My awareness of DeviantArt goes back to around 2003, or possibly 2004... I don't remember exactly. What I know is that I was aware of the site's existence many years before I became a member. DA left a very specific impression on me back then. It felt like a place on the web that was different from the gaudily commercial sites that polluted the web then and now. It was a place that was all about a specific interest... unconcerned with anything so base as a desire to garner profit. It's purpose was to tell viewers and members that art was good. And that an appreciation of art, in any form, was good. It both saluted and supported that which was different. It celebrated the unparalleled, unending diversity of expression that is the very soul of the genius which is the human experience.
I was captivated by the site. At first purely as a voyeur. For several years, I only came to the site and stared, agape, at the vast and ever growing collection of ideas. Later, as a full member, I gladly became a part of the growing community, adding to the collection my small, personal and unique contribution. DA has always allowed all forms of art to be put on display. It has never judged any offering, no matter how simplistic, juvenile or amateurish, according to any measure of what any defined entity might deem unworthy.
Some entries have been censored over the years it is true; those that are vulgar only for the sake of vulgarity... those that have a hidden and disingenuous purpose... those that incite fear or bigotry, or inspire hatred. Then, as now, the criteria by which censorship has been applied was informal... so much so that it seemed ill defined, and at times, arbitrary. Looking back, I now realize that even this was just another aspect of what made the site special and unique.
Taken as a whole, DeviantArt was attractive because of it's informal, yet singular purpose. Because of it's egalitarianism... it's simple desire to provide a forum for any and all to express their individual creativity, and thereby, there individualism.
That has changed.
Somewhere along the line, someone, or some ones, having the power to make decisions regarding the course of this site and to garner profit from it, became aware that the shear number of members and visitors created an irr4esistable opportunity for financial reward. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. I am not speaking now in an attempt to shame the owners of this site for desiring to make an honest buck. I am a citizen of a capitalistic society. I not only support the owner's right to make a profit, I admire, for the most part, what they have accomplished here, in so far as their having grown the site from nothing to it's present form and scope.
I honestly believe, however, that DA is doomed. It will not last. That the site has become increasingly concerned with generating income for it's owners is merely a symptom of the disease which will kill DA.
The problem is that the same lack of concern for structure that in the early days helped to define the charm of the site is now the source of all it's woes. As profits soar, and the money rolls, the owners do not seem to notice, or be concerned by the fact that the site is rapidly and drastically changing in ways that are extremely distasteful to what I believe is a large portion of it's membership.
As the site grows, it also draws the attention of less scrupulous and less desirable members of the online community. Among them; hackers... those willing to resort to underhanded means to make a profit... those interested in causing chaos on the site for malicious reasons... and many, many others. I find it remarkable that a site that once concerned itself almost solely with encouraging creativity in all forms is now the vicitim of the creativity of those with less than honorable intentions and motives. You can almost judge the popularity of a given site by the nature of the attacks it garners, and the level of abuse it suffers. Facebook, MySpace... such examples of this are legion.
But even that is not what threatens DA. If the owners took the right approach to dealing with these issues, they (the attacks) could not, of themselves, bring about the destruction of the site. The real problem is that the owners seem to be interested only in protecting their ability to reap financial gain. When they make an effort to fight back against abuse, they do so in a way which does not feel as if it is in order to protect the original ideals upon which the site was founded. Rather it seems that the only reason any negative activity is even acknowledged by the site's owners is if it impinges on their ability to continue to exploit the site for profit.
This is why their responses seem so insincere when they make an announcement about how they are handling a problem. That is why they don't care about things like Page view merchants. As long as the bulk of members remain more or less silent about how they feel about such things, the administrators ignore them. As long as membership remains high, things which attack the very heart of the site, according to the views of more and more members, receive no consideration or attention.
Much has been said about page views, by many members, over the years. The general consensus is that page views have no real meaning. I agree. But, what strikes me as far more relevant is the fact THEY COULD BE HIGHLY RELEVANT. The information could be both meaningful and useful to the members. It is by the decision of the administrators that this is not so. It is also obviously true that they are under no obligation to make it so. But, the decision having been made as it was, one has to then wonder: why bother to show page views at all? Going further, the behind the scenes data that a member can get on the activity of their page and gallery has only limited value.
