By on May 10, 2008

socrates3.jpgAll 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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69 Comments on “TTAC Needs YOU! How Do We Add Forums?...”


  • avatar
    Mcloud1

    Mr. Farago, you may be able to keep the flamers out of the forums, but what are you going to do to all of those bots asking us if we would like a larger penis, 20% better fuel economy by sticking a magnet on our dashboard, or to see hot schoolgirl sex? How are you going to keep those out?

  • avatar

    Mcloud1:

    So far, our spam detector program has caught 33,941 bogus posts. The new software should be even more effective. But we’ll still have to police.

    Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    I’m a moderator on a large forum. My only comment is, “be careful what you wish for”.

    You can’t even begin to fathom the huge amount of hours devoted to moderating and keeping a forum on topic and free of the BS.

    The forum could easily overwhelm the original purpose and quality of TTAC.

  • avatar
    miked

    I think a forum for random comments is a bad idea. By giving people many places to post, the number of posts per topic/article will go down and the quality of the discussion will suffer. I’ve even noticed some of that during the inclusion of the news blog. If people have too much to comment on, then the comments will be thin. Conversely, if there’s not enough to comment on, you get 400-comment long threads that say the same thing over and over. I don’t know what the ideal length is (probably somewhere around 40-60 comments/article) but you could adjust the article frequency to match that.

    I do like your last comment about paying for user generated comment. There are quite a lot of talented writers in the comments section. Maybe the forums can be a little more restricted where to start a topic you have to write an 800-word editorial/review/etc and then people can comment on it. Off topic comments get deleted. Then you can pick and choose from the best essays and put them onto TTAC main.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Overall, a good idea, but I see a lot of effort to maintain the quality of what is the TTAC brand. I’m new here, but when I arrived, I liked the feel of the site. I don’t miss smiley faces, dancing bananas, etc. In fact, the simplicity and content made me stay. You could sidestep a lot of trouble by mapping out a portal to the “bad side of town” but I think you will be buried if you have to moderate all that content. Perhaps you could label this area as “enter at your own risk” and just let it be.

    One thing to ask is “what is my experience supposed to be?” I personally am here for the quality of the reviews, and the ability to respond with other posters about cars and their related topics. Sometimes even here this can go awry (cars – vehicle choice – rights – guns – gun control – liberal/conservative – Archie Bunker…hey what happen to the car?). But here, at least, we are free from the “Calvin’s Ford pissing on Hobbes Chevy” stuff that mars so many other sites.

    All that said, I think that you have mapped out a logical next step. It is important to innovate and change but I hope that you do so carefully. There are plenty of car sites and forums out there, but very few in the TTAC mold.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Good idea, bad execution.

    Before considering a forum, the amount of possible post/posters should be considered. From what I have seen, the posters in the comments section range from 5-10 posts for small topics, 30-50 for moderate topics, and 80-200 for the really interesting stuff. The comments section is well moderated, it has a constant flow in relation to the interest the topics gain. It’s not too big, it’s not to small. It’s perfect. But I am not really that sure that the possible commentators would fill an entire forum with that interesting content.

    Instead, create a topic-related forum for only those topics that generate enough interest. Say that a topic needs for example ten articles with at least 30 posts each. Have a standard, or it will not gain enough interest. A completely free forum will not work.

    And update the search database. When I search on my name, I will want to be able to read exactly all posts I have ever written on this place.

    I have worked as a moderator on a forum with some five million posts, and a hundred other (unpaid) moderators. Forums are fun, but oh so much work.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Could you show some statistics on commentators? No names, but a flow chart, so that one can see the general amount of posters/postings. My feeling is that this site does not have more than perhaps 200 core-posters, delivering perhaps 75% of the material.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    Volunteer moderator(s) for each topic area is excellent. Sign me up for the SAAB section.

    Also, I think an effective rating system would help minimize many of the issues you describe. While far from perfect, the Slashdot style rating system is actually a good place to start. Don’t make the mistake of overcomplicating it (ala the new StockHouse.com), or no one will use it and it will be useless. Just a 1-5 stars or even a thumbs up/thumbs down/amazon.com style “was this post helpful”. Then let users sort and filter by rating. They key is that as a casual browser, I want to be able to easily be shown only the top 10-20% of quality posts.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    When the idea of forums was first brought up I thought it was a good idea – topics started by the BB. Now I think it’s the wrong way to go.

    Maybe you should just encourage more readers to submit an editorial.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    There’s also something that could be called a positive group-think in the community. Perhaps, instead of ensigned moderators, posters with more than 100 posts could moderate the board? Big-time posters should in genereal know what is expected of them, and what they could and should expect from others. The positive pressure they could provide should be enough to moderate, at least small-time. It’s a game of confidence, but I am quite confident in that people learn very fast what’s accepted and what’s not. Heated situations could easily be lifted to the Staff when needed.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I think a a high-topic forum is the best way to go. The Volt, The Tesla, and so on. TTAC’s 50 most interesting and commented topics. A sort of tree-form would be best, with the 50 topics listed. When you go to the Volt-section, all Volt-articles are listed, all previous Volt-related comments sections are listed as threads. New threads on Volt could be created there by the readers. When new articles on Volt are publicized, they come up on the board as well.

