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Thread: Can Anyone Play This Game?

  1. #1
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    Default Can Anyone Play This Game?

    I’m new here, and being not quite the same as most people in Wayland, I fear that I’ll be ridiculed for thinking differently. Nevertheless, I do think this discussion board is a great thing and say “good job” to the people who make this possible and to those who post.

    There’s much that I don’t know about Wayland and maybe if I ask questions people will help me fill in the blanks. Perhaps the people here would enjoy analyzing things with an eye to increasing everyone’s understanding. First off, I’d like to understand “What’s going on” here at WaylandeNews’ Discussion Forum (“DF”). Any ideas about how to start thinking about this? How about the DF’s purpose, the function it serves, or the goals of the people who started it? Or maybe the goals of those who post, or who just read? What are these goals and is the DF satisfying any or all of them?

    Do the number of people posting and reading make any difference to the success of meeting those goals? Does the percentage of Wayland residents taking advantage of the DF have any significance? I’ve attached a chart of the DF member’s posting history. The data is a month old but things are still probably much the same. It shows that most posting is done by a very small group. I’m not saying this is bad, but is “broadening” or even “deepening” the discussion desired? How would any of this relate back to purpose/goals?

    Does the DF evolve? How? Does it want to? To where? And how do we get there from here? Is WaylandeNews an unbiased location to have an appealing-to-all public discussion? Do we need some sort of structure to come to an understanding of what actually is, how we want things to develop, and what we have to do to make it all happen?

    Any interest in thinking about these things?

    donBustin@verizon.net

    (Please feel free not to vote for me. (grin) Honestly, you probably wouldn’t want to.)
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    Representing those who post a wee bit more than the average, I offer the following thoughts.

    • First, welcome, Don!

    • I can't speak for the WaylandeNews.com editorial board or executive director, but would be surprised to learn that their intent was anything other than to provide information to and a forum for the residents of Wayland, the thinking being that more information and communication leads to better decisions, public and private.

    • As a DF member on the "posts a wee bit more than the average" end of the spectrum, I'm all for increasing the number of people who both post and read. To that end, I mention it to friends and occasionally put relevant links to the DF on the Wayland Town Crier discussion board.

    • In my opinion, the DF is already a clear a success, with thousands of posts and tens of thousands of views. More participation will surely increase that success, and more participation is a stated goal of the DF's ownership.

    • One reason why I both like the DF as it currently stands and am optimistic about increased participation is its high level of civility. Sure, there are posts here and there (including some from me) that may push the boundaries a bit, but in the vast majority of cases, if someone posts with a respectful (or playful) tone, they'll be responded to in kind.

    • Other than talking up the DF in conversation and writing, I'm not really sure how to increase participation. Perhaps WaylandeNews should use an issue of its newsletter to remind people of the DF's existence, both as we head into summer and again when people are "back" in the fall (as if the entire town vacates for the mountains, beaches, and beyond).

    • The DF is absolutely unbiased. It's a blank slate that members make of it what they will. The DF has been blessed to have an executive director who exercises a light touch on the rare occasions when moderation is needed.

    • One tactical change that I'd like to see is the creation of no more than ten or so high level categories (schools, finance, roads, general governance, sports, entertainment, etc.) into which posts are organized. I wouldn't create sub-categories--that would make it too easy for conversations to get lost. Ideally, the poster could even specify multiple categories for a thread--for instance, many topics might fall into both schools and finance.

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    Default Thanks for a great discussion topic!

    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    I’m new here, and being not quite the same as most people in Wayland, I fear that I’ll be ridiculed for thinking differently. Nevertheless, I do think this discussion board is a great thing and say “good job” to the people who make this possible and to those who post.
    Welcome, Don! I definitely do not want you to fear being ridiculed for thinking differently. Personally, I encourage that (thinking differently that is, not fearing or ridiculing anybody! :-) Nobody should feel they have to conform. What is fair game for ridicule (but at least somewhat in fun, I hope) is a lack of civility. I think we should all strive to "disagree without being disagreeable".

