This is kind of a ridiculous story and I'm a bit embarrassed to even have to tell it, but it's going to inconvenience every user of this site, so I should explain why everyone needs to update their bookmarks.

Last weekend, I got an e-mail that my permission to manage the altopedia.org domain had been revoked. This was unwelcome news, since controlling the domain means controlling whether or not people can access the site. I'd liken it to having control over someone's phone number. If someone can make or receive phone calls at your number, you can imagine how that could turn out badly.

The “domain name” for a site is the address you type into your browser to access any given web site. The true address for the site is actually 4 numbers like “172.217.24.132.” When you start a web site, you go through something called the DNS system to tell the world that your web site should also be able to be accessed by a more convenient address (a "domain") that people will actually be able to remember. (in this example, that series of numbers corresponds to “google.com”)

In what feels like a long time ago now, I co-managed ALTopedia with Al, the last administrator of Englipedia. He owned the altopedia.org domain but let me manage it through his hosting provider so I could hook everything up and make the domain point to this web site. We did this through me creating an account there and him giving my account permission to manage things. There were never any problems, but when Al stepped down as the co-manager, he passed the domain ownership to someone else. I thought it was a company that supported the site and wanted to invest in it, but as I came to discover recently, that deal didn’t go through and it was instead given to the person who manages ALT Training Online. This appears to have happened around April or May.

Al had hooked up with ALT Training Online before I ever got involved with ALTopedia. The two sites were supposed to be sister sites, but to be honest, I was never really much of a fan of their site. The content seemed like it was aimed at a grad school audience instead of being practical advice for new ALTs. I probably should have been more forthcoming with my criticism early on, but I was busy enough as the only coder and effectively the sole administrator of ALTopedia for the last two years. None of the folks on their side seemed to use ALTopedia much. Their manager made an account here, but he hasn't logged into it for about a year now.

This year, they re-did their site and were really insistent that I not only link it, but do a lot of deep linking all over the site by linking ALTopedia tags to whatever similar pages they had. This would have been a lot of extra work for me, so I looked back at the Google Analytics data to see how much traffic they sent the site. It was almost nothing - sites like ALT Insider or Tofugu send ALTopedia dozens of times more visitors than ALTTO ever did. About two weeks ago, I told them that I thought it would be better if the sites functioned independently. I was running ALTopedia by myself, and had spent quite a lot of my own money hosting the site. I didn't see the benefit of maintaining the sister site relationship. There wasn't any upside for me and it would just be a lot of free work.

They didn't take it well. I realize now that they seemed to think that ALTopedia was subordinate to them and I was just the caretaker. I did a little legwork and found out that they had taken over the domain without telling me.

This morning, I woke up to discover that altopedia.org doesn't work anymore. I think that ALTTO thought that this would effectively kill the site and force me to the bargaining table. Maybe they thought it would be better to erase the site if they couldn't control it.

I think it's worth reflecting on what it would have meant to shut down the site. Hundreds of people have signed up for ALTopedia, and still greater numbers of unregistered visitors visit every day. Most importantly, there's been an enormous amount of user contributions. You kind folks have gone out of your way to share your activities that you've put hard work into creating, and left a great number of supportive comments for each other. If this were just Jake's ALT Game Supersite then I think I could let it slip away without too much regret, but I feel a responsibility to preserve everyone's contributions. You didn't put them up here just to see some vindictive third party take them all down.

Fortunately, I had a plan in place. As soon as this trouble started, I bought the altopedia.net domain. I've always had sole control of the most important parts of the site - the web server and the database. The database is the heart of the site, where all the activities reside, and you're still accessing the same site through a different web address. You might have to log in again since your login cookie was probably tied to the .org site.

In the short term, this is going to lead to reduced traffic and activity on the site. A lot of people who don't follow the site closely aren't going to know that the address changed. Google and other search engines know about the new address, but it will take as long as several months for all of the search listings to automatically update. I'm going to have to disable new user registrations for a little bit because the e-mail system ran through the .org domain and I can't manage its settings any more. (later edit: I got the e-mail system working again, so you can sign up or reset your password just like before.) I don't know how ALTTO is going to frame this whole mess, but I have to prepare for any other form of retaliation that may come.

I'm also hopeful because I now clearly, unambiguously own every piece of the site. I can come right out and say that there's not going to be any advertising on ALTopedia, because I think advertising creates bad incentives for web sites and makes the user experience worse. I can make big decisions without having to get consensus from people who are only nominally involved with the site. I can investigate ways to fund the site without anyone else being able to lay claim on whatever funds are raised. For a technical person like me, I can keep all the components of the site under one roof and make sure that they function together smoothly. I'm not without my flaws as an administrator, coder, web designer, or community builder, but I still think that this is a niche that nobody has perfectly filled yet. I'd like to keep trying!

If you have any friends or colleagues who use ALTopedia, please let them know to use the .net address now! I'll talk to everyone soon!