxis says:

          Beethoven was deaf when he composed some of his most famous works.

          1. tmtvl says:

            By ‘some of his most famous works’ you mean the Ninth. The Große Fuge was composed in his late period, but I would sooner call it infamous rather than famous.
            His Fifth and Sixth Symphonies were composed in his middle period, as was the Moonlight Sonata.

    2. Angie says:

      Disclaimer — I’m not affiliated with any of this, and don’t get any kick-backs for recommending it. I’m just a long-time satisfied user/student. :)

      Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch have been running a series of creative writing (and business/publishing) workshops for many years now. They started out all in realspace, invite-only (although you could and can still write to Dean, explain which realspace class you want to take, what you expect to get out of it, and what your experience is, and ask for an invite; that’s how I started attending) but a few years back they began offering online workshops that are cheaper and open to anyone. They’re still on the pricy side — online workshops are $300 each, for a month-long class — but there are exercises, and you get feedback on everything you turn in. There’s no interaction between students; Dean does all the lectures and e-mailing, although Kris reads everyone’s assignments and contributes comments to what Dean sends you as feedback.

      Both of them have been pro writers, without having a day job, for thirty-some years. They’ve been owned a couple of publishing companies (currently own WMG publishing), and have both been editors of magazines and anthologies. Kris edited the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for some years in the 90s, and is the only person on the planet to have won Hugo awards for both writing and editing short SF. They know their stuff, is what I’m saying. I’ve taken at least a couple of realspace workshops from them every year since 2012, and I’ve taken half a dozen or so of the online workshops. If you’re serious about wanting to learn this stuff, they’re awesome to learn from.

      They run the online workshops through Teachable. Info: https://www.wmgpublishingworkshops.com/

      The realspace workshops are held in Vegas, where they live. Info: https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/workshops/

      I’m currently signed up for the Anthology Workshop (which I do every year) and the Master Business Class next year.

      Sorry if this is uncool; just trying to be helpful. :)

      Angie

      1. Kathryn says:

        Wow, thanks for the tip :-)

  2. Asdasd says:

    The ‘Eternal September’ is an interesting concept. I joined the internet around 1998, and am nostalgic for a similarly specific time where both the size of the web and the peer groups I moved in felt manageable and civilised, joining clans and hanging out in IRC rooms, EZboards and on geocities pages. I suspect everyone has a version of this hazily remembered ‘internet village’ regardless of when they started out, much like old folks used to reminisce of a golden time in the meatspace when you could leave your doors unlocked and everyone knew each other’s names.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I propose that everyone remembering “The internet was better back in my day” is right, regardless of when their day was. The history of internet use is thirty years of lowering barriers to entry. Each barrier removed made the internet population less heavily filtered for some general factor of nerdiness, until we get to today when half of everyone under 70 is online. Whatever year someone joined is, statistically, likely to be around the year that the internet was selecting for people of their average nerdiness quotient. Of course they’d miss the time back when people were about as nerdy as them!

      1. Benden says:

        The internet community may have been better in 1998, but the content and infrastructure absolutely was not. I’d rather have today’s wealth of information and tools for sorting it even with the downside of all the bozos also accessing it.

        There may have been some ‘sweet spot’ between 1998 and now where information density and availability was high while bozo density was relatively low. But I kind of doubt it. The anonymity drew bozos at a pretty fast pace. As opportunities for true anonymity wane, the bozos’ best playing fields are a smaller and smaller percentage of the whole.

        Note that I exclude sane, appropriately-behaving internet users with whom I disagree, even strongly disagree, from “bozos.” I’m using “bozo” in an effort to get at the type of user that the Eternal September created—such as but not exclusively the non-community-rules-reading accidental trash-poster, or the more modern angry and illiterate YouTube commenter.

      2. Abnaxis says:

        I dunno. I don’t feel particularly nostalgic for the internet specifically when I joined, but god DAMN do I miss the days before mass social media and form-before-function mobile app interfaces.

