Clearing some things up - Bulbagarden & HAVA Media
by, 5th December 2011 at 05:10 PM (7059 Views)
As many of you may remember, a few months back Bulbanews, as well as its associated Twitter account, were taken over by a small number of former Bulbagarden staff members with personal vendettas against some of the current Bulbagarden staff. At the time, they made a number of allegations regarding how Bulbagarden operates, including statements about our ownership. While I've made a couple of brief statements elsewhere about these matters over the past couple of months, I'd like to take the time today to present a much more detailed response to the main issue that was raised, so as to clear up any confusion, and bring an end to some of the rumour-mongering. Since this particular allegation requires a bit of explanation to properly address, the other allegations raised will be addressed by either myself or evkl in a separate blog post later this month.
Who is HAVA Media?
The main allegation made back in October was that Bulbagarden is no longer controlled by myself, but rather by a company known as HAVA Media. In addition to the claims that I was no longer calling the shots, we were accused of being in violation of our own content licenses on Bulbapedia. Specifically, it was claimed that we were in violation of the "non-commercial" part of the license with HAVA Media profiting from the ads. I was also personally accused of being a hypocrite with regards to corporate ownership, given the public statements I've made on numerous occasions regarding Wikia's past attempts to buy Bulbapedia, and the statements I made in the original NIWA Manifesto.
First off, I must say that these allegations, while untrue, are nevertheless based on some actual fact. Yes, Bulbagarden has a relationship with HAVA Media, and yes, this arrangement does involve our website's financing and hosting, but that the statements made in October, intentionally or unintentionally, got the details of that relationship quite wrong.
First off, let me just clarify for everyone that Bulbagarden is not a part of HAVA Media. We are two completely distinct entities. Our link, as I stated earlier, is one relating to our financing and hosting. You'll forgive me if I can't go into every single detail of the arrangements we have with them, but essentially they boil down to this: In exchange for them having exclusive rights to display their ad network banners on Bulbapedia, they provide for all of our hosting and technical expenses (expenses which, I should add, come into the 6 figure $USD bracket), including paying for our servers and domain name, for upgrades of software such as vBulletin, and for the professional tech support we receive from Virvo. They're also the ones to thank for the rather generous contest budgets we've been able to have for the last few years, and if we'd gone through with the Bulbapedia Apps for iPhone and Android (which we had to cancel after the crackdowns launched on those earlier in this year), they would've been footing the bill for those as well. HAVA also does some promotion of our site, with a permanent link to Bulbapedia on the front page of their main website, N4G.com.
While I can't go into every single nitty gritty detail of our arrangements, I do want to mention two very specific things, since they were noticed in some previous discussions, and I just want to allay any concerns from them. Firstly, as part of our arrangements with HAVA, our Google Analytics is linked into their account on that service, something which is necessary to properly run some of their ad campaigns. Secondly, if you do a whois search on the Bulbagarden.net domain name, you'll notice that Vegard Aure (HAVA Media's CEO) is listed as its registrant, something necessitated by his name being on the credit card which pays that bill. I want to emphasise though that these two facts are totally irrelevant to the matter of Bulbagarden's actual ownership. Bulbagarden has complete control over its own content, we are most certainly still calling the shots here, and that is not something that is going to change. In the 4 years or so that we've now had these arrangements with HAVA Media (yes, it's really been that long), only once have they ever made a specific request in terms of our content, and that was purely for us to update our website privacy statements (not that anyone ever really reads them, but that's the thing here if you want to take a look) to comply with the requirements of one of the ad networks that's being used. Additionally, while we've given HAVA exclusive rights for displaying their ad networks, we haven't given them free reign. We do not and will never display ads to members who are signed in on Bulbapedia. Interstitial, pop-up and pop-under ads are also banned, and HAVA Media has been more than helpful in assisting us to have them and the networks displaying them removed from our rotation on the rare occasions when an ad network hasn't complied with those restrictions (such as those Disney ads which snuck onto Bulbapedia over the last few days). We also have leeway to refuse ads on an individual basis where we deem them to contain inappropriate content or themes.
Now of course, HAVA Media do derive a level of revenue from the ads they display on Bulbapedia. What this does not mean however is that Bulbagarden is in any way breaching its CC-BY-NC-SA license on Bulbapedia, as was alleged. As I've already said, Bulbagarden is not a part of HAVA Media. It is its own separate and distinct entity. Bulbagarden is strictly a non-commercial enterprise. Neither I nor any other member of Bulbagarden's staff derives any sort of income from the website, and no profit is derived by the website from our relationship with HAVA Media. HAVA Media earning money from the ads is really no different to Google taking a cut from the Google Ads displayed on many websites.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should also mention that, approximately a year and a half after Bulbagarden entered into these arrangements with HAVA Media, that I became their paid employee. Specifically, I am the Site Manager of AnimeShinbun.com, a social news site that's part of their Newsboiler network together with N4G.com. I want to emphasise though that my role there is separate and distinct from my role as Webmaster of Bulbagarden. If you want, think of it as me having two jobs, like the stereotypical anime character who works at a convenience store in the day and directs traffic at road works in the evening. Two jobs, for two separate organisations. I would also like to point out, that the fact I have this role with AnimeShinbun was made public knowledge since prior to the actual launch of that site. I declared it openly in blogs on the Bulbagarden forums, which you can view here and here, on my public LinkedIn profile, and I've even had it included in my Twitter account bio in the past.
