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Author Topic: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted  (Read 5580 times)

mouser

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Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« on: December 20, 2012, 11:56:36 AM »
So.. I think i've come to the conclusion that DC needs a major breath of fresh life -- a major "rebooting".

I can feel it in my bones that we are sort of in a situation where we have some really fantastic people here, who are not being given the place that they deserve to flourish, and that we need to make some very major changes to become a place where people feel they can grow.

I feel like there is an opportunity for us to serve our community here in a fundamentally better way, but that if we don't, we're in danger of becoming a smaller and smaller place where we're just living off of old memories.

I'm short on details.. I'm still struggling with how to do this without losing my mind, and what it actually means..  I just know that my gut is telling me that we need to do something..



Here are some random ideas that i'm hoping to get some feedback on:

1. It's been obvious for quite some time that the site web pages need to transition to a CMS, where we can more easily support/manage/maintain content created by others (blogs, reviews, etc.) that's a given. That's not really up for debate and not controversial.

2. The forum.. The forum software we use (SMFv1.x) is reaching it's end of life.  It's been highly customized over the years which makes upgrading painful.  We have several possible ways forward here:
a) We can upgrade to smf V2 and convert some or most of the custom modifications; this would be painful but doable.
b) We can try to migrate content to a new forum system  (Invision is what we've been looking at) which might be more powerful, but which would be messier and much more painful.
c) We could do something more dramatic -- and freeze the current forum content and start a brand new forum from scratch, using any forum system.  Users would recreate their accounts, etc.  The old forum content would still exist at same old urls but be read-only.  This would give us a chance to start clean and is structurally appealing in many ways, but has some real downsides in terms of content continuity.

3. Site focus -- one of the difficulties that donationcoder has (some would say part of the appeal) is that the site did lots of things.. We had reviews, coding snacks, "official" software and member software, blog posts, discounts, contests, coding school area, etc.  Sometimes this diversity is wonderful, but sometimes it makes it hard for us to focus, and things get lost between the cracks and hard to explain.  I sometimes wonder if we shouldn't split the site up.. Perhaps one site for talking about software and ideas.. And another site docused on supporting our (official+member) software.

There are so many pros+cons for these things I feel paralyzed whenever I try to think about them :(


mouser

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2012, 12:02:55 PM »
If we started all over again, with the focus on creating clean inviting organizational structure -- would we benefit from creating multiple sites -- one for Custom Software, and one for the rest of the stuff?  Or would we lose the critical mass required for holding interesting discussions?

mouser

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2012, 12:05:23 PM »
On a more optimistic note: It sure would be exciting to do something radical with DC and try experimenting in a serious way again!  :Thmbsup:

mitzevo

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2012, 12:49:45 PM »
Optimism is a very good quality.  :Thmbsup:
The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present.

cranioscopical

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2012, 02:03:47 PM »
The idea of two sites feels a bit clumsy to me.

A fair number of people seem to find their way here by having searched for some other specific thing.
Finding some specific thing on DC isn't always easy.
There has been talk for quite a while about the need to index material more effectively.
I'm not sure that pointing to a different site would be beneficial in such circumstances unless, of course, someone can contrive a Cody shuttle service between destinations.

40hz

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2012, 03:14:20 PM »
Any thriving community (or ongoing relationship) tends to be in a constant state of simultaneously dying and being reborn. About the only thing initiating "radical" change does is draw our attention to it. And sometimes that disrupts the perceived continuity so that at some given point there's a clear demarcation between the end of something old and the start of something new.

That's IMHO what most people perceive as "real change" despite that being exactly what goes on most of the time.

Some people will adapt to the perceived "change" while others won't.

Since DoCo seems to have evolved into what it is right now, any break in that evolutionary flow will (for better or worse) change people's perception of it. It's unavoidable - and not necessarily a bad (or good) thing. It's just the way it seems to work with communities.

So to me the question is what does this site really want to be about? My understanding is it started out as a coder's and software enthusiast's gathering place that also advocated an interesting economic model based on donations. Today, it's more like a crazed mashup of TheWell, YouTube, Gizmo's Tech Support Alert, Codeacademy, and The Code Project - with maybe a little of The Onion and Cracked thrown in for good measure.

I find it interesting since I think of it as one of those good all-night coffee and brownie or pizza fueled  conversations I used to get into back in my undergrad college days when I virtually "camped out" in either my university's library stacks or its data center most times I wasn't working or attending class. That's how I see DoCo - a conversation with some very smart and funny people who have a wide range of talents and interests - and who are comfortable exploring whatever paths a discussion may take them. This is definitely what my GF refers to as: "a higher thought process" bunch of people.