        Basically, I don’t give 2 craps about the internet denizens, except I hate all the trends developers/engineers have been chasing following since Facebook and iPhones

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          To be fair to Facebook et al, a lots of those designs are about function, just in the “you are not the customer” sense. Infinite scrolling vs paginated results is probably the cleanest example of this. You know why everyone’s doing infinite scrolling these days? Because they found that some people would stop browsing when they reached the bottom of a page, switching to infinite scroll keeps those users on the site longer. Almost all the blights of modern mobile design exist because they’ve been rigorously A-B tested and found to bring in more revenue than the alternative.

  3. KotBasil says:

    Also Monthly has the most serious drawbacks of them all – it’s an absolute pain to Google.

    1. eaglewingz says:

      oopsie!

  4. Tizzy says:

    I remember coming across a class discussion system called Piazza that is free to use AFAIK. I never used it myself, but it looked well thought out. It was designed by a student and developed in the field, so there was a sense that the design was driven by actual needs over aesthetics and imagined usage. There was a lot of focus on handling equations well because it was developed by CS students. I wonder how suitable it’d be for a music class. At a minimum, Piazza is wiki-based, which you’d hope would drive up the quality and compactness of the discussions.

    If I was part of the Monthly team, I’d worry about how short the comments by peers are. Maybe they’re valuable to the site as a driver for engagement, but they don’t look useful to the student. I bet a bot could be as helpful as the comments seen in the screenshots.

    1. baud says:

      I feel like just a forum could work, with would solve most of the issue Shamus is talking about, from linking messages, to creating discussion on a topic, direct messaging, email alerts, private messaging, sub-communities and so on.

  5. default_ex says:

    Sounds like the wrong approach for a music learning platform. The thing that seems to help the most when your learning to produce music of any kind with any instrument is having one or more people whom aren’t afraid to be brutally honest with you. The guy I learned guitar with was all too eager to say “that sounds like crap” and articulate enough to explain why. I don’t think I would have become anywhere near as good at guitar if I didn’t have that while learning. Never became the rock star I originally envisioned but it is still a ton of fun to play regardless.

  6. Lino says:

    Yesterday, during the podcast, I thought the main problem with the UI was going to be how much it annoys you (and for some reason we all love reading about how something infuriates you). But after reading the line:

    ….because there is no way to directly message anyone….

    I was like “Are these people INSANE? Do they want to be a social platform or not?!”, and when I got to the line:

    You can’t have a thread attached to a lecture video

    I concluded that no, they’re not insane – they’ve just obviously never used an online learning platform before. The first online course platform I’ve ever used was Coursera which leverages its online format really well – not only do lectures have transcripts, but you can post comments under every lecture, AND there’s a forum for the course that has a thread covering each one of the lectures where people can ask questions and look for help.

    By the way, Typolice:

    But I don’t think students are paying $280USD for “encouragement”.

  7. Echo Tango says:

    My guess is that Monthly is a pre-IPO startup and the terrible UI is the result of wanting to make the site look sexy for potential investors who can’t appraise usability but they can tell if something looks sufficiently “Web 2.0”.

    I have a hard time even believing this possibility. The excess whitespace looks sexy, but all of those highly-visible scrollbars look too “complicated” or “busy”. This website is both ugly and un-usable. :S

    1. RFS-81 says:

      Conjecture: They weren’t visible in testing.

      1. Benden says:

        It also looks very possible to take screenshots that don’t show them. For your IPO pamphlet.

  8. It seems Monthly as it is, is not much more than discord+youtube+patreon?
    And youtube lets you “JOIN” a youtuber (not sure if this is monthly or how it works!) so the patreon part could probably be skipped. And if it’s a re-recorded video one could do a live stream with chat and hang in there and answers questions while people follow the course.

  9. Pedant says:

    This isn’t 4chan and you don’t need to worry about creepy anonymous weirdos causing trouble with disposable sock puppet accounts.

