Requiem for UtopiaTech

Where I got my start in writing online.

Once upon a time, I was part of a website called UtopiaTech. I was one of the moderators and technically a writer. I poured a lot of my heart and soul into UtopiaTech, which seemed like it was going to take off as a new Australian-focused tech website that might one day be a venerated site frequented by multitudes. Within 2 years it was dead, and a man’s dream went with it. UtopiaTech remains one of the things I remember most fondly in my life – although I’m bitter about how it ended. The 10th anniversary passed largely forgotten and unnoticed, but since 2016 would technically mark the 10th anniversary of when we finally gave up, I guess it’s worth mentioning.

Rising Stars

Many years ago now, I was very active on a site called GameArena. GameArena (formerly Wireplay) was an online gaming service operated by Telstra Bigpond – Australia’s largest ISP. Notably, Telstra broadband customers had ‘unmetered’ access to GameArena – meaning that our precious data bandwidth allowance for the month wasn’t consumed with online gaming or downloading large files (and at 300MB/mth, every kilobyte counts). I was highly active on GA from 2002 until about 2011 or so, when I stopped caring as the community got progressively more… shit. I used to lurk in the ISP forum, providing assistance (and sometimes being a complete dickhead) to people who came in with various complaints about their internet service. I was voted one of the most helpful users on the forum (as well as one of its biggest cockheads).

Around 2004, a man appeared on GameArena. His handle was KKnD, and he had a dream: to start a new Australian technology site. He was an aspiring writer and was advertising a new website – UtopiaTech. He had a forum and little else, and was looking for people to join. I was invited to come along as a moderator for the ISP forum, provided I was willing to fill it with useful information. I agreed, namely because KKnD had genuine enthusiasm for what he was doing, and I believed in his dream.

UtopiaTech grew surprisingly quickly, predominately from GameArena members. We had a highly active forum, and were a major Australia mirror for the venerated Omega Drivers. KKnD and a web developer named Melkor looked after the site and were the administrators, along with another who I have forgotten. I was promoted to global moderator and instructed to enforce the rules across the site, since we now had a large user base which required oversight. That said, UtopiaTech was ridiculously well-behaved; I can only recall one incident where I had to actually do any moderation, and all it took was one post of “Knock that crap off” and that was it. It was an incredibly friendly community, the likes of which you just don’t see anymore.

As the site got bigger, so did the content. UtopiaTech got a proper web frontend developed by Melkor and started posting articles. Most were written by KKnD himself, with occasional contributions from other users. I wrote a handful of articles for the site which were mostly well received (though my skills weren’t particularly great). We saw a lot of traffic. The community was lively, we had regular articles being posted, and we hosted the Omega Drivers, which drew big crowds. All in all, UtopiaTech looked like it was on the rise. I felt kind of proud to be part of such a vibrant community. I even started a community Doom 3 map that featured loads of community members and in-jokes.

So how the hell did it break?

The Flaw in the Plan

UtopiaTech had a few major issues that we blindly ignored – and by we, I mean the site staff outside of KKnD, who could see exactly what was happening. There were three major problems in particular.

Firstly, UtopiaTech was hosted on a webserver that probably should never have hosted it. The web space was either free or heavily discounted, with the understanding that a fair use policy applied. Hosting the Omega Drivers there basically took a steamy dump on that fair use policy, and thus Melkor was instructed to remove them. This immediately dealt a massive blow to our traffic statistics – and with it dropped off our views and new user signups. This was probably the beginning of the end.

Secondly, and somewhat more fatally, Melkor modified the website into a ridiculously difficult to use portal interface. It was too difficult to accomplish anything, and KKnD largely lost interest in the site at that point. Content was so hard to post to the site that UtopiaTech looked dead – if you didn’t visit the forums, you’d assume it had died months ago.

But what I think killed it was an incident involving a particular moderator – Hidden Hunter, or HH for short.

HH was a regular user who was elevated to the status of moderator. I don’t remember exactly how this came about, but for whatever reason, KKnD saw fit to elevate HH to global moderator status. Now, being a moderator at UtopiaTech was largely about being a community member first and foremost, with the understanding that you gave a friendly reminder to anyone who got out of hand.

HH was different. He immediately set himself apart from the other members, and started moderating threads with a level of control not seen in the rest of us. He handed out bans, deleted posts, and locked threads without consultation. He developed a particular hatred for a particular member in particular who he found annoying. One of the actions that broke the camel’s back was when he told a member to stop posting about his computer in multiple threads. That member had a freakin’ awesome rig at the time – he’d just built it, it was absurdly powerful, and he was proud to show it off. So he should be. But HH didn’t like it and used his mod powers to silence that member.

HH was immediately suspended from mod duties by KKnD, who was incredibly unimpressed. This, I think more than anything, was what started to push UtopiaTech into decline, combined with the other two factors above. This led to a downward spiral of member apathy, lack of content, and thus the eventual death of the site.

By May 2005 we all knew that the site was going down. KKnD had largely lost interest and abandoned his beloved site – and I don’t blame him. As for the rest of the staff? For a while we stuck our fingers in our ears and pretended everything was fine. But it wasn’t, and we finally realised that and mounted a last-ditch effort to recover. Melkor put in a brand new web portal, one that actually worked properly and looked awesome. The forums got an upgrade. We started generating more content (mostly for the sake of having content). We tried to encourage members to become active.

UtopiaTech died on the 8th of June, 2005. Our efforts were too little, too late – and without KKnD, they were always going to be futile.

Sync Error – The Abortion of Hope

Once it became apparent that UtopiaTech was going to die, and that elements of the community still wanted to make a go out of salvaging UtopiaTech, the staff decided to move to a new site, with independent hosting that we controlled. Hidden Hunter, unsurprisingly, spearheaded this effort, and I was invited along as an administrator to assist (namely with administering the forum).

Initially, things appeared good – we had a nice web portal with hosting that allowed us to do whatever we wanted, and we salvaged a number of UtopiaTech refugees. We hosted the Omega Drivers again.

But Sync Error was practically stillborn. It was awful, when I look back on it. We argued a lot about what should or shouldn’t happen with the site. We disagreed on moderation, on content, on advertising. While on the surface it seemed like we were committed, I don’t think we really were. A lot of the community hadn’t forgotten Hidden Hunter’s power trip on UtopiaTech and didn’t want to be part of a community where he was now an administrator. We basically sat in the shadow of the ruins of UtopiaTech and lied to ourselves that we were the successors, when really we were poor imitations at best, and deluded at worst. KKnD didn’t approve of the project and suggested that I just leave.

And later on I did – I got so frustrated with Sync Error that I abandoned the site. Sync Error died less than 6 months after it was birthed – a wretched monument to a much better site that hinted at a brighter future. The website is entirely forgotten, and only a few rotting scraps exist in the Internet Archive. UtopiaTech left much more of a fingerprint on the internet, although precious little survives there too.

I think about UtopiaTech often. I remember how vibrant the community was, and how awesome it was to log on to the forums after a hard day’s work, catching up with all the members and following the crazy threads we used to have. UtopiaTech was great, and it probably didn’t deserve to die as it did. It’s sad that KKnD’s vision was lost to the insidious rot of community apathy, but such is the way of the internet; sites are born and die on the shoulders of the community that congregates around them.

So here’s to you, UtopiaTech. It’s been 11 years. Thanks for the memories.

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