Posted: 2006.04.07(Fri)23:30 Post subject: How to maximize your posting potential
Participating on a forum such as Aquahobby - Age of Aquariums can be an enriching and fulfilling experience.
Whether by reading or by posting, many thousands of members of AofA feel they have increased their personal knowledge of fishkeeping, shared their experiences with others and have developed friendships as part of participating in an online community. For most users, participation leads to a positive experience. However, for a few others, participation in the forums can bring about feelings of frustration, hostility and rejection. This is usually (but not always) due to some basic, and easily correctable misconceptions. There are many occasions when one wishes they could help a troubled user to have a more positive experience. Here's my attempt.
The purpose of this sticky is to help Aquahobby forum users to maximize their experience on the forum and to increase their feelings of learning, sharing and community. I will describe some areas where users may have experienced difficulties and describe methods for overcoming them. Most, if not all of these ideas are not my creation, but rather the accumulated wisdom of both the moderation team and many regular members. These themes have been posted individually many times over the years and I have only sought to bring them together in one easily accessible post.
Understanding the focus of the forum:
Most people will easily recognize that this forum deals with the care of both marine and freshwater aquarium systems (including ponds). What some users may not immediately recognize is both the scope, and theme that also exists. Aquahobby - Age of Aquariums is an international forum. Members post from all over the world with varying degrees of English language skills and cultural experiences. In addition to its international scope, Aquahobby is also a family oriented forum. Anyone posting on the forum should always keep these two points in mind, because it's human nature to forget this on a board and post as if we were talking only to our closest personal circle. Comments denigrating racial, religious, sexual or cultural differences are strongly inappropriate and will most probably be locked, deleted or in extreme cases, the user account may be disabled. The main emphasis, from the moderation team's point of view, is to maintain a site where as many users as possible can feel comfortable to participate. It is also one of the reasons why "chat" language and abbreviations are strongly discouraged. Many people simply won't recognize what you are talking about. Remember, everything you post can, and will, be read by anyone in the world trying to learn with the board, today or several years from now. This forum is not intended to be an immediate, personal chat service for you and your buddies, but an evergrowing knowledge base for everyone.
This leads to the second focus of the forum, its theme. The "unofficial" official theme of this forum is to promote responsible fish keeping. This is opposed to the commonly held approach to the hobby we've coined as fish having. Fish keeping can be thought of in terms of recognizing that our fish are living beings and, as their "keepers", it is our responsibility to provide the best possible care and environment for their entire natural lifespan in captivity. In contrast, fish "havers" are those who see them more as novelties and objects of temporary possession, to do with as one pleases, regardless of any possible suffering, cruelty or harm imposed. Users holding this type of disregard for the well-being of captive creatures will soon feel quite uncomfortable on this forum. Posts describing overcrowded conditions, intentionally mixing of clearly incompatible species or neglecting basic animal husbandry will find themselves on the receiving end of pointed and chastising replies. Users offering such poor practices as advice to others will find their posts locked, deleted, moved to the Site Issues section or, in extreme cases, lose their privilege of participating in the forum.
That being said, there is also the point to be made in regards to the way that users reply to such posts. Many complaints occur in regards to the overly aggressive responses offered when a newcomer asks one of those typical "Oscar in a 10 gallon tank" type questions. Before jumping all over the poster, take a moment to gauge the experience level and intentions of the person asking the question. Is he/she intentionally keeping a fish in poor conditions or, as is often the case, are they a new hobbyist who, with the best intentions, has been given some faulty or misleading information? If the answer is not immediately apparent take the time to ask the poster. An action as simple as this can set the tone for a meaningful discussion and encourage the initial poster to correct the poor conditions.
Posting in general:
There isn't much in the way of "rules" when it comes to participating on the forum for those who use a little common sense (stickies at the head of each section provide the guidelines) but there are some things one can do to reduce friction and increase the effectiveness of ones posts.
First: Read the stickies!!!
Second: Take a moment to collect your thoughts into a coherent package. Think of the question you have, or comment, and consider what additional information might be helpful. For example: in the ever-common question "What should I put in my fish tank?" some points to include might be the size of the tank, type of filtration, your experience level, and some fish attributes you are partial to.
