This essay is really a rant about some recent developments in the on-line Poser community. I normally prefer to keep quiet if I see a problem but can't propose a solution (the legacy of a long career in engineering). In this case I think it might be better to get it off my chest, so to speak.
Hanlon's Razor is a useful rule of thumb to bear in mind while roaming the Internet. You've probably heard it somewhere already; although the wording varies, the gist of it is the same.“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
In other words, other people may do weird stuff, but it doesn't usually mean they're out to get you. They're more likely to be totally clueless. Bear in mind also that your own carefully considered, rational actions will undoubtedly appear to be weird to someone else.
As has been recorded elsewhere
, Poser was originally devised to be a computer based replacement for the artist's lay figure: a wooden mannequin which can be posed by hand to serve as a reference for drawing when a human model is not available / not willing to put up with your bullshit / would be likely to call the cops. (Delete where not applicable.)
Poser uses an assortment of linked files to define the objects and actions in its library, and the scenes you can build with those library items. None of those files are in a protected format; all of them can be edited by anybody, with a free application if you choose. Some are simple text; like a programming language or script, they can be edited by any text editor, if you understand how the contents are interpreted by the program. Image files can be created and edited by a wide range of applications, and the 3D models are in Wavefront OBJ format which is virtually an industry standard by now. As a result, although skill is of course required, it's quite feasible to make new things. There's no need to break into, rip or unlock anything. This is the reason that the Poser add-on market has grown so large, considering that the program was not designed to support user generated add-ons.
Remember that several features which we now take for granted, such as posable clothing, transparency mapped hair, ERC and MAT poses were all devised by the community of users. The vendors, and the stores that broker their creations, owe their existence to the community. Without those accessible file formats, and those enthusiastic early file hackers, there would be no market. DAZ Studio, on the other hand, was designed from the outset to promote a closed marketplace. That much was clear from the moment it was released for free; and now it has encrypted content that's impossible to hack (in either sense of the word). Creating content for DAZ Studio is relatively simple, from what I hear; and most of this creation is now aimed at supporting figures that are very difficult to use in Poser.
I may return to the subject of DAZ and RDNA in another essay, but for now let's focus on Renderosity. They weren't the first on-line Poser community, but they were the most successful. I say "were". Once upon a time Renderosity was the go-to place to search for a free item that you wanted, or to get your question in front of the maximum number of eyes in the forum. That's no longer the case.
For some years Renderosity has indulged in an unfortunate habit that the community has come to call the "annual barbecue and foot-shoot". Like a barbecue, the foot-shoot usually takes place in summer, but invariably results in howls of protest from the members even though it's the hosts that have been using their feet for target practice. Unless they're centipedes, you'd think they must have run out of feet to shoot by now.
I can cope with an occasional site redesign, provided any bugs that result are squashed promptly, but the first of these foot-shoots that directly affected me was in 2009 when the freestuff section moved to on-site hosting. Previously, anyone who wanted to offer a freebie download had to sort out their own hosting for it. If the creator was short of money, the solution was usually a flaky free website, festooned with ads and prone to falling offline at regular intervals. On-site hosting is a positive development, for sure; but as is so often the case, Renderosity's implementation of it was frustrating in that it gave with one hand and took away with the other. They made on-site hosting compulsory for any new freestuff: you could no longer post a link to your own site in the freestuff section, although you could still do so in the freestuff forum.
As a further example of the two-edged sword, Renderosity also used this as an opportunity to serve advertisements to downloaders. I fully accept that they would need to fund the hosting for these freebies, and I also see why they would want to step up their advertising efforts - see later on for more on that subject. But originally, the ads were completely random. Some vendors who had posted freebies found that people who downloaded them were being served ads for competitor's products! That at least was fixed, but the advertising is still intrusive and untargeted. One frustrating aspect is that if you post a freebie add-on for a Renderosity vendor's product, there is no way to request that that product should be included in the ads that a downloader sees. You can only include a link - in text form, so that it has to be copied and pasted - in the freebie description page, which I suspect many downloaders never read.
Along with many others, I objected to this. Many years ago I set up my own site
funded wholly out of my own pocket, which mainly hosts downloads and tutorials. Some of these are made by myself, some are made by other people and hosted by me because their original home was gone. Often the creators of those hosted items have given me permission to store their stuff at Morphography, but not to plaster it all over the Internet. I couldn't upload it to Renderosity even if I wanted to, and I don't. I want people to visit my site, and benefit from the other useful things I have. Quite often, my own items have add-on textures etc. made by other generous members of the community, and I wanted people to see those too. Sometimes there are tips on how best to use the item in question, if it is something unusual or complex. I see little point in offering something novel if nobody can use it correctly.
Myself and Adam Thwaites
posted a petition
at Renderosity which gained many signatories. The last was on Christmas day 2015, making it one of the longest-running threads on the site, after which it was finally locked. No reason for locking was given; the thread had been remarkably well-behaved. Significantly I think, many of those who agreed with us had never posted in the forums before, despite being members for years. This was the first issue over which they'd felt compelled to de-lurk. Needless to say, the freestuff section stayed as it was. Renderosity's long history also includes a stubborn unwillingness to listen to its members, or even be consistent in the reasons it gives for not listening.
