Ficlets creator fights AOL to save his brainchild – and loses.

This is interesting: Joe Manna happened to catch a comment on the PeopleConnection blog from the Ficlets creator, Kevin Lawver, a long-time AOLer who left the company in May. Kevin wrote about Ficlets:

I knew this was coming, I just didn’t know the day. I tried, with the help of some great people, to get AOL to donate ficlets to a non-profit, with no luck. I asked them just to give it to me outright since I invented it and built it with the help of some spectacular developers and designers. All of this has gone nowhere.

I’ve already written an exporter and have all the stories (the ones not marked “mature” anyway). I have pretty much all of the author bios too. Since I was smart enough to insist that AOL license all the content under Creative Commons, I’ll be launching a “ficlets graveyard” on 1/16 so at least the stories that people worked so hard one will live on.

I have mixed feelings about ficlets’ demise. On the one hand, I’m proud of the work we did on it. I’m thankful that AOL allowed me to build it with a truly amazing group of talented folks. I’m humbled by the community that ficlets attracted and the awards that ficlets won.

On the other hand, I’m sad that I wasn’t allowed to keep working on ficlets. I’m disappointed that AOL’s turned its back on the community, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

So, to all the ficleteers out there – your stories will live on, and there may be a couple more surprises in the works before 1/15 if I have my way. Be on the lookout… I’ll post any news to my blog:

Posted at 9:41PM on Dec 3rd 2008 by Kevin Lawver [source]

Let’s recap.

  1. AOL chose to shut down Ficlets rather than donate the site and server(s) to a non-profit who would certainly manage the costs from there on in – and probably manage Ficlets – and the community that developed from it – better than AOL did.
  2. Next, AOL refused to give Ficlets to the very person who created it.
  3. Luckily, a contract stipulation that Kevin insisted on before handing Ficlets over to AOL puts the content under a Creative Commons license so it can be reprinted by Ficlet users or Kevin himself. He’s going to work on that starting on Jan. 16th. Unluckily, any such undertaking is guaranteed to be a massive and expensive pain in the ass for Kevin, who wouldn’t have to go through such a rough transition if AOL had simply agreed to items 1 or 2.
  4. Finally, Joe speculates that Ron Grant, the COO at AOL, was playing favorites all along, so with Kevin Conroy, the former Executive Vice President of Products and Marketing at the time Ficlets was acquired out, and Bill Wilson in, Ficlet’s demise was inevitable – and predictably quick.

As to Joe’s speculation…is it just me, or will AOLers fight with each other about anything and try to outdo each other every chance they get?

It reminds me of how AOL killed the Netscape browser in late 2007 (which no doubt came about after yet another fight) when they refused to sell the code to anyone else. Even though Netscape was built on open-source code, AOL owned the name “Netscape” so they didn’t legally “have to” allow anyone else to continue developing it. I liked the Netscape browser (who wouldn’t – it’s last iterations were just like Firefox) so that decision, like most of AOL’s decisions, rubbed me the wrong way.

The Ficlets story, like the Netscape story, speaks volumes, showing us again how cruel, stubborn and out-of-touch AOL still is – even in the midst of their last, waning days.