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Author Topic: Discussion: How can we Improve DonationCoder?  (Read 20542 times)
mouser
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« on: April 22, 2010, 07:27:42 PM »

In a recent discussion thread of our NANY (New Apps for the New Year) event, i was a bit harsh on someone who had some negative things to say about the general trajectory of DC lately.  While I don't think that thread was the best place to talk about such things, I do think it's a discussion worth having.

So the question for this thread is, how can we improve DonationCoder?

Can I just request some ground rules -- it's fine to point out problems with the site and ways it hasn't lived up to it's promises, etc., but please try to frame your comments in a way that they inform how we can make the site better.  Part of the problem I think we always have is that this site is different things to different people, and the main goal of the site has to be to be as good as it can be for it's members.  We aren't like a typical business whose goal is the simple maximization of "profit".. We're not looking for ideas that will make the site bigger or more popular per se.  It's a bit more subtle and circular than that.

In a very real sense, the question has to be, keeping in the spirit of the site, what are things we can all do to make it more useful to all of us? And what can I and others that are willing to put in the work do to make it work better for the rest of you?
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Dormouse
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« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2010, 08:31:56 PM »

i was a bit harsh o[/i]

If you were harsh, I'm not sure what the appropriate adjective would be for their comments. undecided

I'd been meaning to join in the thread about why we came to DC. For me it was the big reviews. I read one (& more) and was impressed by the detail & impartiality. Over later months I had to try to remember what that site was which I thought had reviews that helped me to think about what issues I should be interested in, so I could check whether there was a review on my latest area of interest. Eventually discovered it again, even more eventually found the Forums and stayed. Of course, the big reviews appear to have ended. Not liked to mention it before since the obvious response is "Why don't you do one?" and I know I don't have the time - and can't and don't expect anyone else to either; it clearly was a major effort for anyone to have done one, let alone more. Finding a way of getting closer to that end would be good though: even with regular reading of nearly everything, having a clear idea of the current views on any area of software is difficult, and there are often so many threads now that it can be quite time consuming to track down a particular discussion that I remember reading.
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cranioscopical
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« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2010, 08:44:53 PM »

I feel that, since we all seem to like one another, we should try always to encourage input from newer members. That way we'll have even more of us to like. It's difficult to like someone who has no voice here.
The more topics, and the more contributing points of view, the better.

This very sentiment is often expressed here and in the newsletters. I do think that, by and large, we are fairly welcoming but are there more ways to encourage new voices?
I don't know if particular people are specifically tasked with welcoming new members but not many of us seem to say 'hello' when a newcomer passes by.

Some of our major contributors are remarkably good at launching topics that attract wide interest and participation.
I wonder if more of us can initiate thought-provoking threads?
Speaking as one of the intellectually bankrupt, I always enjoy the chance to feast on crumbs from the clever members' tables.

« Last Edit: April 22, 2010, 08:46:32 PM by cranioscopical » Logged

Chris
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« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2010, 03:01:12 AM »

The question was: How can we Improve DonationCoder?
Experience indicates that a structured approach usually assists in encouraging a diverse group of people to collaborate in answering general questions - questions to which there could possibly be complex and conflicting answers.

Here's a suggested approach: (to help make the most of the probably not inconsiderable potential thinking power of the DC "Brainstrust.")

1. Definition of the question: (objective is to remove ambiguity and improve clarity of purpose)
  • Define the purpose of the question - i.e., exactly what information is the question intended to be extracting, and WHY?
  • Review the question and rewrite it, as necessary, to better reflect the purpose.
  • Define the question more rigorously, or restate it in terms that can enable rigorous definition.
  • Define any terms used in the definition.

2. Define requirements for the forum to provide answers:
Define the required structure and rules for answering the question. For example:
  • Brainstorm: This implies that "anything goes" - opinions, POV, structured reasoning, daft ideas - with the rule that all critique of the answers must be deferred until all the ideas are in, whereupon evaluation of the ideas can commence.
  • "The Emperor's new clothes": Only allow answers with a positive or non-critical spin. (Implies never discussing "the elephant in the room".
  • Critical thinking: Answers to be demonstrably the product of rational thought as opposed to beliefs or "opinions" or ideas off the top of the head.
  • Or some mixture of the above (but always define them.

If you did something more like this (and you have already started to try and lay some rough groundwork for the forum of responses), then you would be more likely to be able to gain some measure of the results - e.g., those answers that met whatever criteria you had established for them in the first place.

If you did not do something like this, then, as likely as not, you will probably get a completely random result. This would be chaotic, by definition.

