Posted by on September 16, 2002 at 09:34 PM CST:
A little over a year ago, a small BIONICLE™ forum started eating up more and more of my time. A few name changes later and much, much bigger, BZPower continues to beguile. I recently interviewed the founder, product reviewer, and Forum Master: Dimensioneer.
Q: What do you do when you are not acting as BZPower Forum Master?
A: Quite a bit, actually. I'm married and have a preschool-age daughter and I enjoy spending as much time as possible with my family, but that time is sometimes hard to come by. My wife and I work opposite schedules; she in the morning and I at night. I work at a local television station where I am the Production Supervisor and Senior Director — which is just a fancy way of saying that I direct live local newscasts and do billing & scheduling for the production department.
Outside of work & family, I collect old radio programs (circa 1940-55), enjoy most all manifestations of science fiction television, am a home theater/DVD buff, and run the local chapter of Starfleet, which is an international Star Trek fan association.
Q: BZPower recently celebrated its first birthday in a big way, merging the BZCommunity forums and the Kanohi-Power news site. Can you give us a little history lesson on the origins of BZPower?
A: Sure. Way, way back in the early days of BZcommunity & Kanohi-Power there was some discussion between Mike and myself about combining the sites, but we instead agreed to continue to do our own things independently but form an affiliation. Hence the "sister-site" arrangement that the two sites had.
As both sites got more and more popular, it was draining us all financially (by all I mean myself, Mike, Rich & Kelly) and we needed to find a more efficient solution. With any website, a certain amount of your traffic is standard overhead for page structure, style sheets, tables, database access, etc. At the same time, our cooperative effort was really blurring to the point that all three Kanohi-Power administration members were regularly on BZcommunity, and I had started contributing news items to Kanohi-Power. The merging made not only financial sense, but logically followed the way we were already sharing duties between the two sites.
The fact that the revelation came just about six weeks prior to BZcommunity's 1-year anniversary was happy coincidence, so we all busted our humps to get the new site ready to launch on that day.
Q: How did you first become interested in BIONICLE™?
A: I've enjoyed LEGO in general for over 20 years, and while I had gotten out of any regular play in recent years, I always picked up a set or two a year just to enjoy the feel of the plastic and the click of the bricks. A little over a year ago I had that urge to pick up a set and happened across a BIONICLE display in my local TRU. They intrigued me, and the inclusion of a mini-CD sealed the deal. I took ONUA home and built him that afternoon. After exploring the CD-ROM, I was hooked on the idea of a line of LEGO toys with a storyline behind them.
Q: What are some of your favorite BIONICLE characters and sets? Why? Least favorite?
A: I enjoy the classic TOA most of all, and ONUA in particular. Probably because he was the first set I ever picked up, but also because he get the feeling that he's a bit of a loner. Great physical strength in an emotional outsider are character traits that I find intriguing in any sort of fiction.
Least favorite? While I wouldn't say I dislike the BOHROK, I've mentioned on more than one occasion that I disliked that each BOHROK is 99% identical to the next (save for color and claw variation). I think the BOHROK design is brilliant, and I imagine that character variation was forfeited by designers in order to maintain the folding-into-a-ball functionality, but buying all six really felt like a waste of money — it's not the sort of thing I've come to expect from BIONICLE and LEGO in general.
Q: What inspired you to create a forum for discussing BIONICLE?
A: I was getting into the BIONICLE card game from Upper Deck and had some questions about the rules, so naturally I went online and started looking for a discussion forum. That search is how I first found Lugnet, but aside from the lukewarm reception that Lugnet members were giving BIONICLE, it really wasn't a place to talk about the card game. I then contacted Ted Adams of Upper Deck who designed the CCG and he answered the questions I had, but I still felt that I wanted more.
I needed a place to discuss this new fascination I had, and I didn't find anything I really liked. There were over a dozen Yahoo clubs devoted to BIONICLE, but I disliked how the Yahoo club forums structured the discussions, so I decided to try to build my own forum.
Q: Have you created any other (non-BIONICLE) forums?
A: Yes, but nothing that has taken off like BZP has. Other forums that I've built were as support mechanisms for existing websites. BZcommunity was the first one I built that was intended to be a standalone forum for its own sake.
Q: Can you give us any nuts-and-bolts information about BZPower, the forums, and how it all works? What are some of your more impressive statistics?
A: I'll try not to bore you too much here. ;-) BZPower lives on a physical webhost in Texas with a company that I've used for webhosting for over five years. Except for the forum's internal engine (which is currently Ikonboard 3.0.1), all of the coding for BZPower was hand-made by Kelly and myself. The entire site runs from a MySQL database using PHP for the news sections while Ikonboard use CGI scripting.
