After Hours

What makes a discussion "great"

For those of you who know me only from my Geek Trivia column, it may

come as a surprise that I've been an ad hoc community moderator at

TechRepublic for over a year. In that time, I've learned a few rules of

thumb about promoting and harvesting good discussions. Put simply, what

makes a discussion great.

300 posts is a good yardstick. There are thousands of threads lurking

in the TechRepublic database, most of which never get more than two or

three posts. In TechRepublic's six years of existence, only 45 threads

have broken the 300-post mark—26 have been "on topic" while another 19 have been supressed for being too off-topic. Technical Q&A numbers pale in comparison, despite the popularity of the feature.

When you create an all-time Top 25 list for TR discussions,

regardless of topic, it looks like the off-topic stuff is supremely

popular. It isn't. Off-topic makes it easy to ramp up numbers of posts,

but a surprisingly small audience of devoted enthusiasts is repsonsible

for this. When you look at pageviews—which takes into account idle

readers (lurkers), rather than posters—the on-topic stuff is far more

efficient and has a wider appeal. While very few formal examinations of

lurker-to-poster ratios have been conducted (by us or anybody, actually), in general, there are at

least two orders of magnitude involved. Posters make up a mere fraction

of a percent of any online community audience.

Which brings us to the idea of a newsletter that does nothing but

promote off-topic content. The idea is that, since these topics have

been supressed, they haven't been exposed to their fair share of casual

lurkers. This presumes that casual lurkers want off-topic, at least

from our site. Geek Trivia seems to suggest they do, raw traffic data

says they don't. I'd like to hear what other poeple think. Send a shout.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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