Is Yerf all it claims to be?
I spent the better part of the weekend surfing around some of the best known artist archives on the World Wide Web. My trip ended with the Yerf archive, which is considered by some to be the premiere archive on the Internet due to its selective nature and supposedly rigid quality control standards. But after spending some time examining the Recent Uploads section on Yerf, I found myself wondering:
What makes Yerf so great? It's like a refrigerator for developing furry artists.
Just to make sure I wasn't having a knee-jerk reaction to a slow weekend of uploads I took the time to go back several weeks. The more I perused this archive the more my sense of dismay and disappointment grew. This didn't seem like an elite archive where the "best of the best" came to show us what hard work and dedication can do. This seems like a place that is very loosely administered and often used for bragging rights. I found frequent, flagrant violations of the much-touted Uploading Guidelines and a general atmosphere of "we're better than you." Not to mention artwork that, to me, falls far below the caliber the site purports to host.
The Great Yerf Hype
Yerf likes to boast that it has "checks and balances" that an artist must go through to display art:
We try to be unique by having strict guidelines on content, quality and no porn (don't laugh, there's a lot of people into furry porn). By providing a place that wants to promote these things, you have to say no to the things we don't want, so it ends up being the center of controversy. But many feel it's worth it, so the site stays. It used to be known as the Squeeky Clean Furry Archive.
If you follow the link about the SCFA, you're brought to a treatsie about why the name was changed. Taken from the SCFA Becomes Yerf page:
Why the change? The idea to change the name came about when people were suggesting the site be called a "gallery" because the intention was not to collect everything, but rather just the best. Why Yerf? To be purposefully vague. It doesn't say it's a gallery, archive, nor does it say furry or funny animal. It is simply "Yerf". Yerf seems to be known as a noise foxes make (like a bark), without the sexual connotations Yiff has.
Okay, so what have we learned? Yerf wants to collect the "best" Furry artwork by enforcing policies on the content and quality of the art that is displayed as well as keeping "porn" (Which never is defined, so for all we know can be anything the administrator classifies as dirty - this is a dangerous, glaring omission but is beyond the scope of this rant) out of the equation. An admirable goal, to be certain. It seems to have been started with good intentions at first glance.
So, what does it take to get one's art shown on Yerf? Well, to have art posted, one must first apply and then be accepted by the administrative staff. Second, one's submissions to the archive must pass guidelines that compose "acceptable content" for material uploaded for display on the archive. Sounds like this would assure that quality artists from the fandom -- those well-known and those who are "undiscovered" alike-- would get their chance to shine, doesn't it? The admins at Yerf seem to think so. In fact, they're so confident of this they take the time to give their personal reviews of the other archives under "Furry Links" in their Information about Yerf! section:
Orlando Furry Archives - Similar to Yerf, only a lot less restrictive. Not uncommon to find bad adult stuff beside great g-rated stuff. Also has a news server with tons of furry newsgroups.
Another review is even more brash:
Avatar -The oldest of the furry sites. They take most anything. If you're interested in my opinion, I'd recommend trying Avatar last. It's the least talked about site, and because they are so unrestrictive, 90% of the stuff there is crap. Just look and make your own decision. And good luck figuring out how to sign up. I think it's somewhere in /pub/furry/misc
With statements like that I definately found myself questioning the motives of the people who administer Yerf. It seemed to me that they were more interested in stroking their own ego than providing any service to their companion sites on the Web. If they're going to slam them, why bother even linking to them? But wait - there seem to be some serious chinks in Yerf's own armor these days.
The first problem that I see with Yerf is the artist application: Currently there is none. When you click on the Artist Application link on Yerf's main page, you're treated to a barren web page that hasn't been updated in two months. There are two paragraphs on the page. The first is dated September 17th, 2000, and states that the archive is not currently taking applications. (It would seem because they are not taking applications they're not allowing anybody to download the application form. It is due to this unfortunate circumstance that I cannot give a better report on this aspect of the quality control of the Yerf site. I'd like to know what information they request on the application. Do they ask for samples of the artist's works, for example? Do they give quantified expectations for the artwork that will be submitted? What criteria must be passed to be accepted? You're left to wonder). The second statement, dated December 18th, 2000 informs the reader that since "Art-Admin gets so many questions about apps, I thought it'd be nice to provide an update. This is where we are at the moment... yes, it's up to date. All applications have been reviewed. New accounts and e-mails to the applicants will be sent out soon." And that's it. If a potential hopeful were curious what sort of criteria they have to pass they'll have to ask the generic art-admin email account. When will applications be taken again? It appears that it is too soon to tell.
As I mentioned, assuming that the artist DOES get accepted each piece of artwork must pass several guidelines that are posted on the Uploading Guidelines page. A few that spring to the front for me are:
Descriptions - Descriptions are mandatory and should describe the image. Also remember that descriptions are searchable, so try being descriptive! Please do not use the descriptions as a message board. Sketches - Sketches are okay, but please clean them up before posting them. This includes removing lines from notebook paper. We will not accept images with lined notebook paper, unless it's specifically part of the image. No Fan Art - This is partly from problems we've had in the past, and partly for potential legal reasons. Fan art is better left for a home page.
Again, these are all admirable guidelines. They're just not enforced.
