TTAC Needs YOU! How Do We Add Forums?
All hail Frank Williams. TTAC’s Managing Editor spent the best part of last week speccing-out our new website. Every current and future link, every button, every function, every everything. Frank’s road map contains the kind of “granularity” that code writers adore, that I consider “grit,” whose creation requires true grit. In the course of this odyssey, Frank and I made a lot of strategic decisions. Most were easy (a strong brand makes it so). While I’m completely confident the new TTAC will leapfrog the competition (no Volt comparisons please), there’s an 800-pound feature in the room that we need to discuss: forums.
We understand full well TTAC’s core strength: the relationship between our no-holds-barred rants, reviews and news; and our Best and Brightest (reader) commentary. Most sites offer sensible posts with deranged comments. We provide deranged posts with sensible comments. In other words, the commentators, our base, are an integral part of what makes us us. If we lose them/you, we lose our spiritual core.
TTAC sustains its Best and Brightest in three ways. First, our editorial team writes its collective, metaphorical ass off. We attract the B&B with our automotive zeal, literary courage, quality thinking and sardonic wit. You know, ideally. Second, we encourage cross-fertilization between [barely] paid editorial staff and commentators. This open-door editorial policy ensures that our writers are in tune with our readers because they ARE readers. Third, perhaps most importantly, we have a stringent no-flaming policy.
I reckon that five percent of all visitors to any “open” website are there for the express purpose of destroying it. Over the last three years or so, I’ve banned over 600 aspiring anarchists. (This doesn’t include all the commentators who were warned and disappeared.) I can’t overstate the importance of blanket moderation. The policy creates a safe space for vigorous debate. The quality of the commentary is a logical result of the protections we afford.
So, forums. We want to have lots of topic-related forums with user-generated threads. But how can we encourage/allow large amounts of user-generated content without losing our ability to moderate every comment, all the time?
Hiring professional moderators is the best, easiest and most logical answer. No can do. At least not yet. Alternatively, we could appoint unpaid moderators from within your ranks. That idea completely freaks my inner control freak, who knows that cash payments are the better part of assuring valor. I mean, eventually, maybe, it could work. But not from the git-go.
So Frank and I devised a plan to take us from here (excellent moderation, no forums) to there (excellent moderation, lots of forums).
Basically, we firewall TTAC-generated content. In other words, we keep the current set-up for our news, reviews and editorials: our post, tied to your comments. Example: “Tesla Runs Out of Gas,” “49 comments.” At the bottom of the page, we also offer readers an option to “Read Tesla-related topics.” This links you to “lightly moderated” user-generated threads. Although we’d have a prominent “report flaming” button, and do our best to police it, the area would be clearly identified as the “bad” part of town.
THEN we’d look for moderators for each topic. (Topics are based on categories in the drop-down menus.) Once we identify a suitable moderator, we upgrade the topic from a standard-looking forum thingie to a TTAC-looking home page, complete with its own topic-related news, reviews and editorials.
When we post TTAC-generated material on the home page on the topic (e.g. “Tesla Gets Another Lease on Life”) it ALWAYS appears on the Tesla page. But there would ALSO be topic-specific (user generated) material on the new, topic-related home page that DOESN’T appear on the home page.
And here’s another tricky bit: the ed staff surfs TTAC’s own topic-related home pages for user-generated material to post on the main home page— and pays for it.
It sounds crazy, maybe even incoherent, but it just might work! To my mind, the plan would assure current quality, allow a transition to fully-moderated “forums,” nurture new talent and widen our audience. To THAT end, the new site will also have the other stuff you might have expected, say, two years ago: photo and video galleries (both TTAC and user-generated), easier navigation, etc., and at least one killer app. We’re also going to clean-up the bugs (e.g. can’t post urls in emails to TTAC, iPod listings, etc).
This time ‘round, we’ll invite the Best and Brightest to stress test the site before launch. Meanwhile (and it could be a while), rest assured that we know who we are. I promise TTAC won't lose its heart, soul and integrity as we kick this thing up a notch.
For now, please let me know what you think of the forum plan. Thanks!
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Robert My feeling is that there has been a general drop in the average standard of TTAC posts in recent times. More comments seem borderline (or over it) flaming to me than has previously been the case. And I haven't tried to do any sort of measured comparison, but I have read several threads lately that sound to me more like the "trash" forums I have seen but don't bother reading because it's just like people shouting at each other (in print). Or else just aggressive chest thumping: "or do you just talk big fella?" (I haven't actually read this on TTAC - but some of what is written reads like that is what is meant) TTAC used to be different - and often still is. I read it and participate for the quality, not the quantity. There are many points of view on TTAC and I have enjoyed reading the carefully written pieces that I don't agree with as much as those which I do. I fear that increasing the quantity will just reduce the average quality. If there is a vote - mine is against having forums.