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May 9, 2011 12:03 PM

"Help Vampires" -- can we brainstorm more solutions?


"It’s so regular you could set your watch by it. The decay of a community is just as predictable as the decay of certain stable nuclear isotopes. As soon as an open source project, language, or what-have-you achieves a certain notoriety—its half-life, if you will—they swarm in, seemingly draining the very life out of the community itself.

They are the Help Vampires.
Help Vampires are found in every public online community, from those nearest to our hearts to those furthest from our principles.

Instead of consuming of ill-gotten hemoglobin, these vampires suck the very life and energy out of people. By nature they feed on generous individuals who tend towards helping others, and leave their victims exhausted, bitter and dispirited."

I know all the long-term posters have seen and bemoaned this "decay" -- and many of the solutions mentioned in this blog are either ineffective or not allowed (like telling people not to be a Help Vampire!). Can we come up with some new ones?

  1. The solution is on that page already, if only people would practice it: Cease enabling. I can't think of a better method, but I was inspired to come up with two Chowhound-specific names for the vampires:

    1) Fleas. They hop onto a board, ask a frequently-addressed or otherwise easy-to-answer question (what time does Restaurant X open?) and then hop back out again. No reporting back, no thanks for the info, just a quick bite and they're gone.

    2) Ticks. They start a thread by posing a question so broad it cannot be answered (where should I eat in City X?), and when responses do not materialize quickly enough, they bump the thread, or create a duplicate thread, or both. Then they respond to requests for more specifics by meting out tiny, unsatisfying drops of detail (someplace nice? someplace with good food?) before getting surly and crawling away.

    12 Replies
    1. re: small h

      Good ones!

      The problem with help threads -- even the good ones -- is that I've heard way too many people who used to post here often say "all I ever see there are visitor requests." As the blogger said, it just sucks the life out of the community.

      Another problem is that when people add on to existing threads it doesn't change then number of threads, so the ratio of "vampire" threads to substantive threads just keeps getting worse. Even if there are 50 replies on one thread and zero replies on the vampire posts, when you look at the board it looks like nothing but vampire posts.

      Post more. Start more threads. Ignore the vampires. I guess that's about it. I was just super annoyed looking at the Italy board this morning where someone started a thread asking "Any thoughts on the best restaurants in Venice?" (entire message) when three of the top eight posts under it on the board had "Venice" in the title.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        My personal distaste for this scourge is exhaustively documented on these here boards. And it would be even more exhaustively documented if I weren't so often deleted when I bitch about it (which is probably just as well, since I hate to sound like a broken record).

        I do tend to ignore the vampires, but the kinder, gentler denizens of the Manhattan board (goddess bless them), simply keep answering and answering and answering, with the same helpful, redundant advice, resulting in the poor signal-to-noise ratio issue you describe. I honestly don't think it's a solvable problem, since the Board Lords want more users, seemingly at any cost - admonitions to search are summarily removed. It's almost as if the lazy questioners are more valued than the patient answerers. Which is disheartening.

        1. re: small h

          Yeah, well they aren't going to have any lazy questioners, either, if all the patient answerers get fed up and go elsewhere. It's pretty close to the tipping point right now. The Board Lords should give some thought on how to keep the people who actually produce valuable content on these boards happy.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I think I remember a forum where you couldn't start a new thread until you'd posted x number of times. It wasn't a huge number - something like 5 or 10 posts, but it discouraged people from just joining in order to ask a single question.

              Though it's very possible that this would result in an increase in pointless posts...

            2. re: small h

              Any of us who enjoy the Home Cooking Boards see a similiar situation, small h. Many questions are asked and reasked. The CH HCBoard is gigantic. Plenty of long time posters try to encourage others to use the Search engine or read the links (which many posters provide inside a new thread) but it doesn't stop anyone from posting a question that's been asked already.

              Don't you think it's the folks designing this site that need to brainstorm solutions to this question. It has been asked, under a variety of headings, many many times before.

              eta: On the Home Cooking Boards a repeat question still results in new responses and it's those new replies that adds to my education. If we taper questions, responses will be lost.

              1. re: HillJ

                I'm going to make up a software solution that doesn't exist. When you hit "save," your post doesn't immediately appear on a board. Instead, a list of threads appears based on key words in your post (i.e. "theater district" or "safe to eat?") along with a message that reads "Would any of these help you?" Once you click "no," your post goes up. But you cannot click "no" unless you click on three or more of the search-result threads. At some point, based on your number of posts, this would cease to happen.

