Some 6 months ago, in May 2023 a post was made on r/DataHoarder that the XeNTaX wiki and forum were shutting down due to financial considerations. As with any forum shutdown, much panic had ensued at that moment. However, from the few people I have spoken to about this shutdown, no one really seemed be aware of XeNTaX before this.
Depending on where you look online you may be led to believe XeNTax is/was a company, supposedly a foundation and definitely a website. Yes, that is a XeNTaX website xentax.org distinct from the XeNTaX forums forum.xentax.com. In actuality, XeNTaX has its roots in the Dutch demoscene and it has just kept reincarnating.
XeNTaX started as a team of two, Mr. Mouse and Captain Corney, who were hacking/modding Commodore 64 games. XeNTaX grew into a much wider community over time because Mr. Mouse and Captain Corney wanted to be able to focus retrocomputing and to support others working on similar projects. For this XeNTaX developed MultiEx Commander which is a tool for unarchiving 100+ retro game formats, certainly no longer limited to C64.
On October 6, XeNTaX made a more upfront shutdown announcement[Wayback] with the shutdown being scheduled for the end-of-year. While there was still some possibility of a buyout or handover, it was unlikely. Instead, the XeNTaX community was encouraged to join the XeNTaX Discord server. Again, no surprises there: it has become fairly routine for old forums to retire to Discord which offers free hosting and a ton of features.
With this announcement, a second wave shot out. Word got out once again leading to several mass archiving efforts. However, this upset the staff enough to issue a warning on the Discord, with an emphasis on Data Privacy and consent. To quote Mr. Mouse:
Note: Members of the Xentax Forum have agreed to terms of the Forum and any public information. They have not agreed for their information being used on other sites. You may wish to look into the subject of data privacy. As such, while you’ve leeched my posts, I did not agree for those being hosted somewhere else. So remove my posts.
Remember to ensure approval from people before you put their stuff up that they did not agree to. In this age of data privacy and consent that is very important. As for Wayback Machine, they have a process that enables removal of pages if asked and are usually collaborative.XeNTax Discord
This was a remarkable reaction because two things are being said here. First is the obvious point on data privacy and consent, but second is an undertone of leaching off of previous work and exploitation. The fact that the Xentax forums have shut down does not mean that the staff and contributors have quit completely. They are still around and will frown upon their work being plagerised now just as much as they would have while the forums were alive. And that is an issue most fellow archivists and hoarders have been fairly negligent of.
Amidst the archiving craze focussed on preserving the record, there was also a second preservation effort going on. An effort to preserve community. Although the XeNTaX Discord server offered a solution, many did wish for an independent forum. Even a short gofundme was run to see if maintenance costs could be crowdsourced.
The shutdown date was pulled a bit forward to November 3, 2023 as members were instructed to relocate to a new forum, Reshax, per the updated XeNTaX forum banner[Wayback]. In fact, when the forum did first shut down it began immediately redirecting to Reshax.
I’ve reached an agreement with Mr. Mouse, the owner of the Xentax forum, to promote ResHax and breathe new life into the slowly declining forum. Additionally, I’ll make an effort to bring tools from their site to ours. Once their forum becomes inactive, I’ll attempt to persuade Mr. Mouse to redirect the domain to our forum, ensuring that all users can find a new home hereReshax admin michalss, “What about Xentax and Zenhax ?” on ResHax, Wayback Snapshot.
michalss also lamented on the recent death of the sister community Zenhax, which was abandoned due to the owner losing interest. And this could have been the end of the story, but people kept begging, asking “where are the tools, where are the assets?”…
On November 8, Xentax Discord Admin Richard Whitehouse came out with an announcement, later also shared on his homepage: Reshax and XeNTaX had reached an alternative agreement. From this point on, Reshax would be free to focus on reverse engineering however so they pleased; and XeNTaX members would be free to continue the tools and projects that they were already making. Whitehouse paints a picture of how he believes the XeNTaX community has been unfairly taken advantage of, and that this was a destructive force.
Many developers stopped sharing their findings and specifications (myself included) because they started to see their work exploited. By companies, which is morally reprehensible (and sometimes in direct violation of a given license/copyright) and serves to devalue the entire skillset associated with the labor. By other developers, who are socially positioned to exploit the labor in some other way. By people who just want to rip content to turn around and sell it, or claim false credit for it. In conjunction with unhealthy ego competition, this exploitation has made it impossible to create a culture of trust and sharing between developers.
We want to create an environment where developers are safe to work together without being exploited, and where developers feel valued by fellow developers enough to not feel the need to engage in pathetic ego-based assertions of skill. We want people to be fueled by their creative ambitions and technical fascinations, not their social standing. We want to create a culture beyond what Open Source can achieve under the constraints of our current socioeconomic systems. No matter how many people are left standing in the end, this is where we’re going.Richard Whitehouse
On r/DataHoarder and other venues, the XeNTaX forum shutdown was treated as nothing more than a lost cause. There was once a XeNTaX, now there isn’t; we must therefore uphold the memory through downloading all we can. But to the alive and well XeNTaX community, these forum dumps were nothing more than an intensification of the routine stealing of their work they had grown sick of. Whitehouse’s open letter, which I have only abridged here, makes it clear what the Discord staff consider a XeNTaX contributor willing to invest time and effort to learn as opposed to internet passerbys who ask for something, take it and move on.
To further hammer in the point, Mr. Mouse issued another announcement on November 12 imploring members to not share full backups of the XeNTaX Forum on the XeNTaX Discord server. Once again, the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine were exempted as special cases, but else it was not allowed. This however did attract some internal protest from guild members, as one might gather from the reactions to the message.
This goes to show that the Internet Archive has built up enough of a reputation to not merely be heralded as leachers and pirates and that’s a good thing. Although, there is an implication here that websites just find their way onto the Internet Archive, when in fact there are automation processeces and groups like Archive Team who facilitate this. Thus we find ourselves in a Catch 22, where if something has landed on the Internet Archive it is deemed legitimate, but if it is stuck in transit it was stolen unfairly.
This is a paradox that underpins the challenge of being an archivist today: sucess means being invisible and that your archives are never widely distributed. Does that perhaps sound familiar? It’s the exact same situation the XeNTaX community finds itself in. They would rather preserve their tools and assets internally, circulating on a need-to-know basis than have it out in the open. This ensures that the community retains its knowledge, but also controls it. It’s self-determination against potential exploitation.
The XeNTaX situation is not over and hopefully it will never be over in the near future. The XeNTaX forums might be gone, but XeNTaX lives on. And I believe it sets a good example: Archivism as a hobby or profession is something which should prevail within every community, instead of the interventionist culture from 3rd parties that we have grown accustomed to today.
But that reversal we have is warranted. Many times communities do vanish or are made to vanish, whether it’s subtitlers on YouTube or artists who can no longer use Macromedia Flash. Often times, these communities do not have an obvious way of preserving their memories; the decision is out of their control and attempts at preservation necessitate challenging authority, ad hoc solutions and technical expertise (often from outside).
Whether you define yourself an archivist, a hoarder, a pirate, a cracker, an archaelogist or whatever; it is a must that you understand where the files come from. You don’t have to obey all of the wishes of the original creator, but you have to respect them. Especially if they’re still alive and kicking. The costs couldn’t kill XeNTaX, but from the looks of it archivists almost did.