OB was important to many. I'd like to document its history. I hope it may offer some closure, and remind people of the great times we had and the community that still stands today.
I'll be starting with easy topics and working my way up to harder topics. It may take days, months, or years before this is "complete." If you're wondering why one thing has been addressed but not another, this is why.
I don't expect anybody to read this entire enormous document. I don't even expect anybody will read it, at all. But it's here if you want it.
2/23/2023. Added a note to "Parties" to clarify that when we talk about OB parties, these were get-togethers thrown by OB members and were not events planned, controlled, monitored, or even necessarily known to OB. It seems there has been some confusion about this lately. Added a new topic, "Safety III", which ironically suggests that some people should consider banging their heads against the nearest wall.
8/16/2022. People came out on OB, people fell in love, people felt OK with their bodies for the first time. People grew up. Babies were born. People died. Some people were on OB for half of their lives. Those things were real. They should always be celebrated. They will always be celebrated. Especially by me.
OB was an early attempt at a social networking site. We were operational from early 2004 to roughly 2015. The site persisted in a semibroken, mostly read-only mode from 2015 to 2022.
27,215 accounts created. 6,483 of them bought memberships. 123 of them were gifted lifetime membership status. I was owner and operator.Back to top
OB's members deserve transparency. They deserve to know:
It is difficult to describe a decision-making process without accusations of "making excuses" from those who disagree with the decisions that were made. I accept this as a fact of life.Back to top
I was a fan of anime and gaming culture in the 1980s and 1990s. Starting in 1999, I began attending anime conventions like Otakon. There was a burgeoning social scene of sorts. Many folks are lucky enough to have that moment where they find "their people" and this was mine.
In the early 2000s I attempted to use some early matchmaking sites like Match.com and the results were so bad. I thought to myself, "I can't do worse than that." It seemed to me that folks in a particular subculture might like to meet folks from the same subculture. I decided to make a site for "my" people.Back to top
The first pre-launch iteration of OB was just profiles. You created a profile. You could search for other peoples' profiles and respond to them. That was how Match.com and its ilk worked. Like personal ads in the newspapers 100 years ago.
Friends beta tested it circa 2003. They told me it felt boring and lonely. There was an idea to add member forums so a community could flourish. I was worried about the kind of community it would attract. If I was going to put my heart into this concept, I decided it had to be a community I was proud of.
In 2004 I opened OB up to the world.Back to top
Initially the site was free for everybody. From the start I made it clear that we planned to transition to a paid business at some point, so folks wouldn't feel like they were bait-and-switched later.
I decided that the site needed to be funded almost entirely by member payments, not ads. This would give us freedom from advertising and attempts to appease our corporate sponsors. It would allow us to keep the site small. I imagined a neighborhood bar or club where everybody knows everybody or at least knows somebody who does.
I wasn't a fan of SomethingAwful.com's forums but I was inspired by their forum registration fee. It gave me confidence that folks might actually pay money for something like OB. These were the internet's early days. It wasn't clear that people would ever really pay for anything so that was kind of a big deal.
The registration fee also helped SA to enforce community rules. When communities have no barrier to entry, bans have little meaning: bad actors can simply reregister under a different alias. Also inspirational to me.
In 2006, I started charging money. $4 per month, or $20 per year was the price I eventually settled on.Back to top
The name sucks. Everybody hated the name. I hated it. I felt it was too late to change it once we started rolling.
Otaku is a Japanese word that means something close to "nerd," "geek," or "obsessive hobbyist." Outside of Japan, it's typically used to refer to fans of Japanese animation or video games. This was initially our target audience.
"John Booty" or "Booty" is a nickname I've had since high school, when a man named John Booty played for the Philadelphia Eagles. It's funny because "booty" can also mean "butt."Back to top
Between 2007 and 2013 our community organized annual gatherings called "Bootycon." "Bootycon 2007", "Bootycon 2008", etc. "Booty" from the name of the site (see above) and "Con" as short for "Convention" as a play on common convention names such as "Comicon" etc.
To cut to the chase: these were not sex parties, or anything remotely like that. That may seem like an odd assertion to make but it's what some have wondered.
As with many aspects of OB, the name "Bootycon" was a joke. It certainly wasn't a "convention" like Comicon or Otakon in the traditional sense. It was a parody; it was inside humor. These were member-only events. No need to make the name sensical or palatable to anybody else.
