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Defining Content / “We don’t need rules”

by on Apr.11, 2009, under maemo

While I am not officially part of Internet Tablet Talk‘s move to talk.maemo.org, I do like to contribute my opinion to what’s going on. Recently, there’s been some interesting discussion. Since I’m very apt to sharing my opinion, but not all of it is suited for sharing in threads on iTT, I’ll post it here.

First, there’s the issue of defining what content is. When the community was informed of the move, we were basically told this: “There will be no change in content, only the URL and a few cosmetic changes.” Looking at the current state of iTT, some may say that “a few cosmetic changes” has been taken too far. While the themes on the forum, as of today, remain the same as always, the whole structure of the forums has been redone. The work has mostly consisted of renaming forums, and removing multiple, mostly unnecessary subforums, it seems a radical change. However, is this really considered the content of the forums. On most websites, a refactoring in the navigation of the website would only be considered a cosmetic change. All the old content is still there, the path to find it is just slightly different. So, why is the same not true on iTT? All the old threads and posts are still there, they’re just in slightly different places. The exception to this, however, seems to be the new maemo.org forum. However, the old layout had a “Website/Suggestions” forum, and because iTT is moving to talk.maemo.org, this now seems like a logical name for the “Website/Suggestions” forum.

However, that’s not the only cosmetic content change that’s being made. The default theme of the forum will soon change, to fit in better with the redesigned maemo.org theme. So, there has been a poll on what should be done with the new theme; namely, the header before each post. First there was a brainstorming thread, then General Antilles made a poll to see what people wanted, taking ideas from the brainstorming thread. However, he overlooked an option for “no change”. This has made a handful of people angry, because they consider it a change in content. The counter-argument, which has been made in that thread, is the same as above: the content on a forum is the posts that are made, not the metadata that goes with the posts. If my blog suddenly decided to change date format when showing posts, would that be considered a change in content? I doubt it. Most people would be confused at first, and then consider it a small cosmetic change, and continue enjoying my blog posts (:-D).

While on this train of thought, something else occured to me. On iTT, it is currently possible for a user to change his theme. On forums, theme changes can be as small as different link colors, or as large as a completely different content layout (however, I’m now including the order and names of the forums in the word “content”). It should be easy for those who wish to keep the old layout to do so, while the rest of us can move on to the new layout. Even better would be to create multiple versions of the new layout. One version could display the new header style (whatever it is), while another could display the more traditional header.

Having beat the content horse to death, it’s time to move on to another point that has been made. This time, however, it’s a bit more personal. Another idea that has been brough up in the talk of the move was to create a sticky thread that would quickly explain how the forum works to new users. This is a very common thing to see on forums, and, thinking it was a good idea, I wrote a draft of what I thought the sticky should look like. I made a new thread, noting that this was a draft, and asking for suggestions on how it could be improved. After a bit of discussion, a post caught my eye:

In general, the forum has worked just fine in the past without rigorous rules. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. A list of acceptable acronyms or trying to prevent people from being sloppy suggests an excessive amount of control.

(Note: this makes more sense in the context of the thread.) I was surprised by this. First of all, I did not believe the rules I had written to be “rigorous,” more of a quick way to accompany users with how things work. Now, to deal with the more specific items listed.

The list of acceptable acronyms was more to help new users become acquainted with the lingo used with the ITs (Internet Tablets). New users might not know that OS stands for Operating System, or that n810w refers to the n810 WiMAX edition. Writing this post, I see that this should have been a more general “lingo used here” wiki page, instead of focusing on specifically acronyms, but that’s beside the point. Even experienced users can get confused if one person says uses one term, and another person uses a different term. This “rule” also served to prevent instant messaging acronyms from showing up on the form. In my opinion, forums should be “more professional” than IMs. When IMing, it’s perfectly acceptable to type in fragments. On a forum, however, this should be frowned upon. When IMing, it’s perfectly acceptable to use acronyms like “lol”. On a forum, however, this creates content that is hard to read. This rule was also modeled after the Rockbox forums, where there were fairly strict “keep it English” rules, in order to help both blind users, using text-to-speech software, and non-native speakers, who might be using online automatic translators (which work great… if you use proper grammar).

Actually, that paragraph also covered the second point: trying to prevent people from being sloppy. While there are appropriate times to be silly in forums, the conversation should be kept as formal as possible. As previously stated, using standard English also helps users who aren’t native speakers, or might be using text-to-speech software.

So, do we need rules? Perhaps not strict rules, but a set of guidlines should be outlined, I think. Most of my “rules” were more meant to be guidlines, anyway. The intent is not to scold people for not following some arbitrary guideline, but to keep order. I was not envisioning people being warned or banned for using acronyms that aren’t considered acceptable, just some gentle nudges from others in the community to keep things standard between members. I never meant to imply that the system was “broken,” just to put into words what the community had already been enacting, making it easier for new users to become acquainted.

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