[bumped - Barbara Morrill]
We are just days away from opening up DK4 -- the new version of the site -- to a public beta that everyone will be able to access. We finally got our brand-spanking new servers in, and the tech team is busy moving everything over to its final home before you guys can go in en masse and break things some more.
But reading through this thread, it's clear that people are apprehensive about the big changes. So let me give you guys some background about why changes are being made.
I've got some lengthy explanations and thoughts below the fold.
First of all, so it's clear as day: 99 percent of the changes, and certainly all major ones, are my doing. I've had a vision about how this site should operate for the last five years that only now is close to launch. And that vision is based on four fundamental problems I see with this current site:
- It's hard for new people to be noticed. You have a 30 minute window before your diary scrolls off the recent list, and you better hope one of the site's celebrity diarists doesn't post at the same time as you do.
- You can spend all day working on a well-researched masterpiece post, only to see it bumped immediately by the latest lame BREAKING! diary or 15 straight posts on the latest meta war.
- Even if it gets noticed, your diary has a short shelf life. There's no good archival function to make sure your well-researched piece continues to be a resource for others. And
- What if you have more to say? The one-a-day limit is needlessly limiting. And sure, you could hit blogspot and start a new blog, and then have to deal with single-digit traffic.
So in short, what I wanted was a site that:
- Made it easier for content to be found
- Made it easier for good content to rise to the top
- Made it easier to retain good content for future reference; and
- Made it easier for good writers to make Daily Kos their blogging home, tapping into its large community.
Everything I've done has been done to address one of the four items above.
So the first thing to go was the diary limit. Now everyone can post as much as they want. Heck, they can post about whatever they want. I plan to use my blog home (as opposed to the front page) to write about politics, sure, but also about my planted aquarium hobby, about cycling, about California drought issues, about whatever else strikes my fancy at the moment. I expect others to do the same.
So if you have a free-for-all blogging platform, then you can no longer have a recent-diaries box because it'd be all-but-useless. It'd be like featuring all the latest posts from Blogspot in one box. I see that the loss of the Recent Diaries box is the biggest fear from commenters in that diary above, but I won't miss it. I just don't think it was an efficient way to accomplish the first three of my four goals above.
So how do I accomplish those goals? Or, better put for you guys, how will people find material without the recent diaries box?
There will be dozens of ways for people to find content. DK4 is predicated heavily on what we call the story stream. You will "follow" your favorite users, group blogs (you can create them now), and tags. Your stream will feature the latest material from everything you follow.
So say you are UID765443, a complete unknown nobody, and you want to write a diary. Currently, you get no respect because you don't have a recognized name, and chances are your first diary will fall off with 6 comments if you're lucky. On DK4, however, you tag it "ANWR", and everyone who follows that tag will see your piece. Let's say it's a good piece, then a bunch of people will start recommending it. That means that it might make the recommended list. But even if it doesn't, by recommending it, your piece now has a link on the home page of every user that has recommended it. If it's REALLY good, some people may "republish" it on THEIR blog, or on their Group, where it can continue to spread virally through the DK4 network.
There are other ways to be seen -- the rescue rangers will no longer be an end-of-day affair. They'll work in real time to promote good diaries to the front of the site. I suspect we'll see the rise of the community aggregator -- people who specialize in finding the hidden gems and building networks based on their ability to pull them together for the rest of the community. Meanwhile, users who successfully work their niches will be pulled into group blogs and build their profile by joining established networks. And I'm sure there will be myriad other ways you guys will find to promote your material.
Now, to be clear, getting read in DK4 will depend on the network more than on the random chance that you published it at the right time of day, on the right kind of day, without being bumped by meta or breaking news or whatever. And like anything else in life, the more people follow you and recognize you, the more likely you are to be read. But that has always been the case. What DK4 does is make it easier for the average diarist to get her piece noticed. Popularity won't control access. And with a site architecture better optimized for search engines, it'll be easier for people outside the community to find your material as well.