Then they started redesigning the forums and other parts of the site, ostensibly to be more usable on mobile devices such as phones and tablets. Never mind that Poser itself doesn't run on a phone or a tablet, although I will concede that it may be convenient to post a question in the forums using one. Many graphics machines are not connected to the Internet for security reasons. Never mind that sites such as Facebook and deviantArt run perfectly fine on both desktop computers and mobile devices. At sites such as these, when you log in to check your messages, you don't have to scroll through several screens' worth of
before you reach the interesting stuff. See how annoying that was?
Note also one detail that I mentioned in passing; at both Facebook and deviantArt, you have to go to the site to see if anyone has left you a message, or if something has happened that you might be interested in. This is good practice from their point of view, because it means you get to see their advertising more often.
Renderosity, on the other hand, has always had the standard forum behaviour: when you post a thread, reply to one, or simply decide to follow what everyone else has to say, you can opt to be sent an e-mail alert (an 'ebot') when someone replies. The ebots always were a little flaky; there would be jokes about them taking a vacation sometimes. But some time in the past year, ebots got more seriously broken. You still got one the first time someone replied in a thread; but after you'd read the reply, if you silently went away and waited for someone more sensible to answer (just as an example!), you would never get another ebot. The icon on the forum showed you were subscribed to the thread, but to borrow one of my favourite Douglas Adams sayings, "this must be some new usage of the word 'subscribed' that I wasn't previously aware of".
If you look at Renderosity's headquarters on Google Street View
, you'll see that it says Bondware Web Solutions over the door. That's right, Renderosity is run by a web technology company. There should be no shortage of web developers behind those doors, you would think. And yet, a year has gone by and a fault that every other forum software on the planet has already addressed is not fixed. It's been complained about endlessly; members have threatened to leave if the problem isn't fixed, and many have done so; detailed analyses of the symptoms have been posted. If Renderosity took a stranger off the street, trained him or her from scratch how to code for the web, and they only worked one day a week, there would still have been plenty of time to fix this bug.
If they had done something controversial in the interests of making more money, I could understand that, even though I might not support it. But I don't see how breaking the community features of the site will help to make them more money. Reason suggests that they understand the benefits of community - promote plenty of traffic to the site through forums, tutorials, galleries and freestuff, and some of those visitors will check out the store, and some of them will buy something. If you need to make more money, and all indications are that times are hard in the 3D hobbyist market, then you have two ways to do that. First, you can try to persuade a higher proportion of your existing visitors to spend money, through special offers and more effective advertising. In fact, the special offers have become somewhat muted recently; coupons no longer tend to apply to sales items as they did in the past, and some vendors can apparently opt not to accept them. Secondly, you can try to entice more visitors to your site. Renderosity has a lot of competition nowadays from other sites of varying size. Dissuading freestuff providers from using the site, and making the forums less attractive, is hardly the way to improve matters.
A recent announcement stated that off-site links were no longer allowed. There were several different reasons given for this, none of which really stand up to rational examination. In other words, the edict was handed down from on high, and the staff appear not to have been given guidance on what to do about it. Given that it outlaws the contents of years' worth of old forum posts and freestuff submissions, it's hard to see how it could be retrospectively implemented without editing tens or hundreds of thousands of old links. On the other hand, if these old links are not edited, then their perceived 'dangers' still apply, surely?
Many providers have said that they won't post any more freestuff there, and some (myself included) have removed their existing offerings. Many people (myself included) no longer post questions in the forums, or answer them; because if the ebots aren't working, there's no guarantee that anyone will see the answers. Posting in a forum can be an exercise in futility even at the best of times. Threads go off-topic or are disrupted by trolls, or people simply misunderstand each other and the topic circles around the answer like water round a plug hole. Now, on this ramshackle excuse for a forum, it's guaranteed to be an exercise in futility every time.
Neither malice nor incompetence seems to adequately explain the situation. If it's malice - and Hanlon's Razor suggests it probably isn't - then it's incredibly incompetently implemented. If it's incompetence, then the company's dogged insistence on ignoring the problem while telling members that 'the guys are on it' looks sufficiently indistinguishable from malice despite what Robert Hanlon would advise.
You may consider this essay to be just whining. Renderosity can do what they like; it's their site, right? They don't owe me anything. Maybe not, but I do have an affiliate link on my site. I'm driving traffic towards them (I know I am, because I get paid a percentage of sales for it), so it's galling to be told that they won't send me any traffic in return. On a more selfish note, Renderosity used to be a useful resource for me and now it isn't. Another thing that's been broken during the redesign is that attachments to old threads, which may have contained tutorial images or a small download, no longer function. Somehow, the forum structure has changed so that many of the links I'd saved to informative threads no longer work. The freestuff section can no longer be relied upon to house that thing I'm looking for. Yes, I think I have some justification for being disappointed in what's happened there. Whether it's caused by malice or stupidity hardly matters.