Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Death of Zistle? (or the Perils of Contributing to a Website You Don't Own)


For me, there is a single website that has, more so than any other, defined the way that I collect cards over the last number of years; Zistle.

It all started for me back in 2009 when I posted here on this very blog about a rinky-dink Access database I was working on to track my collection digitally.  I wasn't that happy with the results, and didn't want to maintain and upkeep it, but I knew that tracking and organization was critical to my enjoyment of the hobby.  After all, if a card sits in the dark in a box and you don't even know that you have it, what good is it really doing you?

A couple of days later I received an email from a kind woman named Ashley asking me to check out a site she and her husband had developed for exactly this purpose called Zistle.  I was hooked.  Ashley and her husband Josh were motivated and responsive, and the site was everything I had visualized but didn't have the time or skill to bring to life myself.

Thanks to this wonderful (and free!) online utility I completely digitally organized my card collection to the point where I could tell you with a couple of keystrokes exactly how many cards I had of a certain player, team or set.  I could look at the collections of my hobby friends in the same way, making for super efficient trade packages.  I "met" (virtually) and traded with dozens of other collectors who found a home in the same place.

As one of the early adapters, I told everyone who would listen how great the site was.  I communicated with Ashley and Josh constantly, they were receptive and added features that collectors were looking for.  At one point they even did a blog post about my collection on the Zistle blog (now offline).  Hell, to this day it's my Zistle collection you see a screenshot of on the homepage for the site (can't miss that Whalers logo):

Well, earlier this year I got a bit of crushing news when I learned that Beckett was suing Zistle for copyright infringement.  I don't personally see how you can "own" the intellectual property that is a checklist for a set, but that's not the point of today's rant.  I knew that Beckett was a big bully just trying to push a competitor out of the marketplace; basically "COMC lawsuit round 2".

The thing is, COMC is a huge company who I'm sure has its own legal team and the resources to fight a giant like Beckett.  They did, and they won.  I think if Zistle had pursued the same course they would have ultimately won too, but we're talking about a husband and wife team here, presumably with limited funding, both of whom I believe have other careers as well.  I got a knot in my stomach right away.

Once the lawsuit was filed, there was basically no news or updates provided at all from that point forward.  A couple of months later I started to notice oddities with the site.  Zistle had always been about the collectors building the library through their own contributions, but I began to notice that less and less adds/changes were being approved.  I began having issues using the site with certain browsers.  Nothing huge, but little annoyances that years ago would have been tidied up by Josh or Ashley promptly.  I started exporting my collection from the site on a monthly basis as a CYA maneuver, but I wasn't ready to give up just yet.

Then, finally, in the last few weeks, came the news that I fear is the final crushing blow.  Some keen observer noticed that on Josh's LinkedIn page it was noted that Zistle was sold to Beckett.  It was a punch to the gut to say the least.  A few days later, the site's SSL certificate expired, making it totally unreachable for most without some browser settings changes.  It has since been renewed and the site is online again, but the same issues that existed before have gone unaddressed.  For example, I can no longer add any new cards to the library using Firefox.

If Beckett was smart (which they are not), they would take this buy-out as an opportunity to use the Zistle framework/platform to overhaul their own online collecting site.  After all, theirs is so awful that it's one of the main reasons people flocked to Zistle in droves to begin with.  Hell, if they just rolled the Zistle site over and re-branded it as Beckett I would happily pay $10 a month or so just to keep using it.  I have no confidence that this will happen though.

At this point I think the lawsuit accomplished its goal; to bully two young, motivated individuals with a huge following right out of the hobby.  Hell, Ashley and Josh never even said a word about what was happening, and stopped answering my emails as well.  I'm sure they have no choice, and were forced to sign some sort of non-disclosure agreement not to speak about anything as part of the buyout, but man does it hurt after all these years of contributing my valuable time.

If I had to make a prediction, it's that Beckett renewed the SSL cert for one more year just to cover themselves legally for anyone who had paid for a 1-year Zistle "Gold" membership.  I don't think they will touch the site ever again after that, and I expect that a year from now, or whenever the last Gold membership expires, it will ultimately be shut down.

So, now I find myself at a crisis with my collection (this is the definition of a first-world problem, I know).  Sure, I've exported it out of Zistle so I haven't lost my inventory, but what fun are spreadsheets after years of a vibrant, online community and a slick site with great presentation, search capabilities, photos, and even an automated trading engine?

Is anyone else reeling from this as badly as I am?  Any suggestions for digitally tracking a collection?  I still don't know exactly what this means for the future of my collection just yet, but I do know it will mean drastic change in one form or another.  I can tell you one thing, now that the jerks at Beckett have sued both of my favorite hobby sites within the last couple of years and really put a damper on the hobby for me, I will never buy another one of their shitty price guides again.

Josh and Ashley, if you ever see this, I'm sorry it had to end this way, and I truly appreciate all that you both did to make collecting an absolute blast for me over the last 7 years...

16 comments:

Tony L. said...

