Thursday, April 15, 2010

How Much Longer for 8a.nu?

I have been wandering the Internets a lot for the past three years while writing this blog, seeing a lot of websites come and go. Yet in the climbing world, the gold standard for keeping up with developments in sport-climbing and bouldering has long been 8a.nu. Reviled by many and visited by many more, this site has provided visitors and users with a handy and comprehensive platform for keeping track of new developments and recording their own. It has proved a winning formula and the numbers that Jens shows on the site's home page echo this.

And yet. Maybe it's just me,but am I the only one who is feeling the whole 8a proposition is getting a bit repetitious, perhaps even a dead-end? The concept for which the site is best-known, world-wide rankings according to points awarded for climbs, aroused ire and disgust from many climbers. Others participated but argued that the ranking system led to grade inflation. Some just used it as a log of ascents. I myself saw and used it as a motivational tool.

However more and more, and this is not a criticism of Jens (for that go here) I wonder how much longer climbers will remain enthusiastic about continuing to participate in the 8a community. I have a feeling that the site must initiate some kind of major change to avoid becoming a relic. The two-dimensionality I mentioned above, the textureless reporting of news that isn't really new at this point, the monotony of recorded ascents, the sheer volume of them has left me increasingly uninterested. I visit the site, though less often than before, have even contributed to the site, even still have its news feed on my blog, but the sense that something important is missing from it is growing stronger.

Others may chime in and say of course the site is trivial and shallow but I would say not so fast. No other climbing media enterprise has the global reach or member base that 8a.nu has attracted. Others routinely criticize its founder as idiosyncratic and temperamental. Who isn't,myself included, at some point? My argument reaches farther than those criticisms. Eventually 8a.nu must retool its brand, its concept, and its editorial focus or face obsolescence. The question is what shape will that transformation take?

I don't have answers or even useful recommendations myself. I would not presume to prescribe what 8a.nu should do next. But I would say that at some point soon a re-evaluation is in store.

20 comments:

gian said...

my two cents is that 8a.nu is really, to a degree, trivial and shallow, but in a way that attracts attention.

at cycles i happen to waste a lot of time on the internet (the wiser options, going climbing outside 4 dsys a week or taking my job more seriously, are both out of the question in the short term).
8a.nu is great for those cycles of demotivational inertia.

8a.nu in its current state is offering the same kind of cheap, easy entertainement tabloids and trashy tv shows offer : would you predict the end of all low-quality entertainement anytime soon?

I guess that it is not that hard to make a low quality product that creates controversy, and thus attracts visits.

On the contrary, many attempts at writing down something meaningful, positive or memorable often turn out to be deadly boring...

if 8a.nu actually makes significant money out of ads, then jens larssen is a lucky bastard or a genious or both.

Peter Beal said...

Not so much the end of low-quality entertainment as a category overall but more a certain kind of low-quality entertainment. Types of trashy shows come and go but the trash still remains. However I don't think 8a is trash, to the contrary. I do think it is due for an overhaul.

kt said...

I have experienced exactly the same erosion of interest over recent months with 8a.nu. As for me, I never used it for a scorecard or log, and I seldom went into that section of the site, unless, for curiosity's sake, to read the comments an elite climber reported about their latest send. I sometimes glance at the recent log postings shown in the left sidebar to see where someone is currently climbing.

Primarily, I use 8a as a source of current climbing news. Up until about a year ago, I always went o 8a.nu first to see what had happened during the past 12 or 24 hours and then I'd branch out to secondary sites from there. But over time, I've found other sources that report as quickly and are visually cleaner. Specifically, climbingnarc and bjornpohl.blogspot.com. Also, if I feel like struggling with my spanish via Google's language tools, I'll visit desnivel.com --their updates are less frequent, but the coverage and depth is very good and I enjoy the non-US-centric angle.

