I thought now would be as good as ever to write a "State of the Community" post. Over the past couple of weeks I have noticed a lot of negativity coming back to our forums, which have been a positive place for a while now. Negative and discouraging comments on skins have been increasing, and when a post was made to address it, it turns into another argument and battle. This really needs to stop and it will one way or another.
I do want to take a moment and give a big hats off to Zoomba. Just over two years ago he took over WinCustomize and associated Stardock sites, and since then we have seen many, many improvements. Not all are visible to everyone, but believe me a lot of work is done behind the scenes to make the experience at WinCustomize better. If you don't listen to the WinCustomize SkinCast (which I don't know why you wouldn't), you might have missed that Zoomba has moved on from WinCustomize. He's now doing some great work on Impulse, but thankfully he still has a part in WinCustomize, although not so much public now.
The thing I have always had pride in at WinCustomize was the community. When I first started skinning people would jump at the opportunity to help, and not say that isn't happening now, but the tone has definitely changed over the years. Obviously, skinning has changed over the years as well. Commercial skinning now has a definite market and some don't seem to take too kindly to that. Regardless of how skinning has evolved it shouldn't have an impact on how the community treats each other or behaves.
The insulting comments and bullying of other members will not be tolerated at all, regardless of their rank or status on the site. We want WinCustomize to be a place where anyone can come and upload their skins and be part of this community, without having to be subject to ridiculous comments that only drive people away. For newer skinners out there, you will get criticism on your works, but don't take it personally. Listening to experienced skinners will only help you get better. On that note, giving constructive criticism is fine, but blatant attacks and insults do not help, and will be dealt with.
Here at WinCustomize we have a class system:
- Master Apprentice
You can view specifics of each class here. Basically, you start out at citizen and if you contribute skins and to the community, you will be promoted through each of the classes. Promotion is done by recommendation and votes from the site moderators (wizops) and admins on a monthly basis. The Journeyman level allows users to bypass moderation, so your skins go directly to the gallery. The highest class most can achieve is Master, but this is not an easy road. One of the advantages of becoming a Master skinner is the ability to sell your skins on WinCustomize. There are just a handful of them currently, and we are always keeping our eye out for the next one.
This is a system that has been around for a long time, but lately I have been pondering if changes are needed, especially when it comes to the Master class. One of the descriptions of Master is, "not only must the user be a significant contributor to the community, but instrumental to the day to day life of WinCustomize." We have Master skinners that contribute quite a bit to the galleries, both free and paid skins, but are not necessarily active in say the forums for instance. Not everyone is into the forum scene, so how much leeway should be given for that? Should it matter? Those are all questions I have been asking myself lately, and one of my projects is to re-write the member descriptions and define member classes going forward.
Ideally, I would love to see all Master skinners take a more active and positive role in the community, be true leaders to help guide the next-generation of skinners. They are the "best of the best" in terms of what they do, but maybe just contributing skins isn't enough. Is more community involvement needed? I would definitely love your feedback on this. I will also be looking for skin moderators soon, so anybody in the community that has been established for a while can feel free to contact me.
This summer has been fantastic. Usually during this time of year skin submissions drop to almost nothing, but not this summer. I haven't looked at the numbers but I think submissions have actually increased. I am also seeing a lot of new skinners make their way over here, which is even more exciting. Skinners who have been missing for a while have also made some returns, so I am very excited on the skinning front. Not to mention the GUI Champs 2008 is due to start very soon, I think the next half of this year is going to be great.
Halloween and the Christmas season are also approaching, and I would really like to get some good sets of skins going, possibly even another community based skin. I also have a mockup skin that will be the basis of a community project, but not until the GUI Champs is done. You all have enough on your hands as is.
Although I can't mention specifics, we have also been tossing around ideas for the next version of WinCustomize. Although nothing is set or guaranteed, I'm really hoping to have a bigger focus on personal pages and sorting of galleries. I will leave it at that for now.
Now lets address some issues people have been bringing up lately, and attempt to squash problems going forward. Gallery moderation has been going pretty smoothly. Most skins are moderated in good time, and we have been working to make sure a clear set of guidelines are followed. To make things easier for everyone, I wrote the Tips for Moderation guide which everyone who submits skins should look over.
Let me now emphasize some things to end some discussions and problems:
- Resetting skin dates on updates will only be moderated if the skin has a significant change. Fixing a start menu issue, or altering the color slightly does not constitute that. Trying to game the system to stay on the front page of downloads will no longer pass.
- Vista clones are permitted within reason. Some of the most popular skins across the net are modifications of Vista. The advantage we have with WindowBlinds is that the skins can be much, much better than the default Aero look. Now we all have personal opinions on Vista looking skins, and the origins of images, but it's things we have gone through and determined it's not a simple matter to determine who created what.
- Multiple colors of the same skin must be included in a pack, or sub-styles. SkinStudio has a remarkable re-coloring feature which makes making separate colored sub-styles very easy so this is what I would recommend.
Overall, I have been very happy with the state of WinCustomize this year. Although there are some minor bumps in the road lately, those are ending today and I expect a great time for the rest of this year. Your comments and feedback are welcomed.