Trevor Morson interviews Mathijs Kok
interview was conducted by Trevor Morson firstname.lastname@example.org
SimFlight.com thought it would be interesting to conduct an interview with someone who has been highly involved in the hobby for years. We wanted an interview that leaned on the subject of message boards, forums etc, the community on line, how has it changed?, how was it years ago? Miguel and I thought about who we should interview to get a glimpse into this and it was not long before we both agreed, that it should be Mathijs Kok. A simmer and now also a LAGO associate, who has been involved with the flightsim community for years via message boards, forums and get together via his famous interstate races. He has participated in message boards as a Sysop, a moderator and as a plain simmer giving his valuable opinions on the hobby. I have some difficult questions, and so we shall proceed and hopefully the answers to them.
SFC: Mathijs thanks for taking the time in your busy schedule to answer these questions, my first question may require a long answer, however, I would like to start with a question about FSFAN, what was it, how was it formed and when? Was it the first BBS (Bulletin Board System)?
FSFAN was a community of friends. It was never a user group or a club. We never liked member lists etc.. It was formed about 12 years ago by me. It all started with me inviting a few friends to fly around on our Atari ST 1040 machines that had the best version of Fs (2) at that time. Only later did we start to use a BBS because 12 years ago the whole idea of communication with your computer was still very exotic. We build our (acoustic) modems (1200 Baud) and that worked. Sometimes.
SFC: How would one connect and communicate within FSFAN?
By phoning me:-) Later you used your modem to call the BBS's.
SFC: How busy was it?
The monthly meetings (or when we had the time) were very busy, in fact they were kept secret to avoid people coming uninvited. The BBS's became very busy, remember it is a one on one connection so only one user can access the system at the same time.
SFC: Who was the first forum moderator or Sysop (System Operator) that you remember?
The name that comes to mind first is Hans Stoekenbroek. He was the SysOp of the KLM Airchips BBS that we used as our base. When the FSFAN network grew we had a lot of help from Miguel Blaufuks who had a BBS in Germany and took care of many of the foreign links. These BBS's phoned each other at night to exchange files and messages. It grew into a few hunderd systems running from deep into Russia to Mexico. We had by far the biggest file collection at that time.
SFC: What were the topics of discussion? ...were there any controversial messages at that time?
We talked mostly about how realistic it all was and ways to extend Fs. Nothing changed really:-) Of course there were heated debates, it seems we all had to learn to deal with digital communications and there were a few flames here and there. But as we did not have real rules, anything that was not racist was acceptable. Even commercial adds etc.
SFC: Where are those FSFAN users now do you know? and, were is FSFAN now?
FSFAN itself is long gone, it sort of melted into the Interstate organization that organized those long 24 hour races in The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. Most of the old guys are still around, it is amazing how the lively, almost anarchistic feel is still around. We always thought of it as a hobby and not a way to gain power and influence.
SFC: Who would moderate FSFAN, what typical messages were removed, if any?
I can only remember a few messages that I would liked to have seen removed but the nature of the system did not allow it. In name I was moderating most areas but never felt the need to tell people what to do. We ignored idiots, that was our communal way of moderating. Very different from our biggest rival CompuServe with it's myriad of silly rules (and the people who thought keeping those rules was important). Much more like the Internet is doing now. I would think 90% of all message areas on the Internet are not moderated at this moment.
SFC: Was FSFAN were you got to know Miguel Blaufuks?
Yep, he ran a BBS in Germany that grew into the www.simFlight.com we all know (and love).
SFC: What was next after FSFAN for you, CompuServe? Did you leave FSFAN and if so, under what circumstances?
I never left FSFAN as there was nothing to leave. It never was an organization. If you felt like us and had some contact with us you considered yourself a friend of FSFAN. But CompuServe offered a new way of communication, technically more suited to our needs. This was the time BBS's started to close and I simply shifted with friends to other places to meet.
SFC: Can you talk about the controversies during the mass exodus of CompuServe's Flight Simulation Forum? Maybe a little history of the time?
Mmmmmm, what can one say about this? Looking back it was unavoidable. The 'do it yourself' attitude of many flight simmers had to clash with the rules and regulations of CompuServe. One of the most difficult things was that it was all so American, so tame, so neat. Any conversation that was getting interesting was cut short because it was considered not 'nice'. The strangest words were on a list of 'forbidden words'. For us Europeans who flooded the CompuServe areas this was very hard to understand and accept. Add a little power play from the people who had to patrol the 'fora' and you have a conflict.
SFC: Did you feel restricted at CompuServe at first or did you think it was something that came later?
I felt restricted from the start because you could not say what you wanted. I still like to write stuff like 'piss-off' when I feel like it.
SFC: Why do you think CompuServe was so popular at the time versus other on-line sources?
What other sources? AOL only grew large a few years later and CompuServe was the only net that was available in Europe. Of course the Internet killed off the CompuServe as it was back than mighty fast.
SFC: Just who the heck, invented the word 'fora' do you know [grin].
SFC: Ok, so CompuServe developed another and alternative Flight Simulation forum, Simgames, for those that left the FS Forum. What was your involvement here?