So what? Well, you may be able make the most of your potential audience:
(a) People who may have worked hard to learn to discipline themselves to structure their thinking and to apply a rational critical thinking method could be more likely to put effort into contributing that thinking and to respond to a well-structured questioning process (as above). However, they could otherwise tend to be turned off and unlikely to contribute. After all, what would be the point if it was only likely to add to a chaotic mess? (Rather like the majority of business meetings.)

(b) People with unstructured thinking skills or irrational thinking habits (Edward De Bono suggests that that could probably be the majority of us) could probably tend to contribute regardless, because they would have no reason for similar reservations. This would be where you would be likely to get most of the rationalised POV and beliefs from.
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Gothi[c]
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« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2010, 07:53:05 AM »

wow, talk about over analyzing a question cheesy Honestly, putting that much words in how fancy and thought in how fancy the question and it's replies have to be, makes me scared to even reply anything at all, as my inferior brain is not worthy smiley

Anyway, from the top of my head, here's one suggestion which may have been touched upon before iirc:

In order to make people feel more valued and involved with DC, have a page with links to their software (eg: on the Software/releases.html page, or a dedicated page) - including the many programs people host on the member server, and others that are hiding in the forum.

As it stands, outside of the nany stuff and other contests, it seems to me only a subset of software developed by dc members is mentioned under the software section, which may not very encouraging to people that forked out the effort to work on coding snack or program.

I'm not sure if there's some reason but I find quite a few coding snacks in the forum that didn't make the software page. I'm not sure if there already is some kind of submission process or not, but there probably should be an easy to find software submission web GUI thingie...

Not only would this encourage development, but it would allow users to find software they need more easily. (There could be a keyword based search engine just for software, for example)

Then, when a program is submitted through the web gui, and accepted after review, it could be automatically listed on the appropriate software page. Then perhaps automatically assign a 'dc software developer' badge or something to the user.
With a semi-automated process like that you could do all kinds of neat stuff, like making an smf mod which will list all software made by a user in their forum profile - or automatically create a blog post for newly submitted/accepted software.
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nudone
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« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2010, 08:10:37 AM »

Good points - DC members software really ought to be easy to find - in one place - or a link to their homepage if nothing else.
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« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2010, 09:05:22 AM »

Donationcoder has always been almost perfect for me.  My philosophy:  "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". 

With that being said, and with the "almost" hanging out there,  here is my one wish:

An easier one-stop place for all the available software here on DC, with easy to follow and read version/update information for each program.

Other than that, when we get back on our feet from my wife's illness, I will continue to donate and contribute what I can.  This site and forum is my idea of discussion perfection.  Polite and informative, intelligent and lacking in the new breed of worthless, shock-me to get attention Internet punk.

Even though I am not very active, I love it here.  Don't change if you don't need to.
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« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2010, 09:17:38 AM »

My story is as dormouse expressed above. A couple of Google searches pointed me here. I discovered the newsletters, which brought me back here regularly. Believe it or not, I didn't even realize this was a forum as such -- frequently the reviews stood alone, without any discussion following up.

So in addition to dormouse's observations about the decline in the frequency of reviews, I'd add the decline in the frequency of newsletters. Since it was those that kept me coming back until I got involved in forum discussions, I think they are invaluable in landing new users.
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IainB
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« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2010, 01:05:22 PM »

One of the most persistent bugbears that I and several other DC-ers have found with Donation Coder is the total lack of any still shots of Angelina Jolie when she has appeared nude in films.
Fixing this major drawback would go a long way to increasing the happy-happy index of DC-ers - and not all of them men, either, I can assure you.

This would effect an immediate improvement in the DC site's street-appeal, and new audiences would flock to the site in droves. Your hit counters would go off the scale and nobody would be using AdBlock. Think of the potential advertising revenue! This is the sort of thing the Japanese are crying out for. Anyone who doesn't agree with this is a moron and should be pepper-sprayed directly in both eyes, told to "shut the f#ck up", and have their toenails pulled off - in that order.

You could start things off gradually by providing some animated naked AJ smileys in the Quick Reply tools, and then working up to several full AJ nude albums a bit later on. That would be some subtle trajectory, aaaall riiiight! An AutoHotkey script might be useful - one that just jumped you straight into the albums area, without having to mess about and waste time navigating the stupid boring bits of the DC site. Instant gratification! This is the sort of thing that makes our country great and I'm proud to be a Kazakhstani.

This is proof-positive that there are only 3 kinds of people in the world: Those who can count, and those who can't.
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cranioscopical
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« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2010, 01:42:32 PM »

@IainB: At last, the solution. I'm all four that!
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Chris
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« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2010, 01:55:39 PM »

I like Gothi[c]'s suggestion!

