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The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

ChoralNet Needs To Change

 
I am grateful for all the work that was done to have this incredible compendium of information assembled.  I have not looked into who created it or why but I know I need a place like this, only better.    I have spent many hours over the last few weeks trying to figure out all the nooks and crannies of ChoralNet and no matter where I went on the site, I have a feeling that I am alone or accompanied by a handful of dedicated moderators.  I don’t believe that is true or if it is, it could change.
 
I have been seeking out online communities over the past 7 months to learn what makes them tick.   People join these communities for the same reason they join choir.  They need a place to belong and feel valued.   Here is what I think we need to do to bring this place to life:
 
#1. Your avatar should appear by posts you make.  This could be a picture of you, a choir logo, or any picture that you choose to represent you to others. 
 
#2. Below that should be a descriptor: Newbie, Editor, Master Poster, Publisher… these descriptors have nothing to do with you outside of ChoralNet, rather they describe how active you are here.
 
#3. Below that should be the number of posts you have made.   This helps to further give a person a feeling of pride and value for the time they have spent reading and responding to their colleagues.
 
#4. When a post is listed in the menus, it should not only list the number of replies, but the number of views. 
 
#5. Presently on the front page of ChoralNet it lists new things that have been posted.  I would like to see categories for the most viewed post and the most replied to post.  This helps direct people to things of a high amount of interest to members.
 
#6. Each post, want ad, classified ad and announcement should have a like/dislike button and that total should be displayed publically.  This can be the source of further comments and just brings a human element to online life. 
 
#7. People should earn badges for forum accomplishments.  This can actually be a source of income for ChoralNet.  I paid $15 US to join the Editors club on one forum.  It gave me access to some special content which I never use, a bigger avatar and a special gold badge which made me feel all warm inside.  Badges are awarded if you start a conversation that gets a lot of views or a lot of comments, when you make a profile, when you join a community or when you post in three or more forums.  We could develop a list that is right for us.  Click on the escapist link below to see how awesome this is. 
 
#8.  If it is possible, a share button to send the thing you like to your Facebook  or other places.
 
I recently had a conversation with the people that run the Kenosha, Wisconsin Visitors and Conventions Bureau.  They have two staff members, and one of them was hired specifically to handle social media.   It was an eye opener to hear how they pretty much stalk people that are talking about their city on Twitter, Facebook and other sites.   When they find a mention of their city, they tweet or comment to the person telling them about lodging or suggesting a restaurant.  They and others I have listened to lately confirm the importance of the “just being human” factor.  I was guilty on my Facebook account of only using it to promote my events.  When I started sharing my life with my “friends” and took a less formal tone, I started getting better responses to my events.  We need that human feeling for this website.  
 
I have no idea the time or money it would take to do this.  I don’t know if ChoralNet actually has a budget to deal with this sort of thing.  But if you agree with me please comment below.  
 
Thanks for reading and sharing.  I thought I should lay this all out before I volunteer and get to know the people who’s feelings I may have just hurt.  
 
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Here are some places to look to see what I am talking about:
 
Reddit:  This is the biggest online forum I know.  They are actually a collection of forums much like what ChoralNet’s Communities could be.  http://www.reddit.com/  Notice the points in front of each post. They are given for the number of  up arrows (minus # of down arrows).
 
The Escapist Magazine:  This is a video game forum that really gets it right.  Click on one of the latest posts on the right side of the screen to see what I mean. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/
 
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02n2yYBwHXo This is the link to one of my choir’s videos.  Notice the thumbs up/down button below the video and the little bar graphs, green for like, red for dislike.  Also notice the green number and thumbs up next to comments that people like.  Why do people take time to leave an anonymous mark on someone else’s comment?  Because it is a very human thing to do. 
 
Vocaloidotaku:  This is a site for Vocaloid fans.  Vocaloids are computer generated singing voices that come with manga pics.  http://vocaloidotaku.net/index.php?/topic/63-anime-youve-recently-watched-are-currently-watching/  Notice the avatars, descriptor’s below,badges and other identifying info infront of each post. 
 
 
Replies (21): Threaded | Chronological
on November 4, 2010 5:15am
I think this Forum is just about right for the subject matter. I certainly don't need thumbs up or bogus titles to make me feel good when I post.
 
