PHXfn and Personal Blogs

How the board is run, and how to make it better
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Skillet Doux
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In a freakish coincidence, the question of posters with personal food blogs and what is or isn't appropriate and/or advisable to link to or cross-post has come up THREE TIMES TODAY in completely unrelated fashion. So I'm going to take this as a cue from the cosmos that perhaps I should briefly address it to clarify and open the floor for any thoughts anybody might have.

First, let me be totally clear that I hope nobody ever hesitates to contribute here, and your contributions and discussion are welcome whatever form they take (well... almost every form... see below). I think this board has come remarkably far in just six months -- in terms of building a friendly community, in terms of helping everybody to find and make great food, and even in terms of starting to have some impact on the local scene beyond this board. And the only reason that's happening is because everybody has been so generous with their time and energy and enthusiasm and words. I feel like this board is really starting to hum, and my hope is that you guys agree and that makes you more excited about participating and keeping this thing rolling. The point I'm getting to is that while I do think there are ways in which it's less constructive to reference material you've written elsewhere, I really, really, really hope having a discussion about it doesn't for a moment make anybody feel unwelcome. That would be the opposite of what we're trying to do here, so if that's a vibe I somehow manage to capture, please give me a swift kick in the ass. And as most of you are aware, of course, I'm in the same boat... I have a food blog I've been writing for almost seven years, too.

Though everything is situational, I think the overarching notion is that what makes a board like this tick is discussion and community. Great media content can be found in many forms -- magazines, blogs, television shows -- whatever. But what gives a board like this its unique power and appeal to those who get hooked on it are those two elements: discussion and community. So what I hope we encourage as a group are contributions that play to those strengths.

For this reason, I'm personally not a fan of cross-posting. As I've described it before, I think cross-posting to a community discussion board is kind of like going to a party where there's a group of people excitedly talking about a book they just read, walking up to them, pulling a written book report out of your pocket and reading it to them off the page. The content may be relevant, and it may be awesome, but it's delivered in a manner that's incongruous to the setting. On a site like Yelp, I think that makes perfect sense, since all of the reviews are completely self-contained and there's no interaction (one of the main reasons, incidentally, that I think Yelp sucks). But on a community discussion board, in my experience it's the online equivalent of a conversation killer. That said, I'd personally rather somebody cross-post than not post at all. Like I say, I think it's wonderful that people want to participate in whatever fashion they can muster. I guess I'd just say that instead of cross-posting, I'd strongly encourage folks to take a few minutes to be a part of the discussion instead. Even if you don't say quite as much, in my experience, maintaining the interactive, conversational tone of a community discussion board is more valuable in the long run than having a few extra content dumps. Blogs and boards are just different beasts, and speaking as somebody who has 1150 posts here and 2401 posts over at LTH but has never cross-posted anything from my blog (maybe there was one exception a long time ago?), part of what I've come to enjoy about writing both here and on a blog is that I get to approach the content in two completely different ways, and I find that different things come out of my writing that way.

Links to content you've written elsewhere can be completely appropriate and an awesome contribution! But this is one where manner and context are everything. If, in the context of a discussion, it makes sense to link out to a larger piece you've written that you wouldn't want to duplicate here, absolutely, go for it. If possible, I think it's best to work some of that other piece into the discussion here along with the link to help maintain the flow of the conversation. I think the important distinction is that links that supplement discussion make a board like this stronger, while links that replace discussion make it weaker. But again, this isn't a hard and fast rule, but rather how I'd encourage people to approach it to help keep the conversation flowing. The one place where, as a matter of moderation, I might pull posts is when people link to their own content elsewhere without any context or accompanying discussion. Even if you have the best of intentions, the line between linking and advertising can sometimes be a fine one, and not only do I want to be sure we aren't setting precedent that makes less scrupulous folk feel like they can use the board for PR purposes (professional or personal), but I've seen a great board vibe choke on too many hit-and-run links, no matter how well-intentioned. I've only pulled a post like this twice... maybe three times so far, so just to be clear, I raise this issue simply as a matter of caution, not because there's been a problem.

All of that said, I think it's completely awesome that people are finding other places to write as well. One of the most enjoyable things on other food boards has been watching people go from having never written about food, to kind of getting their feet wet on the board, to finding their voice, to eventually taking on some really serious, professional writing gigs. And I think everybody's off-board food projects, writing or otherwise, should get everybody excited, and man, we want to hear about them (I want to hear about them). Sometimes getting a feel for the best way to share those projects while also supporting the board can be a little tricky, and I hope we can talk about it if problems arise. But this is a community first and foremost, and I sure hope supporting the community as a whole and supporting the individual endeavors of its members aren't ever incompatible. I want to be sure that doesn't happen.

