AOL is shutting down Ficlets on January 15, and in their infinite corporate wisdom and understanding of how communities on the Internet work, they’re not providing any easy way to archive the stories you’ve written there beyond advising that you try “copying the text and pasting it into a plain text or Word document.” Right. That’s going to be really fun and easy for people who have written dozens of Ficlets. [::facepalm::]
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 don’t get this. I don’t understand what AOL has to lose by letting someone who wants to care for it take it over, and I don’t understand what AOL has to gain by simply destroying it, but that’s probably why I’m not in middle management at AOL: I like to actually nurture and support cool and unique things that don’t suck.
Ficlets was important to a lot of people. There are over ten thousand writers, thirty-five thousand stories, and eighty thousand comments. It was also important to me. On my author page, I wrote:
I am a professional narrative non-fiction writer. I’ve published three books, and write several geeky columns on topics like technology and gaming.
What I really want to do, though, is write fiction, and I figured Ficlets was the perfect place to find my fiction voice.
The 1024 character limitation, the ability to draw inspiration from quotes and pictures, and the collaborative nature of the prequels and sequels all worked together to help me create some super short stories that I’m still really proud of, like They Don’t Come Out at Night, Snowfall, and The Fifteenth. My story A Godawful Small Affair , inspired by listening to way too much Ziggy Stardust (as if there’s such a thing!), turned into a truly wonderful collaborative fiction project that branched out into dozens of multiple universes.
As a site, Ficlets did have its problems. (Some of which could have been alleviated by more development.) As a busy site that received hundreds of posts per day in its heyday, it never really developed a workable method for making sure that new ficlets weren’t quickly buried in the rush of more ficlets. There were lists of “popular” and “active” ficlets, but getting on the lists was a crapshoot that largely relied on whether your ficlet stayed in the “Most recently posted” list long enough for enough people to see and read it.
On the other hand, the site had a number of excellent innovations. The ficlet format itself was made for creativity … unlike cluttered competitor Writing.com, the Ficlets interface was completely uncluttered, and it allowed infinite story branching instead of writing.com’s two-predefined- choices-only.
Another especially clever touch was the ability to search through Creative Commons-licensed Flickr photos and use them for “inspiration”. This was the sort of creativity that Creative Commons was meant to engender, and seeing it in action was a thing of beauty.
Chris came up with a way to save your Ficlets, using a tool called HTTrack. He’s included fairly simple instructions that shouldn’t be too difficult to follow, so you can create an archive of your work, as well as any prequels or sequels that it inspired.
Through extensive trial and error, I’ve managed to come up with a set of rules that will fetch all the stories I want and not too many that I don’t want. And as the doom of Ficlets draws nigh, I figure it would be best to get this slightly imperfect set out there now, so people can save their stuff right away, and perhaps worry about refining it later. If anyone who knows HTTrack better than I do can send me tips or corrections, I’d be thrilled to update this post with them.
I really loved Ficlets, and I get the feeling that a lot of Ficleteers discovered it because of me or Scalzi. I’m really sad to see it go, and I’m hopeful that something new is created to take its place. Until that happens, though, thanks for reading my stories, and even collaborating with me on some of them. Keep writing!