In browsing the last few days' worth of submissions I found quality descriptions such as:
- "frank's butt itches. and there's nothing i can do about it"
- "I have no clue,"
- "Hi, everyfur! I am kind of new to posting at online archives, so please be patient with me ;) My name is Chris; I am (currently) 23 years old, from Duesseldorf/Germany. Glad to be with you now! Special greetings and a big rat-hug to BigBlueFox and Jedd for making this all possible. THANKS!! Chris <:3__)--------"
- "Si se puede! si se puede!. Chars © Nicole Trujillo and Me n.n ... mmm heh, yeah, Gab © Melissa Spencer"
and "No, really." All very witty and clever to the author and the in groups these messages are addressed to, I'm sure, but not terribly helpful to the casual browser - not to mention downright dumb in some cases. This wouldn't stick in my craw, so to speak, if it were a casual, occasional thing. However, it isn't... and it's in direct violation of the rules that Yerf claims to enforce. Oh, does anybody there know how to approximate English grammar and punctuation anymore? I don't claim to be an English major by any means, but if I were to try to pass something like "Ciseal Cattis...the wings on this one look pretty nifty...no neeto BG for this one, tho...I did this while I wuz still Eye Candy-less(after my hard drive crashed and i wuz re-installing crap)" off as a description I'd have to slap myself.
When it comes to the "quality" I find myself wondering again, are the admins asleep at the switch? Granted, Yerf is a collection and as such there is a wide variety of material that is uploaded. But we have material that goes from sketches to comics, blatant anime-ripoffs, fan art ("Fan-art you say? well, i AM Ko-chan's biggest fan afterall n.n Kasumi Yuugata and Kompy © my beloved Ko-chan, Nicole Trujillo") to running gags that apparently are posted there solely for the amusement of the artist, leaving the people perusing the site to wonder just what exactly is going on. At one point, in the beginning of January, there was a stint of "Pepto" drawings that seemed to be a craze - Everyone was drawing this one character, spoofing it or commenting on it. One would hope that in "filtering for quality" the admins would look for a little more in the deliverables department than "everyone else is drawing it."
Occasionally works by artists such as Xian Jaguar and Andre Heinonen are shown, and one would expect that this is exactly the sort of material that Yerf is trying to collect and present. But it is, in my opinion, far and few between. Now, granted, everyone is entitled to their own particular style, and I, as an art afficianado will be the first to say that every person's art style has strong points and weak points. Yet when did it become acceptable to the Yerf administration to accept every piece of Photoshop-colored, anime-derived art? This cookie-cutter art has become so prevalent that it seems like everyone is expected to praise this. It all looks the same. A controversy was stirred up last year when Kim Liu wrote the article Is There Intelligent Life Beyond Photoshop?. The line that stands out in my mind was "Wow, the (insert name here) plug-in is neat! Want to see the same image through each of the different plug-ins I've got?" Did nobody take a moment to reflect on this? Is Yerf really the place to post every random scribble that you've thrown the Fill Tool and Lens Flare plugin at? What happened to posting just your best works? It seems like these days Yerf will accept any random scratchings that the artist comes up with so long as they've already been accepted. Why has this "premier archive" become the refrigerator where people hang their every fingerpainting? Do we really want to see the self-described unfinished character designs? No! Finish it and then show it to us! When I see an image that is entirely in Photoshop, filled in with blue from the Fill Tool, and has a random donkey face with three colors on Recent Uploads I have to wonder, Is this the best that Yerf! can find these days? This is the same sort of material I can find on FurNation. At least while I'm there I know that what I see is what I get, to expect the unexpected and be ready for disappointments. When I come to Yerf I expect something a little better. Does anybody, aside from a brave few, dare to draw something different from what everyone else is drawing these days? I would hope diversity would fall under the quality that Yerf likes to boast of.
Now, none of this is to slam any artist in particular. I do not have a vendetta to settle against anybody. I have nothing but respect for artists of any caliber - I can't draw worth a lick. I don't expect everybody to be producing "flawless art" the moment they join - not by any means. But what I'm seeing on Yerf worries me a great deal, and it should worry you, too -- especially if you're an artist, because these are the people you're going to be keeping company with and appearing alongside.
There are five main things the administrators at Yerf can do to pull the site out of the tail spin that it is in now:
- Post the Artist Application again. Keep it up, even when applications aren't being accepted. Let people know what they're being judged by so they can tell if they even want to bother applying.
- Lose the egotism. Saying that another archive is "90% crap" or consists "mostly of bad adult art" really doesn't do much for your own image. Not to mention it puts you under scrutinity like this to see if you can "put your money where your mouth is."
- Start enforcing the rules again. If this doesn't start happening quick they're going to become nothing but a laughing stock and they'll never be enforcable again.
- Accept applications more often. Better yet, go out and actively solicit applications. This'll do wonders for the site's image and bring fresh blood and fresh, exciting new material in.
- Encourage diversity amongst artists and on a per-artist basis. There are only so many cut-and-paste Photoshop jobs a person can look at a day by the same artist.
With some work and a re-awakening on the part of the Administrators, Yerf can rise above the problems that are currently being faced. I think a "controlled" archive or gallery is a fine idea -- but as of right now I don't think that this site has a great deal to boast about. I'll go to Furnation or VCL for my artist fix. These sites seem to have learned lessons that Yerf has yet to come to terms with: Controlling content is a difficult proposition at best. Because of this lesson they're a more open, friendly atmosphere and when I go there I know that I'm getting a more honest, more realistic cross-section of the art in the fandom -- without all the hype and egoboo. Granted, that freedom to post anything comes at a cost - objectionable material can be posted, and lesser quality works will be displayed. But that is a tradeoff I'm willing to see taken in the long term.
Other sites hoping to gain popularity as a refuge for the "best Furry has to offer" can stand to take a few lessons from the things Yerf has done, both good and bad. If you set out to do something, you'd best ensure you stay true to your goals.