Wednesday, January 07, 2009

More Linkage: Platforms for Discussion

Sari chimes in on the discussion about why and how to make sf discussions on the net more lively with a good and thoughtful post. I find myself mostly agreeing with what she is saying: the discussion is inevitably fragmenting to different forums, blogs, etc. and the best strategy is to go with it instead of trying to fight against the current.

I think the only way to get the often-coveted “one really good fandom forum” for all discussion (even if you supposed you could get enough people to agree what “good” in this context means) would be to take away all other means of communication (other forums, blogs, mailing lists, etc.). And since this isn’t happening, it’s probably not very realistic to try to get any central hub for all fandom discussion artificially going. Not that I object people trying, mind you.

Sidenote 1: One possible (technical) solution for merging blogging and more forum-like discussion than just blog comments might be a LiveJournal-type platform where you could set up topics as communities where people could post their thoughts and commenting would work in a bit more structured manner than on the usual blog. (No, I don’t think LiveJournal is going away despite the current panicking about some layoffs in their US office – on the other hand, I would personally prefer something else, since following LiveJournal discussions with the rudimentary tools they give you is a pain.)

So, all the different blogs and forums probably are here to stay at least for now, until someone comes up with something new people will go with. This is not totally unrelated to what’s going on with fanzines. Every now an then some wide-eyed idealist proposes joining forces to produce one big, really good zine. But since doing your own thing the way you like is more fun, people will keep doing that instead. (Yes, I’m doing that too.)

Sidenote 2: You can make your life following discussions going on in blogs much easier by using a RSS feed aggregator. It will collect the posts from the blogs you want to follow and present them to you in one interface, in chronological order. Simple and easy. If you don’t want to experiment with installing new programs and learning to use them, Google Reader is a good option to test drive using feeds without having to install any of the stuff yourself. It’s almost like having your personal forum where the people you want to read write about stuff they think is interesting.


Johan A said...

Argh. If this country had been properly managed, the second language of Sweden since the 1500s would have been taught here in school, just like the second language of Finland is taught in Finnish schools. And then I would have been able to read that post, which was particularly unsuited for Google Translate's otherwise excellent services.

No, a single central hub for fannish endeavours and interests will not come to be. There are several reasons for that. Perceived identity is one; most people identify with a subgroup rather than the whole collective. The drawback is obvious, as Sari points out (AFAICT): Instead of one really active forum with many participants, we get several half-dead fora.

But there are advantages, too. Instead of one central globular place, we have an octopus with many tentacles, which collects a wider net of people than otherwise. Myself, I join the fora, mailing lists, and groups that interest me and that works for me. And I have noticed that over time people drift around. So perhaps diversity isn't too bad after all? And it can be seen as a distributed backup system. No big deal if one of them founders, you just move on to a different one.

Tero said...

A short recap of Sari’s post (I hope she won't mind my reproducing it here):

People are talking about why the discussion forums on the net are passive and how to make them more active. A good idea, but Sari thinks discussion forums are not the best places for discussion (there have been several attempts for general fandom discussion boards, most not that successful). Other forums are becoming more passive or shutting down also, so it’s not a genre forum–specific problem.

Sari mentions a couple of forums that have managed to forge their own communities and also brought more people to fandom. Both are active, but the median age of the members is younger than in fandom, and the discussions about how wonderful Stephenie Meyer’s books are not necessarily those us “older fen” find the most fruitful (I’ve got the same problem with these forums). Some forums have tried to create sub forums for more serious discussion, but these often go the way of the other forums—the participants are few and the discussion wanes.

Sari suggests that if you want to have serious, analytical discussions on the web, the blogs are the platform best suited for the task. Everyone can have their own “forum” with their own rules, best suited for their needs. If somebody tries to troll or dominate the discussions too much, they can be banned easily. And they are free to set up their own blogs to express their opinions to their hearts content. You can use trackbacks to see if others are commenting on your ideas on their blogs, and read the comments they got there.

She also says this new world of hyperlinked texts on the network is still a new thing and people have trouble thinking about it as one big network instead of a lot of separate islands (this is something I completely agree—this is what prompted me to comment on LiveJournal’s usefulness: many have found that a perfect blend to bring individual blogs together as a big discussion—even if I don’t quite agree personally).

She also suggests that more useful than setting up forums might be a service that would track blogs and regularly post links to interesting articles. (Incidentally, this is something like what I decided to do more of a while ago; this post and a couple before that are examples of this linking to other stuff I found interesting.)

Johan A said...

Yes, a good hub to track all discussions would be welcome. There is RSS and RSS readers, but so far they haven't got quite to where I'd like them to be. For single, focused topical discussions blogs do very well, but not for cohesive, social community building, which is another thingh I expect from online discussion fora.

Sari said...

Thanks for the recap! It is funny how the mood just takes me and I produce a Finnish post without even thinking about it.

As far as the subject matter goes, I think that community building is also in part a generational thing. As I said, our young'uns come largely from online forums that have developed to viable and even vibrant communities on their own and only then connected with established fandom. Us older generation obviously don't seem to need that aspect as much, otherwise we would have more active online forums/mailinglists.

I have only once in my life really invested time and effort to an online forum. The community building aspect was a great success - I met Nea and through her Johan - but I do find it extremely irksome that all my insightful and thoughtful posts have gone by the way of dodo as the forums have deleted part of their archives to save costs. What I write in my blog is under my control. I do find that surprisingly important and liberating.

As far as LJ or RSS feeders go, they do a reasonable job. But I, for example, spend considerable amount of bandwith extolling the virtues of Martti the wonder dog, and the inability of Asada Mao to jump a clean triple lutz - subjects that surely are of limited interest to many fannish readers who will get those posts on their friendlists and feeds regardless. Thus the need for linkhubs.

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