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 WinCustomize.com.
  2. WinCustomize.com 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 the...market has chosen.


Comments (Page 3)
on Feb 12, 2008
Older skinners drop out due to life or lack of interest.
- Great and Wise Words!

May tell you with a big secret that I already began to lose interest for DX widgets step by step. Why? Because I have lots of ideas for Sidebar Gadgets that I can't make with DesktopX on Vista...

A little more expectation time and I shall compelled to study the Microsoft Gadgets SDK.
on Feb 12, 2008
I hear ya guys! I can't do my own original artwork, at least nowhere near what is needed for SkinStudio, but I can play with other's stuff, mod it for my own use and make a desktop to taste. My last screen shot showed that. The premium content isn't limited. Pull it apart, mix and match, modify to taste and enjoy. Right now I have Sirus on, Apogee icons (teal) and dare I say it a DA wall!!! Rare for me. It has a nice illuminated a dark space shot in teals and gray with a Colony label on it. When I get around to it I'll make something in DX to match(I hope) and post would like to make more use of OB might try it to see if it works well with Sirus. But later, maybe awhile later, cause....Sins of a Solar Empire owns me right now.  
on Feb 12, 2008
I really don't know why people are saying skinning is in decline..I guess it's in the eye of the beholder.

Personally I think commercial skinning is in its infancy.. perhaps not even born unto itself yet.

Lots of good and exciting things to come as far as I see it. pessimism.. be gone.  
on Feb 13, 2008
I really don't know why people are saying skinning is in decline


Mostly referring to the recent slowing of upload #'s concerning the major Apps WB,IP,winamp,etc..these sections used to get new content quite frequently and theres fewer artist's upping stuff compared to before.
on Feb 13, 2008
Tutorials. Tutorials. Tutorials.


I agree more tutorials are needed.  As Bebi said we have some great resources to put tutorials, but we also need people to help write them.  I try to write as many as possible, but I would like to see more "specialized" tutorials from people who excel at a certain type of skinning.

I will write a full article about this soon, but let put it out here now.

If you would like to write a tutorial or guide, but are not sure how to do it, please contact me and we can work together to get one made.


on Feb 13, 2008
Mostly referring to the recent slowing of upload #'s concerning the major Apps WB,IP,winamp,etc..these sections used to get new content quite frequently and theres fewer artist's upping stuff compared to before.


Well I think Winamp is a good example of a skinnable app that really just isn't as popular as it was in the past. 
on Feb 13, 2008
I will write a full article about this soon, but let put it out here now.


A tutorial on writing tutorials would be of assistance to me.
on Feb 13, 2008
If you would like to write a tutorial or guide, but are not sure how to do it, please contact me and we can work together to get one made.


This is great. Like I said, some of the tutorials have been a help. But we need a full and complete one, in one place, from start to finish from the designers of the software. Why should it fall on the folks trying to figure it out?

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


You're right. And I think part of the point being made here is that the current candle is flickering down to nothing. Time to light a new one. Time to bring all interested parties out of the dark. Time to share the light and illuminate people like me who desperately want to learn the software from start to finish. Not in bits and pieces in a dozen different views or perspectives that you have to try and put inot one handbook.
on Feb 13, 2008
But we need a full and complete one, in one place, from start to finish from the designers of the software.
Like the Skinning Windows Reference guide (for WB3) located in workshop on the WB product page?
on Feb 13, 2008
Like the Skinning Windows Reference guide (for WB3) located in workshop on the WB product page?


"This document is not a guide to using SkinStudio but is designed to introduce
you to the concepts of skinning using WindowBlinds, so that if and when you
choose to use SkinStudio, there will not be much of a learning curve."


A step by step 'guide' would be nice. Updated to Skinstudio6. Not to sound sarcastic, honest, but Stardock has to lead the way in success of software without supplying instructions. I've seen other software and their forums where people complain they can't use the software, there are no instructions or they aren't complete. A lot of those software titles don't last long or never reach the popularity of Stardock's skinning software.