Thirdly, post once per topic. Don't start multiple posts on the same topic in different sections. This leads to people answering the same question over and over and clogs up the board. Pick the section that best suits the post and be patient.
That leads to the next point, realize that this is a forum and not a chat site. Users are not "standing by" to immediately answer posts. Most participants have lives outside of cyberspace and only access the board once every day or two, or once a week, etc... If you find your post has gone a long time (more than a day or two) without reply you can "bump" it to the top of the listing again by posting a reply to it and politely insisting that someone try to help you.
Finally, a topic that deserves its own distinct paragraph; The use of correct spelling and grammar. If you want others to take the time to respond to your post in a thoughtful and constructive manner, then extend the same courtesy and compose your post with care and afterwards take the time to preview/review your post, editing for spelling mistakes, grammar, coherence and clarity. Whether it is judgmental or not, poor spelling and grammar leaves three distinct impressions on others:
a.) The poster is not intelligent.
b.) The poster is sloppy/careless.
c.) The poster has little concern for others who will read the post.
Everyone occasionally makes a spelling mistake; we are not trying to be the grammar police, but some posts are so riddled with obvious mistakes that they are almost illegible. It is hard to take such posts seriously and such sloppiness stops many well meaning participants from making the effort to reply. There are two simple things that every user can do to correct this problem:
a.) Install a spellckecking program.
b.) Use the Preview icon at the lower left hand side of the text field.
Now, someone is bound to say "I don't have time to edit my posts," or "what's the big deal with getting the spelling correct anyway?" or "Can't you figure out what I meant to say?". Try to take a moment and react to those sentiments from the respondents' perspective: "I don't have time to reply to that post and what's the big deal about giving correct information anyway? Can't you (the initial poster) figure out the answer?" Ahhh... You get the point.
Doing your own homework:
As well meaning as many forum members are, there is only so much time that each one has to respond to the many posts that appear each day. Some questions are very easy to answer by doing a little research ahead of time. This is your own responsibility. Don't expect someone else to do something that you could very easily do yourself. Doing some research has benefits for the poster and for those reading (and responding to) various threads. For the poster, doing research helps to define the information you actually need, it makes your question much more stimulating and likely to be answered in a productive manner. For the responder, a researched question makes one feel that the effort expended in replying might actually be fruitful and it allows for a much more informative response. There are some very simple tools at our fingertips to help us do the basic research:
First, browse through some older posts in a related section. Wondering what to stock your 10 gallon tank with? Isn't it reasonable to assume that one or more people have already wondered the same thing before?
Next, glance through the Galleries and Articles sections on the website. Want to know how to cycle your tank? I bet someone has gone to the trouble of writing a whole article about it.
Still looking? Try that kooky search engine known as Google. You'd be amazed at the information that pops up when you enter some good keywords in the search field.
After doing a little preliminary research, then is the time to ask your question on the board. Almost everyone participating here is doing so because they want to share their experiences in the hobby with others. Someone asking a well thought out question is sure to receive at least one well thought out reply.
There are some simple things to bear in mind when offering advice to others that will save a lot of aggravation for both parties. These are:
Respond in a polite manner.
No one likes to feel they are being talked down to and, except for that little avatar, your choice of words and punctuation are your personality. The idea that one doesn't have time or the need to be nice, and that readers should focus on the content and not the tone, is just a poor excuse for bad behavior. The anonymity of the net can allow for exchanges that would never happen in real life (at least, not without a few bloody noses) but these same exchanges can also sour ones experience in a forum. When replying to a post, try to imagine the initial poster is sitting right across from you. Now, reply in that frame of mind. Unless you are a psychopath, you should have little problems developing quality relationships on the board.
Stick to what you know.
We all bring some talents with us to the board and, hopefully, our knowledge base will increase as we continue to participate. Offer what you know, and justify your points. If you want to offer more - learn. Try to understand the reasoning behind some well established practices. Telling someone "You need to cycle your tank" is not very helpful; telling someone why they need to cycle their tank is. The more you understand the "why", the more meaningful your answers will be. The more meaningful your answers are, the more connected and useful you will feel. Those of us who feel a sense of community here probably do so because there is a shared sense of purpose - helping others.
