|The History of Playtrek: The Mailing List - Year One||
My, oh, my! It's hard to believe it's been a whole year since this whole Playtrek thing started. The very first mailing went out in May 11th, 1997 to eight founding members. Since those very humble beginnings, we've grown to near 400 members and most importantly, a fun-loving, thriving community. The following is the history of Playtrek over the past year, as seen through my eyes. I hope that those of you that were there in the beginning and those that joined along the way, enjoy re-living those early days. And the late-comers get a glimpse into how this whole thing started and why things are the way they are. In the Beginning So why did this whole Playtrek thing get started? I started it for, in a way, rather selfish reasons. I'm a Juno user, and for anyone who knows Juno, it's a free e-mail only service. That's the key. It's *e-mail* only. I had gotten used to using the newsgroup, rec.toys.action-figures, for my Playmates' Star Trek toy news, but once graduating college late in 1996, my free internet use went away. I was still too poor and cheap to pay for a real internet provider, so I'd learned the tricks and trades to accessing the internet through e-mail by using Juno. Well, needless to say, while these methods worked, they were a real pain to use. They was prone to poor newsgroup feeds, e-mail delays, server failures, and just a whole lot of time and effort for very little gain. You get what you pay for, right? Add to that, rec.toys.action-figures had developed just too much noise for my tastes. Too much spam, too many FS/FT posts, too much immaturity, too many misleading subject lines, too much whining, and, while I respect other people's tastes in toys and their right to talk about them on the newsgroup, too much Star Wars, Spawn, Spiderman, Batman, Superman, etc. All I wanted was Star Trek. After a while, I became *extremely* frustrated by the whole thing. I fantasized about rec.toys.playmates.star-trek. And if you know anything about newsgroup creation, making a new usenet group is darned near impossible, so it remained just that: a fantasy. I seriously considered giving up the toy collecting hobby. The 1701's had killed my drive and the lack of reliable knowledge (no good newsgroup access) was making it even worse. I had come to a critical decision. Do I quit or not? On one hand, I loved my toys and I loved collecting them. On the other hand, it wasn't fun anymore because it had just become far too much work. My decision came down to me being pro-active, rather than inactive. If I couldn't get the newsgroup I wanted, well, I would just do the next best thing and make a mailing list that would be exactly what *I* wanted. If others felt like I did, they would be welcome to join. Playtrek Pre-history So where do I start at starting a new mailing list? Well, going back a year or so, I had always been active in the newgroup, alt.tv.beakmans-world. Yes, that's right, Roberto is a Beakfreak. The Beakman's World newsgroup had the disadvantages in that the spam was usually outnumbering the legitimate messages. And nearly monthly, some moron would come along and try and stir up trouble by saying "Bill Nye is better than Beakman". *Sigh!* So I started a manual mailing list dedicated to Beakman's World as a way of avoiding the unwanted stuff in the newsgroup. It was fun and we had participation by Mark Ritts (Lester the Rat) and Casey Keller (a show producer). This is where I cut my "running a mailing list" teeth. That's right. Those of you who enjoy Playtrek have Beakman's World to thank. And by running it manually, I was having people send their messages to a special Juno account I had set up. Every night, I would manually send the messages received out to all the subscribers. It was fairly easy as we only had about 30 members and we'd be lucky if we'd gotten more than two messages a day. Well, the Beakman's World mailing list had been so successful, I decided to do the same thing for a Playmates Toys, Star Trek toys mailing list. Looking back, I had no idea the list would become as big as it has, which makes these humble beginnings somewhat ironic. First thing I did was post a letter of interest to rec.toys.action-figures. Essentially, I just asked if people would be interested in such a mailing list. I got a smattering of response-- only seven people. But it was enough to inspire me to go on. I drafted and redrafted a document that was to be a guideline and set of rules for the mailing list (that would later become the "Welcome Message"). I passed it around to those who had shown the interest in the mailing list and asked for input. Slowly, but surely, I honed it into something that we thought would work. So the next thing I needed was an e-mail address to use as the central sight for people to send messages. Of course, Juno accounts are