Apart from that, and the lack of Angelina still shots, I don't really see anything that needs much work on DC. I guess I'd like to see a few more reviews/mini-reviews, but it's not like I can't write these myself... embarassed
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« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2010, 03:35:53 PM »

@IainB: At last, the solution. I'm all four that!

I'm a bit baffeled by the tatical 180 between this and Iainb's first post ... But, Yeah lets get this last Idea pushed through as quick as possible. Gia would be a good place to start.
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« Reply #12 on: April 23, 2010, 03:49:09 PM »

Let me make a comment as gently as possible, with the acknowledgment that I'm probably as guilty as anyone.

I haven't been using DC as much as I used to. I think at one point I would check for new posts every hour. Lately, I might check once at lunch, if that.

I think part of the reason may be that reading these posts has become less productive. The signal-to-noise content is much higher, in that so many discussions veer wildly off-topic into witty banter. The result at best is that I have to read more posts to get the same amount of information; at worst, the real content is never posted because we're wasting our time joking. I like joking in conversation probably more than most, but for a forum that's supposed have a technological focus, that focus is becoming blurred.

Perhaps worse, I fear potential new members are put off. I wonder if the banter makes the community seem closed. When the participants seem to know each other, engaging in conversation that reveals their familiarity, I wonder if it serves to make newbies feel like they're on the outside.
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mouser
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« Reply #13 on: April 23, 2010, 05:40:26 PM »

maybe one way to address gothic's ideas and also help make things easier to find in general is to have a kind of wiki system incorporated into DC where trusted people could keep an organized set of pages updated that helped catalog stuff on the site and was a navigational aid.
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40hz
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« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2010, 08:16:25 AM »

@mouser and/or Moderators:

Just out of curiosity, is this periodic QC and/or refocusing? Or was this discussion prompted by something like a rash of complaints, defections from the ranks, or a critical review?

Trying to get a sense of the context.  
 smiley
« Last Edit: April 24, 2010, 01:32:01 PM by 40hz » Logged

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IainB
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« Reply #15 on: April 24, 2010, 09:23:00 AM »

Quote
Define the purpose of the question - i.e., exactly what information is the question intended to be extracting, and WHY?
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40hz
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« Reply #16 on: April 24, 2010, 11:32:44 AM »

@IainB - was your comment above this in response to my question above that? Because if so, you lost me.  huh

I probably should have prefixed it with @mouser and/or Moderators since only they could really answer that question.  smiley

Fixed now! Thmbsup

« Last Edit: April 24, 2010, 01:29:03 PM by 40hz » Logged

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JavaJones
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« Reply #17 on: April 24, 2010, 03:28:59 PM »

First of all, nude Angelina Jolie = big  Thmbsup!

Other than that I personally think DC is doing juuuust fine. Is NANY a bit cloudy in direction at the moment? Sure. But even if we "just" end up what doing what we did last time, I think that would be great. I'm totally open to trying new things, even if they fail, because I think we do have a baseline model that we can always return to and should work reasonably well, if not "perfectly".

The "life" of DC is the forum at this point, and I think the discussions here are very healthy. DC keeps up in posting rates with most of the other forums I visit regularly that I consider to have "healthy" communities without (thank god) going into the "too many damn posts to keep up with!" realm that really big sites get. And indeed, as traffic goes up, noise goes up too, and I think overall signal to noise ratio gets worse. Personally I think that this ratio is pretty good at DC right now, despite the proclivity to for some threads to simply peter out in a flurry of increasingly clever puns (I'm a fan of puns btw, hehe).

However, I can see how it might not be entirely encouraging for new users. A couple of thoughts occur to me about that. First, I see new people come in from time to time, despite whatever "problems" might be here, and several of them seem to stick around. If we grew much faster than we are now, I'm not sure it would be a good thing. So, related to that, I think there is a certain range of personality types that do well at DC as it is. Certainly we can change or *maybe* even broaden the range of types that thrive here if we want to, but I think most would agree that you can't be all things to all people, and what we have here is pretty good. So why fight it? New people who come along, if they like what is happening here, will join in.

We are not necessarily a "public service" that neophite users need to feel totally 100% comfortable and easy coming into and asking every tech question they've ever had; it's sensible and right that there be reasonable "barriers to entry" based simply on existing community relationships. It's no different than anywhere else in the world where existing relationships make it a bit uncomfortable for any new person to join in, but these issues are overcome every day all over the world, and they are here too. Not only that but I think DC actually stands out, both from the real world and many (most?) online forums as being *more* friendly and accessible.

