Constructing => General Discussion => Topic started by: ebirnholz on February 08, 2012, 01:29:08 AM

Title: requiring registration soon
Post by: ebirnholz on February 08, 2012, 01:29:08 AM
According to -- the online database of NYT crosswords dating back to the beginning of the Will Shortz era -- the website will soon require registration to access most of its features.  The reason for the change was described sometime last week when the front page contained the following message:

"Many of you have noticed that XWord Info is increasingly showing 'Service Unavailable.' I am taking various steps to reduce this problem in the short term but the root cause is that some people are using this site in ways not intended by me and not supportable on my small web server -- hitting hundreds or thousands of pages in a short period of time, etc.

To keep this site available and to allow me to restrict access to intended usage patterns, access will soon require registration. Some pages (today's puzzle, for example) will always be available to anyone, links from blogs will still work, but you'll need to register for full access.

More details soon."

This appears to be a significant development on the horizon for puzzle constructors, and I'm concerned that it's not a good one.  I'm hoping someone in the know can provide a little more information about the new registration procedures and its impact.  To that end, I have several questions about this matter.  When will the changes take effect?  Will XWord Info require a fee of some kind?  If so, how much?  Will it be a monthly or yearly subscription, or something else?  How will a registration system ensure that service interruptions don't occur in the future?  Isn't it possible that the same problems might arise if too many registered users access too many pages in a short period of time, thus exceeding the website's server limitations?  Even if the registration system does help prevent server problems, is there a risk that such a change might prevent lots of new, aspiring constructors from using the website to get ideas on puzzle themes and clues?

I ask these questions because XWord Info has been such a valuable resource for me as an up-and-coming constructor.  It has been my go-to website when I've needed help in filling a grid and designing clever clues.  It would be a real shame if crossword enthusiasts (particularly those with limited financial resources) became unable to use the website in the process of fixing technical difficulties.  I can recall some news organizations (like the New York Times) that freely provided their online content to users for years, only to turn around later when it was losing money and then block the same users from reading all of their digital articles unless they paid for subscriptions.  I'd hate to see the same thing happen to XWord Info.

Does anyone have more information about this development?
Title: Re: requiring registration soon
Post by: SJS on February 09, 2012, 03:39:35 PM
I don't have any inside info on this, but my assumption is that the pages are being accessed by automated programs that are accessing many pages simultaneously (to what end I don't know - search engines updating their databases, possibly).  Registration would limit page access to those with credentials, and robotic programs wouldn't have the credentials.

This could be accomplished with a free login, and my assumption is that the registration will be free.

Xwordinfo already does accept donations, and the suggested donation amounts are (if I remember correctly) $10, 20, and 50, so my assumption is that even if the login came for a fee, it would be extremely reasonable (e.g., $20 per year).  But again, my expectation is that this *will* be free.

I agree, that website (and this one) are two essential references.
Title: Re: requiring registration soon
Post by: ebirnholz on February 10, 2012, 02:00:36 PM
Thanks, I wouldn't have guessed that automated programs could be responsible for crashing the servers, but it makes sense that registration could eliminate problem by making XWord Info's pages inaccessible to those programs.

I too hope that registration would be free.  I'm all in favor of soliciting donations and I know that even a fee like $20 a year wouldn't be all that much.  But because I've fallen on hard financial times as of late, and because I'm generally opposed to the idea of restricting access to a particular website when it was offered for free for several years, I became pretty concerned.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what XWord Info's new terms are.
Title: Re: requiring registration soon
Post by: SJS on February 11, 2012, 10:19:19 AM
I've made a donation to xwordinfo.  I have not bought a gold membership to cruciverb, but I will do so soon.  It's a crazy amount of work and expense to run websites like these, and it is a minor miracle that people are willing to do it.  I think xwordinfo may generate a little bit of money selling advertising on their site, not sure, but certainly not enough to cover the expense.  I can sympathize with your financial troubles and certainly hope the site can remain free for people in your circumstances, but I personally don't agree that just because a site has been free that it would be some great affront for it to no longer be free.  It is unreasonable to ask website owners to be forced, for the rest of their natural lives, to pour their own money down the drain for the convenience of people they've never actually met.

I don't mean to sound harsh, but I do want to stick up for guys like Jim Horne (xword) and Kevin McCann (cruciverb).  We can get so used to the service they provide that we can forget the sacrifices they make to make that possible.


Title: Re: requiring registration soon
Post by: ebirnholz on February 11, 2012, 06:40:50 PM
That's fair.  You're right that they've done a great job and put a lot of work into making their websites accessible and run smoothly for anyone who wants to use it.  They certainly have a right to charge access to their pages if they believe that finances or technical problems dictate it.  Maybe there isn't enough of a revenue stream from donations and selling ad space.  And there's something to be said for what Rich Norris writes (;sa=page;p=71) about puzzle construction -- that if you're serious about building puzzles and "if you're trying to earn money making crosswords, the least you can do is invest in the software."