free and easy of obtain, so that's what I used. As some of you may have experienced, while creating the new account, I came to the screen where it asked for the e-mail address I wanted to use. Hmm... I tried "firstname.lastname@example.org", but it came back as taken. Would I like "trektoy8"? No. How about a mixture of PLAYmates toys and star TREK? Something like "email@example.com"? Okay, it wasn't taken, so it let me use it. That's right. The name "Playtrek" wasn't chosen by committee or after a long hard thought out process. It was a split second decision as I sat in front of my monitor and it was demanding that I strain my brain to enter a name right now or the phone line would hang up. "Playtrek" was chosen in desperation. As some of you early members may remember, for the mailing list, I used the screen name "Trektoy Playground". It was never my intention for the list to take on the name Playtrek, which I think makes the whole thing of the name kind of funny. But I, and many others started using it to identify the list and after a while, it stuck. Anyway, at this point, I had the rules set, the e-mail address all set up, and a core group of people to start the list. Playtrek Is Born The first Playtrek message was sent out on Sunday May 11th, 1997 at 11:34PM, eastern standard time. It went out to exactly eight people. In fact, for a blast from the past, here is a copy of the very first Playtrek message: >Subject: Playtrek Mailing List Issue #1 >Date: Sun, 11 May 1997 23:34:34 EST > >Topics this issue: > > An offer for the mailing list > From the next assortment > >---- > >From: "Scot Finer"
>To: firstname.lastname@example.org >Subject: An offer for the mailing list >Date: Sat, 10 May 1997 13:22:40 PDT >Message-ID: <199705102022.NAA13706@f10.hotmail.com> > >If anyone needs Janeway, or B'Elanna at cost let me know. I've seen about ten >of each of these gathering dust in my local area(condision C8-C9). I'd extend >this offer to the rest of our mailing list, but I don't have their email >addresses yet. Thanks, > > Scott > > >--------------------------------------------------------- >Get Your *Web-Based* Free Email at http://www.hotmail.com >--------------------------------------------------------- > >From: email@example.com (Roberto Jinx) >To: firstname.lastname@example.org >Subject: From the next assortment >Date: Sun, 11 May 1997 23:03:54 EST >Message-ID: <email@example.com> > > >Okay, I guess I better make my contribution to this list and >help start it off. > >Does anybody have any sort of confirmation that the McCoy >figure will be the limited edition in the next assortment? I've heard >rumbles that this is it, but so far, I think it's only speculation. I >want some confirmation before I find five of them and buy 'em >up for trades. > >Thanks > >Roberto > >---- Kinda slow beginnings, but that's okay. I really didn't want to get flooded with e-mail since I was doing all this manually. Otherwise, it would've taken *far* too much of my time. As it was, since I only got the messages sent out once a day, the conversations were rather sporadic. It's kind of hard to carry a dialog when you ask a question today, tomorrow someone responds, the next day you reply to their response, and so on and so on. It was a little tedious. But nevertheless, it worked. Topics ranged from the Mugatu wave of 5" figures, the difficulties in actually finding them in the stores, various customizing techniques, variations, etc. It was a quiet, friendly little community. I made periodic announcements to rta-f, inviting people to come join, and the group grew by four or five people a week. I'd had it sitting in the back of my mind for a long time that I'll bet Playmates Toys would love to listen in on our conversations. I wanted to invite Mara Hart, the Playmates Toys customer service rep, to join the group, but I was concerned that her presence would adversely effect the group's behavior. Like if they knew she was listening, people would act differently. I asked the group about it (via the mailing list, of course), and they almost overwhelmingly supported the idea. So I composed a long letter explaining who I was, what the list was about, and asking if she'd like to join. She agreed, and with a flurry of fanfare, Mara Hart joined the group. In those very early days, she was actually rather active with the group. She shared release information, some of her thoughts and opinions, etc. It was a fun, pleasant relationship. After a while, I had settled into a routine of every night gathering the messages from that day, cutting and pasting them into my Notebook editor to make one big message, then propagating the big message out to everybody. It got to be a lot of work, but it was a labor of love. Things got really hectic when Scott Gordon put a brief description and subscription information on the Raving Toy Maniac site. And