Finally…we’re done

“Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather: Part III

As of today, Jay and I no longer run Windyhop. Per this post, it is now “owned” by Doug “Doberman” Hillman and Aris “knite” Pikeas.

For those of you who don’t know, Windyhop serves as the central site for swing dancing in Chicago. Jay and I have been trying to unload our responsibility for it for several years now, but finally we’ve gotten someone to step up and own it.

We’re free.

It’s kind of weird.

Back in the (g)olden days of swing in Chicago (aka “1998 or so”), some dude named Jason used to maintain a single page website that listed all the swing events in the city. My friend Jason (not the same one, and referred to from now on as “Jay”) and I used to talk about how it would be cool if there was another site, one that had more features, and possibly more interaction, to serve the community. In the beginning of 1999, we started work on a site that was based on ASP and an Access database. Several names were suggested for it (including “Swing This, You Sausage Lover”, but we settled on “SwingHomeChicago.com”).

Shortly after we started work on the site, the “other” Jason sent out an email saying that he couldn’t maintain the Swing Calendar anymore, and a group was being formed to take it over. Jay forwarded the email to me, asking “should we join up with them, or just keep going and dominate them?” We elected to do the latter.

We did a little work on the site over the summer, but didn’t really get moving. Then, in the fall of 1999, Jay was put “on the bench” at his job at AC, and since he didn’t have anything else to do, put a lot of effort into SHC. This culminated in a massive coding session at Jay’s apartment over the Thanksgiving weekend. We were joined in our efforts by our friend (and Jay’s roommate) Clint, and were fortified by homemade goodies from Jay’s girlfriend Kristi.

On Dec 1, 1999, SwingHomeChicago.com went officially “live”.

Nobody noticed.

Sometime in January of 2000 (or so), Jay, Kristi, and I left a bunch of flyers out on the tables at Liquid, advertising SHC. Actually, we had Kristi put them out on the tables, because we (Jay and myself) were remaining ‘anonymous’ as “Mugsy” and “Punches”. We were afraid that if people knew who was doing the site (i.e., two guys they’d never heard of), they wouldn’t use it.

The Liquid flyers brought in some new traffic to the site, but the discussion boards were still very empty. Jay and I actually created a few aliases for ourselves, and posted some conversations between them, just to make it look like the board had traffic. Oh, and the day after we put out the flyers, someone who I will keepa anonymous sent us an email threatening to sue us since he “owned” the name “Swing Home, Chicago”. We consulted with the SHC legal team (my friend Dan who once was an admin assistant in a legal firm), and decided to just ignore him.

This all changed on Februrary 21, 2000, when Dave “Lippy” Rentauskas discovered SHC. He sent an email to a bunch of people about it, and also posted about it on Yehoodi. In that one day, membership of SHC more than tripled – this is when people like Nuprin, MissKitty, Doberman, etc all signed up. Thanks to Dave, SHC was on the map.

Jay and I were still anonymous though, but that same week Jay met everyone at Liquid. Nobody cared that we were “nobodies”. And we were “nobodies” no longer. Suddenly we were celebrities in the Chicago swing scene. Sort of.

Around the same time, we were approached by Mary Hamilton, who was working with the Chicago Swing Dancing Society at University of Chicago. Apparently, CSDS was interested in “joining forces” with SHC, and offering up a larger, more elaborate portal. We had several meetings with CSDS, as well as the maintainers of the old “Chicago Swing Dancing Calendar” webpage, and from these meetings a new organization, henceforth known as “Windyhop” was born.

(Trivia – one of the alternate names proposed was “Splanky”, which is amusing, since that is now the name of the KC board, I think)

One of the advantages of joining forces with CSDS was that we could move off of the shared hosting (which was costing Jay and myself about $30 a month or so) onto a dedicated server located in the CSDS office at U of C. However, the U of C network policy would not allow any incoming HTTP requests going to a “.com” domain, so it was decided to make us “Windyhop.org”.

It took about a month or so to put together the code for the new site, which was a combination of three services – Swing Home Chicago, which basically replicated the SHC.com content, CSDS (replacing the previous home page for the Society), and a service invented by Young Jinn dubbed “Swing Street, USA”. I honestly don’t remember what it was supposed to do – I think it was supposed to be a collection of information about swing, including music track info, etc, etc. I think it was also supposed to be some kind of search engine.

