[Editor's note: This is a guest article by Gabriel Benmergui of Kaya.gs. Go Game Guru isn't involved in this project and is publishing this article as a public service.]
Before the internet was invented, and used widely, the scattered (but still numerous) Go players had a real challenge in finding opponents and people to play, share and learn with.
Luckily for me, I did not experience that.
A little about me
I have been involved in the Go scene since 2003. I remember the wide-spread use of IGS, something that was a historic landmark for many players in the world.
Many players that had dropped Go altogether, due to the lack of players, could now find games in a daily basis!
I also remember how painful it was for me to sign up, for various reasons, which led me look for alternatives, like KGS.
I was a beginner back then (and the games where I was around 20 kyu are still there). The user experience at KGS was much better, but there was something more important that I liked about it. The community cohesion.
People were teaching a lot. There were go clubs (I was a member of Wings Go Club) and lots of chatting, as well as games. This was a key and still is a key determining factor in a successful Go server. Not all people log-in to just play a game or watch a pro game. There are a wealth of things to do with this game.
Back then there were some Go server wars, but in the long run the results were (in my opinion) consistent with the services provided. One result is that servers are fairly clearly divided into Asian and Western, which I think can be avoided. Asian servers have an enormous number of strong and able players, but they have almost no community activity, or if they do, they are absolutely unreachable.
The world changes quickly
The server wars happened almost 10 years ago. Back then many current technologies, that we now take for granted, didn’t exist yet. These servers have been around since before the birth of Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Google Earth, and many more novelties like Ajax and the current state-of-the-art browsers – that are so much better than they were 10 years ago.
They were not built to anticipate these changes, and its impossible to blame them. Nobody knows what the future will give us. Today we know the future is uncertain more than ever.
In recent years WBaduk and Tygem have shown clear efforts to expand into the west, but their only competitive advantages are the number of strong players and that they broadcast live professional games.
They do seem to have a rich clients but somehow they are not so usable for Westerners. The social experience is so poor and also difficult for Westerners, due to language barrier. They haven’t achieved success.
Asian servers are huge and profitable, but also slow and heavy. They cannot really react to changes as fast as modern software companies do.
Still, looking at the current solutions for online Go is very short sighted.
I could never imagine that in the year 2050 we would still be using what we know today. So I started wondering, what features would the Go server of the future have and what would it look like?
Like many ideas one comes up with, I started by thinking about how we could improve what we have now. KGS with an internal training tool, like WBaduk has. Or WBaduk with a social spin. But even though those things would be cool, they would not be disruptive.
The next generation of Go servers
The next generation of Go servers has to be undisputably different. It’s not supposed to make other servers look worse, its simply supposed to be different. You don’t compare Facebook with Youtube.
Over time, I started writing down ideas that I thought would be awesome, thinking in a limitless fashion, as if anything could be done. Much of my inspiration came from personally experienced shortcomings.
- Two years ago I ran an online Go school (Atsumi) and I had a large number of students. However, I didn’t have the tools I needed to make the big jump. I didn’t make enough revenue to live on it, nor could I devise a plan to do so. My biggest source of expenses was advertising myself through free lectures, and ads. I had no support network to grow as a business and make a living. You are absolutely alone. You can see that all the Go ventures out there fly solo – ASR, insei league, eidogo, gokifu, igolocal…
- Also, many times I’ve met people who were curious about Go after I told them I was a player. But I had no resources to help them. Yes, playgo interactive is a nice site, but that’s a terrible solution if you think about it. I would like to share a link, and show someone in a super conversational way how to play. Telling someone to go to a website, download a client, log in as a guest, then find me there with x-nickname, then look for the game I open… It’s too many steps!
And then I started thinking about a key problem no community in the world is fixing in a systematic way: the creation of new players. One of a Go server’s top priorities has to be the generation of more players. It’s really only logical: more players will show more revenue eventually. Yet, no server is making such an attempt as the task seems too daunting to take.
These two things got me started on a wealth of features and, more importantly, the philosophy by the which Kaya was conceived several months later.
All Go players share a bond through a Goban, even if we don’t know each other, we feel respect for someone that plays Go. It’s something personal and important.
Expanding the community of Go players
We should make a serious effort to expand the community. We should make a serious effort to pull the community together and synergize our efforts. What we build in this generation is going to help the next one.
I wouldn’t be here if IGS didn’t help the generation before me. And I wouldn’t be who I am without KGS. I want to give the next generation of Go players an even better environment.
Kaya.gs is not only intended to be a place where you can find players and opponents, its a place where you can enjoy the legacy of some of the most passionate players and contributors in the community. Its a venture aiming to help other ventures become real, interesting, professional and important, and hence making the whole community richer.
Thinking about what’s possible
When you start thinking about what is possible, only the sky is the limit. Things never done before, like tsumego competitions, or yose challenges (2 players get a 0.5 point pro game, play it out and compare their yose to the professional one), go shows and live TV, tournament news coverage and online organizational tools for Go communities. Online study groups, multi-video sessions, massive server games analysis to check out amateur joseki fashions. Fake betting, complex rank graphs, and much more.
The number of things we haven’t tried yet and the potential experience is so huge. We are not devoting enough energy to these matters as a community.
We picked the name Kaya because we want it to be organic, like the 10,000 year old tree that is used to make gobans.
We want to grow and expand and constantly be changing, and make a big forest. The ultimate goal is to improve how we experience Go, just like the tree does, by becoming a board.
Kaya.gs demo video
If there is one thing I would like the readers to take from this, it is to understand that we are trying to build a living, breathing and expanding space. One that constantly looks to improve the experience and also increase the number of players and activities related to this game.
What’s your vision for the future?
How about you? What do you think the Go server of the future will look like? Leave a comment below to share your ideas.
You can read more about Kaya.gs at the Kaya.gs blog.