    4chan doesn’t have accounts. Like your comment section, anyone is free to post at any time for good or for ill. Mostly ill.

  10. Grey Rook says:

    Wow, that site looks pretty awful. I can really see why you didn’t like it.

    Apropos of nothing, if you don’t mind me asking, Shamus, do you have any opinions on Steam’s new look? I’m just curious.

    1. Joe says:

      I’m obviously not Shamus, but I’ll tell you my opinion. Removal of the small mode reduces functionality. The new library looks ugly and reduces functionality. I’m not surprised. Many websites and programs get downgrades these days. I don’t understand why, but it’s a trend.

      1. Asdasd says:

        I’d really be into the filters if they just a little more flexible. The addition of dynamic collections could be a great one, but we need to be able to exclude as well as include. They’ve added a bunch of ways to describe the needle you’re looking for, when what would really help would be a command to ignore the hay.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        I like the pure styling changes, like different fonts, rounded boxes, etc. However, they also moved a lot of stuff all over the place, resized many things to be gigantic so you can’t fit anything on your screen, and enforced a minimum width on the client instead of wrapping or truncating long content. I can still get around my library of games, but it’s more of a hassle now, in the name of a “pretty” UI.

        1. Duoae says:

          I had to provide tech support for my dad to be able to even see his library because the circle/play button is not an intuitive icon to list all games in a library.

          Like you, I like some of the stylistic choices but the actual implementation is terrible.

          Also, the library page keeps crashing on my client… it’s mildly annoying.

    2. Syal says:

      Dislike community posts showing up in my library. I play games to avoid socialiazing.

      1. Radkatsu says:

        I hated that too. You can turn it off in the Steam settings. Also worth turning on the low bandwidth mode to remove some of the other clutter.

  11. Syal says:

    Ugh. I took one online class for college that had a post quota, without size restrictions, and I hated it and never came close to meeting it. I don’t care if everyone’s paying hundreds of dollars to show up, don’t assume they’re there because they want to talk to students. Not only does a post quota encourage empty posts, it also encourages trolling posts that people can argue about.

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    I’ll stick to Udemy, thanks. As you can see in the picture here, it’s a bit more comfortable. Below the current lesson video there’s a section with an overview of the course, Q&A, personal bookmarks and announcements from the instructor. The questions can be posted without having to upload anything, can be followed if you’re interested into knowing about further answers and can be filtered and sort. You can also directly communicate with the instructor at any point via personal message. Besides this, instructors tend to create Facebook pages specifically for the course for students to share their work there if they wish so (all the courses I’ve taken have one, so I don’t know if it’s mandatory or just a habit).

    To the right there’s a list of lessons and assignments (which, to be fair, needs a scroll bar, but you’ll notice there are no innecessary ones). Assignments aren’t timed like in Monthly, and their existence depends on the instructor, but you’re still encouraged to partake in them. Prices are all over the place. I’ve seen them range from $30 to $200, but they’re all periodically on sale for $12-$15 so unless you’re in a hurry to learn something you’re likely to get a good deal. There are a bunch of free courses too. Much like in places like Amazon or Steam, users can rate and review courses (only if you’ve taken them, of course), so you can get a good idea of what you’re getting into.

    I haven’t tried places like Skillshare or Masterclass, so I can’t judge those. But man, monthly does look a bit amateurish.

  13. Melted says:

    This ad makes it look like a celebrity is going to send you a personal video message. I never got any instructor feedback on anything I posted. Huang left short comments on a LOT of tracks, but I suspect that the large class size makes real personalized interaction impractical.

    Yeah, I don’t see any other way to read that, unless it’s in a “gotcha!” sense, like, oh, you DO “gain access to personalized video feedback”–it’s just not feedback on YOUR stuff. Or “gaining access” secretly means “gaining the possibility of personalized feedback,” not necessarily the actuality.