The fact that I (and later others) was refused access to FsForum seemed to serve as a catalyst and things moved very fast after that. Within weeks a new forum was formed and I became one of the SysOps in the new Simgames forum.
SFC: John Keane and Mike Vidal introduced me to Simgames during my conflicts at the time with FS Forum, who made the introductions for you in the different forums?
I have no idea. It's a long long time ago.
SFC: Did many FSFAN simmers come over to CompuServe at the time?
Mmmmm... not so many. A lot joined us again when we moved to the Internet. CompuServe always had bad press in my circles.
SFC: Did you notice any changes in simmers on CompuServe via the message boards compared to FSFAN earlier?
Yes, they were bored most of the time because it was all so lifeless. Of course there was superb discussion as well (there were some giants minds at work) but we tended to see flight simulation as a method of having fun, not meaning of life.
SFC: What was your take on removal or censorship of messages during the CompuServe era?
Rules are rules and if you don't like it you have no reason to be there. The problem was that those rules seemed to be very flexible for some and not for others. I don't think there is any need to sensor any forum because 99% of the users are sane people with a hobby. We were talking about flight simulation, what could be more harmless? If you don't agree with somebody you ignore the message.
SFC: Looking back, do you think the controversial subjects often seen on CompuServe compare to nothing what we see on the Internet public message boards today?, meaning do you think CompuServe's restrictiveness or style of moderation in some areas is a good idea after all?
The fact that there are many very well visited areas on the Internet that seem to do fine without moderation proves that it is not needed. But this is 1999 and we seemed to have learned to deal with it much better. The world has come my way:-) But CompuServe still exists and if the people there are happy that is no problem to me. Some people feel more secure in a moderated area.
SFC: Are you still locked out of CompuServe's Flight Simulation Forum?
Yep. Still loosing sleep over it:-)
SFC: Why is it you think, we still see freeware text files that state, "must not be uploaded to a CompuServe forum"? Bad memories or because it's basically a commercial on line site?
I don't think CompuServe is any more or less commercial that many other www sites. So it must be bad memories. I would not like to see something I made in an area that I could not visit.
SFC: Why did you leave CompuServe? Were did you arrive next?
I think I still have an account there. But I left because of the rules but more important because there was an alternative. The big and bad Internet.
SFC: What was your role in the early days of simFlight.com? Did you make any changes or recommend some?
I helped out as much as I could, mostly writing and talking to Miguel. Remember we were all pretty green.
SFC: Do you have an opinion of how good a forum is measured, by number of posts or by quality?
Quantity and quality are both important. But I find those not very important to how people feel at home, the way they are having fun, making friends. For me a message-area is a bar where I can get some help if needed. But also a drink and a laugh.
SFC: When you came across to the Internet public message boards, what were your opinions at the time, of this style?
It was what we needed. An open fresh look without boundaries.
SFC: Newsgroups, what are the advantages, how do they work, are they restricted, moderated better?
I find newsgroups often to crowded with to much nonsense so I use advanced newsreaders to fish for the people and messages that could contain stuff that I like or need. Working for LAGO now means that I have to keep in touch with what is hot and what is not.
SFC: Which Newsgroups did you use, are you still involved?
Involved? I would say none. But I lurk in about 30. I find the message areas on the bigger flightsim sites better.
SFC: Payware versus Freeware, Piracy etc.. a lifelong debate in Forums Old and New, What are your opinions here, have they changed? Do you read these types of things today?
Piracy is simple. It's bad and it is stupid. I'm pretty honest and am looking at about 300 boxes of FS related software here. Freeware is great, there is some amazing stuff that beats the crap out of much of the commercial stuff. Shareware can be very good and a good way to distribute software. But service can be bad and a lot of the shareware is simply lacking in quality. Commercial is one way to go. As I work for LAGO I must say that out stuff is good enough to be boxed and sold but I have seen enough sloppy software being boxed. I'll tell you a secret, I check out many, many products that are send to LAGO for possible commercial use. 90% of it is absolutely below our standards or contains so many bugs that it would take ages to fix them all. But a lot of these products are being shipped by others without any change.
SFC: Mathijs, what would be your ideal forum and how do you think it should be moderated? Meaning if a major web site were to take your advice in this, how should they do it?
Don't moderate but invite the people you trust and like. Do not make it a public forum because you spoil the trust that a closed forum can give. If you want to make a public forum very good you should also invite a lot of people you like and see how it turns out. If it doesn't take off in a few weeks drop it like a brick. You can't make them with hard work because it is not the SysOp who makes the forum but the users.
SFC: What is your opinion of multiple message boards that covers different topics within the hobby? Would you think it best to have one forum cover everything, or, they way most sites do it now with the multiple choice? How do Newsgroups go about this?
Depending on how busy a forum is I would try to avoid a split as long as possible. But any forum can only carry three or four topics at the same time without becoming a huge mess. If people start to throw numbers around it is time to give them a place of their own:-)
SFC: Lets talk about the style of messaging from the simmers of today versus how it was years ago, noticed any changes?
Yes, it used to be either telephone talk or letter writing but now there seems to a new style of writing. The internet creates its own language and style. It's not shorter, less polite, more to the point and includes more humour.
