Now, back to the proposed “kickoff” message I drafted early in the year, after the new partnership agreement had been sealed:
In order to support the faith TGC members have vested in me with their subscriptions, I have grandfathered all of them to a FULL subscription to all events and services of GolfCabal.com (except Free-for-All, oddly…). As of today’s date (___________), whatever subscription duration you have in force at TGC will be applied to the new site.
A further offering of GolfCabal.com to the TGC community is the promise of larger fields, because the GolfCabal.com model is built completely around the idea of the long-tail graph: GolfCabal.com will offer such a large array of services, available individually at penny-whistle prices, some completely Free, so you can build your own portfolio of the exact events you want to play in, without being forced to support events that cannot stand under their own strength. This will be a dynamic environment, having been specifically designed to lubricate the addition of new tournaments and ventures.
My theory is that by offering a narrow but exciting range of Free services will create a huge amount of traffic, and from among that through-flow the Golfcom community will filter out a few good members we would otherwise never have found, new faces, new cannon fodder for our existing big guns, and more challenges to all of us, on the course, and in the forums.
Provide a cheat-proof tournament system.
Implement a business model that encourages high level of participation by the appetizing presence of some free and some inexpensive services.
Provide community forums and communication services that encourage players to expand their online personas in arenas beyond the games.
Offer services that benefit the online golf community at large.
Operate responsibly and profitably for the long duration.
--end of draft—
In order to protect Warren and allow him to continue to be figurehead for services that I myself was offering, I would find a way to do two things at once, balanced perfectly to allow me to pursue my above (and below) stated mission, and at the same time “not screw Warren.”
Warren had a “cash cow” in terms of a dedicated community who, including myself, were willing to pay for a service that could be found, in similar forms but different texture, at other sites for free. The ultimate way to “screw” Warren would be to offer the same service at a reduced price, thus undercutting him.
The way I devised to merge the objective of “don’t screw Warren” with my own vision of having LOTS of golfers by charging a CHEAP price involved the 25% cut. I felt that I could offer the same services myself, more efficiently, with far more passion for the enterprise, for $15 per year, so that would be my target price for my own site. So that is the price I agreed to charge Warren for the same service! Again, we had an equal partnership until December 31, 2005. The 25% contract kicked in on January 1, 2006. Warren asked at the time like “We don’t need to publicly discuss this so much do we?” and I consented.
I finally hit on a scheme for the new system such that full subscription to ALL services on the site would add up to $60 per year. These services would include everything I offered at TGC, plus additional services. This scheme had it all! Members get to play at either site, in fact they do not have to choose! They can use BOTH sites based on what they have paid to Warren. Certainly no foul there on my part. I can allow free play under some circumstances, a practice that would never get past Warren’s veto. I had to make a major power play (simply folded my arms and refused to comply) when Warren asked me on several occassions to:
Remove and reissue old member numbers when somebody does not renew. (My problems with this were both technical and vision-related. Technical wherein the whole reason for a member number is that it used as a unique identifier in a database. You MUST have one, and you cannot go changing it around, it just turns up someplace else, like this: “No, I’m not Joe Doe who was member 2075 in 1999, I’m Slim Jim who was member 1999 in 2000 and member 2075 in 1998.” Suddenly, the primary key of a table has to be “member number || complex formula to compare date ranges || player name”. No. No. I am not going to spend my time…please understand how the division of labor works out here, picture it for me: Over here on the west coast, my partner says, with courtesy I cannot imitate: “Please recode the way you handle member numbers so that I can leverage subscription renewals.” (My words, his meaning.)
Okay, picture over here the programmer on the east coast, he comes home from work, falls onto the couch and eats dinner, and falls promptly to sleep, because he is tired from waking up in time to start work on the system at 4am. He does this nearly every day, in order to devote 20 hours per week M-F. That’s over 1000 hours per year, and he does not necessarily stop on the weekends.
Then he will let the guy over on the west coast know that the task has been completed, and Wes will say “Thanks very much, great job”.