That said, it's not the sort of thing that lends itself to much in the way of structure in its present form. And if it's gotten too far away from what those who are responsible for maintaining it want to do, some serious reorganization will probably be necessary. Such a rededication would be fairly easy to bring about by simple expedient of pulling the Living Room and Basement sub-boards out of the mix. Because once those are removed it makes me think that brings it pretty much back to what the original idea for the site was.

Funny how the catchall "miscellaneous" section gets the most activity here. Any other site I've ever joined usually has next to zero activity in the designated off-topic board.

I wonder why that is?

-----------------------
Note: forgive me if this is semi-incoherent or rambling. I'm bucking some sort of cold or minor flu thing for the last few days and I'm a little spacey and out of it right now.




superboyac

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2012, 03:39:22 PM »
I think one of the easiest and best things to add to the site is simple/powerful collaboration tools.  Let's say a group of us here want to work on a  project...how do we help make something like that thrive?  It would have to be a place to have live chats, live or recorded video, screensharing, etc.

The forum itself is perfectly fine.  From my experiences, it's the best designed forum I use by a longshot, so I'd be wary of changing it.  But the collaboration thing is something that could really boost the community into v2.0.  the collaboration tools would have to be secure and private, even from other forum members, so projects can be worked on in peace.

Then we could work on projects together during slow moments at work, at night, etc.  and maybe we could do some great things.

40hz...how does cigar box nation approach the "working on projects together" idea?

mouser

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2012, 03:49:24 PM »
I want to make something very clear -- I'm open to changing the site in any way that the community wants -- I don't really have a strong preconceived notion of what I want the site to be.

And in the past my attitude has been: It is what it is -- I'm not a fan of change for change's sake, or trying to change things to get "bigger" or more popular.

It's just that I think especially in the last year i've started to hear that voice in the back of my head telling me that we are in danger of stagnating, of having people who have an energy to create stuff or be involved in the site in some way, but are not finding what they need, and i find myself worrying that we are in danger of becoming to much of insiders talking to ourselves rather than getting the fresh influx of new ideas and fresh energy that we all thrive on.

I think there has to be a way to build on what is good and keep the spirit of the place but breathe some new energy into the site and maybe fix the things that are a drag on the site..

And one thing that jumps out at me is that DC has evolved to a place where there are so many little areas and unspoken ways of doing things, that I think new visitors can feel overwhelmed and from the outside it doesn't look as friendly as it did when we were small.  I don't know if there is a way to fix that, but i think it's worth thinking about..
« Last Edit: December 20, 2012, 03:56:44 PM by mouser »

tomos

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2012, 04:08:16 PM »
I dont have time to post much (apologies if a bit staccato):

we are in danger of stagnating, of having people who have an energy to create stuff or be involved in the site in some way, but are not finding what they need, and i find myself worrying that we are in danger of becoming to much of insiders talking to ourselves rather than getting the fresh influx of new ideas and fresh energy that we all thrive on.
agree here.

I know dc isn't 'supposed' to get involved in politics but it's hard to avoid it these days. Along the way, we've lost people who tended towards one political side of the fence. As someone who either sees on both sides of the fence -or who is at least interested in seeing what people on the other side(s) see- I'm disappointed that they're gone. Makes the place a little (at times) like a club of people with the same viewpoint which is not great imo.
(To me this is pretty clear - I hope you all understand what I mean.)

I dont have ideas how to change this - but I dont know if it's been said before, so, if not, saying it is a start of sorts.
Tom

Target

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #9 on: December 20, 2012, 04:45:58 PM »
...I don't really have a strong preconceived notion of what I want the site to be.

I think there has to be a way to build on what is good and keep the spirit of the place but breathe some new energy into the site and maybe fix the things that are a drag on the site..

perhaps it might be easier to decide what you (we) don't want the site to be, and/or what things might be 'a drag on the site'

and FWIW I'm with cranioscopical on splitting the site - that seems counterintuitive to me, but a restructure could be a good thing (perhaps changing the way some things are represented, like reviews)

I also liked superboyac's idea for some sort of collaborative functionality.  Plenty of mighty smart people here and putting them in the same room (so to speak) collaboratively could generate some really good outcomes. 


40hz

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2012, 05:04:02 PM »
40hz...how does cigar box nation approach the "working on projects together" idea?

In a very ad hoc and poorly implemented manner.

They're running the site on Ning, which IMO is one of the absolute worst platforms out there. Not so much for what it doesn't support - but because it has everything: e-mail, profiles, forum discussions space, groups, blogs space, commenting on virtually everything - nobody knows where to put things. If you have an idea, do you:

  • start a discussion thread?
  • start a group?
  • post a video/picture and invite comments?
  • write about it in your blog?