Good content won't be bumped by crap. Since diarists won't be dependent on the recent diary box to be seen, they won't have to worry about their best work disappearing into the ether because of the latest meta war. In fact, given the system is so predicated on plugging into the network, trolls and assholes will be at a distinct disadvantage -- their material getting no attention because no one bothers to give it attention. And since being followed and republished depends on being nice, people who act like assholes will be relegated to their own DK4 purgatory, far away from those who know how to behave in public.
Good content will be better retained for future reference. If your piece got a great deal of recommends and republishes and comments and attention, it'll find a home in the tag page of whatever it is you wrote about. So let's say that great piece about ANWR rocked it, it'll suddenly be one of the most "recommended" pieces for that tag on the day you published it. If it's REALLY good, then it'll make the list of most recommended for the week, or month, or best of all -- of all time. That means the highest quality work will continue to be easily available to site users into the future, at least until something better bumps it off the list.
And yes, I want Daily Kos to be blogspot for progressives. It pains me to see great writers toiling in obscurity on their blogspot sites, when there's a huge, awesome community here they can plug into. So I DO want people to make DK4 their blogging home. Indeed, future iterations of the site will allow for greater customization and skinning of individual blogs so that yes, they can better personalize them while still being plugged in to this amazing community.
And let me say, DK4 supercharges the community. Right now, you can avoid the front page with some work, but it's actually pretty hard to do so. The new site will make it preferable for power users to avoid the front page, living instead in their own home page. In other words, this new site isn't a play to boost the front page -- it'll actively undermine it. And yes, I'm perfectly happy with that. It's a feature, not a bug.
While I believe firmly that I've found the right solutions to the right problems, there are some obvious dangers. The first being, the new site is a REALLY different way of building community. It's serious change. I've had people leave the site in a huff because I changed the colors of the headlines or the tone of the orange or whatever. Some of you may have been around long enough to remember when people were pissed that I limited their diarying capabilities, just as many appear miffed that I'm now increasing them.
Change is hard. And this isn't tinkering around the edges. This is the end result of my ultimate vision of what a community should look like. I've done as best as I could tinkering with the Scoop platform, and now I got to build something from scratch. And yes, it's a whole new beast.
I understand I may lose some of you along the way, and that pains me more than I'll generally admit. I don't mind losing people over content. It's a big internet. But I don't want to lose people over infrastructure. But I fully expect some people won't be able to abide by the change. And I understand that.
There is also the complexity of the new site. There's a ton of goodies in there, but that all comes at a user-interface cost. In fact, I've spent the last three months taking features away, rather than adding them. I've nixed a ton of good stuff because it just complicated the UI too much. And features we sport when we launch the public beta may be gone by the time we officially move over to the new site. If I see a feature creating too much confusion, I'll be more inclined to zap it rather than try and make it more usable. Over time, we can reintroduce many of those features as we better think them out and the corresponding UI.
The other concern I've seen, and one that we have internally shared as well, is the potential for silo-ization of the site. Given the ability to create group blogs and follow tags and whatnot, there's a danger that people gravitate toward the stuff they're most interested in. So, say, the environmentalist can follow all the green tags and green groups and pretty much ignore anything else. So while the current site allows for a great deal of cross-pollination across various niches, DK4 may not.
So yes, it's a worry. However, I think it might not be as much of a worry. Someone may follow me because of my election writing. But by following me, their story stream will feature my writings on aquascaping, on cycling, on random crap I find interesting. Much the same way, you may follow Teacherken, but without the one-a-day limit, you may find that his interests run much further than education and he might introduce you to random stuff you might've never seen otherwise. I actually look forward to finding those users who focus on community aggregating and following them, so they can feed me stuff from corners of the community I wouldn't have otherwise known existed.
Or I could be totally wrong and we scramble to address places where practice doesn't live up to the ideal.
It's a beta. We'll be taking in lots of suggestions and doing the best to make the site as user friendly and useful as we can. But note, any suggested change will have to meet the big four criteria:
- Make it easier for content to be found
- Make it easier for good content to rise to the top
- Make it easier to retain good content for future reference; and
- Make it easier for good writers to make Daily Kos their blogging home, tapping into its large community.