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What worked and didn't work about Chowhound

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If you were taking lessons from Chowhound in designing a good site for civilized discourse about food, what could you copy and what would you change?

  1. copy:
    heavy moderation of off-topic posts
    zero tolerance for spam
    strict rules for posts by restaurant owners and employees

    change:
    eliminate anonymity
    post immediately only for trusted users, others screened by mods
    publish the rules
    give newbies more help
    sticky topic with links to "evergreens"
    zero tolerance for commenting on other posters' opinions
    improve targeting of ads
    ban distracting / sensationalist / "native" ads

    5 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I agree with all you list except anonymity. I have such a common name that I'm pretty secure but I have a CH friend who has a problem with real names being used.

      I just signed up with eGullet to see what I think of it. IIRC, for the first ten days I can only post twice a day which I think is good. They can keep an eye on newbies. You also can't reply directly to a poster but just to the thread which I bet keeps it more civilized and on topic.

      Thanks for asking.

      1. re: c oliver

        I can see both ides of the threaded vs. flat argument, though the CNET implementation where it's threaded for three levels and then flat sort of combines the worst of both.

      2. re: Robert Lauriston

        Robert - it seems quite boring with all those rules about off topic and commenting on opinions.

        Maybe it's best to think of it like a good dinner with friends - the discussion around the table and ebbs and flows across topics. When it starts people don't know where it will end up and what will be explored....that's the joy of the conversation.

        Similarity at the dinner table if someone gets out of order, argumentative,mis too opinionated, or spruikes or promotes their interests without regard to the social nature of the dinner they get ostracized.

        I think the "dinner" analogy works well as it allows a looser definition of the boundaries......if you want interesting high value contributions you need to respect the contributors maturity and thus have more fluid rules.

        1. re: PhilD

          I think the "looser" conversation boundaries sounds grand. We may think that's what we want but trust Jim Leff when he brings up The Jenga effect.

          1. re: MplsM ary

            Those piece of the tower were drawn quite some time ago. The structure changed, but nothing came tumbling down.

      3. Funny, I was just about to post a question (NOT a Q&A) about whether Chowhound would ever get the maps back.

        When Chowhound linked to maps, though they were flawed, this was wonderful. Now that smartphones are much smarter and all smartphones have mapping, I find I miss the maps more than ever.

        For me, here is what works:
        Threading of topics
        When moderation is transparent
        Keeping the focus on food
        Edited to add - the ability to question and comment on how the site works. This is really important and not tolerated on a lot of boards.

        Here is what I would change:
        Transparent communication between site owners and users
        Maps for restaurants mentioned in posts
        Make the rules black and white and easy to find
        Designate a few users to welcome and foster newbies
        Make the purpose of the site clear
        Ad targeting that makes sense
        Messaging
        Ignore users as well as topics
        Scalable
        Mobile app that allows for the same functionality as desktop
        More robust profiles that allow for photos and links
        Edited to add - The ability to use fonts. If nothing else, the ability to bold, italicize and underline. An ability to use lists would be great too.

        Just starting. Wait till I really think about it!

        1. Copy:

          Be sufficiently flexible to allow for such innovations as Cookbook of the Month

          Change:

          Don’t allow chit chat
          Give cookbook authors enough leeway to participate in the discussion
          Establish rules of fair usage regarding quotations, post them, and enforce them consistently
          Implement private messaging

          1 Reply
          1. re: JoanN

            Oh yeah, I believe "no chitchat" was one of the rules CNET or CBS threw out.

          2. Get rid of the heart
            Make a thumbs down button
            A semi-unmoderated off topic area
            Addition of PM's
            An ignore poster button
            Tolerate commenting on other folks opinions more
            Less moderation and deleting threads/posts some might find offensive
            A payment of $300-$400 to me each time I post
            Inability to have my posts flagged or removed

            Ok, just the first 6.

            What do you guys mean by not allowing chit chat?

            13 Replies
            1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

              Typical of posts that were discouraged were just saying "thanks" without adding anything to the discussion.

              I'm sure that was partly because the pre-CNET board design made reading, posting, moderating, etc. so painful that the fewer posts there were the better, but I still find it annoying when somebody posts "thanks" 80% of the way down in a 200-post topic. But that could possibly be addressed by a better UI.

              There is a semi-unmoderated off-topic area, the Not About Food board.

              1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                Visit the What's For Dinner threads and you'll see. It could have been great but all the "sounds great," etc. drives some batty.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Oh yeah.
                  I wanted to start a thread where all you can post is a picture, 3 sentences max, and a #.
                  Then another thread where you can discuss pictures by their number.
                  Those dinner threads are super annoying because there are like 500 replies and like 8 pictures, useless.

                  Edit: I just realized the ability to PM other members would solve this as well.

                  1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                    And, like, nobody, like, has to post in (or read) them, like, literally.

                    1. re: linguafood

                      I know, I avoid them. I was just saying that I found them of limited usefulness. Relax.

                      1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                        Oh, I'm, like, super-duper-relaxed. You?

                        1. re: linguafood

                          I,',m,s,u,p,e,r,r,e,l,a,x,e,d
                          Not as relaxed as if I had that bloody mary with a whole chicken on top though.

                          1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                            That's it. We're moving in together. Milwaukee's a really nice city, too. Good beer '-)

                  2. re: c oliver

                    Well, judging from its longevity (and the continuous joining of new participants), the ones who are driven batty must be a small minority. And thankfully, we are all sentient beings who can choose in which threads to participate.