I think part of the problem is all the other skinning options being put out there and Stardock has ridden on the coat tails of it's uniqueness and popularity for too long. Sorry if that sounds harsh. The earlier comment about 'only a few noobs' posting in this thread and them needing 'a place to post free of the regulars' I don't believe is the answer. Give them the tutorials as well and more of them will be involved because they will know what the heck is going on and being talked about.

I think the lack of new skinners is partly due to the lack of guidance. It's frustrating that the tutorial you point to is 3 versions ago. It's years later. We now have Vista and a slew of new tweaks and options. Tutorial updates come in the way of 'Here are the new features...Here's what you can do on this version..." Who are those posts for? The noobs or the people ALREADY skinning and familiar with the software. Maybe this is why you don't have many noobs posting in this thread. They have been excluded when they got here because there is no official tutorial and the update articles on the actual software updates certainly aren't speaking to them. The program keeps growing and expanding and more and more people get left out when you look at the increase of traffic and interest over the years just since that version.

With every new version and update and added feature being highlighted in separate articles it's just more for the potential new skinner to have to hunt down and then try to assemble themselves into one flowing manual that they hope will make sense to them. Difficult when it is written by so many different people with different ways to 'describe things, terms, styles, and even languages.
on Feb 13, 2008
Just out of curiosity... Do people that buy the Enterprise version get a tutorial, more or faster support or their own place to post?
on Feb 13, 2008
I think the lack of new skinners is partly due to the lack of guidance.
That may be partly true.  Mentors, documentation/tutorials should help.  But the fact is that making a skin is a LOT MORE work.  New skinners can be overwhelmed.  I think that's one of the reasons that community suites seem to be becoming more popular (I'm including the maxstyles crew here too).  A complete suite can take FOREVER.
on Feb 13, 2008
I hear you Po. I agree with the need for true step by step documentation. The issue is that I have not seen this type of step by step documentation with any software other than ones that cost hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars. Am I wrong? Professionally written docs cost big bucks. The handbook that comes with Vue Infinite is such a document but then the program cost $795.00. Same for any of the serious 3D programs such as Max or Cinema 4D or my favorite Modo. Maybe it could be sold separately for those that truly wish this level of in depth documentation.
on Feb 13, 2008
Maybe it could be sold separately for those that truly wish this level of in depth documentation.
I would guess that the biggest cost to Stardock is in the the writing.  And it would likely be expensive.  Selling to a small subset might not recoup the costs and be a PR nightmare. 
on Feb 13, 2008
But the fact is that making a skin is a LOT MORE work.


Made more difficult without the instructions.

New skinners can be overwhelmed.

My point exactly. Updates to an instruction manual that doesn't exist is frustrating and only useful to people who already know how to skin.

I think that's one of the reasons that community suites seem to be becoming more popular (I'm including the maxstyles crew here too). A complete suite can take FOREVER.


And most suites I have seen start with the blind. The Troll Suite and Birthday suite are prime examples. Everyone who wants to participate has to wait for the blind to begin to take shape so they know what to base their particular piece of the suite on. In the Troll suite...and this is my point...they had to wait for me to make them and then AVMAN to transpose and edit whatever I sent him, prolonged by the fact that I don't know what the restrictions are on image sizes, designs, transparencies, etc. he did a great job. But if I had had instructions/tutorial (again...so we don't lose focus...an OFFICIAL STARDOCK TUTORIAL) I would have known and wouldn't have had to rely on someone else to assemble it for me.

I enjoyed the project...but felt guilty as AVAMN had to do all the real work for me and jealous/frustrated because I couldn't do it myself.

I keep trying, though. My fear is that I will just get frustrated before anything comes outr way in the shape of what so many would like to see, and I'll just say f*** it and walk away from skinning all together. Unfortunately, I have always been one to bang his head against a brick wall a little longer and harder than most, but even I get tired of getting nowhere.

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