Dieselpunks

Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

In my work-related fervor, I've been considering an update to the site.  The update would organize our knowledge, media, and articles in a way that would make Dieselpunks more of a research library than a social network.

Why?  Simple.  I see our traffic coming from writers and artists, and nostalgists who are looking to consume rather than contribute.  

Sadly, the world I'm seeing does not want a community, and people often forget they have a voice.  Instead, they want a website that can entertain them.  A place to escape and forget that actual people are right on the other end of the content they're reading; people like themselves.

As I become more and more consumed by my 9-to-5 job, I understand the mentality of wanting to switch off and disconnect at the end of the day.  But will a reorganization of our content ultimately lead to more creativity in the community?  If we made our inspirational materials easier to consume, would we see more dieselpunk work being born, or would it simply give our readers an excuse to float further away from the community we're trying to build?

What are your thoughts?  We do not live in a vacuum.  We are not untouchable rock stars.  The people who bring this site to life are as human as you and I, and our ultimate goal is to inspire, not just entertain.  I welcome your voice and opinion.

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Building user based communities can be daunting. I have seen vigorous forum sites subcomb to the social media juggernaughts over the years. Sites I dearly loved and admins I knew personally. Among those who have not, some even now maintain a dual presence. Even if only to scoop up more traffic. In talking with the ex-admins of these sites the last deciding factor was always traffic. Each of these questions were common:

Can you generate enough visitor traffic to pay the costs of software and platform support (hosting and domain fees)? Is your platform provider robust enough to resist damage so you can concentrate on content?

Can you drive enough contributor traffic...Will the professional artists/contributors of word and image derive reward from either enough recognition or traffic (word of blog advertising) to their sites? Niche market artists can be key.

What is the sites role in the genre ecosystem? Fresh content, deep reference, link consolidation? Regional, National or global audience? It's difficult to be all three in each.

Core participation. Do you have an increasing core of contribution that's engaging enough to draw out the lurkers? I visit several sites that I just consume consolidated content from that I could never contribute to and respectfully donate to. Voluntary subscription because I realize the value as a daily or weekly reader. Is your site one or two people contributing every day or 10 or 20 once a week. Having a deep bench to hold readership thru life's interuptions is necessary to keep a site on readers daily rounds.

Myself, I'm a builder/writer who's moving through the netherworld between steam and diesel. Looking to learn the styles, history, and subtle minutiae to incorporate in projects as a hobby, not a profession. In the large internet coffee table of magazines this is one I'm currently browsing and exploring the connected content from. And yes, I found this site from a FB post once removed. Thanks for your work.  

Hi Dan,

Thank you for your thoughtful response, and great questions.  Perhaps I can clarify.

Building user based communities can be daunting. I have seen vigorous forum sites subcomb to the social media juggernaughts over the years. Sites I dearly loved and admins I knew personally. Among those who have not, some even now maintain a dual presence.

I agree completely.  What I’m seeing in my personal life is more time being eaten by work, and potentially a baby.  This being said, I would rather spend my available hours generating news and articles than moderating and boosting a community.  That can be a huge time sink, and one that I can’t devote the appropriate amount of eyeballs to while I’m at the office.  Example: a forum thread blows up on Dieselpunks, and I’m out of touch due to a meeting or a high priority project at work.  I get home, exhausted, and check my inbox to see dozens or hundreds of replies to the thread, but I can’t make a dent in it because the damage is already done.

It’s this sort of thing that shows me I would rather let the social giants (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) do what they do best, and shift our focus to what we do best.  So, Dieselpunks 2.0 would have much more integration with those entities than trying to be a social network unto itself.

On a daily basis, I see about a dozen membership registrations, and our numbers continue to be steady.  After I deal with the spam bots, that number shrinks, but is still significant.  However, the amount of people who actually use their Dieselpunks account to interact on the site is like .05% or less of our user base.

Even if only to scoop up more traffic. In talking with the ex-admins of these sites the last deciding factor was always traffic. Each of these questions were common:

Can you generate enough visitor traffic to pay the costs of software and platform support (hosting and domain fees)?