    But I don’t believe in a completely free forum, I don’t think there’s enough of interesting people being able of producing enough interesting topics and threads. It will be completely flooded by non-interesting stuff. High-topics only. TTAC’s 50 best topics. Let it grow from there.

    And, by the way, Paul Niedermeyer should have a forum of his own.

  • avatar

    Robert – as a core reader who also has a day job which is not associated with the automobile business, I come to TTAC both for the excellent editorial staff, but for the wide ranging and frequently thoughtful commentary that arises from a rather amazing group of readers. I also regularly peruse Jalopnik for it zaniness and Sweet Pete’s site for his personal on-the-money (and occasional lack-of-money) commentary.

    I doubt that I am alone in the fact that I don’t have time for comments on many of the editorials, tests or news bits which I find interesting. I’d like to think that you could attract even more vibrant commentary with forums, but it seems that the broader TTAC might become, the less depth we might have.

    I wonder if Ingvar’s idea to create a topic-related forum for issues which naturally “grow legs”, like Phil’s article on the Cadillac XLR from several months ago. Many of the topics which seemed to grow legs actually turned into a kind of wide-ranging social commentary, complete with lively and often well-reasoned arguments.

    I’m continually amazed at the the low level of “TTAC hates Detroit” comments, because I think many of your readers see that criticism of products is really a very public and democratic means of voting for what we like. It’s a shame that we don’t seem able to maintain political commentary in our country at the same level.

  • avatar
    RayH

    I agree with Ingvar, some statistics on commentators allow (some) insight into their credibility(?), as well as those who “live” on the comments (no disrespect, I would if I had the time). Maybe a bronze, silver, gold star thing, or a “RF or TTAC Mark of Excellence” or whatever for someone with constantly coherent comments.
    I like reading open, unregulated forums, although I don’t think I’ve ever contributed to one. I think it’s a great addition in addition (and what the hell, in addition) to getting people to view more ads potentially.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I read TTAC daily and I,m comfortable with the site the way it is.I think you mentioned in the past that TTAC needed to generate more revenue,thus the change?I can certainly understand/relate to that.
    Do what you gott’a do but keep the site as user friendly as possible.Keep in mind that many of us are still on the learning curve in the computer/I.T/internet world.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Yes, “Things that grows legs” is a good definition of an intersting topic. Those should be encouraged. But being a friend of democracy, I don’t like that “gold star” thingy. That would very easily and faster than you can say “aristocracy” produce a group of people that immediately consider themselves better than everybody else. No, simple rules are the best, rules that goes for all people. Produce enough good content, and you will be able to moderate the site.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I hate to say it, but I’m not crazy about the idea of a forum. This thread comments already serve as a forum of sorts, and I believe that a forum will only prove distracting to the users.

    There gets to be a point at which a site can have too much content, to the degree that people don’t know its purpose. Plus, forums are tough to manage — it isn’t just flaming that you have to worry about, but also getting enough traffic to feed the forums with interesting commentary and building core groups of regulars who use it and stay engaged.

    I am familiar with one website (not automotive) that has both a forum and a content section that has quite a lot of content. It’s pretty clear from the comments posted on the forum that many users are totally unaware that there is a content-driven area of the website, as the forum totally dominates the brand. The forum itself has lots of traffic, but if their goal was to get users to find the content portions of the site (and generate revenue from that content), then they are failing miserably.

    In any case, post flagging should be included on the existing site and on the forum, if it is added. Look to Craigslist for how it can be done — if a post is bad, users click on an icon, select from a few choices of alleged offenses (spam, abuse, etc.), and add a few words of explanation. These flags can go to the moderators, or they can be set up to automatically delete the post if there are enough votes to do so. (Obviously, this can be adjusted per your specifications.) This should make moderation much easier, as the community can help.

  • avatar
    AGR

    The “Latest News” is similar to a forum without the usual forum format. If you ad an additional forum in the usual forum format as an addition to the existing content.

    What will it achieve? What will be diluted?

    If you could quantify we have x number of registered users out of which y number are active participants…it will probably come down to 20% doing most of the commenting, and 80% along for the lurking.

    TTAC is a user generated blog, at times its brilliant, other times less brilliant. The diversity of the comments is the “glue” that keeps people coming back. If you create a system to dilute the comments to 1 liners as is often the case with forums…what are you gaining?

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    I vote no. Don’t go “General Motors” on us and try to do everything, poorly.

    You already have a method for feedback that seems to work well. It keeps the topics and discussion focused.

    I’d improve it by adding:
    (1) Tag your posts with topic meta tags. For example, I want to read about Ford. I should be able to click on a tag about Ford.

    Note: This is not the same as a search. You can mention Ford in an article that is about something else.

    The tags would also help with your series. Right now you have no easy way to go back up catch up on earlier posts of your deathwatch series.

    (2) Suggested News
    Add a form where people can suggest news or topics to you to write about. A lot of your readers see interesting things all the time and might want to let you know about them.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    “What will it achieve? What will be diluted?”