One of the new features added to SHC for Windyhop was a photo gallery. I’m quite proud of this, since I wrote most of the code for it. Remember, at the time we were doing this, none of the other swing sites had ANYTHING like it. In fact, SHC/Windyhop was revolutionary in that it allowed anyone to submit events (albeit requiring approval before posting) to the calendar. Sites like Yehoodi, and eSwing required that the moderators/admins of the sites maintain the calendar. I honestly don’t know how they kept it up. At first, Jay and I had to maintain the calendar ourselves, but once the site took off, groups like Evin and Noel (who became Blue Moon Groove), and some bands (including Sam Burkhart) would take care of their own stuff. It was pretty cool.

Anyway, on April 20 (or so), we had the “launch party” for Windyhop. This took place as an extended Java Jive (the Friday night dance at U of C) event. We were pretty behind on the coding, so during the first hour or so of the dance, several of us were in the back office furiously pounding away at code. We finished it up, and the new Windyhop was unveiled to a packed house. We even had t-shirts printed up (with a design created by Drew).

The next few months are a little fuzzy, and I don’t want to post details that implicate people without remembering the exact details. Long story short, this “new team” of 12 people or so ended up with Jay and I still doing the lion’s share of the work (one of the advantages of this larger group was that with all this “new blood”, work would be distributed, etc). There were also some major personality conflicts between Jay and myself and some of the folks at CSDS. Another thing we hadn’t known at the time was that CSDS was not terribly well regarded in the scene (specifically because of one member, who will remain nameless, but you all know who I am talking about). For a short while, Windyhop lost a LOT of cachet with a good portion of the scene because we’d hitched our wagon to the CSDS star.

After a while of this going down, Jay and I decided to take Windyhop and run. Again, the details of how this worked out, I don’t really remember (but I do remember a shouting match outside of Ida Noyes Hall, which is funny to think about now). We took Windyhop (just the SHC part, removing the CSDS and “Swing Street” components) and moved it back to shared hosting.

Problem was, now that we had gotten so popular (and big, due to the size of the photo gallery), our costs were rising. We actually were threatened to be shut down by our ISP due to traffic/data size concerns. Windyhop needed to move to its own, dedicated server…but the costs were high. Much higher than Jay and I were willing to pay out of our own pockets.

Windyhop needed money.

I honestly don’t remember whose idea it was to have a fundraiser dance. I do know that the name “Black and Tan Fantasy” was coined by Drew. I remember having a conversation with Howard at a Boulevard Swing Club event shortly before the B&T, in which he told me that he didn’t think the fundraiser was a good idea (he didn’t think we’d make money, he thought we’d lose), but he offered to have his group pay for listings on Windyhop. We refused the offer, because it was always important to use that SHC/Windyhop offer the same information for all events, and not let anyone pay their way towards a better listing. Anyway, despite some snafus (last minute cancellation from the original venue, issues with the contract terms with the new venue), the first Black and Tan Fantasy came off as a rousing success. We earned enough money to pay for a dedicated server for a year (and would have earned a lot more if we hadn’t had to pay an exorbitant gratuity fee to the venue).

Time passed for Windyhop. We had more B&T’s every year, and they developed into a whole weekend worth of activities – kind of like a mini-Exchange. It was a lot of fun. We eventually moved from a dedicated server to owning our own hardware co-located (cost savings were great to do it that way), and Jay and I had quite a few ISP adventures that aren’t interesting enough to share here.

Somewhere along the line, Jay started working on Windyhop 2.0. This was a COM+ application, which fixed a lot of the nagging issues with the old Windyhop (which was still, fundamentally, running on the same codebase from 1999, which we wrote when we didn’t really know what we were doing). Windyhop 2.0 never saw the light of day, because as Jay was about 75% done with it, he decided to rewrite the whole thing in .NET.

I wish I could say I had a part in the new code of Windyhop. I really didn’t. In the time between SHC and the .NET Windyhop, Jay’s skills vastly overtook my own. The only thing I really did with the new Windyhop was to help Jay troubleshoot, and I also did the data transforms to migrate the old MS Access database into the SQL database that the new Windyhop runs on.

In March of 2005, Jay and I were ready to release the new Windyhop code to the world. We decided to do this at the last Black and Tan Fantasy, which would also serve as our “retirement” party. Our hope was that with the new Windyhop, with its superior administration tools (in the old WH, if you weren’t Matt or Jay, it was next to impossible to figure out how to admin the site), we could turn it over to someone else. Someone who was still excited about the scene. Someone who would have the energy and motivation to do what we’d done for the past six years.

That didn’t happen.

