Adventures in Comment Moderation – How to be “That Guy” on Facebook

Most of us never even realize it, but Facebook allows us to moderate the comments that show up against our posts.  In the base usage, it is very important as it allows you to remove the comments your college roommate posted containing links to the pics of you doing belly shots off an Asian hooker in Vegas last week when your boss thought you were home sick.

The problem is that it makes us all Online Community Moderators, and even worse, untrained, and potentially unprincipled Online Community Managers at that.  Luckily, most of Facebook users appear to get it;  they leave their comment stream alone, or only delete the occasional offending post “for cause.”

…when you attempt to control the discussion, it ceases to be a discussion, it becomes a lecture…

There are others, however, who treat their comment stream with a more Stalinist view.  It’s “agree with me, or you won’t be seen with me” for them.  You’ve probably run across them in the past, and not even noticed.  Have you ever posted a comment, only to find hours later that it disappeared?  Does it happen every once in a while, generally with the same Facebook “friend”?

You’ve run into “That Guy.”  You too can be “That Guy” by following a few simple tips (in Madlib format, select the one that applies):

  • Have an agenda.  We all want to hear all about being (conservative/progressive/a grateful dead head/transgender) all the time.
  • Flood our streams with your words of wisdom.
  • Take us to task for not being as (conservative/progressive/grateful dead head/transgender) as you are.
  • TYPE IN CAPS because we’re too stupid to read your missives in lower case.
  • Accept no comments other than “Right on”, “You rule” or “I wish I was you.”  Delete the rest.
  • If you are unfortunately called out on something simple, like the fact that bipeds walk on two feet, not three, delete the post and all the comments, rather than fessing up.
  • Routinely suggest that anyone that disagrees with you should be (flogged/shot/tarred and feathered) then blame everyone else for fostering a culture of violence.
  • By all means, block anyone that appears to disagree with you.

Here is the sum of my 16 years in Online Community Management: when you attempt to control the discussion, it ceases to be a discussion, it becomes a lecture, and that pisses people off and makes you look like a fool.

 

DeLurker Day!

Today is DeLurker Day, the day in which bloggers like myself celebrate our readers by offering you an invitation to leave a comment.  I know there are a lot of you out there that read this blog almost daily, but as you know, there aren’t always a lot of comments.  Take the time and let us know who you are and what you like, don’t like and what you’d like to see here or in the world in general, in the coming year.

From Wikipedia, the definition of a lurker:

In Internet culture, a lurker is a person who reads discussions on a message boardnewsgroupchatroomfile sharing or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively. Research indicates that “lurkers make up over 90% of online groups” (Nonnecke & Preece 2000).

So take a minute to drop a line and join our conversation!  We’ll all be glad you came. (A tip of the hat to Jeff Bennett for pointing me to this campaign)

New Book, Site & Forum: LoveYourGeek.com

Last night Karl Susman opened his new site which I developed over the holidays.  The site is to support his new book, “Love Your Geek”, which was released over the weekend for the Kindle and will be arriving in the full splendor of print on February 1.  Many of you will know Karl from his WestsideGadgetGuy.com podcasts, and if you don’t you ought to check them out.

The site is a combination of WordPress and BBPress Forum, designed to foster discussion around the book as well as provided news, reviews, etc.  Technically, it required customization of an existing theme, and design integration with the BBPress theme.

If you’re a geek like me, you’ll love the book.  If you aren’t it ought to be required reading to clue you in as to how lucky your are to have us.

They are your personal “always-on-call” computer “fixers;” your personal helper with All Things Computer. Broken Printer? Screen “not-responding”? Spill coffee on your keyboard? Computer “locked-up,” or just “not working” the way you want it to? You call your resident Geek.

You don’t pay them. You don’t ask them. You just call them – and expect the Geek to be there for you. And, of course, you accept nothing less than, “problem solved.”
In this short book, I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be Your Geek.

Go check out the site!

Money for Nothing and Your Chicks for Free…

(Disclosures: I work for Namemedia, who is technically a competitor of Internet Brands, owners of vBulletin.  I also run several sites that use vBulletin and spend a significant part of my work week working in vBulletin code…)

Over the past month, there’s been a slowly erupting feud in the vBulletin community over the new pricing structure that was announced for vBulletin 4.0 by Internet Brands.

You see, back in the day, the original vBulletin license cost $185 (originally $160 I think) and could be renewed for a yearly fee of $60.  With the new version of the software (which has not been released yet) they are moving to a license per major level release, rather than what might be best described as a yearly fee structure. New licenses will cost $195.

I’m going to say right here, right now, that I don’t get why people are so up in arms about this.  We want Internet Brands to be able to develop excellent software, right?  We want to use the best, right?

Well that won’t happen if they don’t get paid for their software.  Ford does not upgrade your car for free.  Microsoft did not upgrade your Vista operating system to Windows 7 for free, so why the expectation that Internet Brands will offer perpetual free upgrades?