    What will be diluted is focus and attention-span. It will take more time to find the interesting tid-bits. As it is now, all discussions are focused on a singular PRE-DEFINED topic. That generates flow and high-content. With a forum, people will have less time browsing everything in its whole, and as people have a short attention-span, they simply will not bother. Unless the topics are really really interesting, and that there’s some discussion going on.

  • avatar
    improvement_needed

    just a quick comment for now:

    in general, i like the site as is…

    however, it would be nice for a ‘small’ Q&A forum…
    ie: if a poster has a specific question (or thought provoking comment) for the community…

  • avatar

    I spend enough time on the site already ;-)
    I personally don’t see the need for the forums as there is plenty of discussion in the existing format and having added the news feature has increased the number of posts to be discussed.
    I am a member of a brand agnostic automotive forum (well it seems everyone loves Subarus and BMWs on it) and in general the off-topic is often the most interesting section to read. The other sections are filled with posts members copy from a few sites (Autblog, Inside Line etc).
    I can’t comment on the pageview/ad side of things but I don’t think that should be the a driver in the decision making as it may dilute the TTAC brand.
    If you do decide to go the forum route here’s what I suggest.
    1)Force the discussion surrounding main page posts to occur in the forums – that will drive users there
    2) Use community moderators – trusted members of the TTAC family
    3)Troll the forums and find items to place on the main page as you suggest.. no need to pay..just give a hat tip to the osters and say “from our forums”
    4) Identify forum members who you would like to have as regular contributors and offer to pay them to create posts specifically for the main page.
    5) Be prepared to give up even more of your spare time until this is rolling.

    Keep up the good work.

    Kurt

  • avatar
    rpenna

    Was that over 1000 words? Where’s my ban button?

  • avatar

    Lots to digest. While I formulate a more extensive reply, Here’s a key component of the plan, which seems to have evaded a few commentators (my bad).

    There are two levels here. A “normal” TTAC on top. Post, tied comments. Done. A more extensive TTAC underneath. Topic-related threads– turning into a topic related home page, eventually. But the home page stays the same.

    More later.

  • avatar
    rpenna

    Well from a site perspective, obviously forums can build a strong community, drive traffic and increase ad revenue.

    From an administration standpoint they can really suck. Most sites resort to a tiered moderator structure, with those mods ultimately reporting to you guys. So, if the TTAC staff is ready to take on that additional workload, go for it.

    Ultimately it could lead to user posted reviews and editorials, not that those sites don’t exist already, but this is TTAC, so all us commenters are smarter than everyone on all those other sites.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    I am with pch 101.

    1. A Craigslist type flagging policy.

    2. Continue to refine what you already do well.

    3. If you roll out forums hive them off so you can discontinue them without too much disruption if they prove counterproductive. Perhaps five topics: GM, Hybrid/EV/alt fuel, Product, Executives, and Miscellany.

  • avatar
    justjim

    ah… how do you improve upon an already great format?
    1/ Regulate, regulate, regulate.
    2/ Allow members to create forum areas that they believe are going to be of interest to others. If there is little response, then archive that forum item for those who wish to delve deeper into the site to find it.
    3/ Make do with “brand marks” for the members to post to and subsequent to that allow branching out from the general “brand mark” for the individuals with us who need to post to relivant areas within that forum.
    4/ Always try to be flexible and understanding of how the membership wants the whole page and the forums area to proceed. This should allow the requirements for this great open area to fill the wants and desires for communication and understanding of all the members.
    5/ Never hold the reins too tight.

  • avatar
    ZCline

    I wonder if you could disallow the posting of new threads on the forum, until you are a ‘trusted’ user. Someone with say, 50 comments posted, and has never needed a warning? Just letting anyone with an account start a thread might lead to a lot of threads just sitting around with one post (or a bunch of flames, that you deleted).

    Just a thought. Its nice to see a bit more thought put into this than the “now we have a forum!” that a lot of sites do. Its also nice that you’re asking us for feedback, RF. A good leader listens to his people, and then ignores them when necessary.

  • avatar

    The problem with starting a forum is in the beginning you have to be fairly casual on the rules to let the community grow. This might go against your current comment regulations.

    What about adding a Ask the Editors section? Readers could submit automotive industry related questions and the editors could respond with an article.

  • avatar
    sean362880

    I think the TTAC-sponsored forum could work like a Wiki. If someone thinks any given post is inflammatory, let them delete it. If the site has a critical mass of positive users (us), we could self-police the forum to a significant degree.

    The trouble with giving the readers too much authority is that dissenting opinion (upon which TTAC thrives) could be squashed as well. Judiciary anyone?

  • avatar

    I say leave it the way it is. Seriously you have a good thing going.

    The only thing I would consider is a rating system on posts so that the forum can moderate itself to a certain degree.

  • avatar
    dean

    I’ve said this before, but I’ve participated in several web forums before and, without exception, have grown bored with the same old regurgitated topics. I don’t get bored at TTAC because the thread starters are focused and well-written editorials, reviews and news items. There IS such a thing as too much of a good thing.

    That said, there have been occasions where I’ve got something on my mind that I’d like to put out to the TTAC commenters, so some way of incorporationg user-generated content would be nice. Hopefully Robert and Frank’s concept will be a good way to achieve that end without the usual forum pitfalls.