By the way, a nice piece of self-marketing there with the YouTube link ;) - surely most people by now will know the Thumbs feature?
on November 4, 2010 7:16am
You would be surprised.  
on November 4, 2010 7:32am
Some of what Mr. Senzig is suggesting is already in development or discussion by the ChoralNet committee.  Some of it is not, but we take anything suggested under consideration when it receives a groundswell of support. ChoralNet has developed over the years in response to what users wanted.  Most of it has been done by volunteers with very little resources available to them.  We're always eager to get new ideas and helping hands.
on November 4, 2010 10:21am
Jack's list may at first glance appear like he is asking a lot.  However, most of these aspects are standard features on Internet Forums (e.g avatars, tag lines and signatures, post counts, view counts, descriptors).  They are standard because they are helpful.
 
Many of the most successful forums are powered by V-Bulletin: http://www.vbulletin.com/.  All the tools you need are ready-made, and the investment is very small compared to the time you would put in coming up with solutions yourself.  While there are other software options out there, V-Bulletin is the best-organized and well-thought-out.
 
Good luck!
on November 4, 2010 10:34am
To find sites that use V-Bulletin, search for "Powered by VBulletin".  As you peruse the sites, you notice a variety of colors and layouts.  The software gives you a lot of control.
on November 4, 2010 1:08pm

Interesting list.    I have been on various forums since the 90's and find that the features which have become standard are really rather annoying, not helpful at all, and really address the ego of the posters more than the topic at hand.      
 
The busyness of other sites can be quite distracting.  Your examples demonstrated this perfectly.   OUCH!  They hurt my head!  If a site has moving avatars on it, it's already lost me, because the rhythm of the moving avatar is clashing with the rhythm of  my music that I'm invariably listening to.
 
The only feature which other sites have which is not on this one is to be able to easily multi quote from previous posts.
on November 4, 2010 4:37pm
And shame on me for neglecting to mention http://www.phpbb.com/.  It's great free forum software, and is what the Contemporary A Cappella Society forum is run from: http://forums.casa.org/viewforum.php?f=5&sid=5ba79262323d64aba47c85101641be6c
 
Next time I'll just email these comments...  Cheers!
on November 5, 2010 5:21am
So many posts are about the same problems over and over, and pages of suggestions already exist within ChoralNet for these problems. I suggest using a screening process for posts that matches key words in a pending post with previous posts, asks whether these previous posts answer the problem being posed, and provide the option to click on previous posts to solve the problem or to proceed with the pending post. This is common when you ask for help on Amazon.com or a Microsoft Office or technology help site.
 
Otherwise, I like the simplicity of this site over the many annoyances that have developed elsewhere. I don't want to see an avatar glaring at me--this is a site about choral music ideas and problem solving. Layers of bells and whistles get in the way.
on November 5, 2010 5:47am
I agree with Tony. A lot of the features Jack is suggesting are appropriate in a "World of Warcraft" gamers forum, but not here. This is NOT Facebook, NOT MySpace, but ChoralNet is evolving and adding more "social" features and will pick and choose from the most appropriate and effective ideas that are currently "out there" in use on the web.
 
on November 5, 2010 5:49am
ChoralNet could have installed vBulletin, phpBB, or any number of other existing forum packages, but instead, has chosen to go with customized solutions that are more appropriate to the target audience -- choral professionals.
on November 5, 2010 5:59am
Like you, Jane, I've been participating in a lot of different forums since the 90's and and very familiar with all those "bells and whistles." People use avatars to make political statements, or they post risqué images, etc.--there's no need for avatars on a professional "vertical portal" website like ChoralNet. As for "thumbs up/thumbs down" -- a big NO THANKS! Earn "badges" for inciting some sort of "forum riot"? No way.
 
Now, there are other useful features that ChoralNet should (and will) consider. Things like better social media "hooks" -- so that you can "Digg" or "Like" or "Tweet" stuff from ChoralNet to other places/networks. I actually lobbied for, and got some additional statistics on the new Communities. When they were first implemented, the index only had a forum post count column, but I think it's far more interesting to see how many replies there are to forum posts, rather than just the number of posts, so ChoralNet's webmaster added that feature.
 