Our fees are mainly paid for out of my pocket.  I work on side-projects, like Diesel City and various dieselpunk-related presentations around the East Coast, and that’s my budget for maintaining and improving the site.  The Amazon Store is used to fund contests and give-aways, but the revenue stream is barely enough to pay for a CD once a year.  I also receive rare, but generous donations to help host the site from donors who may not always be members, but appreciate what we do.  In essence, it doesn’t matter if we have 300 or 3,000 members.  The platform can handle a heavy load so I don’t have to worry about bandwidth, but the amount of members (as opposed to visitors) doesn’t directly relate to revenue.

Is your platform provider robust enough to resist damage so you can concentrate on content?

Yes and no.  The platform is sturdy enough, but I have to manually fight spambots every day, and the support from the hosting company is abysmal based on what I pay them.

Can you drive enough contributor traffic... Will the professional artists/contributors of word and image derive reward from either enough recognition or traffic (word of blog advertising) to their sites? Niche market artists can be key.

Within our little corner of the universe, I believe we are a heavy weight, but that just makes us the coy in the goldfish bowl.  We can certainly help new artists who would have otherwise not had any exposure, but that exposure is directly related to our articles, and not the forums or interactive areas of the site.

What is the sites role in the genre ecosystem? Fresh content, deep reference, link consolidation?

Yes, and this is what I would like to focus on more.  When I see the 100th issue of Lord K’s Garage, or Cap’n’s Caberet, I don’t just see that article.  I see it standing alongside the other 99, and those articles are just as important.  But I don’t see a lot of people going through the archives, because the platform is clunky and we don’t make it easy enough to discover the other 99.

Regional, National or global audience? It's difficult to be all three in each.

Global audience.  Strangely, we see steady traffic coming from every country with an internet connection.

Core participation. Do you have an increasing core of contribution that's engaging enough to draw out the lurkers?

We gain a new writer about once every six months.  It’s difficult to stick with a steady schedule if there’s no compensation other than exposure, so the writers you see here on a regular basis are fiercely passionate about what they do.

I visit several sites that I just consume consolidated content from that I could never contribute to and respectfully donate to. Voluntary subscription because I realize the value as a daily or weekly reader. Is your site one or two people contributing every day or 10 or 20 once a week.

There’s currently five of us on the regular rotation.  Four of us produce new content more than once a week, and one contributes once a month.

In the interest of transparency, here's a very early sketch of what I'm shooting for in a new design.

  • The navigation has been cleaned and streamlined, and going with a left-side bar instead of a horizontal bar allows us to grow.
  • Membership will be dropped in favor of more focused content. I'm thinking of using Livefyre for comments and interaction. It's kind of like Disqus, but a little better IMHO.  
  • File uploads, like articles, photos, and videos, will be handled via a submission system.
  • The music player will be dropped in favor of a streaming radio station.  Right now, we're limited to 100 files.  I'm looking at a solution that would supply days worth of music, with the ability to schedule special broadcasts if needed.
  • The back-end will be streamlined so our staff can easily update, format, and schedule their content.
  • The event calendar is being completely revamped to allow for reoccurring events and an easier submission process for sharing events with the community.
  • The design will use HTML5 and will not be so dependent on javascript.  This means better compatibility and legibility on mobile devices, and a 60% faster load time per page.
  • We'll have more control over the content with more backup options.

I'm looking for thoughts and opinions.  And PS, take this design with a grain of salt.  I spent less than a half hour putting it together, and it will change as I polish it, especially the way the logo and navigation appear.

tome,

thanks for allowing us to participate on your decision to change the site. here are my impressions...

- if you change the site in the manner you are describing, i don't really see any damage being done. people will adjust. if anything it seems like a logical evolution to me.

- since this is your hobby site, i think you should make sure it remains something you enjoy working on, not something that becomes a burden, or worse yet, something you begin to hate. trust your instincts. they got you this far.

- dieselpunks.org is a heavyweight in it's category on the web. most of the other sites, and forums i visit of similar categories typically have memberships somewhere in the 100s.

- through hard work and determinations, you've already built a community, my friend. well done. it's ok to cut back on the throttle and enjoy the ride too.

- if you need any free site design work for the transition, just let me know. i'll be happy to pitch in.

john

Thanks for the encouragement, John.

