For the internet watchers out there, especially the movie buffs among you, there is a fascinating argument going on over at movie site aintitcool.com – which perhaps marks the moment when a once subversive, funny and non-conformist site finally found itself at odds with its readership for becoming too successful and therefore mainstream.
The summary of what happens revolves around a Harry Knowles review of the Star Wars animated film The Clone Wars – which was posted and then taken down, prompting talk of a conspiracy.
One of the site's best known writers Moriarty penned an abrasive and, perhaps unwise response to the community's angry reaction explaining that the review had been pulled because it was under embargo, and if they ran it they would find their access to previews of films restricted by the film industry.
Aintitcool, of course, was created by using moles and rumour to get movie news (that was often under embargo) to its readers first.
Keeping 'the man' happy
But times change and what once was a site that fed off of the scraps and flourished, is now growing fat on the movie industry itself – and the threat of the industry removing its seat from the table is now big enough that the site will risk its relationship with its very readership in order to keep 'the man' happy.
Let's get this straight – Moriarty's response is honest and heart-felt and it makes a lot of sense to a site that needs advertisers and access to movies to flourish. But will it survive if it continues to annoy its readership by being seen as more beholden to the industry than their desire for knowledge?
As commenter Cedar-room says in the comments to Moriarty's piece: "The question is now - do you just not give a shit anymore about telling the truth?
"Do you prefer to live inside the studios pockets or is the shit they are threatening you with so damn apocalyptic that posting those reviews just ain't worth it? In all seriousness - the entire credibility of AICN hangs on this very question. So can you please explain?"
No longer a community site?
It's a view that may well represent a large section of the community that has made Aintitcool flourish. And in choosing to follow an embargo, Aintitcool may just have told the fans that it is no longer a site for the community, but a mainstream movie news website just like the press that it has pipped to the post for years by breaking the rules.
Indeed, that very same press have no doubt been frustrated for years that their adherence to the embargos puts them at a distinct disadvantage to the sites that are prepared to potentially cut off their nose to spite their face.
My first job out of university was as one of the original team of a site called planetfootball.com – which made its mark as a football rumour website. To my knowledge, even back when we started we never made up a story – but we would repeat stories that I have no doubt that, for instance, the Italian papers made up to fill their pages.
It was fun, exciting and ultimately successful – the site quickly grew in popularity and was part of the Sports Internet takeover by BSkyB.
For a few brief weeks life carried on as normal, but then we had Sky's legal teams tell us what we couldn't do, our access to football grew and so did our reluctance to risk our newfound contacts and invites by upsetting football clubs.
By the time planetfootball evolved into the football side of skysports.com, it was a very different beast from that fun-loving free-wheeling beginning. Not necessarily worse, but certainly less edgy.
I remember an email sent into the editor somewhere in the period of change that simply said 'planetfootball was my favourite site, but now it's just the same old shit.' I was angry, resentful and scalded by the criticism – but part of that annoyance was because I knew that the person had a point.
The quality was much higher, the site much better to look at, but it just wasn't planetfootball anymore.
It's becoming an internet cycle; small site wins loyal audience by taking risks, becomes mainstream off the back of that success and stops taking those risks that made it big. Look at Perez Hilton – for instance – once an acerbic commentator on celebrity from the outside, he is now a celebrity in his own right.
Is he taking the same risks now he has a lifestyle of his own to jeopardise? I'll let you be the judge.
Aintitcool is and will remain a favourite website of mine, but it has evolved away from what it used to be and, I hate to say it, but although the quality is higher and the writing is more even, it's just not aintitcool any more.
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