Social engineering vs. engineering engineering
Stop asking for new boards. Stop posting surveys. Stop posting polls. Look at post dates before you reply because the thread might be 5 years old. Go into your settings and change sort order. Keep threads on topic. Stop posting signup threads for group outings. Discuss sake in the beer board, not the wine board. Discuss San Diego in the board where Sacramento is discussed, not the one for L.A. When mentioning a chain, move the discussion to Chains unless you're comparing one location of a chain to local, non-chain businesses. Except when you shouldn't.
There's a lot of energy being exerted on social engineering here, seemingly a lot more as a proportion of total traffic than on the old site.
I don't think this is because the new site is attracting a fundamentally different audience more prone to chatting and less schooled in the ways of library science. I think it's because the new site isn't as well designed for Chowhound's purpose as the old site was.
It was also by far the best site design for a minimalist, close-to-the-metal exchange of chow tips that the web has ever seen. Posting volumes were enormous and the signal-to-noise ratio was about as high as an open-to-all message board ever can hope to get.
It's not because people are still adjusting to the new design that this site sees fewer posts, fewer threads that spawn substantive discussion, much higher ratios of "chatty" threads and reprtitive "Where should I eat in Greater LA?" threads, and a steady stream of 5-year-old posts getting senseless replies.
It's because the new design, for all its massive technical advances and behind-the-scenes flexibility, is an inferior tool for sharing chow tips. Too few threads appear on a page. 20,000 was too many, but 40 with seven above the fold is far too few. Users are more likely to scroll than navigate between pages, so the act of paginating topics itself makes threads go stale faster. The default setting of moving most-recently-replied threads to the top may be dominant message-board practice, but here encourages the dominant message-board practice of idiotic poll threads getting most of the activity and pushes the core stuff -- chow tips -- below the fold and out of view very quickly.
The method used of displaying new replies to a thread the user has already seen is state-of-the-art and yet more tedious than the old way. Which is quicker: clicking blue links in a compact outline (the old way) to read new replies or scrolling down two, five, or ten screenfuls of collapsed replies looking for the new stuff mixed in, only to find they're written by the poster you wish you could ignore? (And you could the old way, because you could see who posted it before you clicked the blue link.)
Replies can't have a different subject, even as the most interesting threads evolve into sub-discussions of some part of the original thread. The old site design allowed for this and the long, expanded thread lists allowed you to see at a glance how a thread was evolving so you could skip the replies about Pho Ga arcana and just read the ones about the Pho Sate. Now? You have to wade through the whole thread every time someone replies in order to see which branch of the discussion has been replied to.
This site needed new underpinnings. It needed a design makeover. It's benefitted from having things like RSS feeds, more usable search, reply email alerts, mail-to-a-friend, a more-easily extensible codebase and all that modern stuff. But the way things are organized, chopped up and presented are a big step backwards. Throwing away the genuinely brilliant parts of the old user interface -- its concise way of displaying and navigating massive amounts of information (what's been posted, what's been replied to and by whom) -- hasn't worked out so well so far. I get the feeling that the current design was driven by the idea that the only good thing about the old site was the content, when it turned out that the design -- hideous and embarassing by the usual 2006 (heck, 1998!) standards -- had a great deal to do with its success.
If The Engineers haven't been spending a good deal of time studying the old site for good UI ideas, I'd suggest doing so at the next opportunity.
You're about to see a significant facelift to the site after the new year. We spent a great deal of time studying the old site, and listened in great detail to Jim and the moderators about what makes the site tick. We tried to address some of those elements the best we could in the redesign. We will continue to tweak the site to increase the value to greatest number of people as possible. We will give you more information about the design changes after the new year, and I'm sure we will face a healthy amount of cheers and jeers whatever we do! But do know that we are trying to make Chowhound a useful resource for trading chow tips, a healthy and lively community and, of course, a great business. Thanks for sticking with us, and we'll hopefully see you in 2007.
Have a great new year everyone. Be safe!
Yes, there is a community here and if the intent is to make that community more exclusive or to attract only the well-schooled poster then a differnt mode of marketing, membership registration and ground rules should be clearly stated.
of course...I'm hoping that is not the case at all...or the reason a large corporation was attracted to CH in the first place.
I'm pretty sure the large corporation was attracted by CH being a hugely-trafficked site with lots of pageviews that they could pick up for a relative song. Along with its distressed cousin, the bankrupt Chow, it made a nice package that they could build into a good advertising vehicle.
The old design sucked. I don't miss it for a second. You say:
"It's not because people are still adjusting to the new design that this site sees fewer posts, fewer threads that spawn substantive discussion, much higher ratios of "chatty" threads and reprtitive "Where should I eat in Greater LA?" threads, and a steady stream of 5-year-old posts getting senseless replies."
I don't think it's anything to do with the software, although the software could definitely use some improvements. I think it's because there's a lot more traffic, especially from people who aren't diehard Chowhounds. These people were turned off by the hideosity and impenetrability of the old site, but this site is easy, is run by a major internet corporation, and is tied to an online food magazine that also gets lots of traffic (http://alexa.com/data/details/traffic...). People just jump on the board and post away, not realizing or caring that there's a community here.
re: Peter Cuce
That's what I think too. On the plus side, I don't spend hours a day here anymore, yet there's still enough posting to get my daily fix. Although this is partly due to the lesser amount of interesting posts,the personalized aspect that was added, like My Chow and the emails, are great time savers. And one of the best things on the new site, I don't have to print every recipe that sounds interesting because I might not be able to find it later! So I'll take the trade off.
The old design had my interested, the new has kept me reading. No question CH has an audience.
What I don't have is the tech skill or expertise to address the engineering decisions made but I do believe that the approach to be vague with CH'ers by the powers that be (and I do not know who they are actually) when considering useful topics, on topic, off topic or chatting is confusing and not consistent for those of us seeing & experiencing deleted topics and deleted replies. I take a moment or two to check in on posts made by Chowteam/Moderators on Site Talk but mind readers we can't be.
The old design was awful. The endless clicking was very slow. The signal-to-noise ratio was high only because Jim Leff et al. spent an inordinate amount of time removing spam, chitchat, etc.
Moderators can and do now split off splinter topics into new topics with new titles, often on other boards. If you think that's necessary, just comment on the first post in the digression.