It's overwhelming and confusing. Too much overlapping functionality and redundancy. And it's also an ugly design from both a usability and visual perspective.

The way the collaboration I was in on worked was us sending e-mails and files back and forth and posting news and coordinating in a sub-board in a group area. If they didn't send me links I never would have found the board part. And if I didn't get a personal invite from the guy who wanted to do it I would have never even known anybody was doing a project.

Not a good way to do things. Cigarboxnation.com has nothing in its platform worth copying. It's a total mess even though the community is a nice bunch of people.

TaoPhoenix

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #11 on: December 20, 2012, 05:32:29 PM »
If we started all over again, with the focus on creating clean inviting organizational structure -- would we benefit from creating multiple sites -- one for Custom Software, and one for the rest of the stuff?  Or would we lose the critical mass required for holding interesting discussions?

Well, I can see some minor quibbles about re-ordering the sequence, but except for two boards, it's all software-software-software, which to me all belongs in one board. It's the Living Room and Basement that seem to give people fits about whether it's "right" or not.

Ballpark single-sig-digit guess is we're headed towards 300,000 forum posts. When you have THAT much content, ANYTHING will begin to creak.

After an initial cannon ball run through half the site, I do spend most of my posts in about 5 areas, and I'm as heavy on Living Room-Basement as anyone. Coding Snacks, and General Software Discussions round it out.

cmpm

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2012, 06:39:31 PM »
Perhaps it is the regulars who can shift their perspective and begin new.
It may take a new board, I like Invision's forums, with new stats for everyone.
I think new folk look at the number of posts and get intimidated sometimes.

One thing I miss is the talk of software for the 'average user',
whatever that is :) . Me I guess.
With a 'review state of mind' talking about the good and the bad of softwares.
And not focusing so much on what one lacks, but the place it holds, it's best features.

vlastimil

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #13 on: December 21, 2012, 04:30:10 AM »
And in the past my attitude has been: It is what it is -- I'm not a fan of change for change's sake, or trying to change things to get "bigger" or more popular.

I still think this is the right attitude. Change always has a price and there should be a good reason for it. As a normal user of the forum, I am relatively happy with it. I usually click on the "Show new replies to your posts" and "Show latest topics" links and occasionally, I use the search function. All of these work OK on DC. But I see some room for improvement:
  • The search works, but Google usually does a better job.
  • Off-topic discussions are sometimes a problem. It would be nice if it were possible to view a thread without off-topic posts or with them greyed out. I know that this requirement sounds crazy, but what do I know, maybe some of the new forum scripts already address that. If not, the posters on DC are quite responsible, maybe simply having a "Reply off-topic" button in addition of ordinary "Reply" will be enough. Or maybe something like the Q&A sites use - ordinary posts/answers and then comments to each posts.
  • Going through all new posts is too time consuming for me and so I do not click that link. Due to that, I may miss some things that would interest me. If there were a way to filter the new posts and only show them to me if they contained certain keywords, that would be nice.

Summing it all up - it would be perfect, if I had a (probably customizable) page showing me all the things I am interested in at once - in my case, it would contain responses to topics I watch, new topics and new posts matching certain keywords or posted by certain people there.

I am not really familiar with other parts of the site. As for attracting new software authors, who want to publish their first applications and do not have a web site of their own, that is a hard task and I guess any change in this area would require a lot of work.

techidave

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #14 on: December 21, 2012, 05:02:49 AM »
I am with 40hz on the Ning sites.  Last week, I joined a work related Ning site sponsored by our state board of education.  its horrible to find stuff.

The search part of the forum doesnt work for me most of the time.  So I use Google as well.

I tend to look only at the Living Room and General Software discussion boards the most.  Occasionally the Coding Snacks, I am sure that I miss a few things in the other boards. I always click the show unread posts since last visit.

Speaking as a non coder and as an average to above average user, its sometimes hard to know which board to post to.

I came here for two things.  A google search showed me a discussion on software or hardware help or about some fancy little coding snack.  Probably FARR or Screenshot Captor. 

I tend not to do the chat part here since that would tie up all my time that I could be doing something useful.  :D  but maybe that parts also needs updated?  :-\

40hz

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #15 on: December 21, 2012, 02:18:44 PM »
This and this over at TechCrunch. Not so much something to copy as some ideas to think about.

A couple of paragraphs that stood out:

Quote
Reader Interaction: One thing you may have noticed about Medium is its lack of comments at the bottom of pages—which seems to have become an unfortunately ubiquitous feature of the web. We believe that normal web comments don’t add a lot of value on average (at least of the type we’re looking to create). However, we do think there is value to be had in reader feedback and interactivity. So, we’re working on a way of allowing reader participation (on an optional basis) that offers something new and different that comments don’t. We hope to have it on the site (at least to test out) by mid-January.