SFC: Flame wars in Forums, rude behaviour, do you think this have increased over time?
No. Perhaps it is me getting older but I see people getting less exited. Like I said, we have grown accustomed to using the Internet. And it is only a flame war if you make it one. People have arguments all the time, why not let them do the same in messages?
SFC: In your opinion, do you think simmers such as yourself, being in the hobby over the years have become lurkers? We admittedly, do not see a lot of the old names anymore, there are some around, but most seem to have disappeared, or, do they exist in Newsgroups now?
Many have gone underground and use special fora that are not open to the public. The rest is spread so thin that they are hard to find. Most are there if you look for them. I still meet them, I still write them but we all seem to have little urge to stand up and shout. Ol'farts all of them....
SFC: What in your opinion should be the main ingredients for a public forum moderator?
Know the stuff you moderate, hang loose, don't get exited and if there are problems phone the people involved. The problems almost always start because of the medium used. Put the troublemakers in a bar and they sort things out in 30 minutes. But most off all, hang loose.
SFC: We seem to have a lot less conferencing these days, what are your opinions here? Do we need more or less? Is it something that is missed?
It's not new anymore and looking back at all the conferences I've logged on to to I think that there was little that was really good. It's sooooooo slow and often sooooooo messy. I don't miss it. If I feel the need to conference I phone people and we meet to fly, eat and drink together.
SFC: What protection does a person have if he is being flamed in a public forum of today? Do you think slanderous comments can be fought and won by lawyers?
Hardly. It's not worth the trouble really. People always seem to overestimate the impact and numbers of souls involved. You can't protect yourself but if the comments are stupid enough (and they mostly are) they afflict the writer more than the person involved.
SFC: What should attract a new user to a forum of today? Do you think after reading some messages, he would be scared off?
Yes, new users are often intimidated. It's the holy task of all users to make sure newbies are welcome and helped. At the smallest sign of their presence all should jump up and welcome him.
SFC: To a new simmer, in a forum, we might as well be talking a different language, the words, 'SDK", "AFX", 'DX7", would surely have a new user confused. What can be done to attract new simmers into a forum and give him the feeling his postings are not going to be rudely replied to?
A special newbie forum would help but it is always hard to get somebody to run that. And those fora need to be moderated because the newbies need help and answers very swiftly.
SFC: I feel we see less and less commercial authors or companies participate in forums, Horizon have become recently involved it seems. Do you think others should start making an appearance in forums or will they be shot down with rude replies as soon as they show a face?
It is a problem. If you make yourself known as Mr. Kok from LAGO you get a whole load of questions and remarks. Too many to handle and 50% of it is pure bullshit. Most companies simply don't have the time to do it.
SFC: Looking back, when were your most enjoyable moments in a forum? Any subject topic perhaps?
The weeks just before the big Interstate races when people started huge campaigns to portrait the other teams as blundering idiots. Huge fun.
SFC: Forget about forums and use E-Mail, there are a lot of folks out there that think this way, what's your take?
I'm one of them. Most of the fora I'm active in use email. For me that is perfect because I can handle it better. I use Outlook and it sends all those mails into special areas.
SFC: Were do you see the hobby, say, in 5 years time, with a view to messaging systems on the Internet?
We still will want to exchange information but I think almost all of the topics will have been discussed before by now. It's more fun and loose discussion now. The sims will become more realistic and we will need a lot more 'real' aviation knowledge. Try to get a few 737/747 captains in your forum and you'll have a winner.
SFC: What about the future of CompuServe and its forums?
No future what so ever (unless you buy AS2). Of course they will still exist but so do some of the old BBS systems. Dead, dodo.
SFC: Freeware years ago versus Freeware today, I don't mean the files, but the ethics and attitudes about it, any changes do you think?
No, I do not see many changes. They fight back a bit harder.
SFC: Who (If anyone) in your opinion over the years, have been the most impressive when behaving in a forum or the moderation of one?
Tjeezzzz...... okay, her come some names, Enrico Schiratti for his unique way to see things slightly different than all others, Eric Bakker for his wit and style of writing, Stamatis Vellis for his knowledge and way of explaining things, you (Trev Morson) for the dedication you can show and the great forum you ran on simFlight.
SFC: With these questions I ask, I may look like I am painting a darker picture about forums and it's participants, however, I still to this day participate myself, overall, it's still a lot of fun. I have a lot of friends. Do you feel the same way, or are you just too busy these days? I mean.. would you personally like to be as involved as you used to be?
I'm having a ball. Perhaps not very visible but believe me.
SFC: Do you ever feel personally hurt, or have you been in the past with a message in a forum posting?
I have been yes, but looking back it was never worth the time.
SFC: Mathijs, thanks for your time on these somewhat difficult questions. It has been my pleasure on behalf of simgflight.com to interview you on this topic. I personally learned a lot from you and your forum postings, files over the years, I think that is what it is all about don't you agree? Anyway, good luck to you and your future endeavors and stick around, you still have some neat tricks up your sleeves concerning this hobby and I know that we can continue to learn from you. Hopefully in a forum somewhere on-line.