The forum posts I like to see

Saturday, June 14, 2008

(transplanted from the forums, when I realized that no one’s going to bother reading what I wrote)

Here is the original thread, and here was my original set of questions:

To slake my curiosity, I’ll ask the forum: What do you like to see in the forum? What kinds of posts would make a new forum member stand out to you in a good way? What have you seen before in the forums that is interesting to you? What would be a post that’s interesting to you that you haven’t seen the likes of before?

Finally, my answer:

What kind of posts do I like to see? Well, it’s a bit of an ambiguous question (and it’s meant to be, because I didn’t want to fence anyone in). The way I see it, there are the kinds of posts that become my favorites (“exceptional posts”), and there are the kinds of posts that I like to see on a regular basis (“good posts”).

To me, posts are exceptional when they:

  • Give a new perspective on something, particularly something familiar to me. I don’t claim to understand all the things that our various resident music theorists post, for instance, but I love their JoCo analyses because they hear things I don’t and they can express them to me. (Then again, I also frittered away most of the 1990s re-listening to the Beatles while reading AWP.) Or, for another example, Jinx’s comments on “Soterios Johnson”, relating it to the gay dance scene — I don’t believe any more than Jinx does that the fictional SoJo is gay, but the link between that and the song’s “living two lives” theme is something I’d never have come up with on my own (my fault I’m so heteronormative).
  • Similarly, find a connection, especially between apparently unrelated things. I can’t think of a good example off the top of my head, but basically if you can show me how a raven is like a writing desk*, I’ll be impressed. Exceptional posts might draw a thread to show some kind of pattern across JoCo’s songs, or they might relate JoCo’s songs to some other musical (or other) trend.
  • Contain or link to an exceptional creation. Of course, what’s exceptional to me is a matter of my judgment, not yours. But I have a fairly keen memory for things that people wrote or created that I really like, whether it’s Schnappi’s “Christmas Is Interesting” video, or Walt “gmrtech” Ribeiro’s orchestrations of Code Monkey and Ikea, or MaW and Borba’s “Repent Your Brains,” or (cheating a little, since it just happened) three08’s “I Crush Everything” sonnet, or any number of other fan creations that it’s been my privilege to witness during my time on the forums.
  • Express a desire to lead or conduct a collaborative project. This is one of my big things, you’ve probably noticed — one of my favorite things about the forums are that they allow (and facilitate) things like JoCopedia and Travels of Code Monkey / Ponkey, full credit to Lex, Colleen, and BenS (with a tip of the hat to the other participants). Actually, doesn’t even have to be a “real project” — I had a lot of fun watching the organization for the JoCoLoCo meetup (Lex, take another bow). Anyone could do these things, yes (well, maybe not “set up MediaWiki on one’s own server and eventually help migrate it to the official site”), but the fact that someone is taking charge is really impressive to me — and this goes, too, for projects that haven’t really gotten off the ground, like redrawn-Flickr and distributed-video musical.
  • Are exceptionally well-done good posts (v.i.).

Obviously, not every post can be brilliant — I don’t expect them to be, either. There are posts I like to see that aren’t particularly brilliant, just good. And posts are good when they:

  • Tell me something about their authors. I mean “something” like interests, personality, etc. Preferably something good, or at least neutral, of course — I wouldn’t think of a post as good if what it told me was that its author was an illiterate, antagonistic bigot (and that is not drawn from any incident that has occurred in this forum, Lord be praised). Like Spiff, I’ve been enjoying the Introduce Yourself posts, but it doesn’t have to be an outright introduction.
  • As a corollary to the above, express, and where possible explain, enthusiasm for a subject — Spiff mentions the threads for JoCo gigs, which are great. I’ve also enjoyed the posts in the Favorite Songs thread — even just hearing that someone really enjoys a song I don’t listen to much makes me more interested in listening to it again. Doesn’t have to be JoCo-related; those just happen to be some of my favorite examples.
  • Are clever, witty, intelligent, funny, informative, etc.
  • Go beyond mere fact-dump. I have a fervid appreciation for lists of facts, and I post them myself on a regular basis, but a lot of times, fact-dump is an end to discussion. Convenient example, no criticism meant of anyone who contributed: In the last few posts of this thread, there was some discussion of forum members’ account numbers, etc. It’s not a bad topic (although it isn’t quite on topic for this thread), but it runs the risk of devolving into, “I’m number this! I’m number that!” I could see a more interesting discussion start up, using the same data, on things like, how fast has the forum grown? (It took about 4.5 months to get from 101 to 201 members; it took about 1.5 months to get from 601 to 701 members.) What spikes are there? How do we relate these statistics to something meaningful?
  • Similarly, encourage discussion. That includes asking questions or starting threads where discussion takes place; it also includes replying when others have discussion topics, particularly replies that are open-ended enough to invite further responses.
  • Post something creative that’s JoCo-related. It doesn’t have to be brilliant — I will appreciate it even if it’s just a straightforward cover of a song with nothing original about it.
  • Are gracious. I’m not very good at this one, but — y’know, when you’re right, don’t rub it in; when you’re wrong, acknowledge it with thanks. (Not saying you have to — just saying I like when you do.)
  • Are, if anything, underconfident. I like people who think about what they say — not that confident people can’t be thoughtful, but people who aren’t confident ought to, and often do, put more thought into their posts.
  • Express some familiarity with what’s going on in the thread. If you can’t read the whole thread, at least figure out what the thread’s about and who said what.
  • Are self-policing. That’s a selfish wish — I don’t like having to get on people’s cases, and I’d really rather the forum take care of itself. If you see something someone does that doesn’t seem to fit with the forum code of conduct, speak up! (Graciously, of course — but speak up!)

So what does it take for me to notice you? Either a small number of exceptional posts or a consistent level of good posts will do. Or, just read the threads, read the threads and I will like you.

One other thing: I really enjoyed, and largely agreed with, Ben’s comment about “largely informative posts that stay on topic,” particularly the part about the fluidity of discussions. One thing I’ve just recognized is that I regard posts within a thread more or less the same way I regard threads within the forum: the stated purpose of the forum is JoCo discussion, so threads on that subject are always encouraged, but off-topic threads are generally welcome as well. In the same way, whatever the stated purpose of a thread is, posts on that subject are always fine, but off-topic posts are generally okay too. (It’s a fractal pattern!) I’m not real picky about on-topicness, as long as off-topic posts aren’t drowning out people who want to stay on topic.

I know, tl;dr.

* (they both tip over when you saw their legs off**)
** (if you quote this answer I’d appreciate credit)

One Response to “The forum posts I like to see”

  1. Colleenky Says:

    Finally got around to reading this. It is an exceptionally well-done good post. 🙂

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