Posted by wearytraveler on March 29, 2012, at 3:51:08
In reply to Re: opportunity to support europerep, posted by Dr. Bob on February 18, 2012, at 1:06:17
(revised version of message posted immediately prior, updated to include »name of previous poster, correct one typo and add one line)
> I'd also like to see this site become more active again. How do you think you might be able to help turn things around?
This wasn't technically addressed to me, but I'm willing to share the load when one poster is asked to express how that individual might help a pDoc realize his dream of increasing traffic on his personal Web site.
First, whatever the poster's underlying sentiment might be, I notice that the comment to which the pDoc replied was not styled as a desire to see traffic expand. Rather, it was an expression that
"> It's sad to see a forum with this much potential slowly go down, but that's what seems to be happening."
the pDoc replied
">I'd also like to see this site become more active again."
We are left to wonder what desire the pDoc references when he says he "also" wants to see traffic increase. The comment to which he responded expressed the conclusion that "this process [attract so many users whose collective potential is quite enormous] has come to an end." The comment was styled as an expression of emotion, not as an expression of desire.
That's a significant difference. It's one I would hope a clinical counselor I hired would appreciate. For example, if I said "It's sad that a marriage with this much potential has come to an end," and a counselor replied "I also would like to see your marriage survive. How do you think you might be able to help turn things around?" I would leave that office with serious concerns about the skill of the counselor, and their ability to help clients safely navigate life changes.
To ask a person how they can help something survive or recover when the person is at a stage of grieving what could be an inevitable loss caused by forces beyond their control (the actions of others) could put a grieving person in the position of believing a clinical authority has suggested they do the impossible.
For academic purposes, we can contemplate what reactions such a clinical misunderstanding could provoke. Utter despair, with all the incumbent mortal implications could be one result. Another result could be manic efforts to do the impossible, which could lead to further deterioration of personality when the impossible proves impossible.
Yet another result could be that the client believes the counselor has urged them to attempt to change the immutable force -- to persuade in this example a change of heart in the other spouse who has irrevocably terminated the relationship. Such efforts often lead to law enforcement involvement when the spouse trying to change the other overestimates a capacity and right to persuade a former partner.
Yet another implication, perhaps the most relevant to this discussion, could be a loss of faith in not only the individual counselor, but in the profession of counseling as a whole. Carried further, a person might conclude that if professional counselors aren't able to understand even the difference between grieving and actionable desire, the average peer so much more is incapable of understanding matters of the heart. Such a conclusion could point back to the mortal implication I first suggested, or to a gray area of isolation, despondence and social deterioration.
Are you listening, pDoc?
Now, stipulating that at least someone, if not the person to whom the pDoc replied wants the board to realize an increase in traffic, or even accepting that only the pDoc wants to see such an outcome, we would do well first to ask why?
1) Why do you, Robert Hsiung, want to see increased traffic at this site in particular?
Infamous reticence aside, I would appreciate an answer to that question. The expression of desire on the pDoc's part is a crack in that otherwise stoney reticence. Why let down the walls of reticence with regard to this one matter - the success of a personal research project - when otherwise reticence seems to be a defining element in the way the project is organized? (pDoc adminsters, pDoc is not clinically engaged, participants provide support and education, i.e. "best of both worlds")
Whatever reply informs question number 1, a follow-up question inquires:
2) If you had evidence, or even a suspicion that some people suffer harm from the site, either at current levels of activity or when levels of activity increase, perhaps complicating group dynamics, would you still want to see usage of the site increase?
By way of commentary in relation to question No. 2, we might like to believe 14 years of operating this site has revealed something. I suspect lessons learned on this site have been learned over and over on other social networks during that period. I suspect that other sites have matured, in the technical and business sense of the concept, to implement lessons learned during early development of extended, asynchronous electronic networks. I entertain a hypothesis that this site has not matured. It is one of very few remaining installations of Matt's BBS, which for various reasons has become a defunct software no longer supported by a developer community.
This brings up the third direct question I'll pose here:
3) What, if any, personal, business or technological barriers discourage upgrading the site to include features typical of social networks in 2012, and if none, why have you not pursued implementation of updated technology?
Perl itself is widely considered a defunct language, though it continues to find usage mostly in legacy contexts. Failure to embrace a technically vital platform limits the ability of a social network project to implement new technical solutions. Such a scenario can leave users and administrators repeating the same errors over and over, seeking social solutions for problems other social networks have readily found ways to resolve by technical means.
Just one example of the impact of failure to mature in the technological realm is frustration users realize over who sees and responds to their posts. Granular permissions quickly became a defining feature of facebook and other social networks. Users could construct small groups, appeal to large groups and on a entry-by-entry basis control who sees their posts. In most cases, users are allowed to edit, or at least remove content.
The pDoc who operates this site has taken a different tack. To paraphrase, he's concluded that permanence of performance is just the way the world is. He implies and I seem to recall at times has suggested practicing such permanence in a technical milieu can have a therapeutic value. He's certainly claimed that making examples of other's mistakes somehow helps the community learn, and followed that claim with an administrative approach that presumes every example of mistaken behavior has exemplary value while few if any are so irrelevant or potentially harmful to warrant removal. Removing posts contributed by blocked posters is the exception here, apparently practiced for practical reasons related to enforcement.
