Tokyopop sent out an e-mail blast the other day telling readers that they are removing all fan-generated content from their site and warning them to take their stuff or it will be thrown out. This marks the end of an era of sorts, the conclusion of a failed experiment in social networking.
Before July 2006, the biggest complaint I had about Tokyopop's website was that the type in the drop-down menus was too small. Then one day the old, boring website, on which you could find anything you were looking for just by clicking on the obvious link, disappeared and was replaced with piles and piles of ... stuff. The idea behind the website was to create a kind of MySpace for manga fans, one that would supposedly be a safe space for younger readers to chat about manga. What they ended up with was exactly what you always get when you open a website to user content and don't moderate it at all: Plagiarized fanart, pissing matches, porn, and blog posts like this:
OMG i hate all orthadanits!!! i got a retanier for 2 weeks and i put it in and i just spent the last 2 houres trying to get it off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! its stuck!! hows dose this happen??? please if anyone reads this and knows how to remove a stuck retanier then please HELP!!!
That was actually featured front and center on their main page, until it was replaced by something equally inane.
In the initial incarnation of the site, clicking on the "manga" link brought you to fan-created manga, not Tokyopop books—it took me several days to figure out how to get to the actual product. Of course, the Tokyopop folks maintained that the real product was "the manga lifestyle," but the execution wasn't just half-baked, it was practically raw. Tokyopop hired some good writers to do regular columns, and they briefly required all their editors to write a blog post a week, but there was no hierarchy of content so those posts quickly got buried in a sea of lesser material. Also, when the site launched, every single link was broken. (Sound familiar?)
What the site lacked most—even more than good design—was follow-through. The editors did a few posts and moved on to their regular work. Pretty soon the columnists fell by the wayside as well. The blogs and forums continued to be moderated by ... no one. One or two bloggers popped up and started posting guides to the best content online; one of them, who went by the moniker ChunHyang72, grew up and became The Manga Critic, Kate Dacey. You would think Tokyopop would recognize a good thing and throw her a stipend to keep doing what she was doing, maybe send her a couple of free books? Nah.
They did realize that the site was terrible, and I was invited to view a couple of the beta versions, but nothing was done until almost a year later. The site was finally revised in September 2008 to a more usable version, and I think they have streamlined it more since then, but it's still pretty busy and the design and navigation are awkward. The fan-created manga share a navbar with Tokyopop's own comics, the "people" menu directs you to a series of unintelligible categories ("revolutionaries," "fans," "clans"), and the blogs are about 50% spam and 50% other stuff, including a heavy dose of pre-teen text-speak. It's time to move on, and fortunately, that's exactly what Tokyopop is doing.