This is how I know that Warren would not look favorably on my long-tail plan. One more example, so that you will see the first one was not a fluke:
Several times, Warren asked me to remove from the historic leaderboards the names of all players who had not renewed! I am serious. If you have read 1984, then you know that Winston Smith’s job in the Ministry of Truth was to spend his day editing old newspaper and magazine articles to make them correspond to the version of “reality” that was being spun in today’s periodicals. I refused also to undertake this initiative, not because it was technically difficult, it was not, but because it was inconsistent with my vision of a player’s accomplishments being facts of history, accomplished during a time when that player’s subscription was indeed in effect, and while nobody had been promised perpetual enshrinement of their moments in the sun, neither had they been warned there would be a perpetual maintenance fee. And at its heart, it seemed just wasteful and spiteful for somebody to climb up on the wall and pull the brass nails out of somebody’s plaque for a REAL accomplishment because their dues had lapsed. As many times as Warren repeated that request, I repeated an intransigent “No!”, along with an explanation that grew each time, starting subtly and ending up about like the paragraph you have just read. After that, he did not ask again.
I have elaborated my own role and contrasted it to Warren’s minimal technical involvement with the launching-scoring-leaderboards-point totals end. I should acknowledge that there were responsibilities of Warren’s in which I myself was minimally involved in, where he picked up all the slack: HTML, tour mystique, and financial management. Also, personnel management. All TGC staff members reported directly to Warren, and while I don’t recall if there was an initial agreement about it, we both fell into it quite easily. Whenever I would initiate group email, pretty soon I would be dropped out of the loop, cornered by Warren. This indicates perhaps nothing more than the fact that all such Directors, after Warren and I had agreed upon their acceptability (this regards all staff engaged through December 31, 2005. Warren does not seek my consent that way under the new agreement.) were brought on board through private conversations with Warren.
There were two events a year ago that shook my world, and it has never been the same since. It was revealed to me that my view of what TGC is might not be correct, and in fact if I wanted to recover my original impression of the enterprise, I was going to have to do a hell of a lot of work. Call it the “hidden cost”, most things have one.
The first event was an email that Dan Deshaney sent me on 4-16- 2005, exactly a year from tomorrow. The progress I would like to have made with improving the number of players, I now realize, was a setback of exactly one year! I will call this event, and other discussions growing out of it, “41605”.
The second event was similar, an email from a player, but for reasons that will become clear, I choose to not mention the person’s name here. I will call him “BH” if I refer to him again, and this event will be called “50205”, again for the date when it happened.
Okay, Deshaney’s email mentioned an exploit of the launcher such that a player could change swing styles within the game, so that the game would LOOK like a Champ or Pro round, but would indeed have been played using Amateur or even Easy Swing! The only thing that saved my heart from breaking, I think, was that I survived the first attack by thinking “Surely Dan must be wrong!?” I tested his claims, and he was correct, it could be done. I was aware of so many ways to cheat the system, but this genie, which I had never anticipated, was out of the bottle now, and I had to address it. Now, even a programming solution that will take a long time to implement can still be dreamed up in a few minutes, but this one was a stumper, it took me quite a while to figure out how to beat it. In fact, back in April and May of 2005, I had not yet come up with a good plan for how to start. So I took it to the full staff at the time, and I refused to let the subject die, I insisted that we keep the communication open to all staff. I asked for everyone to confirm the problem for themselves, and see if they could dream up a way to keep it from happening.
Some members of staff thought “It is not a problem”, while others shared some sense of Dan’s, and now my own, concern. One of us discovered that “the swing cheat” could not be done in a RECORDED game. This was the only solution we could find at the time.
At least one member of staff objected strongly to the plan, and we all agreed that it would be a nuisance. One member of staff proposed a brilliant compromise: We could record ONE game per week. If someone were doing “the swing cheat”, then the recorded round should reveal it by having higher scores.
Warren had made a few comments in the early going, but he soon became completely silent (or nearly so). If a message came to me from ANY staff, I forwarded it to ALL staff, forcing everyone to stay in the loop. But Warren was reticent at best.
This process was still going on when I received the 50205 email from BH. (If we have an actual BH, this aint him. And if we have another user named DD, it aint HIM either.) This message presented some very convincing arguments that cheating of several possible types, not limited to the swing cheat, were indeed going on. These arguments involved, among other things, comparisons of scores in event A vs event B where A was the easier event but the player scored actually lower in event B, the more difficult one.