When some one asks a question, if you can give a satisfactory answer, do it. Just remember that others may have a different viewpoint. This is the beauty of an international board. It is even possible to have more than one correct answer to a question. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And, if you can believe it, sometimes a poster asks for advice, receives it and then rejects it. Sheesh! Sure it is acceptable to have a few kicks at changing someones perspective but after a certain point it is simply better to walk away. This saves you from a knot in the stomach and the board from a senseless argument that will have to be "locked" by a member of the moderation team. Remember that even if the participants of a particular thread didn't appear to benefit from your advice, many others are "silently" looking in. If your advice is sound, it will, almost certainly still be benefiting others.
Private messages are a method of communicating with other members of the board without the whole forum looking in. They really are private - sort of. Members of the moderation team cannot read other people's PM's, only the site owner(s). They are too busy, and you really aren't that important anyway! So stop being paranoid. But remember, if you share something with another forum member, that person might divulge it to others.
Another thing to consider is the cost/benefit involved in answering PM's. If someone asks a question in a PM, the reply only benefits that one person. Some questions are better asked in the forum where the reply, which might require some effort, will benefit everyone. This really is an issue of common sense and balance but if you ask a lot of questions via PM's and feel you don't get a comprehensive reply this is probably the reason why.
Seeking recognition on the board:
It is basic human nature to want to be recognized by our peers. Those who claim to not care about such things are, perhaps, hoping to be recognized for their humility. There are two ways this happens on the board.
a.) The way we think we are recognized.
b.) The way we actually are recognized.
The way we think we are recognized is via the title to the left of our posts, just below our avatars. Some say new members, some members, others advisors, moderators, benefactors etc... These "titles" are intended to benefit forum members by offering some insight into that persons particular perspective. They are not intended to afford some sense of superiority over other board members.
The way we are actually recognized on the board is by the quality and helpfulness of our posts, nothingmore. In this sense, we are all potentially equal. Those who communicate their ideas and reasons well will gain the respect of most of the regular forum members. Your age, volume and number of tanks, years of fishkeeping, profession, society memberships etc... play little to no part in this. if you doubt that, just pay attention to what you value when people are replying to your questions. The road to feeling fully valued by the members of this forum is built upon the points previously expressed in this article/stickie:
Post in a positive, helpful manner,
Respect the opinion of others,
Add to the conversation, contribute something meaningful,
Constantly increase your knowledge base and
Be concerned about spelling, grammar and clarity!
Aquahobby - Age of Aquariums primary aim is to help people from around the world to become better fishkeepers. Along the way we also have the opportunity to increase our own knowledge, to contribute in a meaningful manner and to develop worldwide friendships. I hope that, in some small way, this article/stickie helps Aquahobby members to make the most out of their experiences here and, perhaps, to apply these principles to other areas of their lives as well.
Good luck! _________________ Intelligence is not having all the answers; it's knowing how to think!
Last edited by dale on 2007.01.05(Fri)21:13; edited 6 times in total
Joined: 05 Feb 2003 Location: Santo Andre (Brazil)
Posted: 2006.04.07(Fri)23:50 Post subject:
Great initiative Dale! It's really interesting that you're not saying anything that's not already contained in the stickies/guidelines and/or common sense, but you're saying it in such a fluent/pleasant/helpful way that people who never bother with those might actually read this!
Let's keep it right here where you posted for now and later we can figure out how to maximize the text's own effectiveness potential... _________________
Success with a fish/tank is measured in YEARS, not months or weeks...
I have to say that I did read it all, and I found it very attractive to read and very fulfilled with good information..,This should be placed right in the home page for the rules and guidelines for Aquahobby forum workspace. and the guidelines for posting of course.. _________________ Get attached, love everything now, then, suffer when it comes to an end, for it will bring great meaning to one's existence. JR
Last edited by Ciklido on 2006.04.21(Fri)22:52; edited 1 time in total
I've been distracted lately so I haven't applied myself more to the article. I'd like to ask if there is a topic that should be included or other suggestions and if not then I'll change it to ready status. _________________ Intelligence is not having all the answers; it's knowing how to think!
A ghost from the past! Thanks Marcos.
Haname, you can't be too picky about a sticky that suggests using a spell checker _________________ Intelligence is not having all the answers; it's knowing how to think!
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