The visual impact and layout of a site shouldn't be dismissed. Though you're talking about a more comprehensive retooling, I'd argue for a visual retooling first to bring 8a more in line with Web 2.0-styled sites, like the narc's. I think the cluttered, busy 8a design takes its toll on the subconscious and forms a mild aversion that you can't always put your finger on. As for the scorecards and ratings, seems like that can still be maintained, but only as one facet of the overall 8a.nu experience.

IanB said...

I've often thought of creating an 8a.nu competitor site, simply because it would be fun and I have the time/money/knowledge to do so. The one thing that stops me is the concern that everyone, despite their rants and raves about 8a.nu, wouldn't want to switch because they're already too heavily invested in 8a (love/hate relationship). Sure, there are ways you could import all of your data across... but then there's the crag database which couldn't be just simply copied for legal reasons. News/articles/etc. would come with a growing user base and popularity.

Would you switch to a new community with more bells & whistles (and no Jens!), or just stick around indefinitely to see if 8a turns a new leaf?

Neal said...

I'm of the mixed opinion (like many above it seems!). I've never published publicly my ascents on the site, but it was one of the first I ever came across that offered that facility with a pre-built database of routes. and like many, it was a big site (at one point) for getting the latest ascents. But as you said, it's been superseded in many ways by more media-focused sites (DPM), and better writing (ClimbingNarc, TheLowDown, etc.).
Like the creator or not (I'm indifferent), it did a great job of hyping a lot of sends (and I know of a few people who have been chuffed to see their own photo make the front page of the site - not many places provide that).
yes, it needs to probably improve in areas, but with the quality of it's crag database, I'm sure people will stick around.
Other positives, the annual yearbook is a great idea - compliments for the amount of work that must take.

I've no real time for the points based system, but considering the passionate discussions people have about grading (I think this blog may have even gotten into it very recently!), people like gradings and rankings. As the current Internet fads show, Foursquare and Gowalla, people like promoting themselves for points! seems to work for some people.....go figure :)

Great blog by the way, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

It's great for seeing who did what, where, and when. Reading anything else into it is meaningless. Never been to an area? Check the database to see what the most-ascended (i.e. best) routes are. Crag wet or dry? Check recent ascents to see if the tufa routes are getting done. The ranking stuff, who cares?

gregory Bahr said...

great post. my two cent is who really uses 8a for news? i know i dont. there where the narc comes in. 8a is about ur scorecard nothing else.

Peter Beal said...

Brian may chime in on this at some point but for all I know, he may use 8a for news sometimes.

I don't post the news, I make it. As if :)

Colin C. said...

I don't keep a scorecard, and I don't go to new crags all that often, so right off the bat the two main features of the site don't have much utility for me.

Aside from that, the so-called "training articles" are truly horrible, and the forum is abysmal. I feel like a lot gets lost in translation (the articles just can't be that bad, can they?), and trying to make sense of the broken english is a headache.

The reporting on climbingnarc and the lowdown is much better. The discussion on this blog, b3bouldering, and mountain project is better. Deadpoint and climbingnarc can get you your video fix....IMHO, 8a.nu is wayyyyyy down at the bottom of the list for best climbing sites on the internet.

dom said...

Its probably unfashionable of me to say so...but I love 8a.nu

I've been keeping a scorecard for the last 6 years or so, and overtime i've found having the record of my ascents has been really valueable to me. I don't really care about my ranking in the US, but it is cool to see my year by year progression, and other stats like the number and type of routes I do each year. Its also a great way of keeping in touch with friends locally and those I've met on trips around the world.
The layout and editorial leave a lot to be desired however. I guess I hope like everyone else that Jens will realize how he's alienating people with his sensational climbing news and generalizations. But I'm willing to take tha bad with the good.

dom said...

Its probably unfashionable of me to say so...but I love 8a.nu

I've been keeping a scorecard for the last 6 years or so, and overtime i've found having the record of my ascents has been really valueable to me. I don't really care about my ranking in the US, but it is cool to see my year by year progression, and other stats like the number and type of routes I do each year. Its also a great way of keeping in touch with friends locally and those I've met on trips around the world.
The layout and editorial leave a lot to be desired however. I guess I hope like everyone else that Jens will realize how he's alienating people with his sensational climbing news and generalizations. But I'm willing to take tha bad with the good.