I continued a statistical study of REC scores vs NON-REC scores, but I secretly worried that anyone who had been cheating originally would have stopped the practice in order to defy detection.
The email of 50205 also made accusations about specific individuals, including the opinion that there were some specific foxes guarding the henhouse, offering me as evidence what may have been simply similar rumors and perhaps unfounded accusations from the past. What a terrible mess! Now I began to wonder about the guy who objected so strenuously to the ONE REC PER WEEK strategy that he refused to prepare a round that way, asking me “Who made you king?” You may recall a week in those times that the tournament did not begin all day Monday, with little or no announcement from me as to why not. What happened there was I was answering his question by shooting across his bow. I was showing him who was “king”, and how. I did not pass forward the accusations of 50205, I simply let him imagine the “why” for himself, as I recall, although it is possible that I did explain the reason. I do know that I told him in no uncertain terms that preparing settings files was a privilege that he enjoyed, and I would not allow him to use that service as a lever of control, that I had it in my power to insist that fair play be practiced and I was going to bloody well exercise that power.
I must now undo a false conception that I may have triggered with my remarks: Most of the methods of “cheating” under discussion were not as wicked as the swing-style gimmick. That one is just a plain lie, if anyone ever did it. But regarding restarting the game in a few ways that were undetectable by the old launcher, and excessive resumes which I monitored always but reported never, and downloading the settings file and playing “around” the launcher, none of these gimmicks gave such an extraordinary boost to somebody’s score. I have sat many an hour playing and replaying these games in order to build the new launcher. There is little advantage in most of them, and I do not blame a person one iota for exploiting them, and here is why: If DD is playing vs BH, and BH is normally a square shooter, beyond reproach…BH realizes that he has no way of knowing whether DD is gimmicking or not, and in the same moment realizes nobody will (likely) know whether he, BH himself, is gimmicking. For his own protection, he is obligated to do the gimmick, too.
This is how I viewed the situation in the spring of 2005, and my decision was to get busy on a new launcher that would plug all the leaks, and assure everyone of fair play. Because of the accusations that had been made against staff, I could not include them in all the details of the launcher plan. But I wanted some sunshine on the plan, so I chose a committee of four members of a proposed beta team who would test the new launcher and help me iron out the wrinkles before releasing it. You must understand, I am not suggesting that any of the staff members did any cheating. I had to preclude them because of the accusations, because there was a THEORETICAL possibility that their presence in any kind of security project might taint the project. Also, none of the four committee members can be judged innocent of cheating themselves, NOBODY CAN, because the launcher did not provide enough information to be certain. But I did choose a team such that three of them were guys I trusted to play fairly if it meant losing, and one of them was the kind of rogue who knew every trick in the book. I trusted him to pick my pocket yet be man enough to grin at me and tell me he did it, and I told him so. Three members of the team had emailed me about fairness concerns, and asked me to please provide a better security system. While all four were users I personally admired, it was not a requirement that they especially care for me, in fact one of them plainly and overtly DISliked me, and his presence was especially important to the integrity of the committee. I knew I could rely on each of them, should the need ever arise, to back up my story, if I should ever have to tell it like this. Now, they will not necessarily agree with my account of things, I certainly never shared with them anywhere near the kind of information I present to you now, but they will be able to confirm their own perspective on the events I now describe. As I said to any and all who contacted me privately with concerns about fairness or cheating or security, “Until I have built a better system, I would prefer that you refrain from any public discussions about these subjects, because the discussion itself presents an additional security risk.” Well, that discussion need not be postponed any longer, because the new launcher is VERY secure, and that’s a hard-won objective that I will not give up for anything.
I continued developing the new software with the mindset I have described, and my intention was still focused on continuing the same partnership and relationship to all of TGC staff, because there was no actual proof of anyone having cheated. I simply had to gain the ability to recognize whether anybody was cheating or not, to know it with certainty either way.
It was only when Deshaney’s Challenge was countered by Peters’ Political Pronouncement, that is this message:
From: Warren Peters
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2005 08:59:50 -0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
Just now saw our Front Page. I don't like that "Deshaney's Challenge" thingy on the front page of out site. We are not in any way shape or form a "political" site.
Would appreciate it very much if you would remove it.