Of Jack's suggestions, I think those most applicable to ChoralNet's ethos and audience would be numbers 3, 4, 5, and 8.
on November 5, 2010 6:28am
I have to agree with Jane - I read a variety of forums and although there are some functionality changes I would love to see here, I don't feel like some of the typical bells and whistles (avatars, badges, etc) add much for me. If anything, I feel like some of them would give a less "professional" feel to a venue which seems currently to avoid a lot of the online drama that afflicts many other forums. Changes I do think would be actually useful to us: Jane's suggestion about quoting, and also Jack's #5. I would love to see an entire list of the posts that are getting a lot of activity, not just the ones with the most recent posts. The share button might also be nice - I do often share items I see here with friends and colleagues.
on November 5, 2010 2:44pm
My primary concern is that ChoralNet seems very sterile.  There is nothing other than the number posts and comments to show that anyone uses it.   Thousands of people visit the site each day but leave no footprints.  Having a thumbs up button for posts would at least show that someone is reading the content.  Knowing how many people are reading a post can bring your attention to interesting discussions that fall victim to a poorly chosen title.   As for the rest, I have been looking into what makes an online community be a community.  I guess for many choral directors their lives are more tied up with what happens in the real world i.e. concerts, conventions, touring... so if all you want is a resource ChoralNet has that in spades.  I am here looking for more than that and maybe I should be looking somewhere else.  Any suggestions?
on November 5, 2010 8:05pm
Jack:
Similarly, I belong to many forums and on line communities but I fail to see how they all need to look alike or have similar bells and whistles.
I actually like the ‘sterile’ aspect of ChoralNet if that is the appropriate descriptor. (And I am a gen-x-er by the way.)
Our culture is going technology crazy and I find it calming and sort of peaceful to visit ‘old’ style forums, read a book make of paper, play my acoustic piano.
 
old-fashioned at 40,
 
N
on November 5, 2010 8:01pm
Sterile? Perhaps when compared to the gaudy mess of MySpace, or to the "LOOK AT ME!" vanity of YouTube, or to the numerous moronic "comments" that pollute the pages of hard news websites (on the better ones, you actually have to click to choose to see them). True, we have no "Farmville" here (thank goodness!) or other time wasters, but what we *do* have are very active forums (plus classifieds and announcements) where busy professionals come to seek help and/or offer valuable assistance, interesting blog posts and selected news items of interest to the choral community, a vast choir website directory where you can become a virtual tourist--browsing sites from almost 100 countries around the globe, and the new "Communities," where people either geographically associated, or those interested in a given area of music or other topic can have unlimited interactions. Those aren't just "resources"--most of them are quite interactive. ChoralNet users are notified every day of the activities on this site through the indexed "Daily" e-mail messages, containing links to all the new activity.
 
Your guess about the majority of directors being tied up with their "real world" activities is on track, so this site has to balance its features with those busy people in mind, making it easy to access important content without too much complication or distracting "eye candy." As I mentioned earlier, a number of your suggestions are already under consideration and will likely show up in the near future, if there's a consensus as to their usefulness. One thing to consider is that all of that stuff requires interactions with a vast database, and the more calculating/counting/etc. that has to be done to load each page on this site, the harder the server has to work and the longer it will take for each page to appear, unless a lot of money gets invested in extra server capabilities. But I'm confident that a balance between features and performance can be reached, as there are some excellent people (exactly two) who make all that happen.
 
To the best of my knowledge, there aren't any other choral music sites anywhere near as active or comprehensive as this one, so I'm not sure if you'll find another one that meets your desire for "thumbs up" style interaction. How about being happy that your suggestions are being heard and responded to, and consider taking "half a loaf" rather than looking for something that may not exist?
on November 7, 2010 7:28am
Thank you for your input, but vBullettin and phpBB are customizable solutions.  Does your web hosting and design business have an interest in maintaining the current forum structure?
  • As a professional, I don't have time to click through threads to determine when the most recent post was.  In the thread lists, please display the date of the most recent post.  The date of the original post doesn't help me that much if I'm checking back since the original post date.  Bouncing the thread with the most recent post to the top of the list is helpful, but if it's still at the top when I reture, there is no way to tell whether any new responses have been added since I last swung by.
  • As a professional, I don't have time to click through threads to see who the most recent poster was.  Please display the username of the most recent poster along with the username of the original poster.  There are certain people whose responses are particularly want to read.  Seeing their name listed is a draw for me, and like the date function above, would let me know when someone new has posted.
  • As a professional, I don't have time to click through the all user profiles to see more information.  This is why signatures and taglines are helpful.  It would be nice to be upfront with your associations, especially if they have a bearing on the conversation.
  • As a professional, I don't have time to reread thread portions that are requoted.  Having an in-line quoting function allows me to get right to the new posters remarks.  Conversely, if I haven't read the original post in entirity, the quoting function allows me to quickly read the portion most pertinent to the response.
  • As a professional, I'd rather spend my time on issues that people are paying attention to.  Showing the number of posts in a thread is helpful, but showing the number of views would also be helpful.  For instance: this thread has had a decent number of responses, but are many people actually viewing?
There is no need to make ChoralNet "flashy".  Just more organized, easier to navigate, and easier to share and connect.  Strawmen arguments about mySpace carry no weight; adding helpful tools does not require epileptic graphics, awful colors, or disjointed code.  I like the simplicity of ChoralNet and it is part of the reason I participate here, but there are some aspects that could be changed to improve the user experience while still keeping the clean look and feel for the forum.
 
