by Owen Wengerd
[This is the first time Owen Wengerd has written for WorldCAD Access, with plans to write more about user-oriented issues here. He'll continue writing about AutoCAD programming at his blog, Outside the Box. More about Mr Wengerd at http://otb.manusoft.com/about ]
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Visitors to the revamped web site of AUGI (Autodesk User Group International) wouldn't know it from reading the glossy ad-adorned main page, but there's been trouble brewing. The official AUGI blog had proudly proclaimed that the new site will "contain more information than ever before," but it turns out that in fact the treasure trove of information collected in the AUGI discussion forums over the past ten years disappeared during the transition, and members are not very happy about the loss.
It's clear that someone at AUGI dropped the ball, but it's not clear who. Outgoing president Mark Kiker spearheaded an effort two years ago to cut ties with Solid Vapor, the third party contractor who had been hired in 2003 to operate and promote the AUGI brand in exchange for, among other things, the right to profit from these pursuits for the next 10 years. Apparently this included the rights to the forum content. Could it be held hostage (until 2013 by some reports) due to terms in that original Solid Vapor contract?
I've been told that when the Solid Vapor agreement collapsed, one of the Solid Vapor principals agreed to continue hosting the AUGI web content, and the new hosting entity claims to have inherited all rights to the data and refuses to provide it to AUGI. In any case, AUGI apparently does not have access to the data from the old forums. It's plausible (and widely assumed) that AUGI management made a unilateral decision to change web hosting providers, then realized too late that the forum content would be held hostage.
Incoming president David Harrington has stated that the dispute will be resolved soon, and that he plans to restore the old forum software along with the old data. I don't know whether this represents a fundamental shift in philosophy, or was the plan all along, or is a reaction to the outcry from members and the recognition that a mistake was made, or just an attempt to smooth things over temporarily in hopes that the ruckus will die down.
This story has all the elements of a good spy novel, but the fallout has repercussions for many AUGI members who relied on the forum as a valuable information resource. As in past AUGI crises, members are left with no clear communication from AUGI representatives as to what is happening or who is calling the shots, and this magnifies the sense of helplessness that many members feel.
Unfortunately it also results in a lot of unhelpful gossip and innuendo clouding what is undoubtedly an important organizational drama playing out behind the scenes.
I'm confident that David Harrington and the AUGI board will eventually get this current crisis resolved, but as an AUGI member (albeit infrequent forum participant), I have a wish list for AUGI going forward:
- Make AUGI member-supported: consider a tiered membership system that ranges from free to dues-paying.
- Publish all legal agreements, contracts, and meeting minutes in a place where all members can read them.
- Give a membership-chosen ombudsman unfettered access to act as an impartial observer and auditor of all internal affairs.
- Focus on the members: act on our behalf, represent us, empower us, and be our collective voice to Autodesk.