My ultimate goal is to make the whole site easier to digest, and to get the radio station project off the ground.  As long as I'm working towards those goals, I'll be happy.

As a newer member, I've participated in several threads, started . . . one, I think, and barely begun to scratch the surface of the vast amount of content that seems to exist here.  In terms of my relationship to the subculture, I'm an interested observer at best; I like the look and the art and the movies and anime dieselpunk aesthetics generate.

I'm also the former admin of an (unrelated) special interest forum, into which I poured a great deal of time and effort for about ten years, only to finally turn off the lights after it had evolved into me talking to myself, and sometimes to a longtime member from Nova Scotia . . . lol.  Yet when I announced the closing via topical communities on FB, waves of mournful "Oh Noes!" ensued!

My general impression has been that up to about 1000 or so in membership, half a dozen will carry the conversation and be truly active; at about 3K or so, a dozen, and around the 10K mark, perhaps 25 will post multiple times daily.

I have multiple interests in life, and dedicated forums I frequent for each, but Facebook has gradually taken over most of my social networking.  What I'd love to see from a Dieselpunk 2.0 remake is anything that makes the content you've built easier to access and navigate.  The current front page confuses me.

 

Thanks for the honest feedback, Sanglier.

Social networks give back about 40% of what you put into them, and I honestly don't have the time to play matchmaker every day.  The idea works, but you need someone who is dedicated towards starting new conversations, new contests, and new reasons for people to interact.  I think we just have a comfortable place to toss in your two cents if the topic is hot enough.

As for the homepage, I agree.  It could be cleaner.

I am not as educated in computer technology as most here, so I can't completely follow the discussion of the relative merits (technically) of changing the site, but let me put in my two cents as someone who does not follow most online social networking.

I have been a member of fedoralounge.com for years and have been active there on and off.  For those of you not familiar, Fedora Lounge has dozens of subcategories devoted to anything and everything that retro people would want to share:  fashions, music, personal products, history, cars, food and drink...you name it.  It's delightful.  It's huge.  The last i remember, there were 12,000 members.  So you can imagine, the threads on some forums go on for ages.

I have been curious for some time why, since Dieselpunks.org is smaller and therefore should be more personal, I have never felt that I really KNEW anyone here.  I am familiar with the personalities and interests of many of the loungers, even when I am away from the site for long periods of time.  Yet, Dieselpunk is what I am and where I belong.

I completely understand when Tome says he sees the site becoming more of a reference source, because to me that is what it mostly has been.  But I would LIKE it to be more of a social experience.  I am just not savvy enough about the technical side to know if it is the way the site has been laid out that has limited that function, or if we really do attract a different type of person--one that does not "mix" easily.  I wish someone more knowledgeable than myself would analyze this.

So I personally would like more, not less, orientation toward social networking.  But I am at a loss for how that could be accomplished.  I know that the look and feel of a site are powerful motivators, and people's participation may change drastically with a few format changes.  Anyway, I will be here, whatever comes.

If I had the technical knowledge, I would volunteer to shoulder some of the site maintenance responsibilities.  Surely there are some who will step up to the plate?   

I'm also a member of fedora lounge, but I've always felt embarrassed to post there because I wasn't a purest.

I think what we're missing on the forum side of things, is a representative who can "keep the party going;" someone who has time to engage with the members, welcome new people, and start fresh conversations when needed. I simply don't have the spare time to keep everything else afloat and play the part of generous host.

If this was a party, I would be the guy in the kitchen making sure everyone was fed. I need a Gatsby who can greet people at the door and keep the energy flowing.

Usually that's the mod staff.  That in and of itself can be tricky, though---on my forum, which sprang from a network of regional IRL associations, I asked the mods to make at least one post each week . . . and the request fell on deaf ears, but oh, lawdy, if I dared clean up a thread gone bad in their area, I'd never hear the end of how I was trampling on their turf.  That they hadn't logged onto in weeks . . . lol.  o_0

We have a good staff, but they're focused on researching and publishing good articles on a weekly basis.

In order to keep the social aspect of the website, I'll have to see who else is available on a regular basis to stir things up.  Good, reliable help is hard to find these days. 

tome,

maybe Docneg and Sanglier might make good recruits?

john

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