I offer that the "every mistake serves as example" model is naive of the way users and groups learn in the current technological milieu. While users absolutely learn by trail and error what is accepted in a particular technologically defined community, once the new knowledge is set, so to speak, there is little benefit found in preserving the draft process whereby the workable behavior was discovered. To the contrary, preserving the original error can invite groups to continually re-litigate the learning process rather than embrace the new-found procedure.
In a community populated in part by members who suffer disordered frontal-striatal circuitry associated with obsessive compulsive behavior, opportunities to re-litigate errors might invite group dynamics -- defining rituals even -- related to a sense that previously completed group tasks must nonetheless be completed again and again. To let users erase or restrict access to posts containing errors might help reduce occurrence of that unproductive group ritual.
My first bit of advice to improve or increase use of the site would be to reconsider that suggestion that permanence offers the best clinical value. The conclusion is unsupported by any research that has been presented in reference to this project other than the scholar's fiat. In real life we can take it back. We can erase graffiti from the walls -- in fact the preferred remedial approach to urban graffiti is to quickly remove it. We don't just apologize, we repent, and where possible, we remove obstructions we've created that impair the way others might follow.
We don't just rephrase mistaken scholarly documents, we retract them. This isn't a clinical journal where the words are enshrined in hard copies preserved in the Library of Congress. On mature social networks, users can delete content, even if it potentially disrupts the flow of archived narrative. That mature approach implies that what we build today and tomorrow might be more valuable than the casual performances we otherwise preserve from yesterday.
A capacity to own one's words, even to remove them, would in my estimation improve community attachment. I would be more inclined to preserve an identity (a user name) if I could remove wayward comments, or even delete my entire opus of work. My role in the community would be defined by what I am as a living person, not what I did in the past along the way to becoming the person I am now. If my role becomes defined as a person who doesn't stand my words and often retracts them, I might be encouraged to upgrade my performance by creating words I'm not eager to retract.
Now, another suggestion I'll tender here is that the pDoc model the behavior he demands or strongly urges of his guests on this forum. He strongly encourages apologies and rephrased statements. He prods members to admit what in his eye are performance errors, which he classifies as uncivil behavior. How about a few "I got that wrong" comments from the doctor, from time to time? I can suggest one particular and obvious example.
Admit, Dr. Robert Hsiung, that you did not develop your own unique software to run this board. Contrary to that claim, printed in the nation's preeminent newspaper (NYT) the board runs on a freeware developed by a generous IT professional. The license requirement in that software demands attribution of who made it. If the NYT reporter got it wrong, correct the reporters' error in the context of this forum. Try apologizing for waiting so long to give credit where credit is due, whether the mistake resulted from a reticent approach to the interview that left the reporter guessing what you meant or whatever caused the error. Try telling us how you think the reporter got it wrong.
Finally -- though I could offer several other strategic options -- I'd consider the most important technical change that could be made would be to dump the Matt's BBS system and moving into a more mature social network platform. The average lifecycle of software these days is about seven or eight years, unless it's rewritten and repackaged for release in the current hardware and operating system contexts. (e.g. MS Word is still around, but .doc format was replaced by .docx to accommodate market demands for interoperable features of XML.) Matt's BBS is ancient and no longer maintained. Probably the most obvious choice for a replacement in a social network setting would be the widely used facebook-style social network freeware ELGG.
Engage students to implement the software if you don't have the same kind of time you had 14 years ago to develop coding skills. I'd dare say there may be qualified developers in this online community who could implement ELGG, format it to follow the look and feel of the current simple system, and merge in new user features including controlled access to who sees posts, perhaps the ability for users to delete posts and the ability to develop small groups within the overall community.
A more technologically mature platform, supported by an active community of developers, could afford other benefits. It could create potential for administrative innovations, or even an eventual transfer of ownership. Trust me on this, an old installation of Matt's BBS and a 14 year archive of posts isn't a marketable commodity, especially in the philanthropic community.
Unless you plan to run an obsolete server capable of running an obsolete programming language in turn running an obsolete software that can't run in 2020 or 2030 server environments, eventually you'll have to upgrade. Unless you plan to take some classes, learn programming skills and spend a few hundred hours doing what the NYT said you did already, you'll almost certainly have to move ahead with the loving support of the open source development community.
In summary, the board fell behind not because any one poster is such a nuisance. It fell behind because other places emerged where we could find more relevant, helpful, safe communities for support and education.
Dr. Hsuing in 1998 was ahead of the curve technologically. He was an early innovator willing to take risks, face failures (though rarely admit them in this venue) and implement new attempts to make things work. Since then, the technology world matured by leaps and bounds, but this site didn't. We have facebook, yahoo groups, google+ and a long list of less well recognized options to socially network for support and education. Get over it and get with it. That's my best advice.