To that end, any thoughts?
Dominic Armato
themis
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I agree in general principle; I really hate the Ozymandian cut-and-paste word dump. Most of cross-posted entries read like emails from my mother-in-law, who has not quite mastered the use of paragraph breaks to give your eyes a rest. I go all TL:DR on all of those, I'm sorry. Like, if Frank Bruni can review a restaurant in four column inches then maybe all of us can shoot for that high water mark, maybe.

However, would it be useful to have a dedicated pimping thread? I would love if Christina or Barbara or JK could come in and link their latest articles. Scott and others could drop links to their latest blog entries. I am not on Twitter, which is maybe where everyone gets the word out about their work, and I don't want to miss the well-written stuff we're churning out as a community. Where, hopefully people are interacting on the boards elsewhere, but there'd be a more permissive area where people could call attention to their work without stifling discussion in each restaurant thread.

I will say that Dom and I have discussed this before, where I think I said that a blog is your bully pulpit, and should be used as such, but this place I hope is more for fomenting discussion and community. That's my personal opinion, though. Sometimes I'm in the mood for rants and screeds and I'll go seek them out, but here, I hope that it's more about bringing collective knowledge to the table than personal agendas.
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Skillet Doux
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themis wrote:However, would it be useful to have a dedicated pimping thread? I would love if Christina or Barbara or JK could come in and link their latest articles. Scott and others could drop links to their latest blog entries. I am not on Twitter, which is maybe where everyone gets the word out about their work, and I don't want to miss the well-written stuff we're churning out as a community. Where, hopefully people are interacting on the boards elsewhere, but there'd be a more permissive area where people could call attention to their work without stifling discussion in each restaurant thread.
That's a really interesting idea, themis, and wow... I'm so of two minds on it. Like a Pimp Your Project sticky on the Other Culinary Chat board, something like that?

Potential downsides, one thing that always worries me about lots of linking to outside projects is that I feel like it tends to cause people to disengage... I can take 5-15 minutes writing something substantial on the board, or I can take ten seconds to drop a link. My fear would be that it would make it a little too easy to just drop a link and move on rather than actually posting, and I wonder if it wouldn't take too much of that to kill the board in a hurry. I'm told, for example, that once upon a time Chowhound used to be pretty good here until it fragmented because everybody went off to write blogs and do other things -- to be frank, I'm terrified of the prospect of us repeating history here just when we're getting something good going. If it's a way to catch up on what everybody's doing elsewhere, that's awesome. If a link farm ends up cannibalizing the actual discussion, that's really, really bad.

But I love the idea of having a running summary of what everybody's working on elsewhere, and perhaps it would actually have the opposite effect of spurring discussion by having a little running ticker of conversation starters going by. And maybe, if that Chowhound anecdote is accurate, part of the problem was that people were going to go off and do their own thing too, and CH didn't make it easy for them to do both. I suppose in the end, people find the board compelling and want to support it and help it to flourish or they don't, and whether or not there's a Pimp Your Project thread probably isn't going to change that either way.

Let me turn that over in my head a few times. What do you guys think?
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ScottofStrand
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Sorry to cause any hubub, but I suppose it brought up a topic worth some pondering and discussion. I definitely thought for a while before posting a link to my new site, because the last thing I want is for people to think i'm trying to use the message boards as a way to drive traffic. It was more that I was excited to be coming up with some good content, and wanted to share it.

I'm still not even sure the site is a useful place to post restaurant reviews, but as I've been writing them, I definitely realize that the tone of the reviews is so different from the tone of phxfoodnerds, that cross-posting wouldn't really work anyway. If I have a place to post about, do you think it would be more acceptable to talk about the place here, and then throw a link at the bottom of the page to a full review? I think i'm also going to get in the habit of putting a link on the forkvsfood review back to the discussion threads too. Any way to get more people here and talking.

I, personally, would love to get to know the other members more through their personal articles and blogs, the way I got to delve into Skillet Doux, which led me here in the first place and inspired me to create my own blog. I like themis's idea of having another separate category for cross-posting, and at the same time, I can see how it could draw some content away from the other discussions. It is a slippery slope, and I can see how a "no-crossposting" stance could be the easiest way to keep things from getting messy.