    One thing I wouldn’t mind seeing is a page that shows items (reviews, eds, news) with new comments. There are times I want to comment on a news item but it is already moved to the second page. It hardly seems worth trying to add another perspective when it is unlikely that anyone will read it. Vain, I know, but everyone wants someone to read what they’ve written.

  • avatar
    Martin B

    I discovered this site some months ago and I’ve been lurking here nearly every day. This is my first post — Hi!

    My opinion: This is one of those things that ain’t broke and don’t need fixin’. It’s an excellent site with more content (including the comments, which I love) than I can spare the time for.

    I agree with yankinwaoz. Maybe add topic tags, and a suggestion box. And maybe a “Recommend” button for each comment a la Digg with a means of filtering out comments with a lower score.

    Basically, using the existing content, just adding more functionality.

    How would Toyota do it?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I like the idea of forums. One unique twist to it would be to have some that are dedicated towards helping folks, rather than the usual topics that generate concurrent death spirals.

    I can definitely see these forums representing a nice continuous strand of a work in progress (Ford’s restructuring, Tesla’s recent events) and also as a place to help fellow readers with certain automotive issues. Helping fellow readers is one area where I can see TTAC making an enormous difference.

    One other area of continuous interest would be blogs. Between Frank, Paul, Wilkinson, Mehta, and that strange fellow with the Volvo, we would have plenty of ideas to kick around. Chuck Goolsbee (sp?) has a very interesting one and I have my own daily experiences in the auction side of the business as well.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    In the past few months we’ve seen the average number of news items double to where there are usually two pages full on most days. I’m having trouble keeping up and reading everything as it is, and I think that other readers are, too. This shows up in that there are fewer posts in response to the news items.

    What makes TTAC special is that is provides users with a quick, interesting overview of what’s going on in the world automotive, and that readers post responses in a timely fashion. (Most people do not post responses to an item after a day or so.)

    Realistically, I don’t have a lot of additional time to spend on forums, even just lurking and reading. I can’t speak for others , but I don’t think it adds much additional value to TTAC experience.

  • avatar
    David Sklover

    I vote for leaving content/comments the way they are. Easy to see new content and easy to see any comments posted. Seems to me like you are in the MicroSoft ‘death spiral’ mode, ie, changing product functionality for the (much) worse just for the sake of changing it. There’s already way too many general purpose forums. The way you are now, with comments associated only with a content thread is good, imho. Just my .02.

  • avatar
    nino

    I’m also not so much a fan of forums and I really dislike the idea of poster rankings which seem so high school to me. I also don’t like the idea of where posters, even by vote, can delete posts. I think that would lead to the site having a sigular mindset and discriminate against opposing views.

    However, I do like Steven Lang’s idea of maybe having a “help” section where one could ask questions of the many experts that post here. The trick is, how would you control it where the questions would be pertinent?

    I still think more used car reviews and maybe even a used car “recommended” list using info from Edmunds or Kelly Blue Book along with info from sites like Truedelta (if Michael would allow it), would greatly add to TTAC’s relavence.

  • avatar
    nino

    On a personal note:

    If you do allow forums, I would ask that you FORCE people to post in ENGLISH.

    None of the, “Y r u here 2nite” stuff that just drives me crazy.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    I think the only way forums work is if they offer solid information. I spend a lot of time on the Pelican Parts Porsche 911 technical forum, because that’s what it does, most of the time. (“Which way do I rotate the distributor for advance?” “How do I know if my Fuchs wheels are real or reproductions?” “My strut bar fastens to the shocks rather than the mounts, is this wrong?”)

    I don’t know that we have that opportunity here. The most boring things TTAC offers are the QOTD stuff. “What’s your favorite musclecar?” “Which car would you want to die in?” “Do today’s cars have too much horsepower?”

    Well, WTF do I care if somebody says the Dodge Challenger is their favorite musclecar, they’d most want to go in a VW Microbus because at least it would be quick, and that no, today’s cars don’t have too much horsepower? Adds nothing to the databank, as opposed to when the B&B comment knowledgeably about the most recent UAW strike or why Toyota placed their bet wrong on pickups.

    Having said that, one of the biggest problems with “informational” forums is figuring out who actually is “an expert.” Those of us 911 guys who have been following Pelican Parts for five+ years know exactly who the poseurs are, who the guys are that always jump in with phony expertise, who the truly deluded are…and who the three experts are (Steve Weiner, John Walker and…well, I’ll leave it at that.)

  • avatar
    Matthew Potena

    Robert,
    While I understand the need to constantly refine and move TTAC forward, my fear with adding a forum section is that it would dilute the very essence of TTAC (the interaction between the editors and the reader). I believe that what makes this site so good is that we interact with our readers. Personally, I enjoy the comments section of the editorials as much as the editorials themselves. I hope a forum section does not water that down.

  • avatar

    I am familiar with one website (not automotive) that has both a forum and a content section that has quite a lot of content. It’s pretty clear from the comments posted on the forum that many users are totally unaware that there is a content-driven area of the website, as the forum totally dominates the brand. The forum itself has lots of traffic, but if their goal was to get users to find the content portions of the site (and generate revenue from that content), then they are failing miserably.

