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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » My Side Of The Screen - by Steve Brooks » » In the beginning... (2 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Steve Brooks
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Founder / Manager
Northern California - United States
3754 Posts

Profile of Steve Brooks
On September 7th, 2001 at approximately 7:00pm, I posted a welcome post on the board, and The Magic Café was officially an online entity (we only had nine members back then, and six of those were staff)...four days later 911 took place. The Twin Towers in New York were in ruins and America was forever changed.

That was four years ago! My how the time has flown by.
Well, a lot has transpired since those early days, and it has been a constant learning experience for me to say the very least. Since the terrorist attacks took place, The United States has changed the way its security is handled both here and abroad, and with good reason. Apparently it took a wake-up call for us all to take notice of the events taking place around the globe.

On The Magic Café, things were starting to change as well. You see, in the beginning this site was a kind of experiment of sorts. Sure, there were specific goals in mind, a plan as it were, but nothing was totally concrete.
At the time, I very much had a wait and see kind of attitude about the whole thing. While I certainly wanted the site to become successful, I wasn't about to hold my breath one way or the other. After all, online forums (especially magic ) appear and vanish on the internet quite frequently. With that line of thinking, I basically took things one day at a time. To some extent, I still do.

But wait a minute, I should back up a bit. Many have asked me how The Magic Café actually got up and running, so perhaps I should start at the very beginning.
There is no big story to tell really, it was pretty much done as a spur of the moment type of thing. Well, initially that is. Here, let me try and explain in more detail.

During those pre-Café days, I did not spend much time on the internet. In fact, I preferred to read periodicals such as Magic, Genii, The Linking Ring or MUM to gather any news of the latest happenings in magicdom. Learning new effects meant only a quick trip to my magic library, which definitely houses enough material to last a lifetime, and then some. I would occasionally attend a magic convention, and even then, only once a year.

For the most part, the internet held no big attraction for me. Anything that I might want to know (magic wise) was already within my grasp. What I didn't know, could either be located within the pages of a book, or quickly learned by making a phone call to a friend. Oh, from time to time I might make a trip to the local magic shop (the closest magic shop for me is over a hundred miles away!), but other then that, I pretty much kept a low profile, especially online. Most of the emails I received were spam, and my average session time on the net was maybe fifteen minutes per how times have changed.

Now then, back to the beginning of it all. One night I'm cruising the net and visiting various magic sites. A few dealers (I'm always looking for something special to add to my collection), and before logging off I decided to check out a couple of the more popular online forums. I say popular, because most of the magic forums of the day had very few members, and worse still, displayed postings that were weeks and sometimes months old. Hardly anything to keep my attention, and definately not worth a second visit.

So there I was, lurking at one of the more popular discussion sites, and I noticed something that struck me as being a bit odd. A beginner had made a post and was asking the forum faithful a few innocent questions.
Now keep in mind these were not your usual: "Who was the professor?" type of posts, but honest and legitimate inquiries about the best course of action a neophyte might take (e.g, which books to purchase, where to find props, etc). The poster was extremely polite, very respectful and quite unassuming. After reading the post made by this young man, I began reading the responses (there were many) and fully expected to see the brotherhood of magic coming together in order to aid someone who might well be the next David Copperfield someday. Boy was I in for a rude awakening.

Yes indeed, instead of embracing this young person with open arms, what I read was negativity and mean spirited words from the mouths of those who should really know better. Instead of professionals giving kind advice, and helping the next generation, what I saw was an enormous amount of people attacking and or flaming this young man. This was done in a very cocky, arrogant and Nazi-like manner. Answers posted came in the form of; "Get off this board, this is for magicians only!" or sarcastically, as in; "Can you keep a secret? can I". This was totally uncalled for and ventured into the realm of just plain ludicrous behavior and ridiculous at the very least. Yep, what a great group of magicians those fellas were, but hey, they are working professionals, just ask them. Smile

After being totally disgusted with the whole affair, I felt really bad for this poor victim whose only mistake was to seek out and ask someone in the know. What was this kid thinking? How dare he approach these mighty echelons of the magic community with such unworthy questions. I mean really, the nerve of that boy!

I immediately checked the profile of this young poster and quickly sent him an email. First, I apologized for the ignorance and stupidity of those who viciously attacked him on that magic board. I let him know that the majority of folks in our art are kind and helpful people who are more than willing to help out anyone with a sincere interest in learning the art and practice of magic. I gave him full information on joining the IBM and SAM organizations. I also included a list of books that I felt would be useful in his magical journey. The next day I received a reply from the young persons mother, who conveyed to me her deep appreciation for my help and advice. Apparently, until reading my email, this young man had given up on ever having the opportunity to learn magic.
But hey, I'm sure those working professionals knew what was best for all concerned and no doubt were quite proud of themselves that night...Geez, what a bunch of arrogant idiots. Can you say; "Losers"?

