Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Limited interested in a participatory project

Below is a question for discussion; it would be great to get a comment-chain going (which was one of the purposes of starting a blog to go along with the listserv and Web site for CCJIG).

What does everyone make of a situation when a participatory project -- in this case one sponsored by a good-sized metro newspaper -- draws the involvement of only a small number of participants? In some respects, this is another way of asking whether the number of people who involve themselves with a project should be a metric of its success.

Here's what prompts the question. In addition to The Loop for college students (see Aug. 21 blog entry below), another citizen-participant project of the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle is a site http://men.rocmen.com/, designed for men to post and discuss information of interest to them. It was launched just a few weeks ago as a companion site to http://www.rocmoms.com/, which the Democrat and Chronicle introduced a few months ago to serve the interest of women, particularly mothers.

Rocmen has some hyperlocal, user-generated content, a fantasy football blog written by two Democrat and Chronicle staff writers, and some picked-up content from the paper's main site , especially related to events and entertainment and also youth sports, rec sports and pro sports (the NFL Buffalo Bills hold their training camp in Rochester). The site also has discussion forums, which are the area of particular interest for this question.

The forums seem to be the private sandbox of a handful of people who post regularly, and practically no one else. The profiles of forum users report an interesting tidbit about each contributor: how many posts he has accounted for, and the percentage of the total on the site. One person has accounted for nearly 19 percent of the total posts in the forum ; a couple of others are in the 1o to 12 percent range. So about five people are responsible for 50 or 60 percent of the total posts in the forum. This is great for them, of course. There's no question the site is providing a forum that didn't exist before it was started a few months ago, and certain individuals are using it to add their voices to a community conversation they likely didn't have a way to do before. This is certainly a laudable goal of a citizen media site, and by this standard rocmen is succeeding.

But back to the question at hand: is it fair to presume that a major purpose of a site like this, especially sponsored by a major metro paper, is to draw wide participation, men of different ages and interests from around the Rochester area and beyond, and to generate widespread contributions and commentary? And if the contributions come from only a handful of users, is the site a "success," or not?


1 comment:

Glenn Scott said...

Your post poses a wonderful question -- and an important one. In fact, evidence suggests that only small percentages of users post to sites that seek open-ended comments. And it's just as likely that when people do post, they miss the point.

Structure helps. Hosts make a huge difference. Is the site you mentioned providing enough of a staff presence to make it clear that someone is listening?

So many sites simply set up forums and then do little more than clean out inappropriate comments.

My sense is that readers/users will participate when they have confidence that the editors and gatekeepers are paying attention.

This is an irony of participatory features connected to media websites: Posters often seem more interested in communicating with the site's journalists than each other. Anyone else reach this conclusion?