Honestly, your post is the first I'd heard of it. While I have used Zistle fairly regularly to catalog my Brewers collections, I'd fallen behind recently. And, I never really got involved on the forums there either.

That said, I fear you are correct -- that Beckett will simply let the site shut down on its own rather than incorporate it into its website as a new feature or to keep it as a subscription-based service on the existing platform.

Wilson said...

I'm reeling a bit too, as you said. I can survive keeping a list of what I have in a spreadsheet, but creating a want list was the really cool feature of it for me, along with trading. It also helped a lot to determine which parallel I had, or even just figuring out what set a 90s insert belonged to by simply searching on the player name and card number, then matching the photo if necessary. This was especially useful when someone would send me a pile of random Cardinals, sometimes from sets I'd never seen before. As a software guy, I've thought about trying to duplicate what they've done, but of course I apparently couldn't open it to the public without getting sued myself.

Brian said...

This sucks. I had such grand plans to get my arms around my collection using Zistle, but I fell behind on updating, and with this news it seems like a lost cause.

Any suggestions for other sites that are similar (and not Beckett, because screw those guys)? Maybe something that is not exclusive to sports cards?

Matthew Scott said...

One of my non blogging friends told me about this. What a shame it ended like that. Let me know if you hear of another site that serves the same purpose.

Angus said...

When I got back into card collecting I found the Trading Card Database before I heard of Zistle. So I have my collection tracked there, and have helped by scanning cards that I own.

Billy Kingsley said...

Trading Card Database. The goal is to document every card ever made - over 1 million have been scanned and posted. Thousands of cards Beckett does not acknowledge exist are included. Here's the Hartford Whalers entry http://www.tradingcarddb.com/Team.cfm/tid/323/Hartford-Whalers

CaptKirk42 said...

I forget when exactly I discovered Zistle but I was hooked once I looked into it. I am reeling from the latest developments as well. When the certificate expired and I could only access via Firefox (after adjusting for the expired cert.) I opted to discontinue my gold membership, sensing the end doom was soon. I am glad the certificate got updated even if it is just to finish out a year. I also use Trading Card Database. Again I forget exactly when I started using it, but with TCDB it took a couple of visits for me to decide to start using it, and at first things were a little confusing since I was used to the Zistle way of doing things. At one time I tried to sync my collection at both sites, but never got very far. Some of the A&G like sets TCDB either adds to their multi-sport section or divides the set up by sport in the individual sports. Zistle has most of them either as multi-sport or as Baseball or the dominant sport for the set. So in some ways syncing between the two sites is difficult. Plus some of the non-sport stuff I have never got into Zistle. Some of my Non-Sport promo cards were at one time at Zistle.

RAZ said...

I've started poking around in Trading Card Database a little bit lately, but I have to wonder if Beckett is going to come after them next. Do I really want to go to all the work of uploading my lists and scanning photos just to have it all disappear again?

night owl said...

I am a control freak when it comes to my collection, so I never gave Zistle a serious thought, although I received several overtures from the creators early on. This is my worst fear -- investing all that time and effort into something that someone else will ruin.

Beckett can suck it. Again.

Rosenort said...

I am crushed as well, Zistle was also a huge part my me collecting, you line about "After all, if a card sits in the dark in a box and you don't even know that you have it, what good is it really doing you?" is exactly how I feel and why I spent countless hours scanning and adding cards. I am still sick about this and haven't not even bought a card or made a trade since the linkedin status was posted. I know this will slow my collecting and the loss of the trading community will pretty much kill my trading.

concepcion brown said...

this is actually scottbdoug, for some reason blogger.com keeps my wife's google login no matter what i do to try and switch to my account. anyway I only use Zistle, no other site has the auto trade option, which is my main reason for using Zistle. I will miss it if Beckett closes Zistle after all the Gold Memberships run out. It will probably put me out of the hobby because I found collecting by myself wasnt much fun. Zistle allowed you to trade with the community without spending hours with another person going through trade lists to see what each other wants or has.

B Man said...

F Beckett-you all suck, and how can you own a number on a card? F them

shlabotnikreport said...

Thanks for the rundown, Shane... This is a story that's largely gone under the radar, even though it's a travesty that this 800-pound gorilla is allowed to run roughshod over their so-called competitors.

I would promise to boycott them, but weren't getting my money to start with.

forestrydave said...

Wow....this is the first I've heard of it. I always was in awe of the effort you went through in your zistle given I knew I'd never have the time or commitment level to do that (but always felt I should). I hope there is a positive outcome here and your work can continue to be viewed the way it should...

Corky said...

I have the same feelings. I realize that Beckett is a for-profit company and I am sure Zistle was taking something out of their pockets by offering a free option but honestly at this point does Beckett even expect to get one new customer from Zistle's community? I highly doubt it so they put up money and time and besides chasing away Josh and Ashley they also chased away any income they expected by shuttering Zistle.

I am remaining active on Zistle for now and I have begun to export my collection to my computer and I have started to spend time on TCDB.

Captain Canuck said...

agreed pal. I really used it for the trade feature. I'll miss that the most.

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