  14. Angie says:

    The commercial services were around in the 80s — Compu$erve, GEnie, the Well. I got onto CI$ in ‘early ’88, got my first monthly bill, and fled to GEnie. [wry smile] But these places were also cool and reasonably polite. (There were dirtbags here and there, but if they crossed the line they got kicked off.) Everyone was paying dollars-per-hour (sometimes plus a toll charge to their phone bill, depending on whether or not there was a local access number in their area) to be there, so there was some filtering.

    For us on the commercial services, the “eternal” month was January. [wry smile] Everyone who got a modem for Christmas showed up on the services in January. I spent most of my time in the mid-80s playing a game called GemStoneII on GEnie, where the capacity of the game was about 30 simultaneous players. More than that and it got unstable and would probably crash soon. There were probably a few hundred regulars; I knew them all at least by name, to recognize the “Conan just joined the adventure” message that scrolled up when someone came into the game.

    If I didn’t recognize the name, I knew it was a newbie. If I wasn’t busy, I’d wander over to the starting area to meet the new person on their way out of the alley, say hi, ask if they had any questions or wanted help. If they did, I’d answer questions, buy them some decent gear, and take them hunting young orcs. There were a few of us who did this regularly, and we generally managed to get the newbies socialized properly. :) Every January the influx of newbies went up, and there was a time or two when I was escorting three or four newbies, and I’d pass one of the others with two or three of their own — we were like kindergarten teachers on a field trip, with not enough hands to hold everyone’s hand and keep them together. [laugh/headdesk] We managed, though.

    Where things got hairy for us was the AOL invasion. Simutronics, the company that ran the game, contracted with AOL to open a portal from that service into the game. It was GemStoneIII by that time, and was much more stable, so we could handle a lot more simultaneous players. That was good until the AOL portal opened up, at which point we were swamped. For the first few months, GS3 was free to play from AOL. We were getting paid (I was on staff by then) but AOL was paying us; it appeared free to the players, which meant that every kid with an AOL account came galloping in, cussing, textually molesting anyone with a female character, and attacking people. (GS was always an environment that generally frowned on PvP, unless it was strictly consensual; the higher level players policed that very thoroughly until the AOL hordes showed up.)

    We tried to mentor the newbies the way we always had, but it was a lost cause. There might be 50 old-timers on and 300 newbies. You can’t assimilate people when the proportions are that skewed. :/

    I still have fond memories of the Old Days in GS, both GS2 and early GS3. Everyone knew everyone else, there was a lot of roleplaying, a lot of cooperation and helping each other out. That mostly went away after the AOL invasion, and it never came back, even after Simu pulled off of AOL (and GEnie shut down) and set up its own web site, once there was a web to set it up on.

    I met my now-husband playing GS2, back in ’88. And I met some other very cool folks on GEnie then. There were subject-matter areas called RoundTables, each of which had a bulletin board, a file library, and a set of chat rooms, plus whatever else they wanted to put up. A bunch of pro SFF writers hung out on the SFRT, and a bunch of pro romance writers on the RomEx RT, which was RWA’s online home at the time, with some locked bulletin board areas for members. Good discussions, mostly civil arguments, lots of info — you could find someone to answer questions or help you out with almost anything, and because it was a commercial service, snerts were allowed to go only so far before getting punted.

    I agree that the huge spread of resources and searchability of the modern web is pretty awesome, but I do miss the mostly-civil, small-community feel of the internet in the 80s.

  15. Lino says:

    I just found out that deadmau5 is pronounced as “Deadmouse”, and not as “Deadmau Five”, like I had previously thought. My dissapoinment is immeasurable and my day is ruined :(

  16. Spencer says:

    As a frontend dev at a web company, that site looks MUCH less like a deliberate attempt to be sexy and web 2.0 and much more like what you get when you just tell your team “We want these x features by the end of the quarter do your best.” No designs, no time to fix the weird css, no overall plan for making good UX, just the five different things it needs to be barely functional.

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