Thank you.
on November 7, 2010 10:58am
As a 19 year old facebook addicted college student who still understands the need for PROFESSIONALISM on this and other sites than are used as recources by professionals who need to act professional:
1.) The person's name is a more than good enough identifier.
2.) While it would be nice to denote if someone is an editor/modifier, the other titles are much too "cutesy" and irrelivant.
3.) That serves no functional purpose but to boost egos.
4.) That would be very helpful.
5.) Very much agreed.
6.) Like/dislike is something that should be reserved for social sites, a like/dislike feature on a professional resource such as this would be inappropriate and almost childish.
7.) I don't even understand the point of that. It seems like some World of Warcraft type idea and I don't get its relevance on a professional resource.
8.) Might be useful.
In conclusion: professionality needs to be maintained.
on November 7, 2010 11:58am
Does your web hosting and design business have an interest in maintaining the current forum structure?
No, my only current involvement is as the moderator of the choir website directory. I haven't been responsible for any of the website features for a long time.
In the thread lists, please display the date of the most recent post....Please display the username of the most recent poster along with the username of the original poster.
I agree with those suggestions--to use that in the index of each forum, rather than just the date/time of the original post. I don't agree about signature/taglines, because in addition to possibly informing us, on many other forums, they are typically used to make political statments, include off-topic quotes, etc., and hence could actually interfere with, rather than assist in the efficiency of the communication. I don't mind clicking on people's names to see their profile info.
 
Some of the other things menioned here (#3, 4, and 8 above) are already being seriously considered for implementation, and will other suggestions found to be desired/useful by a consensus arrived at in an organized fashion, considering the input of a variety of voices and the technical implications. Thanks for being part of the dialogue about this--sorry you found my mention of "MySpace" to be a "strawman" argument--although MySpace hadn't been specifically mentioned before that, it does indeed serve as an example of a site that made some bad choices in trying to be popular and wound up losing a LOT of popularity and respect due to it. Whether or not you find that germane, I think it clearly is, thus taking the "straw" out of the "man," IMO.
 
Peace,
David T
(and inline quoting isn't actually very hard--I just did so above)
on November 7, 2010 3:37pm
Maybe we could have a feature which automatically jumps you to the comment added after you last read the thread. For example, if you read a thread which has four comments, and you come back to the thread the next day and it has ten comments, you'll automatically be scrolled to comment #5, where you left off last time. This might not work as well on comment threads with lots of replies-to-replies, but it's pretty hard to do that anyway. Or maybe have a different background color on comments which you've already read -- then the ones with white backgrounds will be new and therefore easy to identify.
on November 7, 2010 3:49pm
Here's the number of pageviews of the current most-recent-ten list in the forums:
this thread - 449 (18)
voice teacher - 549 (16)
harmonize by ear - 13 (0)
confitemini - 19 (1)
war horses - 311 (5)
Music folder cabinets - 167 (3)
Tango and Passion - 147 (2)
SAB caroling - 144 (4)
Online web course - 313 (9)
Linden tree carol - 17 (0)
 
The number in parentheses is the number of replies. As a rule of thumb, more replies equals more views anyway. Does more views really help? Anyway, threads with more replies tend to stay on the site longer and get more attention, so they'll inevitably get more views. I'm not sure how knowing the number of views will really help. But it wouldn't be that hard to implement.
on November 8, 2010 6:54am
Well, if you are looking elsewhere, the MENC forums, including the Choral forum, are slightly less "sterile". They do incorporate #1, 4 and 5, but still have a feel that is more professional discussion and less social networking. Some of the forums (General Music, for example) get a lot of traffic, while others (Higher Ed/Admin/Research) get much less. I personally feel that more people post and respond there than here,  but I don't know if that's true, or just my impression. It might be worth looking at, if you are in search of something different that still offers on-topic professional discussion.
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