Rules of the road

Kasama

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February 04, 2007

Comments

WCWadmin

Great post.

I'm calling on all those in support of this to head on over to the World Can't Wait forum. It's lonely over there and needs some lively discussion.

Don't let the rightists posting on it not get a response!

blunt advice

A very friendly jibe, wcwadmin, showing up on a lively forum and saying (semi-pathetically) "please come post on my forum, it is lonely and not lively" --

well, dude, that too will not work (which should be obvious if you think about it.)

This got me wondering, in a hopefully constructive way, what makes a "lively forum."

First, if your site already has a regular readership and audience (and I believe it does) -- your attempt to create a lively discussion should start with the thought: what are the contradictions that animate, attract AND DIVIDE that regular audience?

Isn't the basic formula for takeoff: regular eyeballs plus controversy?

Also a simple techno-point: the "forum" link on the WCW site is simply and woefully too small and buried. (Who will even realize it exists!? I hadn't and I go see your WCW site every friggin day!)

Think for a second: If i was a bored student web fanatic with a hatred of this government, HOW IN THE WORLD WOULD I EVER STUMBLE ACROSS THE WCW FORUM? You wouldn't. You wouldn't hear about it, even if you came to WCW site. And if (by example) you stumbled onto the forum, why in the world would you EVER come back -- everything about it snores. It looks like long boring screeds, everyone who posts has the same views, and there is almost nothing there to explore.

People stand around watching bloody car wrecks and hair-pulling bar fights -- think about it.

A technique that's better than begging: go write and say interesting things on large online discussions (like Democratic Underground) and simply have a link to the WCW Forum in your sig. People who like what you say will give it a click by the hundreds.

Now the question: What will hold people to the discussion and bring them back?

To say the discussion needs to be interesting and lively, well that kinda states the obvious without getting to the heart: a discussion has to explore a real set of contradictions that a target audience of people care about.

The controversy and debate has to be real, and people have to care about the debate not just about their opinions within that debate.

(Thoughtful people colliding about common interests?)

But for example, the WCW approach to "complicity" is controversial -- and not well understood (perhaps by WCW supporters too). Do you dare debate that?

Ironically, the issues that are most interesting for your supporters are the same thing your organization often wants to "fudge." For example, "vote or not vote" is a big issue for WCW supporters -- even though WCW doesn't really want to take a stand on that, and doesn't want to insist on "fight that through to a resolution." So you could generate a "lively debate" -- but it may not hone in on the points you want to elaborate.

How about "what is fascism?" -- what actually is it, when do you get there, how do you know? Is it a place you actually "either get to or don't have yet", or are there shades?

Another thing that will bring people to your WCW forum: make it a place where people can post "things of interest" -- like a thread on breaking news, or a thread on "sites i think you'd like." If people think they get some useful new tidbit every time they show... then they will stop in from time to time.

Final tip: Your forum has a tin ear for the dynamics of the web.

For example: Dumping a wheelbarrow of ideas in front of the crowd and then saying "please discuss" -- will never lead to discussion.

I.e. Posting some major, complex, complete document on a forum and saying "what do you think?" will never produce a lively forum. Web forums start with parts of ideas, or questions, and the full complex argument unfolds over the back and forth of a thread. Posting full "position papers" just means they won't get read. You can't create a web forum that assumes people read long position papers and then post articulated counter positions. That's not how the web works.

another example: Having a forum called "Open Debate: Please No Trolling" -- is about as attractive and interesting as having a sign that says "Dance Floor for Teens -- Please no Touching."

Certainly obsessive, stupid trolls are boring -- and should be quietly iced by moderators to maintain a debate at a productive hum. But such culling should be invisible, assumed and unannounced. And (more important) never underestimated the attractiveness of a good troll -- someone clever and pointed who your visitors love to hate, bait and answer will bring your discussion to life. (Or put it another way: homogeneity will never be lively.)

And don't have the illusion (for a second) that you create the techno-shell for a debate, and it just springs to live. No. It requires a lot of work, culling, seduction, recruitment, thought, obsessive moderating, posting of tidbits.

For example: It would be quite reasonable to post a little invite here (or on sympathetic forums like this one) that says "When you have something interesting to say, consider x-posting it to WCW forum."

You have to prime the pump. You have to identify the fault lines that will intrigue your target audience. You have to actively recruit thoughtful and clever posters (by tapping your friends on the shoulder and saying "Post on this site once a day for two weeks or I'll tweak your uglies something awful.") You have to advertise using a multitude of techniques (Simple ABCs for starters: how many bloggers did you email and ask to put your forum on their faves list?)

Can anyone else, any experienced bloggers, offer other advice to WCW here? Let's help them create a forum that boosts their important cause!

