I said I planned to write a separate post on the upcoming changes to Roanoke.com, particularly those that will impact reader interaction.
We’ve touched on this topic briefly in comments to a previous post. It’s been discussed in depth on other blogs, including on Kevin Myatt’s Weather Journal and Aaron McFarling’s blog, which I just realized is called Aaron McFarling’s Blog, which, for someone as witty and creative as A-Mac, is a totally lame blog title, if you ask me. Accurate, but lame. I mean, why not The A-Mac Attack? Or A-Mac’s Meanderings? Or The Big Mac Blast? (That would have been fun if only for the entertainment of getting and posting the cease and desist letter from McDonald’s.)
But, I digress.
To review, later this week (Thursday, I think. I better figure it out because I still need to learn how to use our new blogging platform), Roanoke.com is changing to a system used by other BH Media propeties. The content will remain the same, really. We’ll run stories from The Roanoke Times. We’ll have blogs. We’ll have hybrid content like Bill Cochran’s weekly outdoors report, which is not a blog but also doesn’t appear in The Roanoke Times.
From a reader’s standpoint, the appearance will be different. From a writer’s standpoint, we have to learn how to post stories, photos, etc., on the new platform. For all of us it will take some adjusting and learning, but we’ll all figure it out. We always do.
So, the biggies.
Biggie one: Facebook.
The new system will be using a Facebook interface for comments. As Aaron wrote in his blog post on this, this was a decision made well above the pay grade of us foot soldiers. I don’t know the specific rationale, but I can’t imagine it involves our parent company getting any kind of financial cut of the deal. My speculation is that a Facebook-based comment system has proven its functionality as a system that provides for real-time, non-anonymous commenting.
As we have heard, some people don’t like Facebook. Some people hate Facebook. And a few people are sure Mark Zuckerberg is Satan. Some people have tried Facebook and quit. Others vow to never try it.
If you don’t have an account, you won’t be able to comment.
I am on Facebook, and have been for several years. I use it for a combination of personal- and work-related things. I like it. It helps me pull a few additional readers in to some of my stories and blog postings. It has allowed me to reconnect with some old friends. I am part of a couple small, closed groups (must be invited to join) that are much like the Wild Life family, only smaller. And, while I’m far from a tech weenie, I have figured out how to set my privacy settings so that “the whole world” can’t invade my private life. (And if I want something to remain totally private I utilize the age-old tactic of NOT SHARING IT AT ANY LEVEL.) You don’t need to seek out “friends,” nor do you need to approve “friend” requests if you don’t want to. You can be a Facebook member with zero friends. Yes, you will be added to the rolls of the 4 billion (give or take) Facebook users. But you’re not making Mark Zuckerberg any richer. Really.
If you are a Facebook user, you don’t need me to be telling you this stuff.
If you are not a current Facebook user, I can tell you that it is what you make it, as another commenter wrote on Aaron’s blog.
For those of you who currently don’t have a FB account but want to continue posting comments on blogs, you can set up a very basic account. Yes, you need to use your name. But you don’t need to include much else. You don’t have to post pictures of your kid’s first bike ride, or the family Christmas photo. You don’t even need to post a picture of yourself for your profile. Post a picture of Mark Zuckerberg. You can make the account totally private and unsearchable, so if you don’t want to be found on Facebook, you won’t be found. I can’t promise that if someone plugs your name into a search engine they won’t find your comment on my blog. They might, especially if you have a very unique name.
The issue of Facebook being blocked at some work places has been raised. It’s a legitimate concern. My understanding is that you won’t have to be on the Facebook site to make comments, but you’ll need to be signed in. How the browser blockers will handle that I can’t tell you. Maybe someone who is blocked on FB at work can try to make a comment on another FB-comment site (like ESPN) and tell me what happens.
But even if you’re blocked from making comments at work, that doesn’t mean you can’t read the blog. We encourage people to read our blogs and other Roanoke.com content when they are supposed to be working, after all!
Biggie two: no more anonymity.
When it comes to the Wild Life, many of the regulars in discussions already use their names. Those who don’t can have any number of reasons. As someone who is about as non-anonymous as can be possible, it’s hard for me to relate to someone who wants to be anonymous. But I do respect their desires. And I also will say that we have no shortage of those folks who have provided smart, important, insightful input to our discussions on here over the years.
We know that the back-and-forth is part of what keeps readers readers engaged, and I hate to lose even one of those reasonable voices in those discussions.
I am optimistic that we can still have engaging discussions on The Wild Life, and part of my optimism is based in my Facebook experience. There are plenty of lively discussions on Facebook, even though we all know each other’s real names. And even when there are disagreements there is a level of decorum that is often missing in anonymous “debates.” Granted, our discussions on The Wild Life have been relatively civil (180 degrees from YouTube comment sections) because all of our comments are moderated.
Ah, moderation. It’s going away and I see that as a good thing. First, comments will be posted immediately. No more waiting for Taylor to wake up from his nine hours of beauty sleep to approve comments. No more waiting for Taylor to get out the Montana wilderness. No more waiting for Taylor to get off the river, out of his treestand or off of his bike. Admittedly, I haven’t let moderation rule my life. (You guys have been super patient, and I appreciate that.) I’m pretty sure Kevin Myatt, on the other hand, doesn’t get more than three hours of sleep at any one shot. And he answers almost every reader question, of which he gets a ridiculous number. (“I’m traveling to Greenland on Thursday, Kevin. What will the weather be like? Should I pack my down coat? Or will my windbreaker be fine? Signed, Chilly in Catawba.”) And while there has been a lot of angst over there on the Weather Journal about losing commenters and their weather observations, now there will be no delay, ever, on getting personal observations up there to read.
Also, comments no longer have to be just words. They can include pictures, videos, etc.
So, what will be the end result here?
I don’t know for sure, which is what I told Bill Cochran the other day when we had an email discussion on this after a reader sent us both a note saying he was no longer going to READ our outdoors coverage.
We may lose some readers. I am certain we will lose some page views when it comes to topics that create a lot of debate because we likely won’t have as much bickering and prodding. After all, those bickerers and prodders won’t be checking back often to see who they managed to antagonize into joining the fray.
But I can assure you that Bill and I will continue to produce the same amount of outdoors coverage we do now. If you care about the outdoors in Virginia and beyond, you’ll have reason to read. Actually, the new system may allow our coverage to improve and expand. The new platform has some features that can help with that. And taking comment moderation off my plate just gave me a couple more hours to do something else (work-related, of course!) each week. Now that he doesn’t have to spend 36 hours a week moderating comments and telling Chilly in Catawba that down jackets are a good idea in Greenland, Kevin Myatt’s weather coverage will get even better, though that hardly seems possible.
I’ve been thinking of an outdoors-related analogy to this whole thing and here’s what I came up with.
Let’s say you’re a member of a hunt club that suddenly finds itself without a place to hunt after the land you lease is sold.
Do you quit hunting? No. You find new ground. Your club may lose some members, but you may gain some new ones. With those new friends you will learn the nuances of your new spot. You just may find that hunting is just as enjoyable there as it was at the last place.
Comments and suggestions welcome — even anonymous ones (for two more days!).