somebody mentioned the list on an AOL board. Suddenly, the subscription rate was up to almost twenty people a week being added to the list. And of course, the increased number of people, means an increased number of messages. Now, instead of sending out one big message a day, I was sending out two and sometimes three! As much as I enjoyed it, it was getting to be a bit too much! I was spending all my time on the computer at night. I had asked if anyone had a mailing list server we could use before, but now I was begging. My old friend, Axel, came to my rescue. Open the Mailing List Doors, HAL Mine and Axel's relationship goes way back. Way back when the Q and Picard in DS9 uniforms had been out so long they were going on clearance, yet they still were clogging the shelves, I posted a message to rta-f that I would gladly help anybody out by picking them up at cost. I wanted those figure out of my stores so they'd start stocking the new stuff. Axel wrote to me and told me he would gladly buy them from me. He lives in Germany, so of course, these figures weren't common for him. I was only too happy to oblige. He also asked me if I could get some of the other, newer figures at cost. Sure! By the end of the year, we'd developed a relationship in that he'd send me money, and I'd buy one of each figure for him. I'm still doing that to this day (which makes some of the hard-to-finds twice as hard on me because I have to find them twice). So back to Playtrek, Axel volunteered to set up a mailing list server on the HAL machine at Hannover University in Germany. Great! And somewhere, somehow, along the way, I and everyone else had begun calling the list Playtrek. The name had stuck. So that's what Axel used when he and a student friend set up the list. I practiced adding and removing people from the list and I practiced posting to the list. It was working great. One problem, though. They didn't have any digest functions implemented yet. I would have to continue doing that manually until they got the digest up and running. Nevertheless, I wanted to see the new list in action, so on Thursday, June 26th, 1997, the new list went into operation! As expected, with people now able to carry almost real-time conversations, the list traffic skyrocketed. Making up the manual digests became a very serious problem. I was having a *very* hard time keeping up and I was continually falling behind. It got so bad, I seriously considered not doing the digests at all anymore, if Axel didn't get it implemented soon. I just didn't want to have to drop those digest subscribers. On top of all this, early August saw what was probably the most caustic flame war Playtrek has ever experienced. I was gone at work all day and was unaware of what was going on until I got home. People were wanting to unsubscribe all over the place, the list was in an uproar, and I was very angry. I put an immediate stop to the flames. I also had the unhappy task of gathering up the posts of this immature little flame war and sending it out to the digest subscribers. *Groan!* Thankfully, on August 19th, 54 days after the regular list started, the digest list went into effect. Whew! At this point, the mailing list you know and love today came into existence. The stress factor went waaaay down and the list started to get fun again. To celebrate, I ran a giveaway for a mint Generations Crusher figure. The respondents had to give the list a fun story about their acquisition of a Playmates Star Trek toy (and guess the magic number). The winner was Pete Kavanagh (Jtkirk161) with a guess of 161 and a story about getting the POTA set in a crowded mall-- during Christmas season-- mere days after having lower back surgery. Yikes! O'Brain! O'Brain! What is O'Brain! August and September were exciting, interesting times for Playtrek. The list had really just come alive as an entity. The community and sense of family was really starting to form. The T&T wave was in release and nearly everybody was scrambling to find the elusive O'Brien. The list shot down the ebay auctioneer who claimed to have the "ultra rare T&T Sisko with fuzzies". Trolls and false information just couldn't get past this group anymore. Amidst all the confusion about O'Brien (like Hangar 18 claiming it was never made in the first place), we pieced together various reports and rumors to determine that something very peculiar was going on with this figure and it was more scarce than the 10000 that Playmates originally claimed. When the list inquired to Mara for information, her responses were brief and vague. In early September, a listmember posted a private e-mail from her that kicked off a storm of controversy (primarily concerning her ability to effectively communicate and perform her job). I had to calm the list as another near flame war kicked up between listmembers that took sides for and against