Granted, we got some new people on the team (Dan Skibo, Frank Ortiz, and Riley Wimes) who helped out greatly in the “day to day” running of the site. But Jay and I still “owned” it. Jay and I still supported the server. Jay and I still took the brunt of complaints. Jay and I still had to fix things that broke.

Last month, Jay and I decided we were done. We provided an ultimatum to the scene – take over Windyhop by April 15, or we were shutting it down. And, finally, someone did. We have every faith that Doug and Aris will be able to keep Windyhop going (and that Aris is going to be able to “fix” what is still broken – by creating entirely new Windyhop code using tools that weren’t available when we started).

It’s nice to have it done. It’s nice to not own it anymore.

But it’s really, really weird.

Edited to correct the timeline of the CSDS/Calendar/SHC merger

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~ by Matt Stratton on April 16, 2007.

15 Responses to “Finally…we’re done”

  1. funny internet machine tellin me stories

  2. Love the hidden secret “code” in paragraph 12 (including the one sentence paragraphs and intro). Fun to relive this.

  3. This was the first big thing I did in the Swing Dance scene. I was in between jobs and had a full week to devote to all of the layout and t-shirt artwork.

    I remember the legendary code push until something insane like 4 or 5am on the stage of Ida Noyes so as to be ready for Friday Night’s launch. Every so often we had to close up the laptops and quiet down whenever we heard footsteps. And the dance that night was electric. Everyone came.

    The Swing Street USA portion of the site would have been such a cool feature but in retrospect, impossible to maintain. I stuck with the implementor of this site, and it turned into a project known as Lindy U., after which I was able to write my ticket to work with pretty much anyone I wanted in the swing dance scene.

    Over the years I’ll admit I had a love/hate relationship with the board, and by that I mean specifically the people who posted on it. I’ll freely admit that reading what people wrote sapped my enthusiasm for dancing in Chicago. It seemed that every other week, I was either getting flamed by some anonymous poster or blamed for something I didn’t start. Let me put it this way–I’ve never asked anyone to call me missus, and never will. Certainly not a canine. But by folding it up I’d let them win, which I was determined not to allow.

    But everything happens for a reason. I ended up moving away. First to Minneapolis, then Nashville, then LA.

  4. Crazy stuff, man. I know the site was a very strong connection for me to Chicago, the scene, and my friends there. Would there be a Dancing with Gaia without Windyhop?

  5. Huh… somehow I wasn’t logged in. Anyway, that was me.

  6. Really good to see you last night and thanks again for everything!

  7. On February 10th 2000 – Mary Hamilton approached the maintainers of the old “Chicago Swing Dancing Calendar” web page with the idea of joining forces.

    On February 11th 2000 – Jason Wyckoff approached the maintainers of the old “Chicago Swing Dancing Calendar” web page with the idea of joining forces.

    On February 12th 2000 – The CSDS folks and the Swing Dance Calendar folks met and it was the Calendar people that suggested that SHC be invited to join the effort…

  8. It was agreed on the 12th to include SHC… The conversation in the parking lot occurred sometime between then and the 22nd… and the same conversation took place via e-mail between the Calendar peeps and Jason on the 22nd.

    And – yeah… the dates are from old e-mails…

  9. Yeah, I was just guessing as far as the dates for when the “merger” started – I knew that the influx via Lippy happened on the 21st, because I could see when his account was created. For some reason I was thinking that the merger happened a while later, but backdating from the April launch, there’s no way we would have started those conversations in March, now that I think about it. Thanks for the helpful corrections to the timeline, Mysterious Stranger.

  10. I say let’s blame the Full Moon that occurred on Feb 19th that year…

  11. mebbe we should wiki the ACTUAL history of Windyhop?

  12. I think that what inquiring minds most want to know (or at least myself and Aris’ do) is, did you guys get laid as a direct result of running Windyhop?

    First you geet dee web site.

    Then you geet dee power.

    Then you geet the dee wimmin!

    Right?

  13. i’ve run/managed several online communities over the years, but i can’t imagine doing it for that long. you must be relieved to be done with it.

    btw, you totally reminded me that i’d been meaning to change my username for ages. i’ve been phasing out the not-real-name stuff over the last year, partly because i think it would be better to have my photos and everything linked with my portfolio site. (hopefully it’ll make me appear more well-rounded artistically to prospective employers.)

  14. if you want wiki.windyhop.org – you must first post your pics to tatas.windyhop.org

  15. Windyhop was and is a massively important resource for the scene. You and Jay should be proud of what you’ve done. I hope you enjoy your retirement. Thanks

    Dan Skibo

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