In the end we're all just excited about food and trying our best to spread the word, and be champions for local dining. I'll follow your leads as to what everyone thinks the best way to do that is.
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Skillet Doux
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ScottofStrand wrote:Sorry to cause any hubub...
Don't you dare apologize, Scott... you've been one of the most enthusiastic and involved folks from the get-go, I think your motives are completely clear, I think what you bring to the community is completely awesome, and you're 100% right, this is a really good thing to talk about, and I think it's probably good that we're discussing it fairly early on. These kinds of board culture questions are tougher to address when you have years of momentum behind you. The last thing I want to do is make somebody like you feel uncomfortable or like you can't participate in the way you'd like. I'm leaning more and more towards thinking Themis' idea is the way to go, but I want to give this thread a couple of days to see if anybody else would like to weigh in.
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exit2lef
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Skillet Doux wrote:I'm told, for example, that once upon a time Chowhound used to be pretty good here until it fragmented because everybody went off to write blogs and do other things -- to be frank, I'm terrified of the prospect of us repeating history here just when we're getting something good going.
The local Chowhound board did not decline due to participants' blogging. In fact, the board's heyday from 2007 until 2009 occurred when it had the highest amount of blogger participation. Instead, Chowhound in Phoenix declined due to the emergence of social media, bad management decisions that have hurt Chowhound as a whole, and the creation of a distinct Phoenix board that did not have the critical mass of the former Southwest regional board.

I visit this site looking more for news than discussion, which is why I don't often post here. With that in mind, I'd welcome some sort of local blog aggregation here. It might draw more traffic to the site, although it may not be the type of traffic you want. I suspect you'd see more people like me who prefer to offer their opinions on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, as well as more lurkers who would read the aggregated posts but not participate in discussion.

Since discussion seems to be your top priority, the question to ask is if these blog-oriented visitors would eventually be motivated to join the conversation. That possibility needs to be balanced against the prospect of losing some of the current discussion-oriented participants who might be alienated if the board becomes too promotional. For that reason, the separate pimp-my-post area is probably the best approach.
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themis
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exit2lef wrote: The local Chowhound board did not decline due to participants' blogging. In fact, the board's heyday from 2007 until 2009 occurred when it had the highest amount of blogger participation. Instead, Chowhound in Phoenix declined due to the emergence of social media, bad management decisions that have hurt Chowhound as a whole (snip)
I concur; I didn't leave Chowhound to go read a bunch of foodie blogs. I stopped posting at Chowhound because this place started. Also, I can only answer the exact same question eleventy times with any kind of cheerfulness; and their restrictive posting policies and inconsistent moderation made it darn near impossible to create a community. It can be a decent place to cherrypick information, but then, so can Yelp. Posting on either, though, feels like shouting into a void.
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Skillet Doux
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Thanks for the correction, guys... that makes a lot more sense (and is more in line with my Chowhound experience elsewhere) than what I'd heard before.
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Skillet Doux
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The Pimp Your Project thread is up and running in the Other Culinary Chat forum!
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ScottofStrand
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Thanks Dom. Looking forward to seeing what everyone has going on!
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uhockey
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Skillet Doux wrote:The Pimp Your Project thread is up and running in the Other Culinary Chat forum!
Cute idea, and considering the low volume of this site and our previous conversations I get the idea that 'reviews' are not something this site wants anyhow so perhaps best to lump them all in one place....though I guess I wonder how mine or anyone else's blog/project differs from you posting up a bunch of pictures of a local eatery with your opinions of the food listed below each photo. Personally, I love blogs and boards and find both of them useful - I also find Chowhound (and even yelp) useful for alerting visitors and tourists of what to check out and what to avoid; I'm actually shocked at how many hits my blog generates for the Phoenix restaurants I cross-post to Chowhound - clearly the lack of posters there does not indicate people aren't interested.
PHXeater
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Is putting a link to a blog review under a restaurant's thread allowable? For instance, I'd hate for people searching for info or a restaurant to not find a blog review since it's not under the main restaurant thread. Just realized that's a pitfall...
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Skillet Doux
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PHXeater wrote:Is putting a link to a blog review under a restaurant's thread allowable? For instance, I'd hate for people searching for info or a restaurant to not find a blog review since it's not under the main restaurant thread. Just realized that's a pitfall...
It's not a question of what's allowable, per se... I'm trying not to draw such hard lines except in exceptional circumstances. I'm operating the site, but I want it to belong to us, not me, and I'd rather we reach some kind of consensus about what works best rather than me handing down an edict. But this is a very tricky question, and it's the reason the Pimp Your Project thread scares me (though I've put it up there and I'm trying very hard to be openminded about it). The lifeblood of a site like this is interaction and discussion. It's people adding to an existing thread, responding to what came before and, in turn, being responded to by what follows. If people get into the habit of just dropping links instead, then a vibrant community can become a soulless link farm in a hurry. I've seen it happen. When you're in that position, I think the question should be am I adding to this discussion and interacting and participating, or am I just using the thread as a place to dump links? Used in the context of a discussion and to enhance discussion, outside links are great. But when they're posted in lieu of discussion, that's a board-killer. If I'm going to pull in an outside link, personally speaking, I always (well... almost always) try to write a post around it... discuss some of the content I'm linking to, say what I think about it, talk about it in context with what's already been discussed here, etc., as opposed to just dropping the link.
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Skillet Doux
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I would note, for the record, that in its first week, the Pimp Your Project thread contains three links with content that the folks in question didn't discuss on the site. There's nothing wrong with that and I'm not trying to guilt anybody. But without PYP, would some non-blog version of those three items have been written here as well, spurring further discussion that now isn't here? Are we providing a way for people to share their outside work, or are we just making it easy to drop a link rather than engaging? I obviously can't speak for anybody else, and I don't care to speculate, nor, like I say, is my intention to chide or guilt. My point is just that little decisions like this can sometimes have big impacts on the vibe of a community board. I am hopeful that this will end up being a positive.
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Skillet Doux
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uhockey wrote:Cute idea, and considering the low volume of this site and our previous conversations I get the idea that 'reviews' are not something this site wants anyhow...
Sorry, I missed this... didn't mean to ignore it.

