Since Exquisite Corpse and Tragic Comedy members seem to spend a lot of times pasting links that aren't necessary worth creating a new post or discussion just to share, Scott creates a page called Oddities just to link to weird things members find on the web. The page chronicles everything from techno-dancing vikings to knife-fighting lobsters to how to make a cat yodel. It doesn't stop links from being shared elsewhere on the site, but it does give some members an easy outlet for unusual links that they wouldn't bother to put anywhere else.
Erik Bates brings to Tragic Comedy a game that he has played with friends: Someone provides three clues and other players try to guess what movie they describe. Erik begins with "running, shrimp, Jenny" which describe Forrest Gump, and the discussion goes on to include such diverse titles as Die Hard, The Wizard of Oz, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Jaws, and Pulp Fiction. The discussion eventually peters out after a month and 138 comments, but Scott remembers the game four years later and programs an interactive version of it into a redesign of Thorough Movie Reviews that attracts over 100 entries in the first few months.
Rock Block gains a major new feature when Scott introduces Themed Concerts, allowing players to play with bands from the same place of origin or decade of influence or genre of rock. The weirdest themes are the name themes, which group bands named after colors or animals or food or other topics. Though the themed concerts don't count in the official scores because of the random distribution of cards, they prove very popular, getting as much play as regular concerts and giving players new achievements to pursue.
In an effort to make it easier for site members to keep track of new content, Scott introduces a complex new page on the site called Dashboard. Members subscribe to the pages they like, and updates to those pages appear on the Dashboard on a per-member basis. This frees up the site homepage to focus on introducing the site to new members, and gives Scott a renewed focus on usability in his future changes to the site.
As Shawn Brandt prepares to leave the company where he has worked with Michelle Lager for several years, Michelle enlists Scott's help to give him a send-off. Grateful for Shawn introducing her to his favorite web game, Michelle gets Scott to create a special goo of Shawn with the clue This goo used to be a Duke but now has gone on to master North Carolina. His expertise will be sorely missed. The goo is placed on the site like a real goo but where other members won't find it, and Michelle gives a framed printout of the page to Shawn as a going-away present at his farewell party.
The "Song Crush" discussion in Tragic Comedy has an ordinary beginning: Scott invites other members to share popular songs that they're currently infatuated with and that they think other members would enjoy. Through embedded YouTube videos, everyone gets exposed to some great new music and better appreciates each other's taste. But the discussion never quite dies down, eventually lasting so long that Tony Peters creates "Song Crush 2" because the many YouTube embeds in the first discussion are making the page difficult to open. The thread continues for years to come, inspiring Scott to make "Song Crush" a permanent sidebar feature on Tragic Comedy in 2013, so that the latest tunes enjoyed by site members can be shared and found more easily.
After months of entertaining new ideas for the goo game such as building the guess form in ajax, leaving goos active all round, and replacing the searchable archive with a browseable version, Scott puts his plan into action with a stark-white version of the game intended for maximum usability; the color is intended to come from photos and other content. Members do not react well, even after having time to become accustomed to the changes. Scott learns two lessons: Appearance does matter, and always roll out a redesign in total instead of one section at a time.
The site's hosting company grows increasingly difficult to work with, breaking the site by changing server environments, turning off the site when there's a problem and waiting for Scott to contact them about it, and so on. Scott is too short on time when it happens to do more than get the site running again, but finally it happens on a Saturday morning when Scott has nothing else to do all weekend but port the site to a new webhost. The new company is much easier to work with, but the site becomes victim to frequent outages where members receive "connection timed out" warnings for several minutes at a time. As frustrated as he is by the long-running trouble with webhosts, Scott is at least proud that his site has outgrown small hosting companies and needs a professional-grade environment.
Scott's web skills gain him his first freelance work, but it's a modest assignment: A small five-page site for friend Bob Van Kay, whose beef jerky, sauces and dry rubs are the highlight of a colorful retail food business. Following Bob's directions, Scott taps into his memories of GeoCities-style sites of the 1990s by adding a guitar-riff audio clip and playful animation. As a prank, Bob pays Scott his three-figure fee in quarters, but apologizes with jars of snacks that are served to guests two weeks later at GooCon: Siesta Key. The site itself is short-lived, replaced the following year with a retail site driven by Yahoo's site tools.
After years of failed attempts to get the site members together, Scott finally pulls it off by renting a house on Siesta Key in Florida and inviting members to chip in $200 to stay there for a weekend, meals included. Kelly Lee, Matthew Preston, Steve West, Aaron Shurtleff, and Jeremiah Poisson and fiancée Ines Sarante take him up on the offer. The group plays Rock Block with paper cards, plays Celebrity Goo Game live on a TV screen, watches the previous Best Picture winner, guesses at site trivia, and has a terrific time. The event is capped with a decorated cake for the site's 12th anniversary. Steve dominates the competitions, winning all events, but the unexpected key event of the weekend is a discussion inspired by Tragic Comedy using icebreaker questions that leads to Matthew, Kelly, Steve, and Scott sharing very personal details about themselves and bonding.
After years of being hosted on limited virtual servers that didn't afford enough CPU or with lousy webhosts that would take the site offline and wait to be contacted, the site has clearly outgrown the resource needs of a personal website and needs a professional-grade solution. Even as Scott is proud of the site's growth, he is desperate for a way to settle the mess, with frequent brownouts at the current host. Friend and fellow site member Jeremiah Poisson steps up with a solution: He will let Scott rent space on his enterprise-level server from his freelance programming business for a fraction of what Scott would pay for the machine himself. Scott jumps at the opportunity and moves the whole site in one evening, giving the site a stable, powerful, headache-free home at last. Jeremiah grows even more generous in 2009, spontaneously offering to lower Scott's rent to a fraction of the already tiny rate it had been.
Controversy erupts in Rock Block during a Thanksgiving-themed block party event. Chris Lemler's mother LaVonne signs into the site minutes before the closing deadline and plays only Chris, ignoring concerts with other players, giving Chris the count of most opponents played and a big prize in the game. When Scott asks him privately whether he arranged for his mother's conveniently-timed visit or signed in as her himself, Chris anticipates expulsion and broadcasts his goodbyes to the site, and the scandal goes public. An argument erupts on Tragic Comedy that reveals longstanding mistrust in the community, and a stream of private messages to Scott providing further "evidence" shows how deep it goes. Scott decides to trust Chris in this case, but the accusations continue over the coming months, eventually coming to a head in June 2009 when players quit the site convinced that Chris is cheating in various ways. At first, Scott is ready to remove Chris for good, but he discusses the matter with LaVonne over a period of several weeks and changes his mind. In July, he publicly declares his belief (and the site's official position) that Chris is innocent, and implores other players to give Chris the benefit of the doubt in future interactions. The controversy disappears, although block parties become a thing of the past.
May 17, 2009: Scott's longstanding plans for annual Rock Block tournaments finally come to fruition: "Stairway to Heaven," a months-long tournament, pits all players of the game against each other in an escalating series of concerts where the winners climb higher towards Heaven and the losers fall lower towards Hell. Read more...
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