                1. re: small h

                  That actually does exist. On the TiVO users board, when you type a question a list of thread titles related to the terms in it appears immediately, allowing you to read them before proceeding to place your new posting. There's nothing that forces you to read them, but it does at least let you see whether anyone's already posted the same thing.

                  And half the solution is already in place on Chowhound - I don't know if you've noticed, but each thread you read nowadays has a list of "related" threads below it. Open question whether the underlying software allows it to be used as you suggest.

                  1. re: BobB

                    Yes, you're quite right. The search part exists; it's the latched gate that doesn't. Katie, bar the door!

                    1. re: small h

                      I should amend that - on the TiVO board, it's when you type the title in preparing to start a new thread that the list of related threads appears. It's quite helpful, actually.

                      1. re: BobB

                        Clever. That would be a big help on this board.

        2. Sure, stating the ideal scenario (as outlined in the blog link) for more effective, less redundant questions/posts sounds good but difficult to attain once the community is too large to fence in. Since there are no pre-reqs to becoming a CH, except to register, I'm no longer sure that the words "long term posters" has the same meaning on CH. I know my own expectations of this website have changed quite a bit since the BIG 2006; some for the better....

          Any time I read about ideas coaxing solutions that suggest this site is anyones (meaning any one of us) personal territory to sculpt I immediately think: this is not fair when thousands of people with varying food cultures, food experiences and food queries support the Boards with their words every minute of every day.

          So, yes, moving past the subjects that don't interest us is one option. Electing not to be a "Help Vampire" another. And while some of what you describe may be annoying at times, it's the unhelpful, mean spirited, less than patient solutions that don't work for me at all.

          What solution is there in a 24/7 global food community of thousands?

          8 Replies
          1. re: HillJ

            I didn't mean to suggest by referring to "long term posters" that the boards shouldn't be welcoming of new posters -- of course they should! But there's a big difference between someone who wants to participate in some substantive way -- including making thoughtful queries -- and someone who, as small h describes, hops in, posts something banal and then hops out.

            As I pointed out, there are things we can do -- we can start threads more often. We can start new threads instead of piggybacking onto existing threads (especially since the search engine doesn't always pick things up, so the more threads there are, the better the chance a search will turn up decent results). We can ignore people who are clearly "fleas" -- the ones who clearly haven't bothered to even look at the board, the ones who won't respond to follow-up questions, the ones who won't say "thank you" and the ones that certainly won't report back. I look at it this way: the main difference between chowhound and yelp or Zagat is that it's possible to have a dialog: you ask a question, other people give their answers/opinions, you get involved in the discussion. If you don't want that kind of experience, then you might as well go elsewhere.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Ah, but going elsewhere is not for any one of us to decide for another poster. Long time poster or just logged in newbie can add their two cents; that's community, RL. The CH experience is what you make of it. Which is why I referred to sculpting or tailoring the threads to our own specifications as unrealistic and a bad idea. No one individual dictates how this site functions (& for good reason).

              1. re: HillJ

                What is a community if not a place where people share something? People who take without giving back are not sharing, and thus are not part of a community. Anyway, I'm not suggesting that any one person can or should dictate how the site functions. I'm just suggesting that there are things that like-minded people can do to influence the shape of the community. If it works, or if it fails, it's up to the community.

                From an economic point of view, is a commercial entity. It makes money by people logging in and viewing its pages. The more pages you view, the more valuable you are to You and I view a lot of pages, and we create a lot of pages that other people view. Relative to a "flea" we are valuable to the site -- if the Board Lords allow the fleas to drive away all the non-fleas they'll lose our page views and the page views for all the pages we create, and eventually lose the fleas as well.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  The great majority of people typing in these comment boxes are sharing. The quality of the share is a personal thing. If the topic doesn't thrill you the share isn't quality if it does, it is. How much influence we have in shaping this community is witnessed by the recent Board revamp, many of the topics appearing on CHOW and a great deal of content supplied by hounds. That's community alright! Community is felt by chowdowns, meetups and connections made off line. Community is felt when posts recognize the loss of one of our own. Community is felt, RL.