LS

Good comment, Blunt advice. That was very thoughtful and useful advice - not just for WCW but for anyone trying to do political work via the web.

blunt advice 2

also, you have done everything conceivable to prevent the flow of discussion:

(a) you require people to register before posting.

(b) you don't allow posts to go through without a moderator approval (how long does that take, 24 hours? two days? or three minutes?)

I obviously understand why you have those precautions, but you will NEVER HAVE any lively discussion with those in place -- because your forum is too locked down, and too slo-mo.

Obviously forums like yours get innundated with the zionist-nazi-wacko spam, if you just open the gates. But here are some suggestions:

a) open the gates at the beginning, while the forum gets started (you can always tighten up later.)

b) have an active moderator all day long (yeah, there is work in this, and you need some web fanatic who loves doing this all day more than eating.) And have that person remove ugly spam as it arrives.

c) Allow clever crap, remove the stupid shit. Or whittle down the bullshit, to the one or two sentences that were interesting. (You can actually train some trolls to post interesting shit, if your forum is lively enough.)

But your forum feels like "parental control TV" -- and will never take off like this.

yeah

people want to see their posts right away, and often wait around to see if someone answers.

Also: look at this burningman forum... people post here using different names and voices. If you force everyone to "register" you take half the sexy fun out of adopting more than one personna.

Tin ear indeed. You have done everything to shut down and hide your forum -- and begging people to come play with your deflated ball won't work.

And the issues around WCW are electric -- this could be a great forum, if you paid more attention to the basics.

suggestion

create a thread where people post "the best youtube clips for driving out bush" -- and arrange to have a good link posted every threehours for ten days.

Everyone loves youtube clips, but who has the time to dig up all the good ones.

ask burning

when burningman's threads take off, he can get 20 posts in an hour... Your moderator 'lock down" makes that impossible (I bet your moderator checks and approves one or twice a day).

If I post something, and it doesn't appear right away... I don't go to another thread and post some more. I just sigh and go home.

People on some forums complain bitterly if the time lag between post and appearance is over five minutes -- it completely kills the buzz and the debate.

more

more on the ABCs of the web:

go reread your own post, webadmin....

you didn't even GIVE A LINK back to your forum! Think about it.

So people who read this thread, and want to go check out your forum DONT EVEN HAVE ANY FUCKING WAY OF GETTING THERE.

If you don't pay attention to the rock-bottom ABCs of the medium, and how it works, and how people gather there ... you will never never get a second look.

suggestion

your opening forums are boring...

and half of them aren't clear what they mean... (How is "WCW discussions," different from "Questions and Answers."

Also the sentence "Share your videos, music, artwork, comics, poetry, etc. here" misses the main point: most of what people share is not "their" work, but links to interesting shit they have found that other people did. And you don't have a place for that.

Also, when you start out a forum, you can't just "provide a place" and assume "If i build it people will come." They won't.

You actually have to painstakinly "get the machinery going" by soliciting and creating content that is attractive and interesting. You set up a "creative corner" forum a month ago, but never bothered to put a hundred interesting things in it.

Do you expect to attract people with the "idea of a forum" -- but without having tons of good content? Nope. That's like setting up a convenience story without anything on the shelves, and telling people "come on in and help me make a business."

a suggestion

never underestimate the crucial importance of three, four or five hard-core regular posters -- who are interesting, funny, articlulate and determined to be heard in your forum.

Such people are precious, cuz they are what holds the attention and continuity, and provide the entertainment.

If you don't know who is playing that role for your forum, then you don't have a forum.

And the hard part is finding the "contrarian regulars" who don't agree with you.

There is nothing more valuable than one or two "devil's advocates" who come to your forum to ask the hard, embarassing and contrary questions.

They have to courted and protected (subtlely).... or they just leave and don't come back.

What did Mao say "Do you want a roaring river or a stagnant pool?"

Blunt:

Points taken.

"You have to actively recruit thoughtful and clever posters (by tapping your friends on the shoulder and saying "Post on this site once a day for two weeks or I'll tweak your uglies something awful.")"

That's what I was trying to do with the previous post, however it might have come off as "disparate".

As far as the "no trolling" thing... I'm thinking it's doing the opposite... if you could see the kind of posts that people spout out. Ugh.

WCWadmin

"So people who read this thread, and want to go check out your forum DONT EVEN HAVE ANY FUCKING WAY OF GETTING THERE."

My bad...

http://www.worldcantwait.net/forum
or
Click my name.

-ps Can you tell admining forums isn't my day job? :(

jibaro

dear friend wcwadmin:

You have apparently been offered a heavy info-injection of advice. "Blunt advice," apparently.

Don't feel dissed. It is advice.

And I know that I (like LC) thought there was a lot to learn from that concentrated stream of criticism and suggestions.

Thanks for initiating the convo

WCWadmin

Criticism is good when it's right and when it points out mistakes that can be corrected. I don't feel dissed at all. ;)

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