I know part of the complaint is that it’s going to get expensive if you have a bunch of vBulletin sites.  My answer is this: if your sites don’t earn enough to pay for the license upgrade, then perhaps you shouldn’t be running so many sites!  If it isn’t earning then by all means you ought to be running open source software.

The plain truth is this: many of us would pay MORE for vBulletin if we could get an enterprise level support agreement.  Those of us who have mission critical vBulletin installations would love to be able to get preferred support from them.  So perhaps some level of tiering in pricing might work.

The bottom line is this: I have no problem paying good money for good product.  I don’t expect free, and neither should you.  There are plenty of free open source bulletin board solutions out there, if you can’t pay, I suggest you try using one of them.

Sad to say, but the world of vBulletin has far too much drama about it.  Perhaps we will be better off without the complainers…

A few WordPress sites you might not have seen…

I’ve had a few launches recently and a few of them are worth mentioning.

  • domainersavantageThe Afternic Domainer’s Advantage – this is a knowledge center for use by Domainers, which is fully integrated with the AfternicDLS.com site.  For those who aren’t aware, Afternic is the world’s largest premium domain marketplace with over three million domains available for sale. The Domainer’s Advantage site is a fairly standard WordPress installation that makes use of several fairly standard plugins.  Special features:
    • Integrated news feed of domain news
    • Slide Share integration
    • Homepage featured content block
    • Single sign on integration with Afternic
    • Full design integration with the parent site
    • Design by Mark Hentschel – a real design rock star.
  • blogPhotoNetBlog.Photo.Net – photo.net is a site for serious photographers to connect with other photographersexplore photo galleriesdiscuss photographyshare and critique photos, and learn about photography. The blog is maintained by Josh Root, the community director for the site, and is used to provide a taste of the vast content available around the site as well as to post industry news, events, etc.
    • Full design integration with the photo.net site
    • Standard WordPress installation
    • Twitter feed

What is the next Wave?

Google Wave - a chance for us to rethink Social Media?
Google Wave - a chance for us to rethink Social Media?

For some time, I’ve been looking for the next compelling thing in social media sites. For that next development that transforms the way we interact, that re-envisions forums, chat, photo galleries, articles, etc; in fact a redefinition of the way in which we communicate online altogether.

For the past couple years, I’ve watch as vBulletin, my favorite forum software, basically did minor incremental releases, remaining essentially the way it was in 2001.  Wordpress has done better, yet still, the fundamental blog/cmslite experience remains pretty much as it was 4 years ago.  Photo gallery software, chat, etc. all remain pretty much as they were when they burst on the scene.

The user experience on most sites now is very segmented.  Comments are in one spot, while forum posts over here.  Most sites  don’t integrate chat, as it tends to remove us from the page view model on which our revenue streams are so often based.

We’ve patched together separate systems, and in virtually all cases, the seams are showing.  Clear lines of demarcation block logical points of information transfer.  Most of what happens isn’t real time, or anything close to it.  It’s a post then wait and click refresh experience for most of what we do.

That’s the point of entry for Google Wave, the new open source project that launched in private beta today.  It has real time communications, chat has both private/public components, that can take on the threaded view of a forum with real time updates, that can be presented as a forum, or a blog, or whatever you imagine.

You see the important thing here for a developer is that they’ve built the basic tools, but we can add whatever we want via their api.  To demonstrate this, they added Google maps integration.  Yet that bit could be a video, or even better a live video stream or a recorded application view (think Webex presentation), live photo gallery, or all of them.  All of which can be manipulated and edited real time by multiple users.

So what is this Google Wave, really?  It’s opportunity for us to FINALLY break out of the box, to really do something new and different, to for once rethink the way we do our sites.

I can’t wait…

Check out the abridged version of the video from the I/O conference to get a taste of what I’m talking about.

A New Forum User Experience?

I’ve been a huge fan of vBulletin forum software since I first installed it on Reel-Time.com in 2001.  In the intervening years, I’ve seen software come and software go, but vBulletin continues to chug along.

Over the past 10 months, I’ve spent a lot of time working on a massive vBulletin site, http://www.splitcoaststampers.com and I’ve got to admit, I’m finding the vBulletin experience somewhat lacking.  Perhaps it’s just that so many of the same old foibles remain in the core product, but truthfully, I’m looking for a more satisfying experience in forum software.

Let me be clear, the software works great and continues to chug away.  My issue is that some of the things I’d like to be able to do with the software that should be easy, aren’t.

My main grudge is this:  the software is still table based.  Tons and tons of nested tables, all of them making it a nightmare to style.  Each of the pages reuses a common header, but due to tons of  <div> tags with no id or class, you have to get very creative to make any changes.  Even worse, those divs are reused throughout the software, in different roles, so often, you will want to make a change on one page and you’ll end up affecting others. So you write a conditional (if this, then that) which is page specific.  However, soon you find you’ve got a header file that is hundreds of lines of code, as it must account for a multitude of variables.