It was only when I received this message that I changed course, but the change was immediate and certain. This message is dated December 12, 2005. Two weeks later, I would realized what my life’s mission truly is, and wrote for my family the manifesto that is reproduced elsewhere in this document, about the awakening. Just ten days after the Political Pronouncement, I bowed out of my original partnership with Warren, and established a new agreement. And there were other developments in the intervening 10 days. I mentioned earlier that Warren’s responsibilities included financial management of the enterprise. He took care of the PayPal account, and the web hosting service, and subscription renewals and reminders, all that stuff. He did all that stuff, my only involvement was to approve of expenditures. Warren behavior was exemplary in this regard, that he always informed me of revenue and expenses, he never spent a dime without confirmation from me. There was some discord there, a difference in our philosophies that we both discovered as time progressed. My own preference was to not spend a dime unless it was absolutely necessary, our initial revenue had been enough to run the system for THREE YEARS and I did not want to shorten our guaranteed time to survive by making unnecessary expenditures. Perhaps it is because in our original agreement I had promised to guarantee all expenses for the system, that is, if revenues did not meet expenses, I would make up the difference. I had assumed this responsibility because Warren was not certain about partnering with me. John LeDell had again come forward with an expressed desire to “bail out Golfcom again.” My perception was that, if LeDell was so good at bailing out Golfcom, how come it was once again a sinking ship? I wanted to break that cycle, so I assured Warren that we could do it without LeDell’s money.
You should know that I did not like the idea of trophies, but I did not veto it nor speak strenuously against it, because this was a matter within Warren’s purview. I was intransigent (stubborn to the bone) on certain technical matters that were within my own purview, and I felt it fair and productive to try to stay out of Warren’s way as well. Again, equal partnerships can easily become completely ineffective if the partners keep vetoing each other’s ideas.
From time to time my own desire to save money conflicted with Warren’s desire to spend. Once, he wanted to get a corporate credit card. In fact, I believe he did get one, and ask me did I want a copy of it? I saw every reason to stay on a cash basis. This monster appeared in its worst form yet in late 2005 when we discussed disbursing gifts to staff members, including ourselves, or each other. I approved of Warren’s proposal, I believe I asked for one amendment right out the gate regarding a particular Director who did more work than the others, I thought he should receive more. Warren proposed a different set of figures at least once, and I again rubber stamped the request. He sent me a check for my year-end gift, and I went to send him a check. I discovered that we did not have the funds to pay Warren’s check! I was dumbfounded, I was so embarrassed for not having taken a greater interest in monitoring and appraising his requests. I asked him how he had come up with the amounts to give as gifts when we did not even have the funds on hand. He told me that with the new year rolling around, a bunch of renewals would be due, and he could take his cut at that time. This practice was totally objectionable to me, and I responded by writing Warren a check for half the amount he had sent me, along with the suggestion that this would be it, half of what we had proposed would have to be it, because for pity’s sake, you don’t borrow from next year’s revenue to reward last year’s performance, obviously you are over-rewarding if the funds are not even there!
And that is part of the context in which I received Warren’s email in which he TOLD me what kind of service TGC is and is not, as if it is within his sole purview to mandate. That is why I was able to fire back immediately that it was time for us to part ways, because all of my tolerance for Warren’s initiative and empowerment, any spirit of compromise I had exercised in accepting Warren’s wishes whenever possible, was not being repaid in kind.
And even then, I still was committed to:
1) Don’t screw the members.
2) Don’t screw Warren.
