Thu May 28th, 2009 at 06:07:19 AM EST
Last night, I read whataboutbob's diary of May 23rd, "Hello ET community! We need more articles and writers!!"
and it reminded me of something I had been thinking of earlier.
I belong to the group of occasional readers and very occasional contributors to this blog. Since Finance & Economy aren't my major interests, I rather look for diaries in the features section, only that there is no such section. I have been around for a couple of months now so that I now know who will approach topics that interest me or whose diaries or what topics are prone to provoke interesting debates.
This is neither apparent nor appealing for any newcomer but it COULD be.
I have noticed that most news sites change over time. They become increasingly simplified and entertaining and less and less informative.
The ET news blog is and will remain on the informing side but it should become more user-friendly.
You will only attract contributors if you attract readers in the first place.
1) There should be a header with icons that lead you to different areas covered on ET (use past diaries as guide to classify topics), including access to ET archives, e.g.:
HOT : Salon; Special coverage (of events taking place NOW)
Economy : Alternative energies (wind power, solar energy, etc.); Banking crisis; ...
Politics : EUROPE [eventually single out, e.g., Ireland, special coverage by FS, or Hungary, special coverage by DoDo, etc.]; Mid-East [shergald, etc.]; US; US foreign policy; Asia (China, India, Japan, ...); ...
E & P Specials (ongoing coverage that will lead to the event, e.g. Davos, or that revolve around a phenomenon, e.g. flu pandemic): G 20; Unionism; Globalization; Davos; EP Elections
Features/others : Photoblogs; Travel Diaries; Media; Science (Health, Environment, Climate Change, Space technology...); Culture; History; Spirituality/Philosophy; Gender issues
ET interna : Open threads; Meet-ups; "Agenda"²
1b) ² It would be constructive to frame the ET agenda. If ET consists of "progressives", then "progressive" should be defined. People want to know where they are and what they can expect.
The community's rather pronounced atheist streak comes to mind which speaks of ET members as parts of a whole not of any set agenda, yet it will determine how ET will be perceived by readers.
I don't speak of self-imposing limitations where there are none. It's rather a matter of self-awareness and clearly-defined presence in the blogosphere. It could be useful to do this with the help of survey results that will show the percentage of ETers voting hard left, left, centre-left, centre, centre-right, right, hard right or the percentage of ETers whose core interests rather lie in Europe or outside Europe or another one as to our belief in the "European idea".
2) Contributors - as they prepare their first diary/those who are regulars already - should be asked to enter up to a dozen or so keywords to describe their competence/interests (from a list provided by ET).
Users should then be able to enter a keyword, say "Unionism" and find a list of those who feel competent or interested in that specific area. This feature would help to strengthen the community.
3) Languages: If the above measures improve reader- and contributorship at ET, I also believe that some "international communitarism" could be welcomed, as follows:
Let's assume someone wishes to debate Spain's windmills in Spanish. He/she could lead a debate with two or three other Spanish-speakers. Should debaters feel that the issues discussed should be shared with the community at large, someone within that group could then present the topic in a new diary (in English).
Or else, the author of that diary should be asked to provide a translation in the beginning and sum up the debate in three sentences at the end. Both could be translated via google, simply for the sake of transparency, not linguistic accuracy; the task shouldn't inhibit the debate or put off anyone out of fear of "having to translate".
4) Rating: I have never liked the rating system. I like to insist that its bias is built-in which is my perception and personal opinion.
Those who are generous raters, will also be rated favourably by others while those who rate sparingly will receive few ratings and tend to draw negative attention when they commit a mistake. Those who share generously are forgiven more easily. This behavioural pattern is part of human nature.
I have read excellent comments before but I wouldn't give any excellent comment that I fully disagree with a "4" - simply because I don't agree. Likewise, I wouldn't troll-rate a lousy comment only because it's a lousy comment. I'd think, "Oh well", move on and ignore the poster.
Therefore, I suggest the introduction of the following rating system:
3) I don't agree.
4) I agree.
This doesn't leave room to applaud those comments that really stick out from the rest. A 5) "excellent" could be introduced but that would suggest that a comment that others merely agree with and that is not considered "excellent" will hurt other's feelings unnecessarily. Most of us are a bit thin-skinned, aren't we? We'd opt for "excellent" instead of simple agreement to not hurt and in order to please our friend. Human nature striking again...
I believe that the above leaves less room for manipulative behaviour. The purpose of 2) would/should not mean to offend the diary writer or another commenter. It is supposed to mean what it says, "This is unclear to me." - which could be because the reader is plain dumb or because the one he's rating hadn't been clear enough or because there's disagreement due to a misunderstanding or a different set of beliefs/underlying assumptions. The one who's comment has been rated as "unclear" can decide for him-/herself whether he/she wants to rephrase or leave it at that.
5) The front-page-system as it is would be abandoned. Front-pagers would instead distribute the different sections among themselves. They wouldn't endorse what regulars have to contribute on a specific topic but would be the watchdog against abuse. They could still invest more of their time than ordinary regulars and keep their prominent place due to the quality and quantity of their contributions but they wouldn't have to, except for the one who's in charge of the Salon (Fran) or other special coverage.
Maybe some FPers feel discomfort at the idea of letting go, opening up and sharing the site with a larger community of equals but then it appears to be exactly what is needed to ensure ET's presence and growth and that is, its significance in the blogosphere.