    I’m guessing here you’re referring to Something Awful. This site is gigantic, but the vast majority of its users use only the forums. They don’t read the content. Of course, the content is usually terrible in my opinion (I figure the name suits the site), so I don’t know if that’s just because they have a forum. I think if your content is good and your forums are good, you can have both.

    SA might be a good place to start looking for ideas, Mr. Farago. Site owner Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka charges around $10.00 per month for users of the site to keep out unwanted users and pay admins. The site itself has over 100,000 forum members but trolling is kept to a minimum, in spite of the fact that the site’s most prominent topics are always the seedier side of the Internet (Second Life, memes, Goreans, and other such creepy things).

    I don’t know if you’d want to charge us $10.00 a month, but maybe a small nominal fee might help.

  • avatar
    hwyhobo

    As a moderator on two different forums, I can tell you that it’s a lot of fun but also a lot of work. They key to keeping quality is vigilance and merciless enforcement of rules. Once moderation slacks off, it’s over.

  • avatar
    thoots

    I have also spent many hours slaving away as a forum moderator, going all the way back to Compuserve, before any of us ever heard the term “Internet service provider.” I’ll be glad to admit that I’ve used up a lifetime’s full of that kind of work — I won’t be volunteering for that again, for anything.

    So, I’m in the camp that I suppose you could say “doesn’t think there’s too much wrong with what we’ve got.” That said, I really do believe that there is room for improvement.

    I vote “no” on the concept of “user-generated forum topics.” No, responding to the topics published by TTAC is what makes this “special.”

    So, what’s wrong with what we’ve got now? Well, I’d say the following things:

    1. We need an “editor.” Typical tools to quote previous comment text, to use bold and other font styles, etc. Stuff like “preview post” mode and “edit post” mode should be available, too.

    2. Some kind of ‘discussion thread view’ would be nice, so posts could be shown as replying to each other, rather than just having one long list of comments.

    3. Finally, the layout just prevents “longer” discussions — after a day or two, topics are so incredibly difficult to dig back to, that discussion just plain stops after a day or two. So, when I think “forum section,” I think more of a way to display TTAC content in a “list of topics,” rather than the “few topics per page” style we have now. And no, even the “list” along the right of the page isn’t anywhere near good enough.

    So, I just envision things quite the way they are now — just give us a true editor, and give us a view that lists topics that can be expanded into threaded views. Perhaps have a button at the bottom of each topic that pops you into a threaded view, and have an option to “switch to forum-style topic view” that would have a list of topics, each of which being expandable to see a threaded view.

    That’d sure do it for me — just a bit of a tweak to make commenting easier and better, and making it a whole lot more viable to discuss topics over several days, in some format wherein the topics don’t roll away nearly as fast as they do now.

    So, something that “looks like a forum” but is still just folks commenting on the TTAC topics. And then you probably won’t have to deal so much with moderation like you would with a wide-open forum.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    One of the things I always appreciated about TTAC was how the comment system is currently set up. While stifling in some ways, it contains very strong “checks” against the usual forum flaming and prevents much of the spam and trash that plagues other sites. Not to mention, it’s far easier to administer.

    I used to spend a lot of my waking hours on various automotive forums and I feel an open BB or vBulletin style system is potentially detrimental to TTAC’s core intent.

    I don’t have much in the way of suggestions, but being able to reply directly to comments in small threads would be a nice addition. Maybe an RSS and DIGG thing, if the site doesn’t already have those.

  • avatar

    Yo! B&B! Must read the question before answering (Gently condescending chide over.) I am NOT proposing traditional forums. At the risk of repeating myself repeating myself, under the new plan… 1. TTAC mian remains as is. The design firewalls the editorial and comments you know and love from “User Generated Content” (instead of forums per se). 2. You have to CLICK OVER from TTAC main to UGC. If you don't, in effect, it's not there. 3. At first, the UGC appears in trad forum format, grouped by category: GM Death Watch, Electric Vehicles, Jonny Lieberman, etc. 4. THEN a moderator starts transforming the category into a more TTAC-ian format, starting with blog posts, adding photos, video, etc. The category page blends with TTAC-generated content and begins to take on a life of its own, independent of TTAC main.  5. Meanwhile, again, the home page (TTAC as we know it) remains unchanged. Think of the new structure as a franchise agreement. TTAC main provide the editorial standards and look and feel. The category moderators are franchisees, providing the content, working as managing editors. Ideas and innovation (i.e. UGC posts) move “upstream” to the home page, as paid TTAC staff grab the best of the UGC for the wider audience. TTAC also sends content downline to the category pages. In effect, there would be two levels. TTAC main (relatively unchanged from what you know today, with photos, video and other enhancements); and category-based UGC. Am I making sense yet?

  • avatar
    RGS920

    What makes TTAC so different from almost 99% of the web is that the comments section provide a check and balance type system to discourse. I have heard argument on other websites attacking the qualifications of TTAC writers. The beauty of this whole system is the level of scrutiny that the comments section adds to the Author’s topic. At no other automotive site are you going to find such a brutally honest critique of ones work. That is the real qualification process and part of the reason why the content is of such a high quality.