    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    There’s much that I don’t know about Wayland and maybe if I ask questions people will help me fill in the blanks. Perhaps the people here would enjoy analyzing things with an eye to increasing everyone’s understanding.
    I hope there are many who will help. I grew up here, and have spent at this point (not contiguously) 32 years here. Of course, there are others with still more longevity, so I'm not sure if I qualify as an "old-timer" yet. Anyway, happy to help when possible.

    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    First off, I’d like to understand “What’s going on” here at WaylandeNews’ Discussion Forum (“DF”). Any ideas about how to start thinking about this? How about the DF’s purpose, the function it serves, or the goals of the people who started it?
    These are great questions. Thanks for asking. WaylandeNews came about as a means of helping people get and stay informed. There are so many people who visit our website and read our newsletters, many of whom share information with us (events and announcements in particular, but sometimes pointers to news stories as well), that we can gather all that up and keep everyone informed. I won't lie and tell you that it's a trivial amount of work (it's not), but it helps that so many people are constantly feeding us information.

    But we did not feel it was enough to "push" the information out there. We felt very strongly that no information source would be complete unless it allowed for feedback. If you feel that we are messing up in some way, you can not only tell us about it, you can tell the world. We have every intention of always being fully honest, but this is a way that people can know we are kept honest. If there's a news source out there that doesn't publish letters to the editor, and doesn't allow readers to provide feedback to everyone else, then how can you know they are fixing their errors, or that they being fair and complete?

    But the Discussion Forum was meant to do so much more than that. It allows people to query their neighbors: "did you hear about... " "what do you think about..." "does anybody know anyone who..." A place to ask questions about what's going on in town: "does anybody know when that new cell tower is coming online..." "how many cases of H1N1 have there been?" "are we ever going to get that new rail trail" "what's happening with Pay as you Throw?"...


    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Or maybe the goals of those who post, or who just read? What are these goals and is the DF satisfying any or all of them? Do the number of people posting and reading make any difference to the success of meeting those goals? Does the percentage of Wayland residents taking advantage of the DF have any significance? I’ve attached a chart of the DF member’s posting history. The data is a month old but things are still probably much the same. It shows that most posting is done by a very small group. I’m not saying this is bad, but is “broadening” or even “deepening” the discussion desired? How would any of this relate back to purpose/goals?
    I am content that the Discussion Forum is available to serve its purpose, but I am not content with the breadth of participation. Thank you for the chart you created. There are not enough people participating. I know that there are some who are not comfortable putting their views "out there". The requirement that people use real names is clearly an obstacle for some. We have had considerable debate among our Editorial Board, and even on this Discussion Board about the requirement for named posts, and every time we re-raise the question we come to the same conclusion: it is necessary to maintain the forum's integrity and its civility. Speaking for myself here, and not the Board, I regret that this policy limits participation, but I do not regret maintaining the policy.


    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Does the DF evolve? How? Does it want to? To where? And how do we get there from here? Is WaylandeNews an unbiased location to have an appealing-to-all public discussion? Do we need some sort of structure to come to an understanding of what actually is, how we want things to develop, and what we have to do to make it all happen?

    Any interest in thinking about these things?

    donBustin@verizon.net

    (Please feel free not to vote for me. (grin) Honestly, you probably wouldn’t want to.)
    I don't know how or if the DF should evolve. It will depend on the feedback of those who use it. Which I would certainly welcome here. Especially from those 77 members you counted who have never posted (why?), or from some new members (why didn't you join before).
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 05-18-2009 at 11:21 AM. Reason: minor edits for clarity

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    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Do the number of people posting and reading make any difference to the success of meeting those goals? Does the percentage of Wayland residents taking advantage of the DF have any significance? I’ve attached a chart of the DF member’s posting history. The data is a month old but things are still probably much the same. It shows that most posting is done by a very small group. I’m not saying this is bad, but is “broadening” or even “deepening” the discussion desired? How would any of this relate back to purpose/goals?
    The graph you posted looks like every other depiction of online interaction; its a power law distribution referred to as the long tail. We can aspire to grow participation by increasing awareness, but we will not change the basic shape of this curve.