It's not that... if that's how what I'm saying comes across, then I'm explaining myself poorly. Of course I hope people share their experiences, potentially in great detail. But I think there's a subtle but important difference between writing a review and posting on a discussion board. One is authoritative and inherently compartmentalized, while the other is interactive and communal. The opinions and food mentioned may be the same, but it's the difference between sitting down and sharing your thoughts on this awesome book you just read with a friend, and reading the book report you just wrote to a friend. The thoughts may be the same, the items mentioned may be the same, but the style and tone of the words are completely different.

I should stop. I don't want to micromanage everybody even if it were my place, and it most certainly isn't. I hope everybody contributes in whatever manner makes them comfortable.
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exit2lef
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Skillet Doux wrote:But without PYP, would some non-blog version of those three items have been written here as well, spurring further discussion that now isn't here?
In my case, no.
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exit2lef wrote:
Skillet Doux wrote:But without PYP, would some non-blog version of those three items have been written here as well, spurring further discussion that now isn't here?
In my case, no.
I'd have cross posted, and I mentioned my thoughts in the crudo thread before ever writing my entry - even asked if service issues were always "issues," but no one responded.
PHXeater
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AH sorry didn't mean to cause further discussion, I totally get why you don't just want a link and really like the PYP idea. I'm sure many of you have blogs I'd love to read and I don't know about them. Like I mentioned though, if I'm looking for info on Crudo it'd be nice if it's all in one thread for me to peruse. There's always the search feature but that could pull up random mentions of Crudo in other threads.

So...there's probably not one good solution and I should have read your full explanation before posting but was on my ipad and things just aren't as easy there.
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Skillet Doux
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No reason to apologize! This is good stuff to talk about. And I need to hear from you guys, too. I've got seven years of being heavily involved with another community food board, and I need to be reminded from time to time that this is not that board and what was gospel there isn't necessarily going to apply here. And if we find that the way it's set up now isn't working for one reason or another, post here and let's talk about it. There's a whole forum set aside specifically for that purpose :-)
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Skillet Doux
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uhockey wrote:I'd have cross posted, and I mentioned my thoughts in the crudo thread before ever writing my entry - even asked if service issues were always "issues," but no one responded.
Eep... I don't know how I missed that post, but I did. Modfail.

Though it provided a good opportunity to kind of show what I'm talking about, PHXeater... there's a link to uhockey's blog post in my reply, but it's in context, it's supplementary to the discussion rather than in lieu of it, and it draws in enough of the linked content that the conversation flows and it isn't a speedbump where anybody reading the thread has to stop, click over, read and return to follow the flow. They can go off and get more detail from the linked content if they like, or they can keep following the conversation down without becoming lost.

Again, this isn't a rule or edict... I just present it as an example of a way to do it that I think works in links in a constructive and non-distracting manner. I think doing something like this is far more conducive to the format -- personal and interactive -- than either dropping a link or blockquoting external blog posts in their entirety.
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