I’d travelled for three days on horseback across rolling green fields and muddy streams to arrive at Crow’s village in the quiet English countryside. The threat of COVID-19 had grounded all flights and made the journey nearly impossible – but here I was, desperate to complete one final interview. He dwelled in an old stone house next to a blacksmith’s yard with a red cross painted on the door – the sign of plague. Knocking four times as we’d agreed, the heavy door then swung open and the shadow of a black figure gestured me to step inside to a candlelit room. He practised in dark medicine and wore a long beaked mask that made him look inhuman. That’s why the villagers avoided him. Flasks of unknown chemicals in orange, purple and blue were spilled across the table, whilst dozens of formulas with the number ‘4’ were carved satanically across the wall. I tried not to stare, but my eyes were fixated like a moth to a flame. He poured me a fizzy yellow drink and pulled across a hard wooden chair for me to sit on. He picked away at the back of his mask before unfastening it – revealing his raw face underneath. With that, he invited me to begin.
Hello Crow, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Please, try to be as descriptive as possible when you answer these questions. Let’s start with some private questions.
What is your real name, where are you originally from, how old are you and what are you studying?
My real name is Steven (not to be confused with former volunteer Steven – unless we’re secretly the same person). I’m 25 years old and I’m from England. I’m not studying anymore because I graduated from university in 2017, but I do still have nightmares about sleeping through exams, so I’m constantly reliving the trauma.
What words would you choose if you had to define yourself?
I wrote on my xat wiki profile that I’m a perfectionist with a keen eye for detail, but I’m also impulsive with spending money and completing things. I’m always living for tomorrow, suffering now so I can enjoy myself in the future, and I’m never living in the present. There’s always one more thing I need, and I’m never satisfied with what I have.
When and how did you discover xat?
I used to play Pokémon Diamond competitively in 2007 and someone linked me to their xat chat. Even if they hadn’t done that, I would have found xat eventually because it was pretty popular with the pokémon community, as it was with Club Penguin too. Those were the days when I shared a computer with my entire family and couldn’t get online until 9pm because my brother was playing World of Warcraft.
What was your first impression?
I thought “I’m going to spend the next 13 years here and spend tens of thousands of dollars on it”. In seriousness, xat was more colourful than the other dull grayscale chats I visited at the time. There was a huge variety of toon pictures to choose from too, which hasn’t changed.
What’s your global impression of xat now?
Without going into the doom and gloom, I’ll say we’re in a transitional period from Flash to HTML5, so there’s anticipation and hope to see lots of new exciting features released. The developers did a great job with the recent 4-in-a-row redesign, so I’m very optimistic that this progress continues. I’m not expecting a complete transformation, but enough to keep users interested over the competition.
What do you think about the current xat community?
It’s nice to see new faces each year, and the forums are a great place to become acquainted with them (although issuing a warning is never a good way to formally introduce yourself!). It’s easy to get hung up on people leaving and spend years lamenting that xat will never be as good because they left, but it’s important to focus on the future and making new memories too.
What’s the best year you spent on xat?
I voted 2019 in a recent poll because it was the year I made my most contributions to the website. Another reason I liked 2019 is because it was my first year of living alone, which may not be reflective of the quality of xat itself, but it meant I had the freedom to come online and stay whenever I wanted. Otherwise, I’ll say 2014 because that’s when I started visiting promoted and official chats and got my 4444 ID. It was a simpler time.
Have you ever met someone from xat in real life?
It’s not happened yet, but I have a Nintendo Switch and a wicked DVD collection if anyone wants to come round. I don’t have a microwave though, so that’s a drawback.
How long do you think you’ll stay on xat?
As long as humanly possible, unless I get flattened by a bus tomorrow. xat is a big part of my daily routine, and I enjoy checking the forums and reading conversations on the chats. There’s also the logistical problem of having to sell a collection of IDs and shortnames for a price I want, which isn’t worth doing. The ‘sunk cost fallacy’ is definitely a thing for me.
Who’s your role model on xat?
Besides Roberto and Foxy Princess? I don’t really have any role models in the sense of ‘I want to be exactly like that person’ because everyone has flaws, including (and especially) me. I see traits in everyone that I wouldn’t want in myself, and I should imagine it’s vice-versa for other people looking at me. I do respect the people who are working hard without reward or appreciation to make xat a better place, though. I won’t name people, because I don’t want to miss anyone out unfairly.
Where do you see the future of xat?
More features and customization options, more suggestions implemented, more exciting powers, more games, and hopefully more people to meet and share memorable experiences with. And a worm2 power, because it’s the sequel we need.
Let’s drop it to funnier things and let me ask you the things you like or liked on xat…
What’s your favourite power or smiley?
I bought (arachnid) in January 2014, which was the first ‘new’ power I bought from Trade with my own money. That was the same month I started buying xats like a crazy person. Nowadays, (hat) is the main power I can’t be seen without – it adds to my plague doctor theme. I also love (dinosaur) because I posted the suggestion topic for it in June 2015.
What’s your favourite chat?
Feedback because of the time and effort I’ve put into the blog and trying to make everything work. There were questions over the chat in the early days, but I now feel like we’ve silenced the doubters and it deserves its status as an official chat. Before Feedback, it would have been Help because it was the only chat I visited. There was also a time in 2016, for many months, when I didn’t visit any chats at all, and I was exclusively visiting the forums.
What’s your best memory on xat? When was it?
