Community tips from Slashdot

Slashdot is one of the fist, best examples of a user-built site. In an article titled, “Five rules for building a successful online community,” Robin Miller editor-in-chief of Slashdot’s parent, the Open Source Technology Group, offers his credits and his prescriptions:

“As part of the management team behind the famous Slashdot discussion site . . . I’m not saying that you should follow slavishly in my footsteps, but I assure you that a forum you build (or rebuild) in accordance with my rules will be more popular, easier to manage, and more profitable than one that doesn’t follow them. These rules — and the software that helps enforce them — are the driving force behind hundreds of popular and profitable discussion-based Web sites.”

The first rule in Miller’s OJR article is to create a discussion environment that allows readers to comment on each other’s remarks so they can talk amongst themselves rather than merely reacting to published material. This is called nested or threaded discussion. “Without reader-to-reader conversations, an online forum is nothing but a giant ‘letters to the editor’ page,” Miller writes.

Better yet, he puts his source code where his suggestions are:

“We don’t sell Slash. We give it away. For free. Right here. . . Scoop, the code that runs Kuro5hin, is also freely available, as is the Geeklog software behind Groklaw. And these are just a few of the best-known free content management systems out there that have Slashdot-like comment and moderation systems.”

OJR on e-publishing no-nos: Start slowly and build gradually. That is the gist of “Top mistakes made by new online publishers,” a separate article by Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles. He includes this bit of wisdom:

“When I talk with people who have had success making money from online content, I see a common attribute: an independent writer who leads a strong community that generates hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of informative, compelling content. What I don’t see is someone who first hired a staff, including editors, reporters and ad reps. Nor do I see someone with a large marketing budget, buying advertising in offline media to draw attention to their site. In fact, when I speak with people who followed that path, I inevitably hear complaints about how “no one’s making money online,” and a series of excuses for why their venture failed.” 

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Poynter kudos for Amy Gahran points to the grant-supported as an experiment in online journalism that combines a core team with a supporting group of volunteer editors. Gahran writes:

“The site’s home page features blurbs about current news stories which link to the stories at their original site. It appears that many of DailySource’s blurbs and headlines are original . . .  it’ll be interesting to see whether this model remains sustainable in a year or two. It’s hard getting by on mostly grants and donations in the long term.”

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Fraud and consequences: At the end of November I blogged, “Ode to a Feature Story.” It tries to encapsulate the main points of a 10-week writing course that I had just finished teaching. The class, I thought, had gone well. But one student was dissatisfied and was infuriated by the flip tone of the blog entry. I reprint the critique below. It makes some good points, if roughly. It’s also a reminder that what I intend to be an ironic overstatement may strike a destractor as a self-indictment. 

Here is the offending excerpt from my Ode:

“Teaching writing is a fraud. All the work gets done by the student. Teachers can lay out some do’s and don’ts — but who does all the doing? Well, judging from last night’s misty goodbyes, I fooled this group into thanking me for giving them 10 weeks of lectures, questions, criticisms and exhortations. I will miss them. Grownups that gullible are difficult to find.”

And the critique:

“I guess this means the gloves are off? This is how I feel about that.

“I think it’s pretty lame to absolve yourself of responsibility, and guilt by claiming that teaching writing is a sham. I have had good writing teachers, the difference between them and you was that they actually involved themselves in our writing instead of staying on the surface by laying out some dos and don’ts.

“Writing classes typically involve class critiques and more than a few ripping edits by teachers of students writing. The assignments you gave like “write about your favorite authors” and “what are your strengths and weaknesses” were wastes of time in terms of what the class claimed it aimed to teach. Ten nutgrafs would have been a good assignment.

“The first three weeks of lecture were pretty good, I was excited, at that point it could have gotten really challenging with increasing time and commitment from everybody, but instead it devolved into ten minute support sessions for each person about their difficulty with interviewing or with where to find a certain authority. As the teacher you should have directed us back to the writing, but instead either out of what
appeared to be lazyness or just incompetance you repeated this model week after week . . .

“. . . I am so angry and disgusted with what you wrote in that blog, but at least I feel that I was justified now in my earlier doubts about you as a teacher. It’s not that they (the satisfied students) were gullible, it’s that you misrepresented yourself and claimed you could do something that you couldn’t. I guess the ethics class in journalism school didn’t address dishonesty in teaching.”