LISNews: Strengths and Weaknesses

This is the third summary of my CIL2005 session on LISNews. I'm also getting warmed up for LITA.
I tried to highlight some of what I think of as not just the strengths and weaknesses of us here @LISNews, but also of blogs in general. You may notice some overlap between the strengths and weakness, that's by design.

We're Open for Business: comments, journals, discussions, submissions, and multiple authors. In other words, we're Collaborative. Everyone has a chance to comment on most everything that happens around here and I think that helps to keep us honest, accurate, and fair. That doesn't mean everything we do is always honest, accurate and fair, but we come close most of the time. Anyone can share something, criticize, make changes and help contribute in different ways to what we see at LISNews.
I think this was the part of my presentation in which I started to whine like a little baby in describing what some emails sound like to me sometimes.
"he's picking on me" "she's picking on me" "he's picking on her" "they're picking on him" "you make me sick" "he makes me sick" "make him stop" "make her stop" and so on….
Occasionally I just feel like a babysitter. (If it was really all that bad most of the time I'd just quit. Obviously most of the time all is well and everyone is happy.) To quote the great 21st century philosopher Reel Big Fish: "No matter what I do, no matter what I say, somebody hates me."

We're busier: More visitors, submissions, comments, stories and participation. More than what? Busier than who? Well, than most other sites in our "space," or so I like to think. This is good because we get more comments and submissions, which help bring in more people, who leave more comments, and submit more suggestions. We're not as busy as the real Slashdot, nor will be ever be, but we get an impressive number of visitors. Each month when I summarize the stats I get excited to see how busy the site has become. The growth really amazes me still. Early on I decided I wouldn't try to seed conversations by commenting on my own stuff, or post stories that are deliberately inflammatory because I know people will comment. Most of the growth has happened @LISNews independent of anything I did, maybe even in spite of everything I do. Even with all the people involved I need to do very little policing, and do almost nothing to promote discussions. I think it's best if they happen on their own. If I knew the magic trick to good online discussions I might use it, but I'm still largely clueless. We get an impressive number of visitors, and it really is the biggest reasons why LISNews is so interesting.

A community that supports site financially: LISNews costs me $180 to keep running every month, I obviously couldn't do that without help from all the generous contributions from LISNews readers.

Fast server: For once, speed doesn't kill, it keeps us going. The LISNews server should always feel snappy and throw back pages about as fast as you can request them. This should help keep people coming back, and make it more enjoyable for everyone.

HTML decent enough to be displayed on most browsers. The HTML Slashcode generates is fairly compatible with most modern browsers. There are different versions for some alternative browsers, and I think it's largely acceptable, for now.

We're Open: comments, journals, discussions, submissions, and multiple authors.
In other words, we're confused and inconsistent sometimes. Because we do have more visitors, more submissions, more comments and more participation, we have more problems to deal with. Authors have been scared off a few times by negative comments. At least 3 times I can think of we had great authors posting interesting things only to be shouted down and scared off. People leave a comment once only to be scared off. Other people fight and bicker with each other. Such is life on the internet, either we accept that or we turn it off and stick with reading books.

HTML only just decent enough to be displayed on most browsers. It's old, tired and in need of a serious update. Slashcode needs to be moved up to XHTML and CSS ASAP. I do know they're finally working on that, so hopefully we'll get that implemented sometime this year

Too fast and/or too slow: Some days we post 35 stories, other days none. Most days we find that happy medium, some magic number that feels right, but quite often we fail. Since we are so open, and so many can post, this is something that I'm not sure I even want to think about controlling. . I really don't know what the magic number of stories per day really is, so to say we're only going to post one story an hour, or 12 a day, or put any kind of number on it would probably be a mistake.

Too many and/or too few authors. To find the few active authors we do have was quite easy. I begged. I sent out announcements to lists, asked friends, and that's about it. It turns out there just aren't many people willing to spend a lot of their free time doing something that doesn't pay and goes largely unnoticed by almost everyone. Not very surprising! For the few of us that stick with it, we enjoy doing it for our own reasons I guess. I've signed up well over 100 different authors over the years, and very few stick with it, I can fully understand why. It doesn't surprise me that people don't stick with us, it surprises me that people DO stick with us! I am grateful for all the interesting stories posted by all the talented authors over the years.

Not World Wide [web] enough. 2 of the three w's mean World Wide and we're, unfortunately, a western hemisphere group. Our authors are almost exclusively based in the US. I've had a really hard time figuring our how to recruit authors in general, and it's been next to impossible to find anyone from outside the US.

We are Untrammeled by editors (kinda). To quote Gorman yet again, we really are untouched by editors (kinda). As bloggers we tend to write quickly, not worry much about grammar, and generally keep our styles pretty loose. I see nothing wrong with that in most cases. A blog is usually not a work of great scholarly import, and there's no reason why we always need a team of editors poking at everything we write. That being said, we are not untrammeled, we have comments, a contact us form, and email. People are more than happy to point out our mistakes and while this is no doubt very different than working with a real editor, we have a very strong editorial mechanism in place.

Overall I think the pros far outweigh the cons. We have a great thing going here and it continues to engage me after almost 5 years. Up next, a look at the history of LISNews

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