With all that in mind, the only slight tweak I could see having some benefit - though I would be very cautious of implementing it too - is to allow people to tag their *own* posts as "off-topic" or "joke" or whatever, so that if someone browsing is *really* just interested in the info posts, they can filter them. That's actually an interesting take on the whole tagging/filtering concept, and might have some merit since it is only self-"censorship" if anything. Who knows if people would use the tag though, or how we would present the option to new users. Actually, not-so-new users might appreciate the ability to ignore the pun-storms too. Wink

Ultimately, I don't think changing the forums or discussion styles or anything is the right way to address any difficulties with the site for new (or not so new) people. My feeling is that, as a forum, DC is pretty darn successful, useful, interesting. What I *would* like to see is expansion and improvement of other services and areas of the site. The suggestions for listing all, or at least a lot more, of the software produced here is spot-on for example.

There is far too much useful software that gets no visibility. I don't think it should necessarily involve a manual submission system either, as many coding snacks might not justify doing so for their authors. Instead it could be some kind of simple manual or semi-automated tagging system like the blog. Maybe make another posting template for general software posting/coding snacks (similar to NANY pledges/project posts, with version #, download link, etc.), and allow authors to update their own threads, keeping the first post (which becomes the tagged post, visible on the software list page(s)) up-to-date. I think a list of software, with links to discussion threads, in a categorized list in the main content areas of the front page would be very valuable. Particularly active authors might have their own pages *in addition*, but I'd suggest that A: those pages be used to talk about the author and let them pick out a few specific apps they want to highlight and then B: link to a list of all their software pulled from the main categorized list, rather than simply having all their software listed on their page. After all, most people are probably looking for software that does a particular thing, not necessarily looking for "more random software from that guy who made Trout" (although admittedly some people might be looking for that too cheesy).

Moving on, I also think that the review "problem" needs to be addressed. Fortunately I happen to know there are long-term plans to do this, but they're very ambitious. I think the system that is in mind has a good chance of solving the problems, but until it's in place, there is really no option but a lot of work input from one or a few people working together, to produce a large review of the level of quality and professionalism of the best major reviews of the past. If people have the ambition to do it, that's great, but it's not something we'll be able to count on our expect until there are better systems to distribute the effort IMHO.

That being said, last and not least I think a general wiki might A: be interesting as a general place to hold info (hopefully people would get into using it and copying data from the forums) and B: might be a short-term stand-in for a more purpose-built system for review writing. A review authored in the wiki could easily accommodate conctributions from lots of people, thus helping to distribute the effort. Wikis are so easy to put up, and are integratable with the existing forum userbase and authentication credential system, that I think it only makes sense to put one up and see what happens. The only major issue I see with it as far as pulling content from the forums would be copyright concerns, so some kind of system for easily requesting permission for a wiki copy of forum post content from the author might be necessary to sufficiently streamline things. Other than that, I think it's a no brainer to at least try.

So ultimately the takeaway from my characteristically lengthy post is: A: The forums are great way they are, let's not screw them up by trying to structure or control posting or make them more "friendly" for new users (or anyone who is not a currently happy participator) at the expense of what we already have; B: New and/or updated/improved systems for exposing the existing info, software, and other resources here would be great.

- Oshyan
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IainB
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« Reply #18 on: April 25, 2010, 01:01:38 AM »

40hz:
Quote
@IainB - was your comment above this in response to my question above that? Because if so, you lost me.
Just to clarify: My comment was one of exasperation - a sort of a tired "I told you so", addressed to the world in general.
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« Reply #19 on: April 25, 2010, 02:44:34 AM »

I think search is definitely broken. There's a lot of hidden knowledge that will remain hidden if DC continues like this. Tagging may be a solution, but more advanced filtering (e.g. highlights some user's post) may be even better.

One spot that DC seems to have is the 'go to' place for 'what's the best?'.
Most ppl here are software fanatics, who write long reviews or post new cool findings. The findability of these things is low now. What DC needs is not more content, but better organized one.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #20 on: April 25, 2010, 03:30:28 AM »

That may be true, but it's kind of ironic since as I recall the DC search function was specially written by a DC member to be an improvement on the default SMF search (and then published as a module for the SMF community). I wonder what further improvements could be made. Maybe some smarter auto-sorting, rather than the default "relevancy" (or making "relevancy" more intelligent).

- Oshyan
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IainB
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« Reply #21 on: April 25, 2010, 09:11:58 AM »

@urlwolf and @JavaJones Maybe we need to think outside the box here. We need to round the square and put our best foot forward, making the most of the potential synergies. We need to kick ass! You can bake shoes in an oven, but it won't make them into biscuits! I kid you not - do eagles flock?! (Note: Taken from an EDS management vocabulary training handbook.)
Whether the search function is "broken" or as good as it might have been could be irrelevant if the user came away from the search with a really good feeling after the experience. Who cares then whether it worked or not? This is what the "user experience" is all about. It's all a matter of perception.

