Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Comic Vine: How not to run a community website

Last week when I was searching for information on one of the latest "Angel" comics issues, I came across the website called Comic Vine for what was not the first time. I figured since I keep bumping into the website, I may as well join and see if will do the job of "Last.fm for comics" for me.

So I joined Comic Vine and after using it for a few days, just as I was beginning to like the system [and considering becoming a paid member and inviting friends], I happened to come across a wiki page about a comic book that I had just read. The page was missing the "Plot Summery" section, so I figured I may as well be helpful and add the few lines. Now, for anyone who may not know... these type of plot summaries are like movie trailers. You see the same standard synopses on Wikipedia, Amazon, and many other websites related to comic books or books in general. And that's why you see the Wikipedia plot summaries [and many other pieces of info, for that matter] on pretty much every wiki page on Comic Vine. Also, lets keep in mind that the content on Wikipedia, according to the Wikipedia terms of use, are under the Creative Commons licence and free to re-distribute.

Anyhow.. I took the plot summery from Wikipedia, and added it to the wiki page on Comic Vine, and I did this for 2 issues of the same comic series. What happened next was somewhat unbelievable. I received a message from one of the administrators of the website, giving me what they were referring to as a "First and final warning", for PLAGIARISM!!! Oh, and to make things even more fun, the other one of the 2 summaries I had submitted at the same time and from the same source, was approved!!!

Well... you can probably imagine that as someone who's active in the research field as well as academia, I know only too well the definition of the word plagiarism, and you can also guess how much I don't appreciate being wrongly accused of it. I added a standard piece of information, a tag-line if you will, from a public domain source, to a wiki in a website which more than anything is a database of information regarding collections of work created by other people to start with. Information that is by definition not a property of Comic Vine, and is quite visibly coming from sources all over the web. I didn't claim to have created the book, the tag-line or anything else for that matter. My name is not printed under there, I'm not even breaking any copy-rights, and I'm most certainly neither getting paid nor marked for that work. All I did was sharing a public trailer. So, how in the heaven's name did they come up with plagiarism?!

That of course was the question I sent back to the moderator who had given me the warning. And that was the start of a rather pointless and circular conversation. The kind you usually get with the tech support of Rogers Inc. First I got a couple of 1 line responses without any form of a clear point, the sort that is designed to get rid of you as fast as possible. Then there was some very fuzzy explanation saying that the whole plagiarism issue may or may not [?] apply to the plot summery, but it does to some other [?] parts of the website. So the person in charge is not even certain as to where to apply a supposed rule of an ambiguous nature, but I do end up being insulted either way. After all I'm only a user, who cares about my respect anyway right? [Anybody else having Twine flash-backs? Well, we all know how that one ended..] Then I received a link, to a forum post by a moderator, saying "Don't Plagiarize"!! Well, 2 problems here:

1- Yes generally plagiarism is bad. It's one of those things you morally don't go about doing. So all good and fine with the article, but what does that have to do with my situation? Where is the plagiarism in what I did? Of course if someone writes a piece of literature somewhere on this website consisting of information from other sources, without citing, and taking full credit for themselves, then yes you have a case of plagiarism. But what does that have to with editing a wiki page on a service like this? How could you possibly commit plagiarism on what is, as I mentioned, a database of publicly available information on other people's creations?

2- If you're going to refer me to your website rules, should they not be a part of your Terms of Use? I mean, isn't that the whole point of a bleeding Terms of Use page? So does that mean, the random words of your moderators are the rule books of the website, and that I should be reading through every single forum post, to find out what your team of site-Gods would like me to do on your website? Well I'm sorry, but that is not happening. Some of us have a life outside of comic books.

So then, after a whole load of explaining myself, quoting website ToU and demanding a proper response from anyone who can, I received an - oh wow - more than one line response, explaining very politely how that's just the way it is, and letting me know that the reason I've been granted all the friendly unhelpfulness is that the person on the other side of the line is "very tired". At that point I really controlled myself not to write back "Do you want to compare schedules? Life? Usual amount of work?" So, I have been insulted, accused of something I haven't done, been responded to as if I was a proper idiot, have had my time wasted, and you tell me you are tired. How awesome is that?

That was the end of it. I really wasn't interested in continuing the conversation that would only have bought me more insult. And obviously I have lost all interest in using the service itself. I spoke with a couple of my comic enthusiast friends who let me know that they were already aware that the administration of the service in question suffers a bit of a God/celebrity complex, and I should have just asked them first. [Yes, perfect! =P] I've also been directed to another website for comics that is apparently run by a "nicer" crowd. We'll see how that goes. ;) I'm also very much interested in more suggestions on the topic and opinions in general... so ... comment away! =)


Update I

Xander has made an interesting point in the comments that a lot of people seem to be referring to, so I'm adding it here. It's somewhat dark, but it seems true.

"This god complex that you're mentioning, I'm thinking it has deeper roots into certain types of communities. It's not just something about this specific website. That's my opinion. What I'm trying to say is, unfortunately if you look into communities that are built around similar interests like comics or gaming (as you were saying earlier), you will always find too many people who suffer this sort of god complex. They make up a personality based on how awesome they are known to be in the community and live by that personality. Getting lost in the characters of comics or games, forgetting entirely that there are people out there, real people, who are making a difference in the real world. The actual super heroes.
The real ugly comes when one of these community superstars finds it fit to insult and dismiss one of those people who is making a difference in the real world. This seems to me like one of those times. Sorry love, but really, you should just ignore folks like that.

@Xander: Well, I most certainly don't see myself as anything like a superhero [ =)) ] but I do see your point, and I'm afraid I'm quite familiar with what you're pointing out here. I've had so many people tell me that they joined the "ABC" community or game or this or that just to have a simple good time, and they've ended up having to deal with something of a religious cult instead. "The air of elitism" as Char puts it, is something that I personally have a hard time dealing with.

I don't know if what happened here was exactly that... but it's not so unlikely since a good deal of attitude could easily be felt there.


Update II

Well, I must say that it was very nice to read from Comic Vine [refer to the comments] and it's good to see that they're paying attention. As I wrote in the comments, I'm not all that certain that my problem was only with a single administrator. I mean surely it would have been nice to have dealt with someone more interested in helping out, but if for instance what I did [or anything of the sort] really is considered plagiarism according to the regulations of that community, then my problem is more with the system rather than the person representing it. If words change definition and regulations become a full semester study, then I simply can't afford the time. This whole thing was supposed to be for recreational purposes to start with.....

My decision now is to not publish this article for the moment, and stick around quietly and see how things develop with Comic Vine. Meanwhile, I will be giving a try to other suggested services as well, and thanks for all your comments and suggestions.

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Ahoo "Aasemoon" Pirsoleimani, 1998-2014