The vBulletin folks are in the process of a rewrite, which will be released in the fall as version 4.0.  This version will supposedly get rid of all the tables and move to a fully css driven design, but frankly, I’m hearing rumblings now that, well, it might be mostly css, or worse.

My general list of stuff that’s got to be fixed:

  • Search doesn’t scale – one of the systems perennial Achille’s Heels, and a constant source of pain for site owners.
  • Tables, bloody tables – yeah, I mentioned it before, but it’s got to be mentioned before.
  • Template debugging – the vBulletin template system consumes errors.  Testing of templates and plugins is an utter nightmare, because it doesn’t allow you to see even PHP’s most mundane error message.
  • Nesting of Conditional Statements – we’ve got a pretty good model in PHP for how an if then statement ought to work.  However vBulletin conditional statements for some reason don’t follow that logic.  They’re powerful, don’t get me wrong, but they’re hard to keep straight when you have a need for a good “else if” which currently requires nesting.

So I’m now thinking: is there any other software out that that isn’t table based that is both scalable and provides a top notch user experience?  I’m interested in your suggestions…

Social Media Community Building 101 – The Right Domain Name

<This is part 3 in my series on Social Media Community Building.  You will find all of my pieces on this subject by checking out this tag: Social Media 101. Disclosure: this post is about selecting and buying domain names.  I work for a company that owns the largest aftermarket domain name listing service in the world, Namemedia, although that is not what I do for them. >

One of the key points you need to consider when you are building your Social Media Community is the domain name.  The right name can make your site, while the wrong one brings with it more baggage than you could possibly imagine.  The general list of considerations:

  • The shorter the better – If I were building a community for septic tank cleaning professionals, I’d look for something like “septicpros.com” rather than “septic-pro-media-forums.com”  – on the face of it, less letters to type.
  • Make the name a Search  Keyword that you’d expect someone to enter into Google to find you.  Hence “Blatz.com” wouldn’t be as desirable as “tennisbuddies.com” when you’re doing a Tennis social media site.  Plus, the domain name is one of the things Google gives you points for in their alrogithm.  Hence, given identical content and in bound links, TennisBuddy.com will do better than the nonsensical blatz.com.
  • Try to Avoid the Alternate Top Level Domains – .Com is the gold standard here.  .Net is acceptable, and .Mobi is fine for your Iphone stuff.  I don’t use .us, or any of the other alternates.  Why?  Because they don’t get direct type in traffic, and its really easy to build your site up, only to have someone sharp that owns the .Com TLD siphon off your traffic by constructing a similar site.  How do they get your traffic?  Most of your users will inevitably type .Com instead of .FooBar or whatever you have at some point.  Too big a business risk in my estimation.
  • Avoid Misspelling Problems – If it’s hard to type, you’re going to have people ending up at the wrong place.  Once again, keep it simple.

Have  people found success doing the opposite of my suggestions?  Sure, probably the best example was http://del.icio.us – but even they have now given in, having bought delicious.com and directing their primary traffic through that domain instead.

Okay, so your next thought is this:  “Nice advice, but all the good domain names were bought up years ago.  We’re gonna have to go with http://xtrptser.com because it’s the only one left.

Not so…there is the domain aftermarket.  My employer, Namemedia Inc. owns over 900,000 domain names, which can be bought via BuyDomains.com or at Afternic.com – which is  a “Multiple Listing Service for Domain Names.”  Together with our partners, we list something in the area of 2 million domain names (don’t quote me directly on that, it’s a rough estimate, not exact).  They’ve also got plenty of trained domain professionals who can help you through the purchase and transfer process.

So now you can get access to a whole lot of excellent domain names, which should make your new Social Media Website a winner.

My view on domains is this: they are a very important business asset for any business. In the case of niche social media sites, they may be one of your most important assets.  Thus buying the right one is of utter importance.  There are many places in the building of your site where you will be able to cut a few corners, but this is not a place to do that.

Does Twitter Dilute Media Brands?

For the past couple weeks I’ve been tweeting for the Reel-Time.com site under the Twitter handle “Reel_Time” and I’ve found some very interesting trends.  Most disturbing is that Twitter doesn’t really appear to be an extension of the conversations that start on my site, it appears to be something wholly different.  Similar conversations in a place where I don’t get any ad revenue.

As of yet, I’m not seeing this as increasing the value of the Reel-time.com brand.  Of course, while twitter may be hitting the mainstream, I suspect we’re still on the bleeding edge of Twitter in the saltwater fly fishing niche.  It just seems that where my readers used to find me, I am now trying to find them.  A horribly upside down delivery model it is when you’re starting out!