I'm obviously concerned about paying for its services while I'm getting through financial difficulties of my own, but I'm also worried about the potential to turn away others who'd like to learn the ropes of constructing.  Like I said before, I was reminded a little bit of the New York Times limiting access to most of their online content until users paid for subscriptions when they had provided it freely for years.  I can understand why the NYT made the change -- they were losing money on print circulation -- but it's a change that may have turned away a lot of potential readers who then went to get their news from elsewhere.

I understand that the market for news is much bigger than the market for looking up crossword puzzle entries, and I understand that a website like XWord Info doesn't have the same finances and resources that a big news organization does.  I also get that using XWord Info for helping to build puzzles is a much more active process than simply reading news articles on the web.  Still, I'd be concerned that even if a fee for subscribing to XWord Info is small today, it may grow larger and larger as time goes on.

I dunno.  I think most people who really want to build crossword puzzles would probably be willing to pay a small fee to get access to the resources they'd need, so this may turn out to be not that big of a deal in the end.  I just hope this change won't prevent those of us with limited finances from using what I consider to be the best resource on the web for up-and-coming constructors.
Title: Re: requiring registration soon
Post by: ebirnholz on February 11, 2012, 08:07:34 PM
It appears that the terms have been laid out on XWord Info's front page:

Users can donate either $10, $20, or $50 to register and receive access to the full site for a whole year.  Do so by March 15, and you get full access for 15 months.  If you've ever donated to XWord Info before, you'll have free access for the first year.

It's not unreasonable to ask users to commit a minimum of $10 for an entire year, so I won't mind donating at least that much.  Hell, if I ever sell a puzzle to the NYT one of these days, I can make that money back 20 times over!
Title: Re: requiring registration soon
Post by: worldofcrosswords on February 13, 2012, 08:42:05 AM

I sympathize with you. I paid for a cruciverb gold membership last year. It was a bit of a stretch for me. I'm not sure that the $35 will ever pay for itself. I recently started a  small business, World of Crosswords ( It's running in the red, and I have to really carefully evaluate every expense.

I will also pay the registration fee, but I feel disgruntled to get hit with a fee almost as soon as I started using the site (I am using the site manually). My hope is that the costs will eventually be recovered, and my disgruntlement will become a dim memory.

I'm a little surprised to read SJS's suggestion that the site owners of cruciverb and Xwordinfo are making sacrifices to run these sites. I don't know how they feel, but I'd be happy to run a site like this! I'm surprised if the sites are not running in the black.

Title: Re: requiring registration soon
Post by: SJS on February 13, 2012, 05:59:21 PM

Good comments above.


I'm sure it's a labor of love for both Kevin and Jim and I have no doubt they are both gratified by all of the support they receive from the community they helped to build.  I'd bet they would agree with you that 95% of the time they feel lucky to be hosting such well-used and well-respected websites. 

But even still, that other 5% of the time... like whatever it was that caused XWordInfo to change their policy.  One day things are going great, then all of the sudden the website is crashing.  And Jim probably gets a ton of emails saying "Hey, why is your site crashing?"  And he feels terrible, because he knows so many constructors depend on the site.  So he probably spends a few hours figuring out what's going on.  Then he realizes the only way to stop the site from crashing is to set up a registration system.  That means spending another who knows how many hours researching registration systems and buying a program or self-programming the registration.  And worrying about the people who've already donated.  And wanting to make sure there's no snafus with the new system.  And dealing with all the emails from people who don't like the idea.  And all of this probably in the middle of a week he had other plans.

Stuff like that probably doesn't happen very often, but the more popular your site is, the more that when it happens, it is a major stressor for the website owner.  Who probably spends at least some time thinking "Do I really need this?"  So when stuff like that does happen I think it is especially important for folks like us (the users of the site) to be patient and to give the website owner the benefit of the doubt.


Title: Re: requiring registration soon
Post by: worldofcrosswords on February 14, 2012, 09:39:02 AM

I've never complained about the outages at cruciverb or Xwordinfo. I'm a patient person; if the site is down, I wait a little while and try again later. And I like both of these websites and find them useful.

However, speaking as both a web developer and website owner, I would love to have the problem of my site crashing because there are too many users! :) Now if it's a DOS attack, that's something else. But there's no need to add a fee when that happens, so I'm assuming that was not the problem for Xwordinfo. The switch to fee-for-service implies that the site is not making sufficient money off ads. That surprises me a bit.