    I strongly support the policy requiring participants to post under their real names. Discussion groups that permit anonymity inevitably degrade into chaos.

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    I strongly support the policy requiring participants to post under their real names. Discussion groups that permit anonymity inevitably degrade into chaos.
    Nothing personal towards Dave and towards the contributors to the DF. The above quote is an interesting element and one with which runs counter to one of our core civil liberties as a nation. Privacy is core to democracy. I think one of the major drawbacks to this site is its lack of anonymity.
    By engaging on a transparent identity field you are only breeding like minded and accepted individuals that see each other as the way they want to be viewed. It is this insular mindset that usually rationalize the outsize riskiest of conclusions because there is no challenger.
    No anonymity has created lower numbers of participating members. I can't explain why, but my hunch is that my recurring theme is people know what is in their own best interests. If anything were really wrong in our town and somebody wanted to blow the whistle and not fear a lawsuit, I would certainly not expect to find the post here.
    I will agree that internet blogs can get clogged with faceless rants. Over time, however, some would emerge the wiser and more respected.
    Privacy is sacred and has its advantages. It would greatly improve this DF.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    Nothing personal towards Dave and towards the contributors to the DF. The above quote is an interesting element and one with which runs counter to one of our core civil liberties as a nation. Privacy is core to democracy. I think one of the major drawbacks to this site is its lack of anonymity.
    Does your right to privacy mean that every discussion forum must permit anonymous posts?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    By engaging on a transparent identity field you are only breeding like minded and accepted individuals that see each other as the way they want to be viewed. It is this insular mindset that usually rationalize the outsize riskiest of conclusions because there is no challenger.
    The last four weeks' postings here alone provide many counter-examples to your above claims of uniformity, insularity, and meekness -- as does this very thread.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    No anonymity has created lower numbers of participating members.
    Perhaps. Nasty posters exploiting their anonymity often drive out other participants. Do you seek to maximize the total number of participants, or the total number of constructive participants? If the latter, my experience is that non-anonymous fora are more effective.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    I can't explain why, but my hunch is that my recurring theme is people know what is in their own best interests. If anything were really wrong in our town and somebody wanted to blow the whistle and not fear a lawsuit, I would certainly not expect to find the post here.
    Again, this forum's archives provide plenty of counter-examples. There are anonymous fora in which Wayland issues are frequently discussed; for example, see the comments following the letters in http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/h...-to-the-editor . So there is a vehicle available to timid whistleblowers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    I will agree that internet blogs can get clogged with faceless rants. Over time, however, some would emerge the wiser and more respected.
    Can you cite an example of an un-moderated anonymous discussion forum with 50 or more participants that was able to maintain a civil and constructive equilibrium for, say, 3 consecutive months?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    Privacy is core to democracy.
    I agree with Dave on the point of keeping anonymity off the Discussion Forum (DF). I have no disagreement with "Privacy is core to democracy," but that's not to say that privacy needs to infuse every aspect of democracy.

    Perhaps I'm missing something, but until the advent of the Internet, was it ever possible in any practical way to anonymously participate in public conversation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    I think one of the major drawbacks to this site is its lack of anonymity.
    The Town Crier discussion board provides a great comparison point with the DF. It's anonymity is one of its major drawbacks, along with a technology platform that's far inferior to this one.

    The problem isn't actually with anonymity, but rather, accountability. I'll contend that many anonymous questions or comments would be great additions to the DF as long as they were posted with honesty and civility. We've discussed passing such contributions through a moderator, and I'd be all for that if the flow of messages didn't make that role impractical.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    By engaging on a transparent identity field you are only breeding like minded and accepted individuals that see each other as the way they want to be viewed. It is this insular mindset that usually rationalize the outsize riskiest of conclusions because there is no challenger.
    I don't fully understand these statements, but suggest that the numerous areas of (respectful) disagreement on the board counter the "like minded" contention.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    No anonymity has created lower numbers of participating members.
    Compared with the Town Crier, I don't know the above statement to be true.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    If anything were really wrong in our town and somebody wanted to blow the whistle and not fear a lawsuit, I would certainly not expect to find the post here.
    That may well be, but I'm not really sure that the purpose of the DF needs to be a place for people to "blow the whistle."