Aside from the stats you can browse on the site, BZPower regularly pipes nearly 2.5 GB of data per day which represents about 35,000 unique pages generated and over 2 1/2 million separate files.
Q: What do you like most about being BZPower Forum Master?
A: The greatest benefit has been the people I've met. In addition to the BIONICLE fans who I come in contact with, I have received several letters of thanks from parents who recognize our efforts to create a kid-friendly environment for their children. That's very rewarding.
Also, I've formed several very close friendships with fellow administrators at BZPower. I have hundreds of online "friends" and "buddies," but with these guys I've formed real, solid friendships. I often feel that we all live within a few blocks of one another, despite the fact that we're all hundreds of miles apart.
Q: What do you like least about being BZPower Forum Master?
A: Mischief. I know it's the nature of the beast — teenagers (and some immature adults) sometimes like to test the boundaries and see just how much trouble they can cause. I really find having to deal with trouble-makers quite distasteful, but it's a necessary evil in order to maintain the sort of online environment that we have.
Q: What are some of the problems a Forum Master has to deal with?
A: Aside from the mischief-makers which I just mentioned, the regular day-to-day maintenance sort of things. That and fielding questions from people who didn't read the instructions, mostly. =)
All in all, BZPower has operated pretty smoothly, which I attribute to the teamwork we have.
Q: Why have the forums at BZPower thrived while countless other BIONICLE-themed forums have come and gone over the past year? To what do you attribute your success?
A: That's a good question and while I don't have a definitive answer, I do have a theory.
First and foremost I think it's because of the initial tone I tried to set early on. I wanted BZ to be a place where BIONICLE fans young and old could discuss toys in a serious envrionment. I also made it clear early on that I would not tolerate personal attacks or childish behavior. Some have criticized that as being overly strict, but I think the majority of members who keep coming back time and again appreciate the structure and knowing that someone actually cares. The forums aren't just a dumping ground for random gibberish and hotheaded barbs, which is what I've seen many discussion forums (not just BIONICLE-themed ones) degrade into.
Also, I think one particular feature that lends to our success has been the high level of customization and response to member suggestions. I regularly accept submissions from members and will occasionally add them to the forums. That level of accessibility is rare in large forums.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Moderators in general? What can you tell us about the Moderators at BZPower?
A: I can't really say enough about the Moderation staff at BZPower's forums. They're regular members who have volunteered to be the "bad guy" for me and enforce the rules which have led BZP to where it is today. Without a large team of dedicated volunteers, there is absolutely no way that we would be able to maintain the kid-friendly environment that we strive for.
Q: What inspired you to start reviewing BIONICLE sets (and now calendars)?
A: I don't think it was inspiration, just my own necessity.
I am a big fan of reviews of all sorts. I read reviews for movies, DVDs, video games, etc., etc. What I look for in a review is answers to particular questions about the product being reviewed. I felt that BIONICLE products could be given that same treatment and I hadn't seen it done in quite that way before.
It started as an experiment really to see what the response would be, and the feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive. That assured me that there was a demand from the BIONICLE community to see these products scrutinized and given a serious, straightforward evaluation.
I've continued to do that, and will as long as I enjoy it and readers enjoy it.
Q: Do you have any changes planned for the forums for the future? Are there things you would like to do with BZPower, but just can't (for technical, financial, or other reasons) right now?
A: There are a lot of things that we have on the back burner right now. I find PHP much easier to work with than CGI, and the Jarvis Group which codes Ikonboard is poised to release a PHP version of iB. Once that become stable I imagine there will be a shift to that version of the software. Once in place, it will allow us to do a lot of custom things that just aren't logistically possible right now.
As for specifics, I don't want to let any cats out of the bag just yet.
Q: Since BIONICLE is obviously taken, what advice do you have for anyone who might want to create a forum for the next-big-thing?
A: If you're looking to create a big, successful forum, I don't have any advice for you, because I never tried that.
If there's something you're passionate about and think there are others who might want to share and discuss it with you, then you're on the right track. I never thought, "Gee, I think I'll build a discussion forum and it will be humongous within a year." That was all just incidental. Success will follow dedication, so establish rules and stick to them, and be consistent. And finally, be open to suggestions. Your way isn't always the best way -- that's a lesson that was hard for me to learn, but a good one to remember.
Q: Will Purple Dave ever finish that audio interview? Are the audio magazines still on BZPower? Will there be additional issues?
A: Hahahaha! The first part of that question can only be answered by Dave! I would imagine that the questions he's holding onto are woefully out of date and we'd need to start over at this point, but I'd very much like to finally complete that audio interview.
BZchronicle has not died, but it has gone into hibernation. Scheduling just hasn't permitted me to do any work on BZchronicle in recent months, but it will be back, as will older episodes.