Friday, May 24, 2013

Noise

I have already spoken about fora and their problems on these Chronicles. Fora, I concluded, were not free. They do belong to some people who at the end of the day must pay for a number of items: hosting the information, the bandwidth to provide a reliable connection, maintenance, … And all that money should be generated by the forum itself, or, alternatively, someone should continuously cover those expenses.

Therefore, the whole operation could be summarized as follows: we, forum users, provide both the contents and the audience, and some third party cashes the benefits—if they existed, of course. However, those cashing the money do not need to provide any content but just the infrastructure for the information to flow among forum members.


Evaluating the quality of the contents is not an easy task. Fora are not scientific journals whose publishers, well aware of the size of their business, keep track of the citations each and every article received. At the end, this citation-based system, not free from controversy, works because scientific journal authors do need to raise funds for continuing their research and to keep on publishing. Fora are different--forum participants do it for free, not receiving anything in return save an eventual ego boost when some other member praised that entry. In fact, this scheme is not very different from most blogs.

But these two forms of communication in the Internet do differ: On fora, people ask questions and answer some others. On blogs, authors provide information. Of course, blog authors can also ask questions, but the audience of a blog can hardly compete with that of a forum, even if small.

Then, the success of a blog lies on the quality and on the interest of its entries. The success of a forum, on the other hand, lies on the sheer number of participants. Blogs are about the signal; fora, about the noise.

This might be schematic and oversimplifying, but it explains an obvious fact, the big turnover on forum participants. There are always many new members, but there are also many members who silently stop participating. The first are always voiced out, welcome and encouraged to participate. The second group is ignored, save for the very few occasions when they were missed.

The result is a feedback loop that enforces the mediocrity of most fora: The same questions are repeated over and over, and it is difficult to find well-researched texts because those who had learned through all those posts became bored and stopped participating. And the economy of fora favors this—the quantity is more important than the quality. The noise over the signal.


I detect, although I might be wrong, a decadence on fountain pen fora lately. Some of them are trying to cash down the benefits after years of hiding the economic interests of the managers. Other fora, in the meantime, seem stagnated—-not collapsing as they are initially cheap to maintain, but neither growing. The fact that there are more active fora, even if the activity were small, also shows some element of failure on those previously existing. The Spanish case is a clear example—a small community with four different fora. Maybe the old English sentence of “two Spaniards, three opinions” really applied in here, and the final result would be a couple of fora per each Spanish-speaking pen aficionado.

Is this the end of pen fora? Certainly not. Fora have its always changing cohorts of followers, and those with economic incentives on them will fight hard for their survival. But the time in which that relevant piece of information was to be found on fora is probably over.

The Internet, however, is long and wide, and new forms of interaction might be found any day soon. I will be patient.


Finally, and if only to say that I am not alone on my thoughts, I wanted to add a couple of links to texts by fellow bloggers reflecting on these same issues:
Peaceable Writer: Thoughts about Pen Forums,
and Goodwriterspen's Blog: Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark.


Pilot Custom Grandee, music nib – Gary’s yellow-black (iron-gall)

Bruno Taut
April 27th , 2013
etiquetas: fora, metabitácora

3 comments:

Shangching Huitzacua said...

Hi Bruno,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. When I first regained interest in fountain pens, I visited several fora just to see what is out there. The overall impression I got (and I could be wrong) was these fora created trends that might not be fitting for all collectors. It is discernable when certain pens gained spotlight because even affordable pens become sky high. The tone of the fora conveys that fountain pen is an expensive sports, but for a humble collector like myself, I just want to enjoy pen, ink and other paraphernalia. My impression again can be wrong and skewed. I hope my blog provides the right type of signals out there!
Thank you for providing continuous and interesting read!

Bruno Taut said...

Thank YOU, Shangching, for passing by and reading and, even better, commenting!

I am always concerned about the actual interest of these reflections. I hope to ring some bell that might resonate in some people's minds, but it is always a very long short. Therefore, receiving your feedback is twice welcome--as any feedback, and for being about this delicate topic.

At the end, fora are made by the people as long as they did not contradict the rules set by the managers. The problem is that any mature idea on collecting pens might disappear from the fora with the high turnover of its members. And that is the point at which managers often fail. You know--the noise might be more important than the actual content.

And re blogs, the lack of feedback makes us blind. A constant flow of visitor, though, might show we were not too mistaken.

Keep on your hard work on providing relevant content for the fountain pen community. That is all the more needed in these times of crisis in fora.

Cheers,

BT

inkophile said...

Thanks for sharing your insights, Bruno. What you call "the mediocrity of most fora" I think is inevitable and certainly it can be difficult to separate the opinions from the facts. Once people learn the basics of fountain pens, they either stay for the community or move on to pens as tools or collecting as a hobby.

A few of us have turned to writing a blog as an outlet. When I started mine five years ago, it was to write about the subject without restraints like TOS rules and to avoid personal attacks that were permitted by uncaring Mods. Of course, motivation will differ amongst bloggers, but I hope lots of people have come to enjoy their pens even more as a result of my posts.

If page views are any measure of interest, a lot of people are looking for information about fountain pens. Fora may come and go but pens will outlive all of them!

Margana

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