"Don't Crap on My Code" - The People and Mission of WPP

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

Although it sometimes seems like yesterday, it has been 5 years this month since the inception of WaterPoloPlanet.com. As an Anniversary special, Doc and I thought we would give a little background on who we are and what in the world we are doing here at the Planet…and a small preview of where we would like to head.

How Can You Start on a Shoestring when You Got No Shoes - You Got a Great Photographer and an Enthusiastic Old Coach?

In 2001, my husband bought me a good Nikon to take pictures in our travels during his time as an international referee.  Unfortunately, there was no venue back then for me to load my pictures centrally and allow people to download them…to avoid the costs of shipping and copying, I started WaterPoloPlanet.com as a small home made web site that had a lot of photographs, some CWPA scores and results from the tournaments I attended. It gave me something to do in the 26+ weeks a year that Loren was traveling.

After a few months, I wanted to begin to add more content but I am not, nor have I ever been, a water polo player,coach, or referee (or a web site designer) …so I needed someone to help. After thinking about it a little while, Loren recommended that I contact Doc. He felt that Doc was one of the few people out there who would share his knowledge of the sport and begin a “How To” series on Water Polo. His computer expertise wouldn’t hurt either. At the time, Doc had recently retired…in response to my original email asking him to do an article, Doc told me that he might be able to manage one article a month. Little did Doc know that the site and the idea would suck him into a full time unpaid job as it did me.

From that small beginning, Water Polo Planet.com was born. From its inception, our goal has been to create a web site that offers free access to as much water polo knowledge and information in one place as possible. We are helped by a loose confederation of people and contributors who assist with programming, message board moderation, multimedia and articles…all loosely organized or recruited by myself and Doc. While we all have somewhat specialized areas, Doc handles the brain side (articles, coding and formatting) and I handle the grunt side (scores and fill in the blanks type functions).

Contrary to almost universal belief, Doc and I never set out to replace or compete with USA Water Polo. Our goal has always been to provide additional news and information that is outside the USA Water Polo universe such as NCAA results, International news, op-ed articles and photographs. Whenever possible, we exchange information, share links and collaborate on projects with the USAWP. We (here at WPP) are very often opinionated….but one of the beauties of a private enterprise is the fact that we do not have to be politically correct. We owe nothing to advertisers, sponsors, board of directors or paid membership….simply because we do not have any. As a free service, we enjoy complete freedom, both editorial and otherwise.

With no paid staff or oversight (other than our own), we can be driven by our community and thus have the ability to react quickly to requests and changes we feel have merit. A case in point is the lament of a coach this year that NCAA conference standings were difficult to find and should be incorporated on our Varsity scores page. Within 24 hours, Doc had perfected a new type of code and had the standings posted on the web site.

We Try to Champion the Small Dog But in Water Polo There Are NO Small Dogs!

The past 3 years have seen a lot of evolution at the Planet.  While most people view Doc solely as the legendary coach of the Slippery Rock University, he is also the retired chair of the Slippery Rock Computer Science Department, holding a PhD in an associated field.  During the course of 2005, Doc designed and manually rewrote the code for the entire web site (about an umpteen number of pages) to make it stable, clean and viable. He eliminated redundancy and created a site that is easy to navigate. He eliminated the WYSIWG editor that I was attached to and forced me to learn Dreamweaver…we lost a huge ticket sales opportunity during my rather painful learning curve (a pain I still experience).  The title of my article “Don’t Crap on My Code”is a direct quote from Doc to me after about the 12th time (in one day) that I overwrote his perfect code with creative Gobbledygook during this learning phase.

To help alleviate my pain (or maybe to alleviate HIS pain in teaching a rather ungifted student), Doc sent me the Dreamwaver Bible for Christmas this year…great book which outlines how little I know in only 1,060 pages.  My now dog-eared copy presently occupies the place of honor on my desk. My next trick is to learn Flash programming which should bring both my frustration level and Docs to new highs.