                  I will continue to focus on what is...and leave what could be to the powers that be. They are paid to think about improving the site.

                  1. re: HillJ

                    You're being contradictory -- on the one hand you cite all the reasons that essence of chowhound is the community, and on the other you say to leave it to the powers that be to decide the direction of the site.

                    My point is, all of those things that you describe as being the community are based on people who participate in an ongoing basis. When people who have participated in this community, who helped build this community, who provided thousands of pages of content, who planned meet-ups when people thought they were crazy to eat with strangers from the internet, tell me they no longer read chowhound because too high a proportion of the posts are "I'm coming to SF for a week, what are the must eats" then that's signal that the community is not sustainable.

                    Have you ever been part of an online community that died? Because they do. I think Chowhound is coming very close to becoming terminally ill. Which coming up on my ten-year anniversary of posting here I find to be sad.


                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      That is sad. And for your history it sounds like the part of CH that matters to you has changed, for you. OTOH, I do not have that experience. But I will say this, the community I experience here and have tried to explain didn't happen overnight and only happened because I wanted it to. Meaning, for newcomers or long time posters it can take time to find community here because it is entirely up to us to create the best possible experience but you understand not everyone wants the same experience online or off.

                      No, I have never been part of an online community that died but I have seen many sites with strong readerships change over time. CHANGE is what happens. Perhaps CH has changed for you and the people you connect w/here.

                      I'm am sorry to hear your experience has less value for you. You contribute a great deal to my experience, RL. So, I hope you find a solution that works for you.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        Apparently I'm still not making my point clearly. I'm still in touch with those people, I don't miss them on chowhound.

                        What I miss are actual interesting discussions on chowhound -- posts by people who are excited to share what and where they've eaten, not dutifully answering rote questions. Sure they're still there, but they're being drowned out by the flea posts, at least on the regional boards. If those discussions don't go on here, they'll go on somewhere else, which is what's happened to other communities that have died: the interesting, knowledgeable, passionate people found another place to share their passions, and what was left was just a shell.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Oh you're making your point loud and clear. We just have different experiences and value points on CH. Maybe you're having a harder time discussing it with me since I don't share your experience entirely.

                          When JL started CH how could he know that people would find him, stay, chat and share his vision and passion to share deliciousness over the Net? It was a gamble. He was the passionate guy who found other passionate people. Today, that small idea, the small community has been sold to another group and now a new community of people are attracted to the new vision.

                          If you are seeking the interesting, knowledgeable, passionate people who you believe will find another place to share their passions if this site doesn't beef up the quality and what will remain will be just a shell...then you are experiencing a different CH than I, and I recommend you enlist their comments here on this thread....because I don't see dozens and dozens of concerns posted here.

          2. I am unhappy when threads get locked too soon. I love having discussions and hearing other people's points of view. Some threads get locked before I can even add my two cents. I would like to say mods gotta mod and can become overzealous on slow days, but I don't think that is really the problem.
            There was an amazing thread on fasting in not about food, I was learning so much and finding some kindred spirits. Fellow chowhounds I like and have respect for kept saying things like how is this thread still going? It's too upsetting! I wanted to say well you know you don't have to keep reading and bumping if it bothers you so much. There was lot of what I call scolding the OP going on, which I hate. But I was very sad when it got locked. I'm afraid to start my own thread on fasting because I don't want to be disappointed when it gets locked or removed.
            Some hounds I like to read have been banned, for example scargod. I came across his face book by accident and apparently he was banned, reinstated and banned again. He is collecting info about the situation, I believe his take on things is that the mods are overzealous. I just know that he was always a good read.
            A fascinating new movie is coming out this month, Fork Over Knife. After I see it I hope to get into some lively discussions about it. I hope that they can take place on my favorite site with my favorite people, Chowhounds!

            4 Replies
            1. re: givemecarbs

              I agree - I think they sometimes get locked too soon as well. I've been on other forums where the mods had a lighter hand, and very often the discussion would come full circle and some kind of acknowledgement of the other's point of view would occur. Even if that didn't happen, a lot of other people learned a lot from these discussions, even if it's just how NOT to behave!