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    Jeff, concerning an earlier idea about “ten or so high level categories”. When I first came to DF, I intuitively assumed there’d be theme/issue-based “forums”. I also thought there'd be sub-threads in the forums. Like if this summer’s issue of the moment might be the High School Building Committee. HSBC would be one thread under schools. But I see your point of posts getting lost. So why not have a “schools” forum that functions like the general discussion does?

    How do people use DF?
    I'm trying to get at what function DF actually has and would love for lotsa people to share how they use the DF and what they think about it (their own goals for DF, its success or failure, and its future). Also Kim, I’m curious about how much ability we have for tracking usage. The “posts” and “views” tell us something, but for views, can we get how many members, how many guests? How many unique visits? The number of people viewing multiple times? Me, of course, would love a voluntary system where members always log in even when only reading, and non-members sign up for a user name (Guest #1, #2, etc) so that we could start to see what’s actually happening. Any ideas? What do people think? Would any one else here like to get an accurate idea about what’s going on?

    Dave, about that “Long Tail” curve, if it has to remain the same, that's so sad. But what if we just raise the whole curve up? Say by increasing everyone's posts by 5. Still same curve, but I'd think that was progress.

    Vernon, being a simple person, I seem to like real names the best. I seem to treat this as a conversation or dialogue. And I like to know whom I’m talking to. And putting my name on my posts makes me take full responsibility for what I say. And that’s good. I understand why voting wants to be secret, but I think this is about sharing information and dialogue. Hopefully treating people with respect and helping to create mutual understanding. Me thinks, better done by real people than by some “dog_eat_dog” alias.

    And by the way, Dave and Vernon, what do you think DF's function is?


    donBustin@verizon.net

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    Don, don't worry, the "Long Tail" isn't a death sentence. It scales. NetFlix is one example (and the reason why they are busting Blockbuster's chops). Relatively movies get rented by lots of people. Obscure movies get rented by just a few. But there are a LOT more obscure movies than popular ones, and costs (and benefits) NetFlix the same regardless of which movie they stick in the envelope (or stream).

    On the DF, we don't really want to raise the curve, we want to shift it to the right, meaning more users. The pattern will stay the same, but the number of contributors will be greater.

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    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Jeff, concerning an earlier idea about “ten or so high level categories”. When I first came to DF, I intuitively assumed there’d be theme/issue-based “forums”. I also thought there'd be sub-threads in the forums. Like if this summer’s issue of the moment might be the High School Building Committee. HSBC would be one thread under schools. But I see your point of posts getting lost. So why not have a “schools” forum that functions like the general discussion does?
    Don, we had initially intended that we would create sub-forums for particular topic areas, but have never gotten around to it (other than the separate forums we created for Wayland Reads and for override questions a few years back). Do you think we should? What categories would you recommend?

    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Also Kim, I’m curious about how much ability we have for tracking usage. The “posts” and “views” tell us something, but for views, can we get how many members, how many guests? How many unique visits? The number of people viewing multiple times? Me, of course, would love a voluntary system where members always log in even when only reading, and non-members sign up for a user name (Guest #1, #2, etc) so that we could start to see what’s actually happening. Any ideas? What do people think? Would any one else here like to get an accurate idea about what’s going on?
    The forum provides a number of statistical measures - number of views per thread, number of posts per thread, number of posts per person, number of people on the forum, number of posts total, that sort of thing. But there really isn't anyway to get the other measures you are asking about, even if everyone were to log in. There's no way to track how many times each user visits a thread or how many unique visitors there are to a thread, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Dave, about that “Long Tail” curve, if it has to remain the same, that's so sad. But what if we just raise the whole curve up? Say by increasing everyone's posts by 5. Still same curve, but I'd think that was progress.
    I agree! I'd love to get more participation among current users, and more users participating. It would make for more lively, interesting and useful debate. Any suggestions for how to make it happen?