In a the space of only a few years, Doc has used his own knowledge and water polo connections to bring to the Planet the largest repository of water polo coaching knowledge in the world. A brief glance at WPP Articles is a testament to Doc's ability to gather support and input from some of the top coaches in the world, from Monte Nitzkowsi, the Olympic legend, to Guy Baker and Terry Schroeder, the present US National Coaches.  One of the projects on my “wish list” is to gather permissions from each of the contributors and produce a hard copy water polo manual incorporating all of this knowledge.

Our Photo Galley has always been a big hit, and although an outside hacker attack in January erased all of my international photos, I have begun to repopulate the archives with NCAA and USA Water Polo based photos. All of the photos in the gallery are placed there in high resolution for people to download or print free of charge. In our 5 years of existence, our photographs have been downloaded over 3 million times. With the help of Monique Costill, we recently upgraded our gallery software which now supports free E-Cards and easier downloads. Moving forward, Allen Lorentzen and I are discussing a collaboration that will allow us to incorporate his fantastic new photo site My Water Polo Pics with WPP to form a truly shared photo gallery with both oversight and privacy when desired.

One of our most successful programs here at the Planet has been our centralized Varsity Results page that brings together all the NCAA Varsity schedules, results, and reports in one place. From its simple beginning of scores alone, we have improved it to include each school’s roster and season outlook, links to many of the schools game reports, brackets and seedings, and league standings. We also add free links to any schools Webcasts or Audiocasts. Doc’s formatting of the web pages makes adding scores look easy; however, the Monday morning “rush hour” on the Varsity Score’s page is not accomplished without a lot of time, effort and private annoyance with schools that are late posting or reporting results. Let us not forget that a 7 PM game on the West Coast means that ether Doc and/or I are sitting at a computer at 11:00 PM Eastern Standard Time waiting for a score… Moving forward, we  would love to add a combined California-Texas-Illinois-Pennsylvania High School Schedule and Results page but that is a huge time commitment that neither Doc nor I have the bandwidth to tackle.

Home Is Where the Lap Top Computer Takes You?

In addition to the domestic front, we have increased coverage of large international tournaments such as the World League ,  Olympics and World Championships . Using our international contacts, we are able to bring together large amounts of information in one place to give our readers the opportunity to view scores, scoresheets, referee details and assignments, game recaps, webcasting and television coverage. Our coverage from Montreal included thousands of photographs and game reports which we hope to duplicate within person coverage from next years World Championships from Rome. These projects have made WPP the top destination for people all over the world to come for complete and up to the minute results of big events.

We plan to offer this type of coverage from the Beijing Olympics in August and now that the World League is over, Doc will be putting his graphics design skills to work on the Olympics project.  Beijing’s 12 hour time difference presents a real challenge to our goal of up to the minute reporting so we will be moving to a more vampire-ish schedule to update the scores and results in real time…at least as much as I am able within the demands of my full time paying job, a high maintenance spouse and 2 un-neutered adolescent Hungarian bird dogs. 

One of the most popular programs this year has been the WPP Alternative Top 20 Poll where our own volunteer pollsters create and defend a weekly Top 20 Poll. They debate their weekly decisions with the interactive opinions and analysis of posters on the WPP Message Board who both agree and disagree with them. We have also added to our web site Trevor Freeman’s “Cruising the Decks” articles for CSTV as well as the Weekly AWPCA Polls. We will soon be recruiting volunteer pollsters for Men’s Season and with the demise of the CSTV web site, we hope that Trevor’s “’Cruising the Decks” column will continue on CBS Sports.

In the first couple of years, we received many emails from parents and players in the USA and elsewhere seeking information on Varsity college programs. This caused us to create the Varsity Program Index which provides links to college water polo programs, coaches’ emails, coaches’ telephone numbers, and coaches’ photographs. It also led to my Varsity Programs series that gives an overview of each school for kids beginning their college research. One of our goals this year is to link the league recaps directly to the Varsity Programs Page for “one stop shopping” as well as links to our audiocast interviews with each coach.

