Doing the FA tango; one step forward, two steps back
One must wonder whether it's time Dragoneer stepped down as head of Fur Affinity, as he continues to make poor leadership decisions. Earlier this year, he stirred controversy by announcing Zaush, who'd been accused of rape, as development lead for Project Phoenix. This time he has made sure there are no lingering doubts over the suitability of his appointments by choosing a fur with a history of maladministration.
StarryKitten was recently announced as the new head of the FA tech team, tasked in part with “bringing more transparency” to FA. Some noticed that StarryKitten had only joined FA about a week before the announcement was made. As it transpires, StarryKitten was an alternate account created by the infamous Zidonuke, the real head of the FA tech team.
With the concept of irony easily going right over Dragoneer's head, it was further revealed that the tech lead with a puppet account has been a secret member of staff since 2013:
There is probably good reason for keeping Zidonuke's involvement with the site secret. Four years ago, Zidonuke was responsible for not only spying on users of furry role-playing site F-list, but building back doors into the code, stealing database information and – upon being found out – promoting all users to admin level and clearing the ban list. He's also been known (using the name Doridian) to have caused problems on many non-furry services such as Garry's Mod in 2010, Terraria in 2011 and Pokemon World Online in 2011, where he, again, deleted data and hacked into private accounts and messages. Though those were in the past, he's been seen logging into hacking forums this month.
So why would someone appoint a person with a history of griefing, deleting data and building backdoors to the position of tech lead? In StarryKitten/Zidonuke's words, “Dragoneer was my next door neighbor and is my co-worker. We interact daily.” He got the position because he's buddies with Dragoneer, despite having a history that would suggest giving him any position of power would be a terrible mistake.
There's nothing new about Dragoneer promoting friends and family who are otherwise unsuitable. In 2012 he appointed a new admin, Sciggles, onto the FA staff. She was not only his fiancée at the time, creating a conflict of interest and an example of nepotism, but had been suspended from FA the year before and Dragoneer had said he would never make her an admin.
Considering all this secrecy happened after the appointment, at the same time as Zaush, of Nanuk as product and marketing lead (although his profile suggests he is no longer a member of staff) who would be “maintain[ing] transparency with the community”, one has to wonder how their other projects are going. Well, to keep to the theme, one week later, FA again mentioned it's commitment to transparency, in the same update that they admitted that they “hid and removed content that brought up [allegations about Zaush].”
One aspect of the site that is often spoken about is that of funding. I'm sure we all recognise that FA is a major furry site and will have higher running and hardware costs than the alternatives, but it often appears that the money is not being used appropriately. For example, FA bought two servers in 2013 and one of them is still not in active service.
In October, during the large scale furry DDoS attack, FA began seeking funds because they were “looking at migrating our hosts to a new system (we're still researching where) and are raising donations to do so.” They also generously offered to give 10% of the donations to SoFurry.
FA's GoFundMe announcement expanded the call for donations to upgrading storage hardware, cloud backup, and support ticketing. A few days later, FA revealed they had received just over US$17?000 in donations for the site. The stated reason for fundraising had changed, though:
The purpose behind this was three-fold: A) to raise money to help directly improve the site and response (afford better DDOS protection), B) improve infrastructure (improve FA’s storage servers) and C) help pay existing debts the site has incurred over time. We are currently in talks with our host to improve and expand our DDOS protection and are looking into increasing storage space.
— NEER.EXE (@Dragoneer) November 18, 2014
To move forward, Fur Affinity's leaders would have us forget the past.
What debts? In a Reddit comment, Dragoneer revealed that FA had incurred a US$10?000 tax debt! While I don't believe any of the rumours that Dragoneer had anything to do with the DDoS, I do find it strange that this is the only mention of the debt. Part of it was supposedly due to the convention they run, but FA: United 7 was held in August. At least part of this bill must have been known for months, yet it remained unannounced until the drive was successful. Despite repeatedly stressing transparency, staff neglected to speak up before collecting from fans.
The latest announcement has no mention of any debts, saying that, other than the funds for SoFurry, the money is “being held aside while we look into making hardware/software investments into the site.”
Through various updates, we have been assured that, although past projects had problems, Project Phoenix will be different:
We acknowledge that there have been quite a few and we apologize for this, as none came to fruition. Many of these were simply a refresh of the user interface, which often times didn’t pan out due to complications with the site’s existing code that needed to be fixed.
It seems as though they are saying Project Phoenix should do better because it's a complete change to the code base. As I pointed out before, these projects to update FA have been going on for almost ten years now with little to show for it.
One real and positive difference between Project Phoenix and earlier attempts is that it is open source with the Github repository available here. Less encouragingly, there are only four contributors, with the top contributor having made 128 commits; the next best has made just two.
FA has succeeded in making some minor changes to their interface but failed to fulfil a promised release of a new beta interface in early October. It is now mid-November and no open beta has been announced. [OK, so there was that DDoS… - ed.]
A minor FA interface update and (unsolicited) mutual fundraising with SoFurry are about the only positive stories to come out of FA this year. These are overshadowed by the lack of real progress on their bigger interface and overhaul projects, utter failure to live up to their stated transparency goals, and Dragoneer's widely unpopular and ill-advised staff appointments.