And in fact my plan of “separate but co-existent”, with me providing technical services for both systems, competing with myself almost, might never have been implemented. The launcher was stalled on the brink of completion. You will note that I had made no forward progress for 3-4 weeks, and yet I was able to ship the laucher within less than 24 hours of when the absolute necessity arose. You will also notice that the web board had been created on the first of the year, but had not received any further development from that time until April 9. On Masters Sunday, arguably the most important day of the year, TGC was offline. Warren was unaware of it until I told him about it, so small was his passion for the system. I knew it in the wee hours of the morning, I was up to work on the launcher, in the hopes of rolling it out after the Masters was over in what would probably be a somewhat anti-climactic week. Well, I used the GolfCabal system to continue development, and I emailed all members, including Warren, so that everybody would have a means of staying connected and being updated with news. Well, the news turned out to be horrible, a most devastating blow. TGC’s hosting contract had expired, and the explanation offered was “I thought the renewal was automatic” (my own experience is that service providers are quite aggressive in providing notice of impending expirations) and Warren’s personal response, in which he communicated his remorse was “My bad.” To explain to you how that response rang on my ears, please contrast it to the explanation I now have provided you, granted after being pressed to do so. Let this narrative of mine demonstrate to you what I believe is an appropriate response level to a situation so extreme, to a lapse of passion, a lack of concern for the community, a lack of attention to detail and accuracy that I was long since familiar with, that had led in the past to numerous errors where Warren’s stitch in time could have saved my nine. I mentioned these lapses to nobody, because they were my burden to bear in pursuit of the one goal, Preserve the community. But when these lapses ganged up together to cause the BIG LAPSE, the actual lapse of our hosting contract, I began to realize that my sense of being politely silent about Warren’s frequent errors and crapshoot editing of the small number of critical system files he brokered to me weekly, apparently with that work being done not by him but by others….and it’s telling, I recall when I used to report Warren’s errors back to him, at times he would copy me and point the finger at the person who made the mistake…one time in particular I recall that he pointed the finger then realized that he himself had made the mistake he felt obliged to point out to the imagined producer in front of me to witness. Of course, when he learned of his mistake, he admitted it. “My bad.”
These are the matters that had me working non-stop from the wee hours of Sunday morning until late evening of Monday, approaching 48 hours without sleep in order to honor my commitment. These are the matters you might never have heard about, except that some of you have suspected that I was doing a hostile takeover of something that belonged to Warren. Warren so casually could tell me “I want to have 3-Club and Stableford”, and check periodically to see what my progress was. His requests to have two-week events along with one-week events were never extinguished by my telling him the difficulties involved, and my expressing serious doubts about the rationale he offered, that people did not have time to finish all the events in one week. My own observations were to the contrary, and I saw almost no demand for it from the community. I believed that, whether consciously or not, Warren’s driving vision was to make TGC just like Golfcom, copying even its worst elements. Have you seen the way the new leaderboards show you the Course ID and Course Key for the designated courses? I was asking for that same feature years ago on Golfcom, from both John Parsons and Todd Stewart. At the inception of TGC, I already had a plan for doing the job, and when Warren asked me one day what he could do to help, I provided him with a format for gathering course information. I never received the information, nor one clue that Warren had any intention of cooperating in the request. Upon my repeating the request, he sent me a spreadsheet of course information that had been prepared for use at Golfcom before Warren became involved in operations there. “Here’s the course information file that Todd made. Can you use it?”
That’s the same philosophy that is the foundation and fabric of everything that Warren produced for the TGC site. Imitation, derivation, “appropriation”. Did you ever wonder why, in order to get course information on Golfcom, you had to click the CONTESTS link? Who in G-d’s green earth would ever look at the home page links on Golfcom (or TGC, you pick) in search of course information, and decide “Oh, course information would be under the CONTESTS links, sure.” My plan for a better way of providing course information involved programming, database construction, and entering data into a spreadsheet. Warren offered to help, so I offered him a part of the task that I knew he was capable of, but he opted instead to simply appropriate the fruits of somebody else’s labor. In recent weeks, Stuart Littler expressed willingness to help with my endeavor, but warned that he had limited time to devote, what with his full time job and his fully-pregnant wife and finally his full-term newborn. Still, he succeeded in developing a catalog of Links courses according to the specs of my design, and it is to Stuart’s initiative that we owe the presence of this valuable information on the new leaderboards. I should also mention that part of the design spec is that the course info be displayed one course at a time, so as to accommodate the needs of players while confounding the ability of anyone to appropriate the fruits of our labor. This is a necessary measure given my growing desire to test my business model (long-tail, low margin, high traffic, intense commitment, big games, lots of competition, well-deserved pride of accomplishment that can be assured only if fair play is guaranteed) against Warren’s business model (milk the cash cow, do as little as possible for the smallest number of users and continue giving consideration to the dwindling number who remain in preference over the many who have left, with no imagination or vision for kindling and fueling new interest, no creativity beyond copying a system that was moderately but questionably successful, with no scruples about appropriating the work product of others to his own use), on a playing field that I would level by continuing to provide to Warren the same services I would now be competing against. If it sounds foolish, please understand that part of my thinking was that Warren’s plan might be superior. I did not want to impact Warren’s ability to carry on his enterprise in the ways he saw fit, simply because I wanted to try a different way.