Mara. I also called the listmember to task for posting the private e-mail. Things calmed down, but almost a week or so later, I received word that Mara was really hurt by some of the comments and was threatening to leave the list. Hmmm... I was in a real quandary about this. I didn't want to see Mara leave the list as she was our only real voice into Playmates. On one hand, I didn't want to coddle her. She's a big girl and should be able to defend herself. On the other hand, I wasn't about to allow vulgar insults of Mara. In any case, I had no control over what Mara did, one way or the other, so if she decided she wanted off the list, I would take her off. To try and forestall this from happening, I sent her a long message explaining where I stood on all these issues and that I hoped she would take things into consideration before making her decision. I didn't get any response, which I took as a good sign. This whole indecent is the seeds of where Mara's Corner started, but more on that later. There were a few other notables that happened during this time period. Listmember JustCraig ran a giveaway for a T&T O'Brien, where people had to write an essay regarding articulation versus sculpting (in response to a recent Playmates announcement that articulation would be sacrificed on future figure to increase character likeness). I, Roberto, was the judge during the contest. I took extra special care to not pay attention to who wrote each essay, therefore, I was able to be as impartial as possible when the time came to choose a winner. The winner was Jeff Riemersma. Dan Trembley (a founding member of the list), ran a member survey with a giveaway (based on matching out birthdays) for a Vina and 1940's Crusher. The winners were Kevin and Daniel Godina (in Canada). Dan's statistics showed that, out of the approximately 40% of responding listmembers, the average age was 32.8 years. Other stats: 86% male, 14% female, 53% married, 30% single, 87% in the US, 5% down under (Australia), 3% in Canada, and the remaining in Mexico, Great Britain, and Japan. Also of interest, Bill Eggler, in a comedic sequence of events, became the Official Playtrek Whipping Boy. I almost kicked off another flamewar when I made reference to the newly christened "Bill the Whipping Boy" when new listmember, William "I'm not Bill" Varas, who was unaware of Bill's new status, took my comments personally. Oops! Apologies had to be quickly made. Make the Corner So, Number One During October through December, the list grew by leaps and bounds as several new features were added. First and foremost, Playtrek gained a second-in-command, Aries Galindro. I felt that I needed somebody to calm the waters when potential flame wars kicked off and I wasn't around to stop it. Aries was someone whose judgment, through her e-mails, I had learned to trust. She would be my eyes and ears, when I couldn't be around. She would also manage things when I was unable to do so (such as a vacation). We made arrangements to get together on the telephone so I could show her how to manage the list, but I decided to wait until I got the new list up and running. More on that later, as it's been a rather curious sequence of events. In the meantime, due to the near loss of Mara Hart from the list, my mind got to working. Since she rarely posted to the list anymore (I assume, because of the negativity to her answers), I dreamed up Mara's Corner. It would be a forum for listmembers to ask her questions, filtered through me. Part of the deal was that I would organize the questions so that they (hopefully) made sense and reduced redundancy. Her end of the deal was that she would have to answer each question presented-- even if she answered "I don't know." Also, I added a specific "no flames" policy in regards to Mara's Corner, which proved to have serious repercussions a few months later. In November, I announced Mara's Corner and on December 6th, the first Mara's Corner was posted to the list. While a bit bumpy getting out of the starting gate, it proved to be a success. Playtrek scoops included Data as Sherlock Holmes in 9" size and the numbers made for the Spencer Gifts and Kaybee exclusives. Another hot topic of discussion during this time period was the Spencer Gifts mail order exclusives. Quality control at Playmates was obviously slipping when a Playtrekker noted that the 4.5" figures listed the figures as "Speneer" Gifts exclusives. Apparently, Spencer Gifts was experiencing some growing pains as a mail order company as their packing of these overpriced collectibles left much to be desired and many a Playtrekker was receiving damaged goods (myself included). Often times, the hand (the people manning the phones) didn't know what the foot (the people in the warehouse) was doing and frustration ensued as nobody seemed to be able to get clear answers on what was happening