Community members chaired these events. I helped as much as possible. I'm terrible at event planning so I functioned in a support role. The community took the lead. They did an amazing job. Lots of pictures of these online. We enjoyed beaches, dining outings, etc together.
These gatherings took place in locations such as Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, Marina Del Rey, Atlantic City, and
Las Vegas Henderson. Attendance ranged from approximately 70 to 120 members depending on the year. I absolutely enjoyed meeting our members in person. You only get a limited number of vacations in your life. To those that attended, thank you for spending one with us. It was deeply appreciated.
It's a stupid little detail of OB; a terminology thing. Probably feels like just another ideal OB fell short of.
OB didn't have users or customers. We had members. The idea was that you weren't just somebody using OB, like somebody using a tool or using a kleenex. You belonged. You were a part of it. You mattered.
This extended right down to the plumbing, even though nobody but me could see it. "Members" wasn't just a text label or a marketing term. The database table where I stored your crap wasn't called
users; I named it
Many people found friends, dates, and partners on OB. Some people married. Some had children. Members were gracious enough to thank me for this sometimes. It always made me incredibly happy when people connected with each other.
I was never worthy of any of that gratitude. I told them I could never take credit, because then I'd have to take the blame for all the breakups and divorces as well. There were a lot of those, too. And worse. A lot of pain in general. In the end, we definitely didn't make the world a better place. Probably made it much worse.Back to top
OB's history spanned nearly twenty years, six continents, and twenty-seven thousand members. I doubt anybody saw more than 1% of what happened. None of us experienced the same 1%.
My 1% was different than yours. I experienced OB from a privileged perspective. Members nearly always treated me amazingly well. They behaved around me. Most other members had drastically different experiences. Many were good. Some were horrible, even traumatic.
These anecdotes are my truth. I'm in a unique position to answer some things definitively.
That doesn't make your experiences any less real. You matter. Those things happened. That's your truth. We might argue about some details. That's OK. I'm sure I have a few things wrong.Back to top
OB members loved to get together. There were a lot of parties, often at conventions. Depending on who you ask, they were either wild and out of control... or rather tame.
The parties I attended? I absolutely did not find OB parties "wild" compared to anything I saw in high school, college, or beyond. Some OB parties truly were wild, or so I heard. I never witnessed anything crazy. I guess it all depends on what your standard of crazy is. And of course, I was just one person and only saw a tiny portion of reality. I always had a good time, often a great time.
Others had awful experiences or were simply overwhelmed. Our core audience was geeks and nerds; many had somewhat sheltered social lives and what some would call a tame or average party might have felt wild to somebody else. It's all relative.
Anime and gaming conventions were natural ad-hoc gathering spaces for OB members. In general, cons were great places to hang out but lousy places to have parties. Everybody thought they missed out on the "good" parties at cons. The reality at most cons is that parties generally get shut down fast by security. Folks would wander from room to room at cons, never really enjoying where they were at, imagining that the truly raging party might be just another hotel room door away.
Update, 2/27/2023 It is incredibly important to understand that when we talk about "OB parties," these were not official OB events. They were not created by OB, sponsored by OB, and generally not even known about by OB. We're talking about informal get-togethers hosted by OB members: OB members spontaneously hanging out at conventions, throwing a house party, or just meeting for drinks. We didn't control or know about these things any more than Tim Curry controls the next time you decide to watch Rocky Horror Picture Show with your friends.
The relationship between OB and these "OB parties" was equivalent to the relationship between the NFL and a Super Bowl party that you decide to host at your house. The NFL is not responsible for that in any way. I would think this would be easy to understand but apparently some struggle with this concept.
BootyCon was the only official OB event.Back to top
Safety-related decisions are a series of hard realities, limitations, and compromises.
Those of you with kids, do you make them wear seatbelts in the car? Hopefully. Do you make them wear crash helmets? That would be safer. Do you keep a fire extinguisher in the car? Survival tools? A hammer to break the car windows in case you wind up under water and can't open the doors? Emergency food rations? Snakebite antivenom? Few would answer "yes" to all of those. You make compromises.
An OB member, formerly the chairperson of a well-known gaming convention, told me that settling for "good enough" safety wasn't acceptable. I had to laugh. I asked him if his staff searched every bag at his convention, checked the IDs of every attendee, or even bothered to check any of the thousands of open alcohol containers in attendees' hands as they strolled the convention to make sure they weren't being carried by underage members. Dozens if not hundreds of incidents of sexual assault and harassment have been reported at this convention over the years.