    To many people forums are the complete opposite of this level of discourse. You can try and hedge it anyway you want, assure us of expert control and the like, but why does TTAC need a forum?

    At the end of the day forums are nothing more than a place for people to express their opinions. The comments section to TTAC does that better, fairer, and more efficiently than any forum I have ever read. It seems to me like TTAC is offering its customers (if you will) a Buick for the same price as the Cadillac it already sells.

  • avatar
    Busbodger

    The forum system might disperse the crowd. I hope not.

    My favorite discussion system has been the http://www.type2.com list where members post comments or questions via e-mail. OF course some folks will complain that they get too much e-mail.

    http://www.vortex.com has excellent forums but the readers are really spread out.

    I’d like to have the current format supplemented by e-mailing ALL of the comments and ALL of the articles IF I subscribe to such a feature. That way i don’t miss a thing. Include some Google ads or something to create some cash flow.

    Having too big a forum is going to be like GM having too many brands and the readers will be too spread out. That said it might lead to new life for old topics. In a week or two article comments dry up as the readers move on to the latest articles.

  • avatar
    AGR

    RF,

    TTAC remains as we know it “intact” with the exception that xyz as an example is an independent forum (blog) of which he is the editor/moderator.

    TTAC is the “manufacturer” and xyz holds a “franchise” from the manufacturer and is an independent.

    It could be interesting.

  • avatar

    AGR. Point taken. TTAC’s core strength is the relationship described by RGS920. You, the autoblogospher’s Best and Brightest, force us to play at the top of our game. I’ve referred to this writer – commentator symbiosis as “running the gauntlet.” You could also call it “keeping us honest.” And as honesty is our stock in trade, every little hurt bits. Or something like that. Rest assured, I hear your warnings loud and clear: adding too much content– whether TTAC or UGC– risks diluting the quality of our writing and/or your commentary. My OCD is WAY too strong to let flames and/or drivel infect any corner the site. But I reckon those who hold the position that too many posts/commentators will lead to some serious shark jumping either A) enjoy the sense of fellowship created by a relative small community and despair at the notion of anything that threatens its integrity (fair enough) B) assume that there is only so many intelligent, like-minded people willing to participate in/create the TTAC brand. Yes, it it true, as AGR states: 20 percent (or less) of our visitors do 80 percent of the commenting. But I think there are tens of thousands more smart, literate, informed, industry-aware pistonheads who WOULD participate in TTACery if they had a proper “home” for their topic-related thoughts, beliefs, ideas and, yes, gossip. Think of it this way… Car and Driver’s circulation is about 1m (and falling). Autoblog can rack-up that many sets of eyeballs in a DAY. Jalopnik pulls in around 100K uniques per day. TTAC has 21k-ish uniques per day. The trick to doubling or tripling our traffic is NOT to try and do what they others guys do better than they do it. The trick is to do something different. User Generated Content– NOT forums in the traditional sense– is it. (We also have a killer app or two but we ain’t talkin’ about them now). We have the skills to nurture new talent. To give voiceless car-obsessed cubicle dwellers a shot at immortality (or something a tad less grandiose, but equally fun). Obviously, UGC is an inherently risky business. I’m sorry to say it, but as leader of this ragtag fugitive fleet of survivors journeying into space in search of a fabled refuge known as Earth, uh, sustainable profits, I’m a death or glory kinda guy. Sure, we can always pull the plug later, but I’m determined to take a shot at creating something TRULY Web 2.0. There is no question in my mind that launching this bad boy will be an ongoing nightmare. But, as Ingvar asks, what is gained? The chance to do something insanely great. What is lost? Paralysis and fear. And about a thousand hours of development time.

  • avatar

    Funny you mention something “TRULLY Web 2.0” Robert.

    I will spend all day tomorrow learning about it – I have two workshops: “Introduction to Web 2.0” and “Using Web 2.0 As a Collaborative Tool”.

    As for your idea, I understood it much better the 2nd time you explained it – probably just a case of needing to hear it twice :) Now that I understand it, I like it!!! If you ever need a Mazda enthusiast to help out in any way…

  • avatar
    AGR

    RF,

    The recent understanding that you had with AE which subsequently fell apart a day later, might just work under a “franchise” deal.

    Most blogs are “silos” in a Web 2.0 environment that ideally would like to see all these silos interconnected to expand the possibilities. For some reason automotive blogs have thick walls on their silos.

    Its understandable since “eyeball count” can equate to money. At the same time eyeball count can stall at a level which is not satisfactory.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I won’t say it won’t work. But I don’t fully believe in it right now. But… Mr Farago seems intoxicated on the idea, and that kind of vapour goes a long way. If you can do it, well… Do it well. Otherwise, don’t change a winning team.

    Time will tell… Now, I am drunk, and nothing really makes sense. All I want to say is that I love TTAC and the idea it represents, the belief that something, anything, could be done better than the way it is right now. I believe that TTAC represents all the good thing about the industry, the idealistic idea that mediocracy could somehow be banished forever. No matter where you stand, TTAC will always stand in the forefront. As long as bad cars are built, the TTAC will tell you the truth about it.