The Bad, or Not So Good:

  • Spammers – they apparently target new accounts – a good number of my initial followers apparently thought I wanted to pay for the “secrets of making millions via twitter”.  For the record, I don’t think there is anyone out there making THOUSANDS yet.
  • Mostly Shops, Guides and Website Owners – in a lot of ways its me and my competitors talking.  Honestly, that makes me want to share…less.
  • Haphazard Marketing – I’ve seen several shops or guides who don’t have a website or haven’t updated that website in over a year.  Yet they have time to tweet on a regular basis.  Tweeting is nice, but take care of your marketing 101 basics first.

The Good:

  • Fishing Reports – while my forum users macerate on the implications of posting fishing reports via Twitter, its already happening and there are enough respected industry names doing it that I can say with certainty, fishing reports via twitter are here to stay.
  • Immediacy – I’m a big fan of  “right the heck now.”  I hate to wait.  Twitter means I won’t have to wait.
  • New Enough That We Can Make This What We Want – I suspect the real gold here is in the hashtagging of reports.  If we develop a way of tagging that makes regional sense (most New Englander’s don’t need reports from Maryland) then we’ll all win.  I generally hate protocols, but this may just be what we need.  Something like #SWF-BOS for Boston area reports…then fight to keep it from becoming another Usenet.

The trial continues…

Reel-Time.com Updated

rt_sshot1Over the past couple months, I’ve been working nights and weekends to get Reel-time.com updated and running on WordPress.  The project, while far from complete, reached critical mass this week and I was able to go live Tuesday night.

This site has been around since 1995, and frankly, if you knew where to look, it was showing it’s age.  The homepage was left justified, which is something designers haven’t been doing since around 2001.

There were a lot of challenges.  First off, a lot of the content was gnarly hand-coded html of varying quality, which for the most part has had to be moved by hand.  That task will no doubt continue for a while.  Secondly, I didn’t have call on a designer.  As such, what design work had to be done, was done by me…and if you could see how I dress, you’d understand humor in that. A few of the high points:

  • WordPress is my CMS – Yes, I’ve been running a number of sites on a version we’ve customized at Namemedia, Inc., but this is the first time I’ve gone with an out of the box installation.  All customization for the site is done by plugin or theme.  Absolutely no changes to WordPress code whatsoever.
  • Comments, Sharing, etc. – Reel-Time never had comments on articles before, so now it does.  A small change, but actually one that will help to extend the community from the forum out into the  site.
  • Syndicated News Feeds – In the past, we always avoided sharing the link love.  No longer – we’re running feeds of pertinent content on our landing pages which gives us more great content from around the globe and shares our link juice, being top in Saltwater Fly fishing rankings.
  • Landing Pages – We’ve started doing pages by article category, so now we can present a dense, targeted page on any topic in our vast arsenal of content.  Add to that feeds of content similarly tagged from our forum, and the syndicated feeds, and you’ve got tons of content on any particular subject.  I only have a handful of these pages up, but rest assured, if it swims in saltwater and fishermen like to catch it, it will eventually have its own page.
  • A Standard Theme – I went with a base theme from the WordPress Theme Gallery then customized.  It saved time, and honestly, without it, I doubt this project ever would have happened.
  • A Classified Ad System – I’ve thought this was one of the big missing functions on the site for a long time.  Now we have one.  The question is, are we late to the game?
  • Vimeo Videos presented in high definition – Everybody has small videos, so I went with really LARGE video presentation.  It looks great, although I need to get more ads on the page.
  • New Content – for the first time in a long time, we’ve got new articles coming in.  I have no budget for this stuff, so I asked our community.  They have responded.
  • More Social – I put in links to our Facebook Group, Facebook Fan Page and to the Reel_Time twitter account.  Again, there is a lot more to do here.

I still have a lot of stuff to do.  If you read this blog closely, you’ll know that I had a quandry about what to do with our fishing reports section.  I think I have a solution to that, which I’ll be working on next.  Also on my list:

  • Develop a Content Team – me working 30 hours a week won’t happen anymore.  The work must be spread around the community.
  • Import All the Content – about 50 stories remain to be imported.  From there I have old fishing reports with valueable intro sections by some of the best writers in our sport (many started out writing for us).
  • Get More Community Happening – I’ll hold this one close to the vest for new.  I’m well aware that this blog is read by some that participate in my niche, so no need to tip my hat here.

Remember, one of the salient points here is that this was a nights and weekends project, only a 2 days of actual “work” time went into it.  Also, the an important round of thanks to the moderators for the site, Bob Parsons, Sam Riley, Ray Avitable and Shaun Ruge who were of immense assistance in the planning and as always, in providing a firm sounding board for potential ideas.  Without them, the site, I fear, would crumble to dust.

Okay, there was one other MAJOR change and no one has commented on it.  Can you?