Monday, December 06, 2010

Creativity and collaboration lose a home on the web

This is a quintessenial blog post--a quasi-rant about a really esoteric topic. But it's about a website that has been a great resource and community for me, and I'm grieved by the news that it's terminal. If you've found me from that site, please let me know in the comments below about your response. Thanks.

The change that was to come

For some time (as you have been able to see on my sidebar), I've been a pretty engaged member on I have had no economic interest in being active--I don't have a speaking schedule, I haven't written a book, I'm not even currently employed in any capacity that relates to creative worship. I just love the subject.

Several months ago, Creative Worship Tour administrators (the ownership and management of the site has never been made clear) informed us that a new site was being developed to replace it. It was supposed to be the next generation.

The disappointment of what finally is
Well, the new site is finally "up," and it's essentially a blog. Though the promises about what Clayfire was going to be were murky, the roll-out this week has been a huge disappointment to me, on two fronts:

First, the new site is not a platform for open-sourced free collaboration. It is a blog run by, it seems, three people heavily involved with site. If you want to share something, it needs to be in the format the site managers are asking for, and something they like. There are no discussion forums. Nobody except the administrators can post a blog. The only content and features that will continue to exist on Clayfire are the blog entries by the site administrators.

Secondly, the communication about and process of developing this new site has been abysmal. There has been little explanation for the decision to shut down CreativeWorshipTour.
Here's one quote (from the Clayfire Facebook page):
Creative Worship Tour was launched as an exploration into the world of creative worship. Over the past few years we have learned a great deal from everyone involved. clayfire is the next phase in this process. While we love the name of Creative Worship Tour as well, know that the principles of the social network site will continue in a more focused way with clayfire. We look forward to moving forward in this exciting new direction. Hope this helps!
The original projected launch date of Clayfire--which we were told would be at, a site which does not now exist--was supposed to be October. That date came and went with no explanation.

Follow the money?
The most baffling part of this is why this change happened at all. I like CWT. There may have been a few features I would have liked to see improve, but it functioned well. The only explanation of this whole saga that is plausible to me is about the money.

When I first joined CWT, I had one conversation with a friend who seemed to be privy to some of the process that led to the site's creation. Augsberg Fortress, the publishing wing of the ELCA, was looking to create a resource for post-modern worship. They reached the conclusion that a published book would not serve this well--the timeline for publishing a hymnal meant that all resources would be stale by the time the volumes were ready for sale. An online collaborative community would be much more useful. These were, according to my friend, the seeds of CWT.

Fast-forward to today. Clayfire is produced by Sparkhouse, "the ecumenical division of Augsburg Fortress, the publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in a America (ELCA)." (see here). What's on the lower left sidebar of every page of Clayfire? An ad for their most recent book, Mark Pierson's new book "The Art of Curating Worship," published by, you guest it, Augsberg Fortress.

I don't know who was funding CWT., the company that provides the social network platform that CWT runs on, lists its prices here, and at the least, CWT was costing someone $20 a month (maybe more like $50). But it was not revenue-generating for anyone. The new site is clearly designed with that possibility in mind. But it was not designed for open-source collaboration.

Quo vadimus?
"Quo Vadimus," a term I learned from another cultural artifact that was too short-lived--the TV show SportsNight--means, "where are we going?" And that is the question I am asking myself, and, if you are a CWT refugee, I am asking you. Are you going to be active on Clayfire Curator? Are you going to turn your efforts to another network? Perhaps the Ning-powered Love is Concrete? Do we need to petition to keep CWT alive, under new management? Do we need to start our own site? Please comment.