                    Blue hearts n all that shit '-P

                    1. re: linguafood

                      I was just using it as an example of 'chit chat' and I'm sure you'll admit there's loads of it there.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Get rid of the blue heart "like" button and use big-girl/big boy icons and I;d chit chat less. That;s a start.

                        Win-win.

                        Because discussion fourms are not to be about discussions. Nor chit chat.

                        Damn. I said chit chat. Is that chit chat? Did I just ban myself.

                        In the end, I had a two page length response to this quesiton, but it's not worth posting the obvious. And all points were.

                        1. CBSi trying to re-invent the wheel when perfectly good and well supported forum software IS out there.

                        2. No PM nor ability to contact othere members easily.

                        3. Site and tech and device and OS and compatablity glitches out the ass. Thus see point #1.

                        You should have the traffic CH. You have the advertisers. You have content. BTW-you're welcome for that. And also via your staff-both paid and not.
                        I see no moderation issues. Nor issues re: opinions and respect for them. AND the ability to offer a reply to said opinions.
                        If you want to make CH and exclusive club for CH foodie sycophants ---knock yourselves out. I;m out then.
                        Too many other options.

                        Site issues, device issues, goofy non-essential changes and intrusive ad placement keeps me away. And I moderate and admin several forums. All where the site software and ads are transparent and those issues non-existant and the posters are a 24/7 handful.

                        Funny how the world works.

                        Good luck. And I like ya just a little bit more than I hate ya as a IT site. But it's close. :-)

                        As a community of interacting human beings and food knowledge, it's pretty damn good and beyond friendly and helpful for me.

                        But i chit-chat, so I;m out. LOL.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Yes, the chit-chat is there. Because the "theme" of those WFD threads is just sitting around a table with drinks in hand, talking about what we're cooking for dinner.

                          It's a more relaxed atmosphere on the WFD threads (and on most topical thread boards) vs. the actual locale boards such as Greater Boston, San Francisco, etc. where people are sussing out the best ramen, Korean kimchi, or Armenian restaurant. Just as there is more chit-chat on the Food Media & News boards as it relates to Top Chef, the Next Food Network Star, Chopped, etc. threads.

                          I'm cool with the chit-chat. Obviously.

                        2. re: linguafood

                          linguafood raises good points. All the Topical boards on Chowhound are granted significant leeway by the mods.

                          WFD, other boards, have built up constituencies over time that are knowledgable and sharing. There are lots off-topic posts the mods tolerate because the software can handle it and today's social-media-aware posters demand it. Newbies check into boards like WFD, lurk a bit, figure stuff out and insert themselves when they feel comfortable. Some are socially inept and fail. That's just the way it goes. Most others chime in and energize the board with fresh thoughts and ideas. In short, tolerance and flexibility is key. The absence of over-regulation on these Topical boards is most welcome.

                    2. I used to prefer using my actual name to a screen name, but after using a few online forums I discovered that there are some individuals who are given to harassment of those who disagree with them. Since thenn, I have come around to believing anonymity is better. This site, being relatively well-moderated, doesn't publish outright harassment, but I still see the fringes of that sort of behavior now and then, if not the full attack. But the danger is that harassment will take place elsewhere even if completely screened out here.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: GH1618

                        I would ban or discourage pseudonyms only in the context of zero tolerance for commenting on other people's opinions.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          "[Z]ero tolerance for commenting on other people's opinions."

                          I'm not sure that works. What is this entire thread if not significantly a bunch of comments on your opinions? Might wanna clarify that notion or it's a moderating impossibility.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            But isn't that what Chowhound is about - our opinions on various restaurants, foods, shows about food, cookware, the best pantry items, etc.? Zero tolerance of our opinions essentially shuts the board down.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              The pseudonym question is a valid one, Robert. But one you lost years back. It is not the way internet discussion boards work, much as you and I might prefer otherwise. It is about harassment and someone's feeling of security on a site. And I accept that I'm in a minority in that, on virtually every board I have ever posted on, I have used either my full real name or, as here, have my real name in my profile. I also accept that it would be very easy for someone so inclined to track me down and come knocking on my front door. That knowledge is a far better moderating influence on what and how I post than anything the Chow mods could manage.

                              1. re: Harters

                                I think many people believe posting anonymously leaves them less vulnerable to crazies that might find out where they live and stalk them or something. And it probably does limit somewhat, within reason, but most don't realize that with a little knowledge of where to look and a minor amount of effort, they can be tracked down pretty easily.

                                1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                  I'm more concerned with employers, potential employers, etc. I prefer to speak my mind openly on a variety of issues without some HR hack googling my name and, say, the word 'unionize' and removing me from consideration of a job/promotion/etc on that basis.

                                  If you try hard enough, you can find my name via my profile. That's fine by me. But I'm not looking to make it any easier either.

                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    Totally agree. When using the internet I have ZERO expectation of privacy so minimize the info available generally.

                                    I'm curious what sites require that your real name be used.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      A small number, to be sure. Here's the oldest existing and, possibly the very first, online community: http://www.well.com

                                  2. re: Jerseygirl111

                                    It's about more than the stalker issue. There is keeping your online life separate from your real; keeping your family from knowing what you're up to, especially if you occasionally talk about them; keeping your employer (or potential employer) from *having a clue* what you're up to. There are many reasons; anonymity is generally a good thing online for as long as you can maintain it. You're right, though; determined searchers, seekers, stalkers *will* find you given enough time, money, and online savvy. It's all about deterrence.