Community vs Competition
(Before I start, I need to thank Chloe Gutteridge for proof-reading and practically writing the last three paragraphs, so Chloe, I thank you).
For a while now, I've been questioning my place in the YRS community due to a number of issues, some personal and some technical, however the email I got from YRS on Thursday (15/10/2015) was the last straw along with this heart-breaking tweet:
On Thursday (15/10/2015), everybody who’s subscribed to YRS’s email mailing list got an email, outlining how the Festival of Code is going to run in 2016 and my first reaction was — why?
Why do this to a community which so clearly loves the Festival weekend?
Why do this to a community which has been routed in its shenanigan-driven Festival weekend?
Why do this to a community where egos are already a problem?
Why do this to community with little consultation, guidance or mere inquisition?
I understand that these kind of events need publicity and big flashing lights in order to 1) pay for them, because sponsors like these things and 2) to make it more attractive to newcomers and those who wouldn't normally be interested in code, however surely this could have been done under the existing framework, because without this framework, the entire community feeling that YRS events once had will be gone, and in fact, it’s already sinking away….
When I first took part in a YRS event, way back in 2013, when it was still in the Custard Factory, had Ben Nunney talks, and was still in its niche phase of chiptune concerts, flash mobs and meme-driven sleep deprivation (which I’ll concede, YRS have done a fair amount to tackle, because it’s unhealthy), I was initially terrified of going. I was terrified because of the uncertainty, however this uncertainty was soon put to rest by the IRC chat with reassurances and best wishes being tossed around like confetti at a wedding, and the vibrant, exuberant Twitter community, engulfed the hashtag for the event, which is where I met some of the greatest people I have ever met like Poppie Simmonds, Ellen Higginbottom, Kevin Lewis, Kaitlynn Fenton, Ruby Ferguson and Jonathan Kingsley.
Without these people (and many more), I definitely would not have become the outgoing and outspoken person I am today. I almost certainly would not have continued coding without their support, encouragement, jokes and kind words during the tough times in both coding and non-coding ventures.
Now, when I look at the Twitter hashtag, I don’t see the same enthusiasm of youthful buoyancy, excitement for the next Festival or even the willingness to mentor, instead I see hundreds of tweets from the YRS Twitter account, promoting the festival, and then a few tweets from genuine YRSers, however none with the same excitement, enthusiasm or engagement as in previous years.
Remember the excited of the Twitter account ‘YRSOperationHuntdown’?
Remember the joy of seeing Ben Nunney on a PiCyle?
Remember the pizza boxes taped together to create a pizza-box fort?
Now, with the absence of an active community, there becomes a vacuum, which in this case, has been clearly taken by competition, which in itself, is not a dirty word. We rely on competition a lot in everyday life, for example, we rely on competition to create good services like Spotify and Apple Music to provide us with music.
The Festival competition, however, in my view is already far too competitive, because I’ve noticed, particularly in the younger participants, that this has become the main priority of the Festival weekend, instead of taking in the features of the amazing community like making friends and just making cool things which don’t necessarily don’t have a ‘serious’ purpose, like a Nerf Gun to shoot MPs or a ‘Back to the Future’ app which tells you where all of the lightning storms are in the USA by the year.
These changes will only make the competition aspect more apparent and in the process as a side effect of introducing competition, will create and amplify egos within (what’s left of) the community and push out those who are quieter, but could fantastic at coding, but merely lacking in social skills, and they will be overpowered by their more confident peers in that sort of environment. It will ultimately become a competition between who has the largest ego, instead of which app or website is the best, which is what the Festival of Code is all about (or what I thought it was about anyway).
This will also be emphasised by the fact that the Sunday will only actively involve those who have got to the Semi-Finals, cultivating a sort of cliché as well as excluding lower-level coders from this process, thereby preventing these coders from becoming inspired by these fantastic projects, as it has been through seeing the triumphs of others, that many coders have been inspired to improve their skill-set.
This will also lead to alienation and ‘factions’ within the community, as separating participants in this manner will lead to egos forming and entitlement rising in high level coders while breeding resentment in low level coders, directed towards to the high level coders due to their lack of success and the fact that they’re not part of ‘the cliché’.
The worst part about these changes however isn’t the fact that the weekend will be gone and the Festival will be more competition focussed (even though that does suck), it’s the fact that there was no effort to consult, engage or even ‘test the waters’ about these changes with the community. I wouldn’t call myself the ‘centre’ or the ‘hub’ of the community, however almost everyone I’ve spoken to has been devastated over the loss of their weekend, because for some (including myself), it’s the main reason why we take part in the week — to go to the main weekend venue and see friends (who may not live in the same region as them).
It feels as though YRS wants to build a community which suits their vision, which is perfectly understandable and completely acceptable, so long as that community melds together harmoniously, however I don’t know what their vision is anymore…. I thought it was to create a community of like-minded individuals who wanted to mess around with open data, socialise with similar people and have a fun time? Perhaps I was wrong?
But who am I except a regular attendee?
[Edit (29/10/2015): Changed the dates as they were inaccurate]