And so it was that when TGC went down on April 9, Masters Sunday, and I stepped into the breach like “The show must go on!”…that when Warren reported “TGC is back up”, I was not motivated at that moment to spend another 48 hours undoing the changes I had made. And I posed the question to myself “What would motivate to move backwards?” I even wondered during a large part of Sunday evening, after Warren had revealed the lapsed hosting contract, that perhaps he was tired of it and just wanted out. All the signs were there, the lack of initiative, the apathy, the complete unawareness of the most basic requirement that to run a web site, YOU HAVE TO HAVE A HOSTING SERVICE! It was altogether credible that Warren had decided to pack it in, very little change would be necessary, he would simply have to stop saying “My bad”.
I hope those of your who believed that I was stealing something from Warren have a clearer picture of the true situation now. I hope in fact that your clarification came early in this document and you did not read nearly this far into my narrative. But if you did read this far, and you still believe that somehow I am doing Warren wrong by not passing over to him what is indeed my own, I invite you to explain to me why Warren should be compensated for work that I myself perform. I will give you a fair listen, and I will consider sending Warren some money when you subscribe for access to the service that I provide. If you want to play a little golf at my expense, I’ll consider sending Warren a little money. If you want to play a lot of golf, maybe you think I should send Warren a lot of money?
I want to answer one more question that some of your may be inclined to ask, by showing you a copy of how I answered the question for Warren. He had asked if he could run the OLD launcher and leaderboard system on TGC while I run the new system on GolfCabal. The answer to this question was dyed in the wool, settled in the very first stroke of the design pen of the new launcher: The structure of the new system had to, by design, prevent the use of the OLD launcher, otherwise some people would be playing the game according the new enforcement of fairness, and others would be using the old launcher version they still possess. Nothing would be changed, my efforts would be wasted. Here is the reply I gave to Warren:
I dont have your message at hand, but you asked about the possibility of running the old launcher.
Even if I were inclined to do so, I could not. The two launchers cannot co-exist. More importantly, the old launcher allowed too many forms of shenanigan and chicanery. It was acceptable in the past only because we didnt have anything better, but I have not spent hundreds of hours building the new launcher just to offer fair play as one option among several.
And finally, let me close by saying that I hope that all of you, even Warren, will feel comfortable playing at GolfCabal. You do not have to like me, you do not have to agree with me, and you don’t have to talk with me on the web board, even though that is the thing that I want most. But if you’re going to play golf under the system that I have developed and supported in these two years, the system you have known as TGC, you will be using my system, not only because I own it, but more importantly because Warren would not be capable of running it himself if I gave it to him in a basket.
I did not prefer to make these comments, but if I do a thing at all, I must be whole-hearted in it. I could have sat forever quiet and never breathed a word of these observations to anybody, in the name of being polite, but it is not in me to do a halfway job with anything as important as I believe this enterprise to be. Once I pulled down the chute, you were destined to get the whole nine yards.
Peace to you all, those who choose to patronize GolfCabal and the system that I have created, and those who choose to instead patronize TGC and the system that Warren has created. I assure you that everything that you find on GolfCabal is the fruit of my labor at this point, with Stuart Littler’s help, and a fledgling but exciting blog produced by Tucker Wolfe. I further assure you that I have taken nothing away from TGC, not anything that Warren produced or appropriated, and in fact everything that I myself produced was still right there when I left it. I have not connected to that server for file access since the web host came back on line, neither have I as much as logged onto the site as a user, but when Warren asked me how to display the leaderboards, I willingly supplied him with both the direct link to GolfCabal, and a redirect link that resides on TGC. If he has placed either of those links on his site, it is with my provisional consent, but I will not further facilitate his doing so.
As I suggested in the beginning, I do not like to engage in this kind of gossip and revelation, and when I put the period at the end of this sentence, I hope this book is closed for a long time. Let’s all move forward.
LONG AND STRAIGHT!
4-15-2006 12:34pm EDT