I've been trying to put my finger on what it is about AN that attracted me to join last year that I find missing now. Here are my thoughts at the moment -- for whatever they're worth.
Blez has created a magical, vibrant place that was on its way to being all a team website should be in this day and age -- a place where A's fans of all backgrounds, temperaments and individual areas of strength could gather and discuss the team we love, experience its victories and defeats, enjoy each other's company, and maybe learn from each other as well.
Blez had the ability to combine unrelenting self-belief, passion for his baby and -- most important of all, the humility to understand his limited role. There were lots of team blogs founded by individual fans or groups of fans that attained nowhere near the success of AN primarily because they functioned as not much more than a platform for their founders to express their views or to exhibit their expertise in some area that was fascinating primarily to themselves.
What made AN different is that it was never about Blez. He had the humility to understand that very few people cared about his personal opinions about the team. Sure, he expressed them his stories, but that was never the dominant feature of the blog.
What made him successful was his ability to inspire others to contribute to the site as a labor of love. These included invited writers with a specific expertise like salb918, awesome fans like baseballgirl, fans who loved Oakland baseball history like 67Marquez, players like Brad Ziegler and those who reveled in the community aspect like Nico. Being humble also enabled Blez to gain regular access to Billy Beane and other team officials, since he didn't need to feed his ego by being "edgy" or asking "tough questions" to draw attention to himself. Best of all, AN drew a wide variety of posters from far and wide -- statheads like andeux and Devo, artists like oblique and monkeyball, journalists like slusser and vk, fans of individual players like BobbyCrosbyGirl and ZigFan31, game thread members and trip organizers like Jennifer and pam5981, fans from Alaska to England to Jakarta and regular boring mid-western guys like me.
The diverse --and extremely strong -- membership made AN the magical place that led to the creation of SB Nation and made Yahoo! want to get involved.
Since Blez isn't as active, the humility that characterized his leadership has slowly been replaced by a cult of personality. There are guys with titles like Moderator, Manager, Front Page Writer, First Vice-Senior Managing Editor-in-chief and the like who appear more interested in promoting themselves and expounding their self-important "expert" opinions than in contributing to a community. They probably don't see themselves that way, or they may think that the time they're spending on the site entitles them to some privilege and deference, but they seem petty and arrogant to me. Celebrating diverse viewpoints has been replaced by the fueling of silly controversies. Do we really care whether statheads or stathead haters are the more dickish group? Moderators have not been content with moderating, choosing instead to take sides in every fray.
With this new culture we've seen the loss of valued longtime posters like rfloh, monkeyball, andeux, salb918 and probably many others. There are some good new posters like lynnzgal and Leopold Bloom, and the Yahoo! connection seems to have brought in exciting new blood. AN day is probably still great and the community service project seemed awesome.... but AN is not the same magical place without the humble leadership of Blez.
I would like to see a return to Blez's values where the front page features a diversity of game attendees, historical writers, active minor or major league players, former players or coaches, photographers, baseball analysts, political analysts, business analysts, community organizers, fat fans, skinny fans and fans who look at butts.
We need a concerted effort from the Blog leadership to seek out anyone and everyone who can make a contribution to the community and inspire them to be excited about participating either on an occasional or regular basis. The blog has to be about the community again, with its leaders merely trusted servants.
These are just my thoughts for whatever they’re worth. I hope to hear yours.