with their orders. Although a bit slow to rectify the problems, eventually Spencers got their act together and by years end, most of the Playtrekker appetites were satisfied. The New Year Bringeth New Fruit Around the first of the year, Playtrek got it's first dedicated website. Chris Doyle started the Playtrek T/S/W (Trade/Sell/ Want) Site which was an immediate smashing success. Ever since, the site has been a hotbed of activity as Playtrekkers have gone there to check out the latest. Thanks Chris! To this list, he also added a special "want" section for the Target exclusive 9" Harry Kim and The Doctor. As a result of this section on Chris' site and the kindness of fellow Playtrekkers, almost every Playtrekker who wanted this set, regardless of their geographical location, was able to obtain the set. What an accomplishment! It's clear that Playtrek, the mailing list, has become a force with which to contend. Despite all the goodwill, things got a bit ugly in early February when a comment showed up on the rec.toys.action-figures newsgroup, about how Mara's Corner was a (paraphrasing) "useless forum" because Playmates could spout anything they wanted and the no flames policy prevented anyone from giving any negative feedback. Hmm... Well, that I can accept, but also on the newsgroup was a comment that Playtrek, the mailing list, was a useless tool of Playmates. What!? Nothing could be further from the truth! And the person making these comments was not, nor had ever been, a member of the mailing list, so I was a bit flabbergasted that he could make such claims. I e-mailed the person, disputing what he had written, but curiously, he refused to budge from his position. Eventually, the mailing list itself got drawn into the argument. Things got really ugly there and arguments were flying back and forth about the value of Mara's Corner. The main "con" that people stated about it was the no flames policy. I had had no idea that many people had such negative feelings about it (and wished they'd spoken up *much* sooner as I thought everything was fine and dandy until then). Mara sent me a private email saying that if people had such horrible feelings about Mara's Corner, then maybe we should just cancel it altogether. Well, to make a long story short, I called Mara on the phone and we shared a long conversation about Playtrek, Playmates, Mara's Corner, Star Trek, California, her kids, irate consumers, etc. When the dust settled, we agreed to continue Mara's Corner with some changes. The no flames policy would be removed and Mara promised to give more meaningful answers. The wounds were bandaged and (almost) everyone was satisfied. The real irony is, the debut of the new and improved Mara's Corner never occurred due to Mara going on an unexpectedly early maternity leave. To this day, Mara's Corner is in limbo and I'm unsure what will happen to it in the future. It's kind of sad that I put so much blood, sweat, and tears into keeping it alive, and it should vanish to dust so quick and easily. In March, as a way to help soothe all the hurt feelings, Melissa Perry ran a giveaway of a reverse negative Borg and a loose, but complete Esoqq. This one was another essay contest where the winner had to tell why they collect Star Trek toys. And sadly, Melissa made national news when her house was one of those partially destroyed by tornadoes that raked across Atlanta in April. Luckily, the toys weren't damaged-- just the computer. Oh Find Me a Home, Where the Mailing Lists Roam There's a long sordid story about trying to find a new home for the mailing list. The HAL machine, while free, also has the disadvantages of being in Germany, having little support when things go wrong, having little support for the bells and whistles that I want to add, and most important, any day it could vanish. Conceivably, the school could come in one day and say "Hey! Who are these toy people and why are they using our machine?" We didn't get special permission to use it. There's no contract for services. It was just set up when Axel was kind enough to do it and provide a machine that his school wasn't using. Well, with the fear that the mailing list would vanish without notice, I set out to find a new provider. My first goal was to find out what was available and where to look. I contacted a friend who run another mailing list with which I'm involved (for Juno users) and he gave me a plethora of information. What I finally decided was that a local provider would be best. So I pulled out the phone book and started calling around. Let me tell you, not many ISPs provide mailing list services for private use. I found plenty of places that would provide for-fee, commercial use listservs, however being for commercial use, it cost an average of about $60 per month. Yikes! More than I can afford. There were also several very scary but