Quote
This latest product, Medium, allows people to create collections of content based on a theme or subject, and then invites others to add pieces to those collections. It’s truly collaborative, and after using it for the past week, it actually excites me to write a personal “blog” again. But it doesn’t feel like a blog, it’s something new altogether.

Quote
...there’s a stat called “reads,” which is different than “views.” This means that the team is working on a way to figure out how many people actually made it through your story and didn’t just click and glance. That’s huge for writers, and, at the end of the day, readers. Knowing what you’ve really read, or even close to it, is an amazing statistic to try and crack.

Interesting. Almost like The Well meets a wiki. A process that Neils Larson called "information annealing" and designed his MaxThink/Houdini products to facilitate.

More on info annealing here and here.

 8)


Of course there's always this risk:

ever been there?
00_755_overthinker_02_COLOR.jpg

;D

mahesh2k

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #16 on: December 21, 2012, 04:10:57 PM »
Don't start all over again just for the focus. Keep few things focused on new forum software and give less public (non logged in) attention on other projects. Swith to IPB If you can.

See as well if DC can have section for attracting new developers with their software and you can seriously split the developers who want to offer deals and sales with the one that are introducing their own software.

superboyac

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #17 on: December 21, 2012, 04:15:46 PM »
A little off topic but not really...
I thought youtube's latest commenting system is pretty cool.  Through voting and stuff, the most helpful comments get moved up, bad comments are hidden (but you can still read them if you click on them).

TaoPhoenix

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #18 on: December 21, 2012, 04:54:25 PM »
A little off topic but not really...
I thought youtube's latest commenting system is pretty cool.  Through voting and stuff, the most helpful comments get moved up, bad comments are hidden (but you can still read them if you click on them).

You gotta be careful with that one here. Youtube has a ton of ... uh ... low grade comments, 10,000% more than we do. So we could end up seeing who is in "cliques" here if suddenly random comments become tagged as hidden etc.

MilesAhead

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #19 on: December 21, 2012, 05:37:17 PM »
I have an idea.  We could have something similar to a Scavenger Hunt. Every week a new clue is posted. The first one to find Skrommel gets $100 donation credits.  No fair Skrommel "finding himself" to cash in though.

JavaJones

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #20 on: December 21, 2012, 07:41:46 PM »
I feel like the single biggest thing that needs to be done is obvious and should really be tried *independent of other muckings* before calling it time for more sweeping change, and that is to finally properly reorganize and CMS-ify the main site, making it a better place for software listings, updates, etc. as well as other content. Until that is done it seems silly to me to talk of totally redoing the forums, which are pretty much working fine in my opinion (and apparently other people here agree). So why not make this an opportunity for the big push finally needed to go CMS on this place? After all, if we can't even successfully make *that* happen, what hope is there of successful transition to some radically new paradigm?

- Oshyan

tomos

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #21 on: January 22, 2013, 07:24:07 AM »
I feel like the single biggest thing that needs to be done is obvious and should really be tried *independent of other muckings* before calling it time for more sweeping change, and that is to finally properly reorganize and CMS-ify the main site, making it a better place for software listings, updates, etc. as well as other content. Until that is done it seems silly to me to talk of totally redoing the forums, which are pretty much working fine in my opinion (and apparently other people here agree). So why not make this an opportunity for the big push finally needed to go CMS on this place?
+1
(a very belated response, which could be a bump :p)

Another thing I'd like to see is some sort of wiki area - I have no ideas how this could be tied in with the forum.*
But over the years there's been a few threads, which, if kept updated could have been a major attraction for the site (e.g. software free for business use).


* I've no idea of the complexity nor what is possible, but something like:
Forum post becomes canditate for wiki. Wiki created => gets quoted in post. 'Live link'/quote where post-quote updates when wiki updated.
Tom

Stephen66515

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Re: Testing waters for radical dc ideas - feedback wanted
« Reply #22 on: January 22, 2013, 07:47:45 AM »
How would people feel about a beta.donationcoder.com page

This would basically be, the forums a they are now (The forums will NOT change, just..be cleaned and organised a little better than how they are), it would also be a lot of updates and better sections :)

Mouser wants some additional things that I would have to open my documents to find the notes, so, I shall let mouser weigh in there.

I figure this would be a better idea, primarily because it would give people a chance to be able to see and feel how the whole thing responds.  It would also give everybody a chance to give constructive critisism and offer ideas on where things could be changed/remove/improved etc...