If only a partial, or token effort was going to be made to offer members statistical data on their pages and gallery, why offer the information at all?
Yet, there sit page views, front and center, on every front page of every gallery on the site. As meaningless as the statistic is, it is none-the-less unavoidable. And now that the phenomenon of page view merchants has become so pervasive, it is also unavoidably disgusting. Better that it remain simply moot. Instead, it now is a scar... a blemish that cannot be removed, on the front page of every member.
I describe this aspect of the site's ailments because it is one nearly every member is aware of, and one that all can easily consider and understand. But, again; the problem is not the poor way that the page view statistic functions, or page view merchants themselves. The problem is the attitude of the site administrators to these phenomena.
Ask yourself; why is it so, that a person who creates a membership simply to advertise the fact that he is a page view merchant gets permanently banned, but a group page, controlled by the very same person, which is solely devoted to advertising page views for sale is left completely alone? On this very same group page, the group administrators blatantly remonstrate those who are complaining to stop wasting their time. They (the page view merchants) openly state that the DA site administrators do not care, and will not take action of any kind against page view merchants.
Why do the site administrators uniformly ignore the torrent of complaints about page view merchants and their practices, even going so far as to openly admit they do so simply because they absolutely do not care?
What exactly, DO they care about? What is the reason that DA exists?
More importantly, what is different about the reason for DA's existence now, from the reasons it was created in the first place?
For any artist even remotely concerned with how their work is perceived by a larger audience, statistical data about who is coming to their page and gallery, and what those people are doing while they are there, would be EXTREMELY valuable. This is true for both professionals and amateurs. It is true of anyone who even marginally cares about how their work is being received. It is not difficult to make an argument that the delivery of this date, and the structure and form in which it is delivered, ought to be a far more important aspect of the experience a member gets here at DA. Regardless of how you feel about page views, it is undeniable that the way this aspect of the site is treated by the site administrators is a remarkable way to gain insight into what really matters to them as far the site is concerned.
DA is sick. If left as is, it will soon begin to lose members in a significant way. If left as is for long enough, the flow of those abandoning the site will become an exodus. Through it all, what will determine the future of the site is not whether or not the administrators respond to the problem, but HOW... and even more importantly; WHY... they respond. If they do so in the same callous, shallow, "profits above all" way they have dealt with various issues in the last year, I believe they will be signing the death certificate of the site.
It may not come to pass that membership drops to the point that the site is closed... more likely is that what actually dies is the original identity of the site. Everything that made DA special when it was first formed... everything that caused it to become wildly popular in the first place, is under attack... by the very people responsible for deciding the future course of the site.
Left as is, DA will continue to morph into something that is becoming ever more unrecognizable by a vast portion of it's members. Members who I believe, like myself, are beginning to seriously question whether or not the cost of a membership, or even the effort required to maintain a presence on this site, is worth it.
So, although it may not to come to pass that the site itself dies... the soul of DeviantArt... that which made it what it was in it's early years... everything that, in this member's humble opinion made the site so very special... WILL DIE.
Long before that happens, I will be gone. Many others will go too. A significant part of the community that helps to define the heart and soul of what makes DA special will leave and go elsewhere, in search of a forum that both allows and encourages them to concern themselves with all those things which once constituted the very best of what Deviant Art is, and what it should continue to be.
When that happens, DA will be no more.
What will remain will be just another site to be avoided by any intelligent person with the ability to involve themselves in an institution at a level deeper than that of the most shallow conformer.
Fan whores will still come here.
Children, and the desperately immature... those with no clearly defined sense of aesthetic or philosophical relevance... will still come here.
Lemmings will still come here.
Likely in droves... perhaps even to the extent that the money tree this site has become for it's owners does not whither.
I won't know, though.
And if things continue as they are, neither will I care.