Lee said...

It will continue to grow in the absense of a more compelling alternative.

Shawn Boye said...

Boycott 8a, affect positive change!

burbrocks said...

Personally, I have always found this site unreadable. The front page alone gives me a headache and discourages any desire I may have had to dig any further.
As for the climbing log, I guess you'd have to be a really performance oriented climber to enjoy that aspect of the web site and put up with the circa-1995 layout. I am not. I do have a climbing log I keep, but I do not care for being scored for my ascents.
It's been said before, but the Narc and Mountain Project give me all I need in terms of up to date news and crag info.
I too think the scorecard thing will eventually not be enough to keep people on it. Frankly I don't really care what happens to it. I hadn't been on it for years before I saw this post, and guess what, it's exactly the same as last time I checked. I'm sorry but I teach English for a living. I can't read this stuff.

Anonymous said...

I must confess to a continuing confusion when people say "oh it's just a place to record my ascents. it's not about anything else."

ummm, people: ever heard of a journal? you know, a notebook? with paper? and a pen to write with? pencil even, if you are prone to mistakes?


i never have come to understand the appeal of broadcasting one's ascents to the world.

wait, yes i have: everyone has a little of the "look at me" in them, right?

so in other words, 8a.nu will continue to be the most visited of the climbing websites!

Narc said...

8a used to be a lot more useful for me when it came to news since it was the only place people sprayed about their ascents. Now personal blogs, other news sites and facebook seem to be better sources.

I still visit 8a every day to peruse scorecards and read the occasional "debate". I probably spend more time than I should going back and checking on the latter, but I'm clearly not alone in my fascination to see what might be said next.

I've long maintained that with a completely fresh design the 8a database could be an even bigger resource. It's really the key to the entire site and the reason for its well publicized popularity.

Anonymous said...

How about 27 Crags? It's a fresh alternative that adds new features continuously.

E9 Climbing said...

Looking at 8a from a user perspective I think most of the potential is still unrealized. The score card system is great way of tracking accents but could be more dynamic and give the user seeking info on routes and conditions much more valid data.

The tick list is a good feature but agin to static. I guess it all boils down to lack of funding. And lack of experience in building interactive platforms. It all started as a blog and then evolved. Evolution how ever has taken its toll on the site and to day I'd say its out dated.

In terms of 8a as a source of news its a bit like in the old CCCP one voice and its the rule of law. Agin 8a is lacking structure and insight to what the user is after. Its fundamental to understand the audience in order run a successful venture.

A news desk with a professional editor would change this.

But this is a classic problem in most one man show entrepreneurial ventures. The venture almost always out grow its founder long before he can see it and in most cases its just falling apart. Jens is his own biggest problem. If he stepped aside and decided to take 8a to a new level by appointing a team who had a proven track record in running some thing like 8a he would ensure its future. Now his just grinding its momentum down.

Anonymous said...

the fact that people are so passionate about this debate in and of itself speaks volumes about climbers' obsession with inanity and status. quite simply, if you don't like 8a, don't use it (avoid words like "boycott" - it's a website, not an oil company, che). for a traveling climber, it is the ideal tool to keep track of ascents, be up to date on friends' performance, and plan trips/tick lists. none of this could be accomplished as easily with a paper journal. and it is not necessarily about ego - the log book is a popular option and many strong climbers use pseudonyms (have a look see at Beast Kong's scorecard). who cares about jens and his datribes and opinions? again, if you don't care for them, don't read them. most people i know don't. 8a is a tool and it is only debates like this one that make it out to be anything more than that.

Limit said...

I love 8a. Not for the forums, not for the news but because I get ranked. It's fun, it's motivating and it feeds my competitive spirit. Until another website offers that functionality, I'll be a regular there.