    And cheers to ya all…

  • avatar
    ppellico

    I think that TTAC should allow only those who would join bu payment and registration.
    I know this sounds high handed, but to speak to this group of car nuts like myself, let alone the wonderful writing(ers), you should be held to a standard.
    Its like renters or buyers…which ones really care for the property?
    I feel honored to join this and yes, pay.
    ONE suggestion…please add spell check.
    I had a stroke over a year ago and it still is difficult to catch all my errors, even though I have read and reread.
    The concentration is always weak and a simple spell check would help me so, so much.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    Keep it simple.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    I have a hard time envisioning forums as anything other than a headache and distraction.

    Thorner’s article today strikes me as representative of what TTAC can offer; really good content from thoughtful but unknown parties, with good QA from TTAC management, so that, if you land here, you don’t read mindless drivel; you get something that’s worth your time.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    @ppellico: Firefox has a built in spell-checker, as does Safari on Mac OS X. Which browser are you using?

  • avatar
    Raskolnikov

    Great plan, but why not use “fora” instead of “forums?”

  • avatar
    Emro

    I’m not interested in a forum… I just want the news/reviews/editorials… clean and simple

  • avatar
    N85523

    I always hate to see new tree-less cookie-cutter communities pushing outward into rural areas. I am also against any anti-growth initiatives that local governments might pass. Change is almost always a hard pill to swallow, but the results of denying change can be much harder.

    For TTAC to survive, it must evolve. For TTAC to evolve and continue to preserve its core, careful steps must be taken and I think that Robert, the staff, and most of my fellow commentators realize this. There have been a lot of good ideas offered above. The only ideas I would offer would be to proceed with scrutiny, reader feedback, and discrimination. I regret that the word “discrimination” has such a negative connotation because there are many, many times where one must be extremely discriminant to in order to ensure quality.

    Simply because of editorials like this one that ask for advise and commentary from readers, I am confident that TTAC will not run afoul.

  • avatar
    EJ_San_Fran

    RF,

    Forums are really needed on this site. They are great to foster a community, great to ask questions (“what is the best 4WD SUV?”) and great to spew opinions (“look at this nifty feature Honda just introduced in Japan!”).

    TTAC has a great opportunity to make their forums interesting by having TTAC staff participate in the threads!

    You’ll probably end up having a lot of different forums, like other sites do, to organize the discussions. For instance, you probably need a forum for each car maker and car model, so that owners of a specific model can have their own subcommunity.
    You also need forums for general topics, like GM death watch.

    Navigating and searching the forums easily (and the site in general) is very important.

    Every forum needs to have a moderator, who makes his presence felt (to discipline people), who sets the boundaries of the topic at the beginning and who keeps people on topic. That’s the way other forum sites can be successful.
    Normally you first have the moderator, before the forum starts!
    One twist could be to allow ‘somewhat trusted’ volunteers to start forums. The use of volunteers implies that a forum can die when that volunteer quits.

    There actually do exist many websites with useful forums, populated by polite, interesting people. So I have good hope TTAC can achieve that also.

    Entries on the News section of TTAC fly by so quickly that it is hardly worthwhile to comment on them. Forums allow to have threads of discussion with a longer life span.
    By the way: News items go so fast that I feel at a disadvantage here on the West Coast; 3 hours time delay puts me way at the end of the line! By that time nobody is reading anymore!

    By clicking on the name of a contributor you could get to a profile page that has a list of all of that person’s prior comments plus a bit of info (such as which cars they drive!).

    You could introduce classified adds to the site (like Craigslist). That could be a good source of revenue (I just read Craigslist makes $100M per year with a staff of 25 people).

    This turned into a long post, which shows I care about TTAC.
    Keep up the good work.

  • avatar

    I haven’t read the article and maybe I’ll comment after I read the whole thing – but the first thing that sprang to mind was PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD USE VBULLETIN – its pretty much the industry standard for all automotive forums (and most other forums), everyone knows how to use it and its easy to learn if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t used it yet.

  • avatar

    I doubt RF will be using vbulletin, or there would have been no need to expend 1,000 development hours.

  • avatar
    beken

    I can’t decide if you should start of birthwatch or deathwatch for the idea of TTAC Forums.

    I already spend too much time reading stuff on TTAC.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Hi, Robert:

    Would I use a TTAC forum? At this time, I would prefer not to. But if one is created, I may be forced to become an “inadvertent forum user,” just to follow the inevitable links that will show up in QOTD, news, or editorial articles.

    I’m a highly selective reader. I skip most of the reviews, even the ones about BMWs or Priora! If you don’t hook me in the first paragraph, I probably won’t open the article.

    I’m here for the editorial and news content, and it must be GOOD. I like TTAC because I can “get it and go.”

    Besides, I’m already a member in way too many forums. My password file contains about 200 passwords, half of which are probably for forums…

    Why so many? Well, nearly every manufacturer of every computer component, appliance, automobile, or lawn and garden device has a forum…and they “can” be great for tech support. But the downside is that every time I buy something new, I have to join a forum! (GRRRR!)

    And since everybody has something to say (ie, “rant”) about EVERYTHING these days, there’s too much out there. Too much junk, yes. But too much good stuff, too…it’s difficult to process even a small percentage of it all.