So doesn't this make you a hypocrite?
No, but I can again see how someone may have misunderstood or misinterpreted things here. I've long been against the corporate control of fansites, and I've made several rather public statements on that issue here and elsewhere, most notably in the manifesto I posted on the launch of the Nintendo Independent Wiki Alliance. Given my known political affiliation with Pirate Party Australia as a founding member, I can see how people without all of the facts might assume that I'm anti-corporate full stop. I personally see a difference however between corporate involvement, and corporate control. I think perhaps the best thing I can do here is simply to quote from what I actually said in the original NIWA manifesto, and hopefully that'll give you a better understanding of where I'm coming from with this.
I don't believe anything of what I've outlined above of our relationship with HAVA goes against what I said here on NIWA's launch. We work together with HAVA, but Bulbagarden is run by fans, for fans. That has not changed, and will never change.What we have said should not be misunderstood as being anti-corporate. There is certainly a place in online fandoms for corporate sponsorship, and it's true that many fansites, ourselves included, would not be able to cover their hosting bills without advertising of some sort. Nor can we blame all of those who have had to relinquish control of their communities, as the financial and technical burdens for those of us who become large are often quite significant, and there are most certainly difficulties for webmasters in forming the networks and connections they need to make enough return off their advertisements to pay for their communities.
What we do stand against is the corporate meddling in the actual day-to-day operation and management of our communities, which we feel is a detriment to our fandoms as a whole. Our feelings can be summarised thus.
* Fan communities should be run by the fans, by people whose involvement in the well-being of the community is of the emotional nature of the fan. They should not be run by those having only a purely financial investment, with no interest in the specific fandom itself.
* Fan communities should be run for the fans, by people who will take a positive interest in the fans' desires, always thinking about how they can continue to enhance the enjoyment of everyone in the community.
* Fan communities should be run together with the fans, embracing a spirit of co-operation and camaraderie in our fandoms, with friendly rivalries rather than bitter divides.
So why did you do it?
For one reason really. To ensure the future of Bulbagarden. At the time we entered into this arrangement initially, I was personally over $6000 in debt, and Bulbagarden's hosting bill had risen to about double my meagre annual income. We weren't making anywhere near enough revenue from Google Ads and donations, and we were left with very few options. I had the choice of shutting down Bulbagarden, handing it off to someone who could afford it, or making some kind of arrangement like this. The first option was unacceptable, the second was impossible (there wasn't anyone who could afford that kind of expenditure on staff, and no one external to the site who could that I trusted to do right by the community), so that left the third. We had a number of offers around that period, one of which was a blank cheque from Wikia (literally asking me to name my price) which I refused. When HAVA Media contacted us, well, they simply made a very good offer. They weren't the only such offer on the table, we actually had a similar offer on the table from GamerDNA, but they were the ones who I felt offered us the most, and who provided the most security for the community (both in terms of guaranteeing our control over our content, and in terms of the hosting security & stability of the site).
Why didn't you tell us earlier?
You're actually not the only ones asking us that to be perfectly honest. A number of our staff weren't aware of our arrangements with HAVA either, mostly due to a lack of regular communication on the topic from myself to new staff members. We had since July 21st of this year restricted the release of the info to senior staff members, due to some unrelated security incidents earlier in the year, however I believe only staff hired in the staff drive held around that time would have missed this info because of that.
Before I go into the rationalizations behind why we didn't release this sooner, I just want to say that the decision to not tell you all before now was entirely mine. Actually, if I'd listened to some of the others on staff, you probably would've heard a hell of a lot sooner (though I'll note that those who caused the fuss back in October were not among those who suggested we release this, and I don't recall any of them even bringing an issue up with our arrangements while they were still staff). So if you've got to blame someone for that, the responsibility is all mine.
My primary reason for not releasing this information sooner was because we were concerned that we'd be misunderstood and misinterpreted. That we'd be painted as "sellouts" regardless of the effort we made to make sure that wouldn't happen, and that we wouldn't be backed into a corner where we'd be forced to do that. Kind of ironic in retrospect that it's our silence on the matter that allowed for exactly this to happen, with the information being released to you in the way it was, and with the way that was presented to you then.
My other justification was that I felt it'd be easier to release this information to you all when I had some actual proof for you that things would be fine, that it'd be business at usual here at Bulbagarden, and that the only changes you'd see as a direct result of the arrangements would be things like more and better servers, and better website uptime and responsiveness as a result. Well, I think that particular objective at least has been achieved. I don't think a single person has even realised anything was going on behind the scenes with regards to our financial arrangements all these years, and if someone did, they certainly weren't going around talking about it or spreading any rumours. If nothing else, I hope that the past few years of Bulbagarden is enough proof for you that I and the Bulbagarden staff are the ones in control of things, not some faceless people you've never met from a corporation you've never heard of.
Why are you telling us now?
Partly for what I mentioned earlier, that I want to clear up any confusion, and bring an end to some of the rumour-mongering. But mostly simply because the Bulba staff decided that it was past time that you should all know.
So what changes now?
Absolutly nothing. Bulba's been like this for a number of years now, and the only things that have really changed in that time is that we've been able to operate more servers, have had had more technical support for backend stuff, and that we've been able to run contests for you guys with actual physical prizes.
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