2006 saw the introduction of our Merchandise Section which we use to support our various “outreach” programs. 2006 saw the funds use invested in the Northeast Zone Premier League D2 where over 400 players participated in a Zone wide spring program.  For 2008, we used the profits for the WPP “Free DVD Program” where we offered a selection of full length, high quality international games free of charge.    Since January, 2008, we have copied and shipped more than 3500 full length DVD’s to people in the US bringing international water polo into many homes that had never seen international water polo. It is a testament to the quality of my Dell Dimension E521 DVD writer that has copied every one of the 3,500 DVD’s (one at a time) without a glitch.   For the next half of 2008, we will be offering copies of the 2008 European Final 4 in the same free program which will be advertised on our Message Board.

The Medium is the Message Especially When the Medium Is Multimedia!

For 2009, I would like to produce a selection of free high quality DVD games overdubbed with a top coach’s “walk through” of the tactics, and a series with a high level referee’s “walk through’ of the calls. Also on the drawing board is DVD games overdubbed with a walk through for beginner parents and spectators explaining the game and the calls. We are also looking into the possibility of offering free streaming video of free full length games on demand if we are able to find an inexpensive server to host them.

2008 saw our move into multimedia with Trevor Freeman and Dave Maynard’s weekly audiocast “Talking Water Polo at the Planet”. Designed to bring top coaches and programs to the public, TWP has been extremely successful, attracting hundreds of listeners each week.  Our goal is to continue this show, give it its own page on WPP and encourage listeners to call in to ask coaches and guests questions as we become fully interactive.

2008 also brought our Beta Tests of full game audiocasts from "Women's MPSF Championships" and "Men's Premier League Finals" . With the gracious help of Mark Cousineau on Play by Play and the (somewhat) forced labor of Loren Bertocci on Color, we experimented with a new technology with great success. For 2009, I would love to experiment with Video webcasts of games and hope to find a platform to achieve this.

We cannot present a State of the Planet Address without mentioning the Infamous WPP Anonymous Message Board. The WPP Message Board is the single most controversial item on our site as well as one of the most popular. Likened by some to a “crack addiction”, fans, coaches and parents regularly trawl the board for nuggets of information, casual and serious discussion, gossip and breaking news. While the Message Board is sometimes publicly reviled,   it remains a regular destination for most of the Water Polo Community. Case in point is the number of referees and coaches who have been sanctioned by the CWPA for postings made on the WPP message board…the immediate thought is HOW does the CWPA League office know that unless they, themselves, are regular visitors? Overall, I think that we have done a great job controlling rampant speculation and rumors while working to create a sense of intelligent community on the board.  2008 brought a complete upgrade of our Message Board software, thanks to Monique’s expertise, that allows for user self registration, embedded video, new icons and avatars and far more functionality.

"He or She Has Achieved Success Who Has Lived Well, Laughed Often and Loved Much. - Bessie Anderson Stanley"

Have we succeeded with our goal to be the top repository of free water polo information in the world? Yes, I think we have… When users search the net with the keyword “water polo” we now enjoy a 3rd place ranking on Google and we are either  #1 or #2 in the world for the number of hits each month (now into the millions). Being on top, however, does not mean we become static. Doc and I continue to make changes and additions to improve the site and our mission.

Over the past 5 years, it is likely that Doc and I have been (both individually and together) more often associated with the term “pain in the a$$” than almost any other individual or group in the water polo universe.  Do we live up to that reputation? Probably…but in the end, we have produced what we think is a pretty spectacular resource that caters to the worldwide Water Polo Community. A resource with an annual budget of less than $500, run by 2 volunteers, in partnership with 5 or 6 partial collaborators, and we manage regular updates 24/7/365. Not a bad achievement?

For those of you who may currently be at odds with us…there is a little known measure of relief…Doc and I have actually only met face to face one time. Ours is a partnership that exists only via phone and email… Just imagine how bad we would be if we shared an office day after day.  

Makes your blood run cold, don’t it?