    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Vernon, being a simple person, I seem to like real names the best. I seem to treat this as a conversation or dialogue. And I like to know whom I’m talking to. And putting my name on my posts makes me take full responsibility for what I say. And that’s good. I understand why voting wants to be secret, but I think this is about sharing information and dialogue. Hopefully treating people with respect and helping to create mutual understanding. Me thinks, better done by real people than by some “dog_eat_dog” alias.
    Well said!

    The Crier site does not require real names, and I do not think they have more users than this forum does. It's hard to tell, because you don't know how many users have multiple usernames (even though that is against the rules). In fact, a real problem with the Crier comments is that so many users just assume that all the other users are the same person, and there's no way of knowing to what extent that is true. So anonymous users are not afforded the same respect as named ones, and probably that is appropriate.

    If you believe something, go ahead and say it. Rarely will worthy people fault you for your opinion if you state it nicely and in the spirit of cooperative discussion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Dave, about that “Long Tail” curve, if it has to remain the same, that's so sad. But what if we just raise the whole curve up? Say by increasing everyone's posts by 5. Still same curve, but I'd think that was progress.
    The Long Tail reflects the diversity of human interests and behavior; this should not sadden you. As I said, we can aspire to increase participation. The most effective techniques for doing this are

    1. increase awareness within the relevant community
    2. require users to post under their real names
    3. enforce a zero-tolerance policy with respect to personal attacks
    4. preclude spam


    I started an international Yahoo group ~9 years ago, and using the above techniques have grown it to more than 2800 participants. Its distribution of posts by participant follows the Long Tail.

    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    And by the way, Dave and Vernon, what do you think DF's function is?
    The stated purpose of this forum is "to discuss news, issues and events in Wayland".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Bernstein View Post
    The stated purpose of this forum is "to discuss news, issues and events in Wayland".
    Seems the actual purpose would include doing the above to some “end”. For instance, I’d “discuss” to elicit information from people more knowledgeable than myself. And we might “discuss” to help create a more informed citizenry that in a somewhat abstract way would then promote better and more efficient government services.

    Without some end, DF is already doing its job and will always be 100% successful. Congratulations! More or less participation would in a small way effect “to discuss” but not as significantly as its impact on an actual goal would be.

    donBustin@verizon.net

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    But there really isn't anyway to get the other measures you are asking about, even if everyone were to log in. There's no way to track how many times each user visits a thread or how many unique visitors there are to a thread, etc.
    Too bad. I’d hoped there was some way to accurately model people’s usage of DF. Thought it’d be fun to watch the numbers in real time and to run them monthly, do different things and watch those numbers change (for the better hopefully). On a more serious level, to display commitment to analyzing and sharing “what is”.

    I can intuit usage/participation levels and changes, but it’s not the same thing. Doesn’t add any information we can use.

    Kim, please don’t say things aren’t possible. This is software we’re inhabiting after all. Perhaps the software’s company has something already or might be happy to program a custom module their customers want if they think it’ll add to their product. It could be simple, a few more counters. Usage tracking... seems possible? Dream big, that’s what I say.

    donBustin@verizon.net

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    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Kim, please don’t say things aren’t possible. This is software we’re inhabiting after all. Perhaps the software’s company has something already or might be happy to program a custom module their customers want if they think it’ll add to their product. It could be simple, a few more counters. Usage tracking... seems possible? Dream big, that’s what I say.
    The this forum is running on vBulletin version 3.7.0. The current release of vBulletin is 3.8.2. Some of the enhancements added in 3.8.0 are listed in

    http://www.vbulletin.com/forum/showthread.php?t=295860

    None of the listed enhancements involve improvements to vBulletin's analytics; evidently, one must review the documentation to know for sure. The manual for vBulletin 3.7.0 is available in

    http://www.vbulletin.com/docs/html?m...rsion=30700500

    The manual for vBulletin 3.8.2 is available in

    http://www.vbulletin.com/docs/html?m...rsion=30802500

    Information about the next major release, vBulletin 4, is available in

    http://www.vbulletin.com/vbulletin4/

    Improved analytics aren't mentioned there either.

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    Ah, caught me, Dave! :-) I do intend to upgrade to the latest version, just haven't gotten around to it yet.

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