The fact is, most (including me) agree he did an outstanding job running that convention. I admire and look up to him. He worked within the limits of what was possible given the available resources (a volunteer staff outnumbered by the attendees probably 100:1) to create the safest possible environment.
"Safest possible environment" doesn't mean "zero risk."Back to top
The level of safety OB achieved can and should be scrutinized.
It makes me sick that we were unable to achieve perfect safety. The fact that anybody was ever hurt makes me ill. As I said (far) above, I wish I'd never created OB.
My logical side tells me that we're talking about a group of 27,000 people interacting with each other over the course of 18 years and incidents will happen. My heart tells me that some people were hurt, and I'm a stain on the world.
Ultimately the question is: was OB safer than the other spaces navigated by our members? School? Other online communities? Clubs? Conventions? Dating? Life? How do the rates of incidents on OB compare to the rates of incidents in those spaces?
If this document seems somewhat schizophrenic, oscillating between "OB was a terrible mistake" and "we all tried our best to be as safe as we could" -- yes, that's an accurate representation of my conflicted thoughts on the matter.Back to top
OB more than met the bar for safety established by other online social spaces.
By any standard, moral or legal, our safety obligation covered two areas.
One, the website experience itself. We censored adult content so that it was not accessible by folks younger than 18. Yes, folks could communicate with each other on OB -- just like they can on Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, eBay, every web forum ever, and so on. We were also far less anonymous than those sites: private messages required paid accounts, so at a bare minimum we typically had PayPal-provided infomration for our members. If there was an incident related to messages sent on OB: we knew who you were. Reported issues were investigated and offenders were warned or banned.
Two, official OB-sponsored events. Our annual get-togethers from 2007-2012 were the only such official events.
Anything outside of those two scopes was not something we were able to control, or claimed to be able to control. If you go on a date with somebody you met on Tinder, or you join a cookie-baking group that you found on Meetup, you would not expect them to be actively policing these events, following you into hotel rooms, or making sure that you don't burn your fingers while taking cookies out of the oven. This is common sense and it is difficult to understand views to the contrary. If you can't understand this, I suggest banging your head against the wall... something might be stuck in there, and perhaps some vigorous head-to-wall contact will get the gears turning again.Back to top
Here are some things I wish I'd had the chance to implement. Some of these things may sound obvious in 2022 but were technically impossible, exceeded our meager resources, or simply hadn't been done before in the early 2000s.
The ultimate responsibility for all decisions on OB rests with me.
In nearly all situations I relied heavily on some or all of the 143 volunteer moderators when making decisions. The feedback of non-moderator members was also taken seriously. After all, the idea was to create a website and community that people liked and enjoyed.
I selected the moderators. Often as a result of suggestions and nominations by other members. I also chose many moderators without consulting the others. Sometimes even without consulting the person I'd selected to be a moderator. If a person asked to be a moderator, I tended to rule them out. You don't want to be governed strictly by the sorts of people who want power.
I tried to avoid an echo chamber or collection of "yes people" and intentionally chose many moderators that would disagree with me and challenge me. Some of the moderators drove me insane with contrary opinions but I felt it was one sign of a healthy discussion process. Did we avoid an echo chamber? Sometimes yes, often no.
Moderators were never required to do anything. It was just a set of additional features they could use if desired.Back to top
As a whole the moderators were volunteers who cared deeply about the community. They made OB better. Way better.
The moderator-only forum was infamous. Unfairly so in my opinion. Other members saw it as a shadowy cabal. In reality, it was often dormant or simply boring. The vast majority of the activity in the mod forum consisted of me bouncing ideas off of the moderators, or moderators exchanging intel on community issues such as members who might need to be removed for creepy or harassing behavior. This sort of discussion is difficult to do in public.
The "shadowy cabal" reputation was a problem. I should've figured out a way to make the system more transparent and participatory. My fault, not the mods' fault.
Some moderators were toxic. As is often the case with toxic people who attain positions of influence, they had significant positive traits as well. It can be difficult to recognize a person's toxidity until it's too late. I deeply apologize to members who were hurt by them. In some cases I allowed them into my life and they hurt me deeply as well.
There was an incident where moderators made fun of a member's private pictures. I have no memory of this incident but believe the person who told me. This was unacceptable and I accept responsibility.Back to top
The goal was safety, as much of it as I could manage. It's fair to criticize decisions made or results achieved, but those doing so should consider the alternatives or lack thereof.
The most difficult and most controversial decision I made involved age limits on the site.