Look at the stats: The gender distribution of search users over the past 12 months was mainly (i.e., not counting hermaphrodites or other people who understandably might be confused about their gender) 97.3% male, and only 2.7% female. That's right! You can see who your target audience is right there! It's the guys! Of those users who had a "bad" or disappointing user experience because of the search quality/result (approx. 44% in both groups, interestingly), 27.6% of the males and 0.25% of the females have said that THEY WILL NOT USE THE SEARCH FUNCTION AGAIN. This could be quite serious, and is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed. That's why you need to think outside the box, because the answer is unlikely to be inside the box, especially if it is a very small box, though I suppose if it was the Tardis then it might be in there, somewhere.

Moving on.
Going forward together, with synergy, what could be done to:
(a) effect a significant improvement in the user experience?
(b) encourage the self-absented/disappointed users to come back?

The answer is simple!:
  • (a) Build a delay into the search response of (say) 10 seconds after the search has been started. (The optimum time delay could be decided by experiment.)
  • (b) Have a largish (say) 4cm high animated icon of a naked Angelina Jolie - or maybe any babe - blowing you a kiss or doing something nastier, but only during the 10-second delay i.e., it stops after the delay, when the search results are presented. An example of the sort of icon thingy I am talking about is attached.
  • (c) Announce that the search function has just been upgraded to perform 120% better.


Results?
  • This would be guaranteed to blast the user experience up by a factor of 150% (at least)! Do the math!       Thmbsup
  • The take-away would an enormous feel-good factor for 99.97% of your target audience, who will tell 87.3% of their friends about it, 99% of whom will rush off to try it out and tell their friends about it, thus increasing the number of users of the DC Search function at an exponential rate!       Thmbsup
  • The big king hit in this? Nobody in the target audience will be driven away, and THOSE WHO HAD LEFT WILL COME BACK. That's right, they will drag their sorry asses back when they hear about the new search function (99.8% probability).     Thmbsup

How d'you like THEM apples?!
This thing could go viral, man! You'll have millions of people pushing that "Search" button all day long! I know I would be! Server overload! None of them will give a fig about the quality of the actual search or its results, and ALL OF THEM - that's 100% - will be happy campers now! In fact, you could disable the search itself and just print the same fake results page every time - save the server load - and still no-one would notice!

Editor's note: 93.75% of statistics are made up.

[EDITED TO REMOVE ADULT PICTURE -- mouser]
« Last Edit: April 25, 2010, 11:02:40 AM by mouser » Logged
40hz
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« Reply #22 on: April 25, 2010, 02:56:33 PM »

Does Donation Coder have anything like a current mission statement?

Maybe part of what's happening is that the DoCo is evolving in directions not intended (and possibly not wanted) by the administration and/or general membership?

The reason I ask is because (purely from my perspective as a non-coder participant) the name Donation Coder does not seem to accurately reflect what the site is about.

For some, that would be considered a positive development showing how the site has shifted emphasis in keeping with changes in membership interests and demographics.  For others, it could be seen as an sign that things having gotten out of control, or indicative of a lack of focus.

So I guess a big part of the question is whether it may be approaching the time when DC wants to "get back to its roots" so to speak.

The bulk of the concerns seem to revolve around issues like "signal to noise" and "search and retrieval." From my experience doing websites, those are issues that only come up when a site has either become overly generalized - or has gotten divorced from its original goal.

So...is this an issue that also needs to be considered?

Is DC trying to be too many things to too many people?

Or perhaps more correctly: do too many people want DC to be too many things?   smiley

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ADDENDUM: (Note: NSFW)

Wink



« Last Edit: April 25, 2010, 10:03:49 PM by 40hz » Logged

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Shades
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« Reply #23 on: April 25, 2010, 09:22:27 PM »

+1 with what 40Hz said in the previous post.

@IanB (and maybe the rest of the DC crowd):
If you would walk here through the city center/shopping malls on any given day in the summer, you would utter the words: "Angelina who?" within 20 minutes.

In other words, not that impressed with Miss Jolie/missus Pitt
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« Reply #24 on: April 25, 2010, 10:50:09 PM »

afa AJ goes... for those like myself not enamored of plastic surgery, I recommend the flick
Foxfire

Not only does AJ display the goods pre operation, but the movie actually has a pretty good plot.  It does tend to devolve into cliche in the last 1/2 hour though.

Like many flicks, the first 45 minutes or so are interesting.
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