    I “get” what you’re saying about “clicking over” to another site, that one being the Forum site. But the act of “clicking over” makes it merely a thinly veiled part of the same site. And what happens when one of the articles (or one of its attached comments) on the main site contains a link to one or more threads in the forum? Suddenly, I’m an “inadvertent forum user,” even if I don’t have or don’t want a user id and password.

    We have some of that now, with various comments referring us to this or that discussion on Jalopnik, Edmunds, and so forth. Luckily it’s not been a lot, but with a TTAC forum, that would surely change.

    In my own experience, links to forums (internal or external) are sometimes helpful, but not always. The problem for me as a reader is that I still have to GO THERE to make that assessment…

    Instead, I find myself saying, “Ugh, now I have to ‘go there’ to get more of the facts that this or that person wants to add.”

    Sometimes, when I get there, my heart falls, because I find myself plopped into a single thread that spans 100+ PAGES. I don’t even have time to read 100+ POSTS, let alowne that many pages!

    I’m a fast reader, but sometimes, it’s just too much to read.

    Maybe it’s just because I’m very busy, but I like being able to read an article, then OPTIONALLY being able to add a thought or two. It’s simple and fast, and that’s been quite enough for me.

    The two-way aspect of posting to articles is nice. If somebody reads my thought and gets a chuckle or a “hmmm-moment”, that’s great. But that can be the end of it if I wish. Hey, there’ll be a new editorial tomorrow, anyhow.

    I like that functional life-expectancy of article/threads on the main TTAC site. As they get older, I just don’t feel the need to ressurect them. There’s no long-term commitment, which is a pleasant reprieve from the normal “forum grind.” I’m not marrying these topics, for crying out loud.

    I like it that I don’t feel obligated to stay for breakfast. ;)

    Forum threads are different. They require care and feeding, and sometimes long-term commitments. And I’m not talking about the moderators!

    Forum threads take on a different life, sometimes a distortedly LARGE life. And the worst threads keep coming back like some horror character that just won’t die…

    One other thing…in my experience, people with “high post counts” often don’t post the most sensible things. Sometimes, they are part of the problem when it comes to moderation, but the mods may not want to say anything for fear of angering the “old timer” member or some of the other forum members who, for whatever reason, hold that person in high regard.

    This form of favoritism can be very harmful. Thankfully, TTAC has been very consistent in terms of not showing favoritism on the main site, and I like that.

    On a slightly related issue:

    I’ve often wondered if some forums might benefit from allowing a maximum daily-post count. Say, maybe let you respond to ten posts, then cut you off with a gentle but firm, “you should go out to the garage and tinker now,” or “it’s time to go for a ride now,” or maybe a simple, “Okay, forum time’s up. Why don’t you go outside and play?”

    A reasonable daily post-limit might encourage more “make it count” posts, and fewer “wer r u 2nite?” type posts. I don’t know, it might at least make for an interesting experiment…

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    I say go ahead with it. If it doesn’t work out, nix it.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    If you get a chance, go look at the Motley Fool boards. You are a lot like them. They don’t tout the party line for the financial industry. And they have excellent super-posters who reply to comments.

    Anyhow… there is a place to see a UGC board system done right. I started on The Fool back in 1998, and they are still going strong. They do charge, which I think keeps the riff-raff out.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I second (or third) the idea of a Craigslist style flagging system. If say 20 other users vote someone banned, they’re banned. Self-moderation works pretty well. On the other hand, is there a need for forums? There are tons of car forums already. How would you position this one to make it different than what’s already out there?

  • avatar
    nino

    But I reckon those who hold the position that too many posts/commentators will lead to some serious shark jumping either A) enjoy the sense of fellowship created by a relative small community and despair at the notion of anything that threatens its integrity (fair enough) B) assume that there is only so many intelligent, like-minded people willing to participate in/create the TTAC brand.

    Well, in my opinion, there are only a limited amount of intelligent, like-minded people willing to participate in the TTAC brand.

    I’m not saying this to be a snob, but I’m on a few professional forums (professional home improvement) that are open to anyone and I gotta tell ya, it’s pretty damn disappointing reading the quality of the questions and posts in these forums. I actually was reprimanded by a moderator for trying to disuade a homeowner from installing his own granite countertops that he was getting mail order, nevermind that the guy could KILL himself.

    And I see this at other automotive sites as well where patently wrong information is thrown around as “advice” to others. I’m just tired of reading that sort of thing.

    Up to now, there have been precious few instances of where the comments fall into the what bullshit category. Forgive me if I’d like to make sure it stays that way.

  • avatar
    nino

    dolo54 :
    May 13th, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    I second (or third) the idea of a Craigslist style flagging system. If say 20 other users vote someone banned, they’re banned. Self-moderation works pretty well. On the other hand, is there a need for forums? There are tons of car forums already. How would you position this one to make it different than what’s already out there?

    I’m afraid of what criteria would be used to ban someone.

    Would it be because a person has a strong opinion that is contrary to the general view and where in a moment of frustration, that person gets a little testy?

    I think that’s a dangerous slope we’d be heading for.

  • avatar
    ghillie

    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.

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