humorous encounters where I would ask for information on mailing list services and the person on the other end of the phone would *yell* that they don't support spamming. Well, in late February, I finally found a local provider, EZOnline, that would provide me with a listserv for $10 a month. That sounded good. They were willing to do it that cheap because they wanted to get into the mailing list business and Playtrek would be a guinea pig while they learned how to handle it. They set up the basic list and I began testing it. There were all sorts of things wrong with it, primarily it was not a protected list and I wanted to be able to change the list owner. I e-mailed my requirements to the company and waited for a response. And waited... And waited... Finally, I call and ask what's up. The guy on the other end says he never got the email. Okay, so I resend. Essentially, we go in circles: me trying to get him to make a few minor changes to the list, and he stonewalling and not getting it done. Frustrated, I finally decide to look elsewhere for a list provider. Late in March, I e-mailed a friend who runs the seaQuest mailing list with which I'm involved, and she says she can give me a list-- for free! See, she does mailing lists and computer networking for fun! Great! Within two days, she's got the list set up *exactly* like I want it. Perfect! Many of you may remember when I did the testing on that list. Well, I was ready to debut the new list when she tells me that she's going to do a software upgrade on May 1st and the list will be down for a day or two. I decided to wait to debut the new list until she's done. Ironically, the list on the HAL machine goes down that same weekend for a day or two. Well, why didn't I ever debut the new list, you ask? Because as I type this, she *still* hasn't finished the software upgrade. *Sigh!* You get what you pay for, I guess. So giving up on her lists, I go looking for yet another mailing list provider. I contact the company, World, that hosts the Juno users mailing list with which I'm involved. They can provide me a mailing list (actually two: one regular, one digest) for $25 a month. One bad thing (and the reason I didn't go with them in the first place), is that they run majordomo software, rather than listserv. I don't want to have to learn a whole new mailing list, but at this point I'm desperate. Sign me up! They are very friendly, quick, and knowledgeable. They have 24 hour support. And they have the new lists set up in a matter of three days. I have to telnet to World to administer the list, so I begin testing when... crash! Something goes seriously wrong with my computer. My networking software won't work correctly and I can't telnet to World. Argh! Well, after a bit of teethpulling, I get things fixed and I'm once again in the process of testing and configuring the new lists. *Sigh!* I think we finally got it made this time, folks. More info as it becomes available, but expect in within a few weeks, or maybe even days if all goes well. Happy Anniversary! By total coincidence, I scheduled the Playtrek party at my home just mere days before the one year anniversary of the start of the mailing list. For the first time, I got to meet, face to face, many of the people that I had laughed and cried with over the past year. I won't go into all the details about the party because I've already covered that elsewhere and this document has gotten long winded enough as it is. I will say that for me, the party meant that the list had come full circle. I got to meet Dan Trembley, who has been there with me from the very beginning. It felt somehow complete. What had started out as a selfish way for me to try and get the latest info on the Playmates Trek toys, had grown into a great leviathan. Coincidentally marking the one year anniversary, John Schmidt started the Playtrek Family Album web page as a way for Playtrekkers to "see" each other and get to know a little more about us. And as of the exact one year anniversary on May 11th, Playtrek had exactly 386 members. It's spawned an ill-fated Mara's Corner. It's seen the departure of both Garber and Overley. It's had it's major flame wars. It's spawned two web pages (John's family album and Chris Doyle's B/S/T page). It's watched the wildly unpopular limited editions continue. It's gotten the Target exclusives to every Playtrekker that wanted them for cost. It's watched the Strike Force line being born and dying. It's had a large share of giveaways. But most important of all, it's created friendships among like-minded people. I now count many a Playtrekker as a friend. Thanks to each and every one of you for making this a fun experience which I look forward to experiencing on a daily basis. May year two be as much fun as the first. Live long and prosper. And be kind to one another. Robert Porter (AKA Caballero Roberto)