Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
How does the community continue to thrive in a mainstream world?
Published on February 11, 2008 By Draginol In OS Customization

Skinning first started getting popular around 1999. Back then, it was mostly about skinning Winamp and WindowBlinds.  Today, people expect to be able to customize virtually every aspect of their PC experience. From the moment someone boots to the time they shut down, everything a user sees they now anticipate the ability to personalize somehow if they choose to.

In the beginning, the content came from the community. The software itself was developed within the community as well. A given program would go through many beta iterations and technically savvy users would report problems they had, post their system info, and work with the developers to fix the problems. 

Because the community was essentially a partner in the production of the software, the software was relatively cheap. $10 to $20 was the typical price for any customization program. After all, if the user base was actively part of the development process and they were the ones providing the bulk of the content, how could anyone justify charging more than that?  And, as a practical matter, community participation drastically lowered the cost to develop skinning software which in turn opened the door to lots of freeware and shareware developers, working out of their houses, to create cool stuff.

When Windows XP came along in 2001, things began to change. Skinning became much more mainstream. The ratio between consumers of software/content to producers of software/content changed dramatically.  Once skinning went mainstream, users expectations began to change.  The number of people willing to create content dramatically decreased as a % of the user base.

In addition, the community that once would provide in-depth reports on bugs evolved into a community that increasingly would provide reports like "This is broke, it don't work on my computer. How could you release this buggy mess????" The same community that produced incredibly talented skinners increasingly became a community of consumers waiting for someone else to make things for them.

As the skinning community became more consumer-centric, the costs of providing software and content for that community increased. In many respects, the "community" of year year is long. Now it's a "market". Increasingly, unconsciously, even internally the word "market" has begun replacing the term "community".  The "skinning market" differs from the "skinning community" in that the former expects the software developers to do it all while the latter sees themselves as part of a team with the developers.

The net result is that most users simply want to buy a product and get really high quality content and not mess around with "community" content. Which, naturally, means that fewer people, as a % are willing to use the various editors and tools to create community content.

Similarly, today's users often become irate at the notion of running into bugs in software marked as betas. Very few users are willing to even try out betas and give feedback. Moreover, some people who do try out betas and do post expect that every issue they consider important will be quickly addressed and will stop contributing feedback if their particular issues aren't responded to in a timely way.

So what does this mean?

I predict we'll see the following trends:

  1. Content will begin to be provided as an additional optional service. For example, a user might buy WindowBlinds for $20 OR have the option to buy WindowBlinds Plus for $40 which includes a 1-year subscription to
  2. subscriptions will continue to evolve to where content becomes increasingly the value-add users get.  Discounts on "Master Skins" and free content from Stardock Design will become the norm.
  3. Users who contribute help in testing betas, giving feedback, generating content, helping in the community will get free subscriptions.

That's the 3 thigns I think will happen in the future as the skinning world adapts to becoming mainstream. In my mind, that's the best way for skinning to grow while saving its own soul.

Hopefully, people aren't taking what I'm writing as "complaining".  What I am doing is making observations about how the skinning world is evolving over time. The mainstreaming of it is altering the perceived relationship between the people who make stuff and the people who use stuff. The unspoken social contract between the two was traditionally that we developers make our stuff cheap and in return the users make the content and help us track down problems in an open and symbiotic way.  But that relationship has changed to being more akin to a traditional producer/consumer relationship. Which is fine if that's what has chosen.

Comments (Page 2)
on Feb 12, 2008
It would be nice to see skinners of higher rank/experience offering their services to newbies.

Some of us have been ... for quite a while
on Feb 12, 2008
Some of us have been ... for quite a while

See, I wish I knew that starting out

Speaking from experience, just the title "master" is intimidating. Not easy for new people to ask for help when they are in awe of the skinner.

It would be great for the new guy to know that the skinners here are regular people and are willing to help out in so many ways. Maybe a pinned post in the new users section?

'course I could be dense, for not asking for help.....
on Feb 12, 2008
Speaking from experience, just the title "master" is intimidating. Not easy for new people to ask for help when they are in awe of the skinner.

I'm not a Master (or a Journeyman either, for that matter) ... hasn't stopped me from helping out noobs
on Feb 12, 2008
I'm not a Master

you are as far as I'm concerned
on Feb 12, 2008
It would be nice to see skinners of higher rank/experience offering their services to newbies. Who knows, you may be making the next Master skinner

I have suggested in the past that Master Skinners should be taking on apprentices and helping them to grow. I have done it with several people and it has been very rewarding. It's not easy and it gets kind of repetetive (boring) but taking one person under your wing and giving them an hour or so of attention every couple of days isn't very demanding. Like I said it has been one of the most rewarding things for me when it comes to skinning.