Winning the ID 4000 at auction in August 2015, because I put absolutely everything on the line for it. I’d bought 2 million xat auction value specifically to win that particular ID, after months of begging the admins to add it to auction, and my theme of having the best ‘4’ ID collection was at stake. I was sick with nerves the entire time and couldn’t eat anything. To see the timer drop to 0 with no counter bids was the greatest relief.
Is there a fun fact you would like to talk about?
I’m a descendant of the King of Burgundy, according to a recent genealogy search, but I think everyone is related to a king or duke in some way if you go back a thousand years. I was also entered into the University of Oxford entrance exam in 2013 to study English Literature, but I withdrew for personal reasons and enrolled at a different university. Who knows what I could have been!
Now, let’s come back to serious things, especially on what you do and have done on xat…
What’s your main role on xat?
The main ones are being a volunteer, contributor, wiki editor, forum moderator, and managing Feedback chat. I also try (but often fail) to stay active at other chats I’m ranked on. It requires a lot of spare time and sacrifice to stay on top of things.
We know you have been a wiki editor for a long time. Was it a goal for you to become a wiki editor? How did that happen?
I stumbled upon the wiki in late 2016 and saw grammar and formatting mistakes on every single article I clicked on. I think most of the articles were written by someone who didn’t speak English as their first language. I was studying language and syntax at university at the time, so it bugged me a lot to see mistakes. I spent a few days submitting pages of edits to fix everything, but it wasn’t a particular goal to become an editor. I had no knowledge of editing wiki pages whatsoever, so when I did become a wiki editor, everything was new and scary.
What do you think of the xat wiki?
It’s a wonderful fountain of knowledge, and I’m always referring to the errors page and the new power articles. The challenge is trying to maintain it when features are constantly updating (for example, with HTML5 additions) and large pieces of work become invalidated and there are less active translators to translate them. But that’s the price we pay to keep everything up-to-date and relevant.
How would you describe the wiki team from inside?
It’s a good team of people, and we’re lucky to have users who willingly spend their time to improve and help xat. I don’t speak any other languages myself, so I admire what the wiki translators do. We do need more active translators in the long term, though, especially as more important articles are written for new HTML5 features.
We also know you have been part of the Contributors’ group for a long time. When did you become a Contributor?
Firstly, I owe a lot to the introduction of the new forums in March 2016, because everyone’s post counts were reset to 0. This put everyone on a level playing field, and it gave me the confidence I needed to start posting on a regular basis and showing what I can do. After months of posting thoughtful content and also writing a couple of introductions for the fireside interviews (we’ve now come full circle), I became a Contributor in November 2016 alongside Felipe and Chelly. I came online one morning and my name was blue (that was the colour for Contributors at the time), so that was the first time I found out. This was before applications were introduced, so you had to be invited.
What are your opinions on the Contributors group?
It’s a diverse group of users and there are lots of stimulating discussions there. It can be daunting when you’re first added to the group, because you have to discuss things you don’t know much about, but it becomes comfortable over time. As long as you post what you think and why, and make the effort to research things, you should be a worthy member of the group.
We remember the day when you became a forum moderator. How did that happen?
It was after Kyle, Chelly and Junior became volunteers in February 2017, and the forum moderator position was still empty after Maverick vacated it in November the previous year. I was invited to become a moderator and perform the basic moderator duties, but I wasn’t expected to have technical knowledge about xat or answer questions in the General Support section – I only started doing those things afterwards by choice to better myself.
Is it too hard to keep the forum in order?
If you learn the forum guidelines and apply them fairly, it’s not too difficult. Occasionally, there are topics with high emotions and it’s difficult deciding what to allow or remove – but even those dilemmas can be resolved with logical reasoning and rationale. From the outside, I might look petty sometimes when enforcing some minor guidelines, but I try to be respectful when doing it. If I let things go and ignore reported content, I wouldn’t be doing my job properly.
You’re also a xat volunteer. When did you become a volunteer? What do you think led up to that?
I became a volunteer in February 2018 at the same time as Sydno. It was most likely a result of all my contributions up to that point. Being a volunteer is a huge step up from being a forum moderator though, because it feels like you’re representing and speaking on behalf of the website as a whole, not just yourself (especially in tickets). If you make a mistake as a forum moderator, it’s only yourself that looks bad – because your name is against whatever you wrote – but if you make a mistake in a ticket (where volunteers aren’t named), you can make the entire group look bad. In that sense, we’re all taking responsibility for each other’s decisions and mistakes – so it bugs me when another volunteer writes something in bad grammar like “should of” or “could of”, because I don’t want people thinking that’s me! You’re also making important decisions about users’ accounts, which can be a lot of pressure.
Did becoming a volunteer change your chatting experience on xat?
You’re constantly on duty against rule-breaking activity and negligent behaviour, and your senses are heightened. You’re also bound with responsibility if volunteers decide to take over the management of a chat, because you become part of that project. Otherwise, besides more users asking you for help with their tickets or error messages, nothing much has changed on the chats.
Tell us about your experience as the main owner of Feedback.
There’s a lot that goes into managing an official chat behind the scenes. Not only are you responsible for all the chat settings, staff, rules, blog, forum club, backgrounds, contests, staff meetings and promotions, but you also need to keep the chat active and inspire others that good times are ahead. If your chat has a specific purpose like helping users or taking suggestions, there’s even more work on top of that. Managing an international chat can be challenging too, because the translator doesn’t always work. Finding the time to come online for hours every single day when you have a full-time job and other responsibilities requires a lot of sacrifice, but it can be rewarding when things go well.
We’ve come to the end of this interview. Do you have any special message to finish with?
I hope I’ve made a big impact on xat and you’ll remember me in many years’ time.