From my point of view, the awful treatment that this young man received may very well have been avoided if the magic forum that this event took place on had been monitored a bit more closely. In addition, other than having a few standard rules (e.g, Behave yourselves, no profanity, etc) that were rarely enforced, the boards on the net were pretty much free territory for any would-be nameless attacker (most boards still are).
In that light, I knew that the only way any online forum could function with any kind of civility would be to have a very clear set of strict rules. Such policies would then need to be enforced from the very start, and that was not going to be an easy task.

For several days I pondered the idea of starting my own online forum, weighing the pros and cons of it all very carefully. If designed and operated properly, one could insure civil and helpful discussions. But then again, a person would also make quite a few enemies from those folks who feel the internet should allow them to behave anyway that they like, and with little are no consequences for their actions. On the other hand, if I were to be a bit more lenient, I might make a few more friends, but would definately lose respect from the majority, who really do not want to deal with trolls and other internet pests.
I finally came to the conclusion that if I wasn't going to make a difference, then why bother at all?. With those thoughts in mind, I decided to take the plunge.

The very next evening I sat down and began to formulate a philosophy and attitude of how my new forum would function, a code of conduct as it were. This would be the very foundation for my new website. You see, I understood from the very beginning that you need a sound foundation when building anything, even a message board.
If you build your new home on sand, sooner or later the waters will wash it away - guaranteed.

Once I had written down the basic laws, I now needed to figure out how this bad boy would function. What would my board look like? What types of bells and whistles would such a site have, if any? Civility is nice and all, but what more could I offer that perhaps the other forums lacked? Further, where would I place it? How much would this new project cost me? So many questions kept popping up and yet I had very few answers. It quickly dawned on me that perhaps this new venture of mine was a bit more complicated then I had first envisioned. But, naturally being a glutton for punishment, I pressed ever forward.

The next step I took was to contact a friend who knew quite a bit more about configuring the proper software for running an internet message board than I did. Sure, I understood the basic concepts, but I already knew we would need to customize the code to fit my purposes, and doing so was technically over my head. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize you sometimes need the assistance of folks who are more qualified in dealing with such matters. Why drive yourself crazy when there are others in the know who can help?

"Always be you because nobody else can" - Steve Brooks
Steve Brooks
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Founder / Manager
Northern California - United States
3754 Posts

Profile of Steve Brooks
Mary B. appeared to be a real sweatheart, and judging from the comments that were made by others, always willing to help folks with any website or internet issues.

My first encounter with Mary was on a non-magic related message board. This was actually a place where folks gathered to help one another with various technical problems incurred while designing their own websites. Her husband
Gene (who was also heavily involved with computers, and dabbled with unique ways of solving software related issues), frequented the same message board, and could also be seen helping out those who were unable to solve certain technical issues on their own. Seperately Mary and Gene were a real blessing to all those in need of help and guidance. Get this pair working together as a team and they become pretty much unbeatable.

There was no doubt in my mind, I knew that Mary and Gene were exactly the type of people who would most likely be able to assist me in my new venture. After all, I had left simple questions on the board in the past, and always received a prompt reply from one or the other, and always the answers they posted were extremely helpful for me and my projects.

However, there were still a few issues left for me to resolve. One of the first being whether or not Mary or Gene would be willing to help me on this new project. Answering a few technical problems for people is one thing, putting together an internet message board is quite another.

Also, there was the fact that while I did indeed frequent the tech board on a regular basis, I did not post very often. In my own mind I felt that perhaps my lack of involvement with that online community might work against me. I mean, why should they help me? Finally, thinking it over I came to the conclusion that at the very worse all they could say is; "No". So, instead of driving myself crazy worrying over whether or not I could get any help, I decided instead to focus my energies on more productive pursuits, such as designing my new website. After all, no use in even asking for any assistance unless I have an idea as to what it is I'm trying to accomplish.

Gambling that I would indeed get some help from Mary or Gene, I began writing down several concepts on how the board would be presented to the magic community.
First impressions can and do make a big difference as to how people perceive any given project, so I knew my presentation had to be a good one. That said, I started working on a theme. You see, I did not want to have just another message board, this one had to be very special, so I felt a unique look and feel was essential if I were to have any kind of real success. Considering the numerous boards which already existed in cyberspace, this was not going to be easy. On the other hand, I didn't imagine it would be impossible either.

From an artistic viewpoint I wanted the new site to be something that was pleasant to look at, yet different enough from existing forums that it would make a lasting impression on all who might pay a visit. I realized right away that custom graphics and colors would definitely play an important role in achieving the desired result, yet I still needed a good theme to frame it all in. With that in mind, I began to compile a small list.

Writing down a dozen or so ideas and concepts that appealed to me at the time, I started thinking about which theme would suit my needs the best. After some serious thought, I dumped many of my initial ideas, and chose instead to only work those that showed any real promise of becoming successful.

"Always be you because nobody else can" - Steve Brooks
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