In an ideal world I would have restricted the site to 18+ or 21+. Unfortunately, OB didn't exist in an ideal world. It existed in the 2000s, when there was no practical way to verify anybody's age on the internet. Remember, the standard practice at this time for online age-restricted spaces at this time was literally "just ask the website user if they're 18 or not."Back to top
A relatively common occurence: a person meets somebody from an "18+" hookup app (Tinder, Grindr, etc) with the expectation that everybody on the app is actually 18. They flirt with people under that assumption, treating them as adults. They have sex with one of those people under that assumption. That person turns out to be a minor, which means a statuatory rape has occurred. The older person is (hopefully) caught and convicted. They are now a registered sex offender. The other person is a rape survivor.
I've personally known at least two people in that situation: a coworker and a family member.
I damn sure wanted to avoid that with OB. I viewed that as the most dangerous possible situation imaginable. How can minors be protected if nobody knows they're minors?Back to top
The compromise I implemented was as follows. Folks under 18 could sign up for the site, but many/most of the site's features were disabled or restricted.
I'm not sure how many of our 18+ members knew how restricted the site was for under-18 members. After all: if you were over 18 you never saw the restricted version of the site. The goal was for members under 18 to have a PG-13 experience on the site.
All member profiles and public profile pictures required moderator approval before they could be shown to other users. Nudity and adult content were not allowed in profiles and public profile pictures, regardless of age.Back to top
Racial slurs were never tolerated. At least we got that right. In the early days we got nearly everything else wrong.
The prevailing sense of humor initially included much that was typical of the "edgy" internet humor of the late 90s / early 2000s internet. We used many words that haven't been considered acceptable for a long time. Being par for the course was no excuse. I take full responsibility.
This changed for the better circa 2009. I banned a lot of language. I thank the members who helped me to see the error of our ways.Back to top
My memories of the exact genesis of this one are fuzzy. This was back in probably 2004, 2005? The important part is: we had to ban a guy for being creepy. I don't remember exactly what he did -- I think he said something inappropriate to a younger member? -- but he claimed we had mistaken his "euro playfulness" for something more sinister.
"Euro playfulness." What does that even mean? The phrase struck us as so absurd. Euro playfulness. Euro... playfulness!? Just... what? What the fuck?
It was so absurd, it became a running joke for a few years. Euroooooooo playfulness. We couldn't stop laughing at the phrase, and how this guy had used it in defense of being creepy. EURO PLAYFULNESS! Who says that!?
Sometimes when a thing is traumatic or just gross people cope by turning it into a joke, or even reclaim the term. Like joking about serial killer glasses, or the decades-long reclamation of the word "queer." The running "euro playful" joke was like that.
I'm not going to argue with anybody who says it was poor taste, but it was very much rooted in the idea that being creepy toward younger members was absolutely not okay, and a guy got banned for it.Back to top
A common complaint: cliques.
There were thousands of members. Of course not every member could be friends with every other member equally. Of course, there were circles of friends.
My opinion: the people complaining about cliques simply failed to make friends. That's not an insult. There were good people who didn't make friends on OB. Sometimes people don't mesh and it's not necessarily anybody's fault. And sometimes people just aren't in the market for new friends.
FOMO was a closely related... thing. I know how it goes. You see people talking about parties. You weren't invited. You feel like shit. I've been on both sides of that coin. There were 30+ active OB members in my area. We were all friends. But my small rented home couldn't hold more than 10 or 12 guests. Every time I hosted a party, people were left out and feelings were hurt. Often there were get-togethers in my area that I wasn't invited to. It hurt sometimes.
Everybody thought everybody else was going to more parties, and everybody else felt like everybody else had more friends. We've all been there. I've been there. It's normal and human. It's tough!
I get it, buddy.Back to top
Here were OB's financial goals.
I stalled out between goals 2 and 3. OB's revenue never came close to paying my bills. I supplemented my income by juggling contract work with OB responsibilities. I wore all hats for OB: software development, community management, marketing, and so on. This was grueling and unsustainable.
Eventually other factors changed in my life. I was unable to spend as much time running OB as I previously did. The site's revenue declined as did subjective measures of quality.
Had I been able to grow OB just a bit farther, I am confident I could have grown it a lot farther. Think about how far OB progressed without a single fulltime employee. Think about how far it might have progressed with a fulltime employee.
This used to haunt me. How I wished I'd cleared that next hurdle. Now that I consider OB a mistake, I guess we all dodged a bullet.