              I really liked the moderation on that forum. It gave people space to express themselves, and if you said something stupid (or entitled, racist, self-absorbed, obnoxious, etc), you found out just how stupid it was pretty quickly (though it was never a free for all - people generally behaved like adults)! Of course, the moderation was not non-existent, just more restrained. If you got moderated, it was because things had really gotten out of hand (for the most part - the mods were still only human)

              People learn from these things... whether an attitude adjustment is needed, or taking more care in expressing oneself, or taking more care in reading others, or simply reading the whole discussion. I think it has value. If you remove a large number of negative posts from a conversation, it's going to be a skewed view - and then you have to wonder why there were so many negative responses from so many people... maybe there's a damn good reason for it.

              1. re: ursy_ten

                another forum I read replaces deleted posts with "this post has been deleted because it didn't meet the standards of the community" or something similar (not an exact quote)

                it leaves a lot of discussion with holes that mean the remaining comments range from one-sided to making no sense whatsoever, as they refer to comments that no longer exist (that's one thing the mods do well here is excise all the weird references when a post is taken down)

                So the thread becomes essentially unreadable...and what might have been good information is lost to the ether.

                I knew of one board that had an automated moderation feature -- after a post was flagged x number of times (it was changed a few times) the post would be automatically taken down. This led to some pretty rampant clique behavior and a lot of very valuable posts got stripped because a snotty little group decided they didn't like a particular poster.

                I think the difficult part is that there are as many perceptions of what the Chow boards are for and why they should do as there are posters...and how do you weed out which is the right perception and the right policy?

                1. re: sunshine842

                  "I think the difficult part is that there are as many perceptions of what the Chow boards are for and why they should do as there are posters...and how do you weed out which is the right perception and the right policy?"

                  I agree - there are as many perceptions as there are posters. I don't think we'll ever get consensus. But hopefully most of us can learn to respect the other's point of view.

                  Anyway, I fear I've gone off on a tangent! As for solutions regarding "help vampires" - maybe the mods could merge threads that ask the same question... (I have absolutely no idea whether the software makes this do-able or not - it's just a thought).

              2. re: givemecarbs

                I think it's a real testament to the integrity and vibrant nature of chowhound that my post is still up today. Another site might have taken my comments down.
                After I read about the vampires I was enjoyijng threads from my neck of the woods (Philadelphia) and smiled when I noticed that someone who had asked for advice had returned and thanked everyone for the helpful info. What I have always tried to do since the happy day I found chowhound was attempt to set a good example. I sometimes forget but it is my goal to express gratitude to helpful posters and give a follow up. For many years in my personal life I have noticed that some folks sweep in with a great sense of urgency when they are having a problem, but once it is solved they never even mention it again. Perhaps it is the story lover in me, but dang it I want to know how things turned out! It might be hard wired into us humans that bad news is more compelling and interesting.
                One other thing I try to do, besides defending the OP when hounds are dog-piling up on him or her, is to say let us know how things turned out when responding to a post. Some of the time I don't have any helpful advice at all and in that case I really want to know how things were handled. It's more selfish than it sounds. :)
                As for what chowhound is for, I'm grateful for the practical advice I've received, I've saved so much time and money and hassles because of the wisdom of my fellow hounds, but I think you can tell my heart belongs to Not About Food and General. My favorite thread is People Who Don't Like Food. I'm still in awe of some of the comments there. Just thinking about that discussion now is making my knees feel weak. Thank you for that my wonderful fellow hounds and mods.

              3. Good post - have had to drop out myself for awhile for above reasons, among others. I think in a scenario like this, there's only one effective course of action, which is to recognize and ignore. If there are no responses, things have to die a natural death. Opening to discourse of any kind just.....opens the floodgates, but a silent protest/group act of passive aggression? That might work. :)
                Which, being said....I do think it's important to have a feel for the person asking the question - I try to answer respectfully if the question seems sincerely-posited, since my idea of what's relevant or germane to general knowledge may not be their idea.....but after several leech-y type posts, I do veer sharply away.

                1. I am having a hard time seeing and relating to the idea of blood sucking posts/posters. I just don't see it or see how it's driving people away. When I click on the posting history of some of my fav CH's all I see is activity.

                  If there are solutions to what some of you are describing, I hope the CH Team listens.

                  Frankly the only aspect of communicating in a large community like this that strangles me, is the varying size of egos. Expert to fully admitted newbie, there should be room for everyone...and all too often..there isn't.