I would be glad to take on an apprentice and help them as best as I can. Prospective canditates are welcome to contact me. I am busy as hell right now but I think I can handle 1 person. A person can make huge strides when guided by someone rather than trying to follow a manual. Skinstudio is frightening as hell at first glance.

on Feb 12, 2008
Prospective canditates are welcome to contact me. I am busy as hell right now but I think I can handle 1 person.
Zubaz fires off a PM with a link to his portforlio.        
on Feb 12, 2008
It would be nice to see skinners of higher rank/experience offering their services to newbies.

I'm far from being a "Master" myself but I'm always happy to help anyone where and when I can. Just drop me a line at with a question, screenshot or whatever and I'll do what I can to find a solution.
on Feb 12, 2008
from the last few replys IMO shows the "Community mind set" is still here and strong as ever. Skinners have always been the giving kind of lot
on Feb 12, 2008
Hey you could always make documentation and tutorials on the Wiki to help out new skinners.  It's seriously lacking in those least as far as HOW to skin.
on Feb 12, 2008
But the reality is that if people don't provide detailed reports during the public beta process, then either a program will end up not being developed further because it's too expensive to do in-house or we'll have to keep hiring more QA people which will increase the cost.

Hmmm... I have reported about a few bugs that I found in DesktopX 3.49 rc. And I was really ready to help with its testing. However it seemed to me that Stardock wasn't interested to receive such information because nothing has been changed in DesktopX after my messages...

Anyway if you need any help from me let me know by e-mail. I'll work free of charge because I love DesktopX and I need its finished version for Vista.

Best Regards.
on Feb 12, 2008
Tutorials. Tutorials. Tutorials.

Go to a photoshop tutorial site like 'Good-Tutorials' for an example. Look at the detail of the tutorials. The screenshots, the instructions.

I wouldn't be able to make the stuff I make if I hadn't read these and they hadn't been so 'complete and detailed'. So, now I can photoshop a funny image or a half decent icon or make a wall.

I want to make a windowblind. More than anything, I want to understand how to make one from start to finish. I want to know why this will work and that won't. Why I have to adjust this margin or when I need to set this image to stretch and not title.

I want to understand how to script in DX instead of altering someone elses.

The programs have changed over the years. Grown. Become more complicated. Older skinners drop out due to life or lack of interest. New ones come without the knowledge or experience of the 'earlier' versions of the programs and have to learn more to start. I barely had a grasp On Skinstudio5 when 6 comes out, with more options, tweaks, and tricks.

Give us the 'detailed' tutorial. The one everyone has been asking for. I think if peole had more information, you would have more skinners. As it is, it can be intimidating. And I'm not talking about the tutorials in the wiki. Yes, those people are making a contribution and many have helped. But where is Stardock's Official 'Detailed' Tutorial for Windowblinds?

I'm not looking to start an argument with all this. I just desperately want to make a skin. I have so many ideas and things I want to try with it. I get frustrated. At times, I get discouraged to the point of saying the hell with it and just walking away from skinning all together. It sucks to not be able to make what I want and not know if it would be good...NOT because of my artistic ability or lack of imagination...but because I don't have the fool instructions.

Just my two cents. And a plea.

on Feb 12, 2008
There will be no ObjectBar 3.

In my opinion ObjectBar could make a standalone program, similar to ObjectDock, if it did just 2 things. Behave in a more stable way with DX widgets and offered an easier to use means of loading a user made graphic. I still don't know how to give Object Bar a png or bmp file to use as I can easily do with DX. By the way, DesktopX is a great product. WindowBlinds and IconPackager alone won't make a very good Object Desktop Suite. You could also have a Object Desktop Premium package with all the goodies. If it all worked superb, it could go for more than $50, as long as it really was a compelling Vista add-on.
on Feb 12, 2008
You know what I find interesting?  (Do you care?  )

This post and the sibling one ("Is skinning a community or a market?") is being replied to by "the forum regulars" with few exceptions.

We're talking about the future of skinning and it's the same ol' guys responding.  Maybe the noobs *do* need a place to hang out without folks that have been around.
on Feb 12, 2008
This may sound like a goofy analogy but....
If you think of Stardock as a candle that burns bright....putting together a tutorial/instructions would be like lighting a second candle. That would be all the new skinners and potential testers. It would then be two candles burning bright. More skins, more talent, more people drawn to the site, possibly may get a third candle. All three burning bright.

Here's where PO goes out on his have this great product (SKINSTUDIO) and it sounds like 'you're' complaining because no one is using it. Show them how. It is frustrating to purchase it and then have to hunt the web for tutorials.

Seeing any of the other softwares go is sad to think about. They make the suites complete. They are so unique to the site and people I have come to know. Some are just as lacking as Skinstudio for tutorials from Stardock and the poeple who design the software, though.

I would like to be able to make wb's and some other things. I would love to able to be the one offering help instead of always asking.
on Feb 12, 2008
This may sound like a goofy analogy but....

Candles usually have a pretty bleak future and a short life span