The Partridge Family were neither partridges nor a family

As yesterday’s post made clear, this site would be utter crap without several dozen people who write posts and/or comments, and we’d be a few crazy people alone in a room without others reading and leaving traces on the server logs. As I believe I’ve said before, I never would have thought when this started a year ago that it would become what it has, creating so much fun and so many new relationships, bringing so many moments of delight in reading and discussion.

I think it’s appropriate, though, to step back a bit and assess what exactly The Great Whatsit has become (it has apparently acquired a capital T, for one thing), and how it might be improved. I had only a vague sense of what I wanted to come from this enterprise when it started, and Bryan and I have often talked about the evolution of a publication as it finds an audience.

You reading this are the audience; some of you are also contributors and have as much ownership of this thing as I do. So I’d like to have a discussion in the comments, if possible, open to anyone who cares to join, about what works and doesn’t, what changes you’d like to see or what you’d like retained.

Should we institute a format that would somehow enable short, bloggier entries, probably alongside longer posts? How does the scheduled aspect of the site work for you: Should we relax or eliminate the schedule? Should we bring in guest writers for single posts, and if so how? Are there any changes to the design of the site that would make it nicer for you to use (keeping in mind my limited web design skillz)?

How popular a site do you want this to be? We get about 400 visits per day on weekdays (with someone viewing the site from two computers or after an hour’s hiatus counting as two visits). Should our ambition be to increase that number? If so, how?

Or should we instead try to remain small? How much of an insider tone should we adopt in the posts themselves? In the comments? Should we model ourselves on a private forum for friends or on a general-interest publication, or on something else? Should we try to focus our writing topics or continue to leave it up to the authors’ choice?

These questions have all occurred to me in various forms many times over the past year. I’d love to see what everyone thinks about them. And this really is not me punting on a post this week — there’s an upcoming war with Iran to write about, as well as creeping fascism here in the US of A — this is me trying to facilitate a constructive conversation. Discuss!

28 responses to “The Partridge Family were neither partridges nor a family”

  1. bryan says:

    i suppose the attendant discussion is also — to what degree do we need to establish guidelines regarding the privacy of contributors, some of whom are careful to preserve their pseudonymity and some of whom are careful to protect their public image when using real names. this would be a concern for posts as well as for comments. some other sites i’m aware of, for instance, have a policy that any comments that compromise the privacy of members who post under pseudonyms will be removed at first sight.

    as for corporate identity (corporate in a good sense–as in community) i’ve come to think of TGW as generally more substantial (meaning complete essays rather than suggestions for discussion topics) than unfogged but more fun than 3 quarks daily. both of those group blogs are full of smart people and wicked smart commentary, but i see us as set apart from either by the personal essay format. our entries are generally longer than blog entries. they’re more polished. i like the set schedule aspect of it, too, which means that we know pretty much what we can count on, and yet the miscellaneous nature of the contributions means that you never know exactly what you’ll get each morning.

    personally, i prefer the posts that don’t take TGW itself as the subject (unlike this one, right?). While some of the 6 degrees posts last fall were a necessary part of community formation as the east and west coasters were getting to know each other, i think that too much insider blogging tends to shut out the general readership — and i prefer to think that we’re writing for a general readership as well as for a group of friends. if comments get a little insidery, that’s cool, but i really like the pieces that balance the personalness of a personal essay with the recognition that we have at least the possibility of a general readership that doesn’t know any of us in the real world.

    the only other issue i wanted to raise — and one that came up repeatedly over the course of the new year’s gatherings — is whether or not west coast wednesdays should remain limited to wednesday or whether you all have folks who would like more regular time slots — an afternoon slot, say, on M, T, Th, or F. or should you be divvied up into trios to rotate through slots like Farrell, Trixie, and Cedric do on Thursday mornings. Early on Lisa Parrish told me that she thought we should be aiming for two posts a day, morning and late afternoon. Any thoughts on that?

  2. Scott Godfrey says:

    I agree with Bryan in regard to wanting to cut down on insider posts. I do, however, believe that the comment section should be as insidery or outsidery as the commenter wishes. One of the things that I love about the site is that anyone can comment; you don’t need to sign on or create some bogus account.

    As to the number or posts per day, I really prefer the one morning post. I think one a day will promote higher levels of quality in each post as well as more interesting comment strings.

  3. Dave says:

    re: West Cpast Wednesdays, afternoon slots, etc.: We could also look at making relatively minor adjustments to the schedule to accommodate people who want to post more or less often. You West Coasters could enjoy the benefits of a regular deadline.

  4. Dave says:

    And about insider posts: There seems to be a difference between you-won’t-get-this-unless-you’ve-been-reading-the-site-for-a-while posts and you-won’t-get-this-unless-you’ve-partied-with-Scott-Godfrey posts. The first kind, like Trixie’s periodic updates on the house demolition and construction, or Parrish’s goat obsession, I think are great. The second kind I’d be more cautious about.

  5. Scott Godfrey says:

    Because it’s dangerous to party with me?

  6. Dave says:

    Because not all of our readers have had the privilege.

  7. bryan says:

    and then there are the “you won’t get this unless you’ve lived inside ruben mancillas’s brain” ones …

    just kidding, ruben, of course. you did get the reference, didn’t you? just kidding, again.

    re: too-insidery comments — i have no problem with personal exchanges, injokes, etc. i just think that on principle we should be conscientious, in or out of comments, about issues of publicity and privacy in regards to various types of contributors. for the most part i think we’ve done well at this, but it doesn’t hurt to keep it in mind when you’re tempted to disclose something an author hasn’t disclosed him- or herself. now, if someone puts his childhood bedwetting on the table in one of his own posts, then that’s fair game, imho.

    in my very first post i made an oblique reference to another contributor — one that he felt would be too obvious and would reflect poorly. he asked me to nix it and i did. so this issue has been with us from day one.

    to some extent with a group like this, outside readers will encounter contributors and commenters as characters, and it can be fun to get to know someone via posts whom you’ve never met in real life. i do this with unfogged all the time — i feel like i “know” some of the contributors although i’ve never met any of them. but we have to be conscious about the fact that this is real life too. as trixie put it to me, you have to be aware that your worst enemy could read what you put out here and how they may be able to use it. it’s not always easy to remember, but it may be something we want to consider more fully as we move forward.

  8. Tim Wager says:

    I’m with Scott on keeping it to one post a day. There’s a certain amount of pressure to make a post substantive if it’s the only thing that’s going to appear that day. This is easy for me to say, though. Undoubtedly you weekly posters – Dave, Bryan, Pandora, Lisa – know this on the difficult end of things, as in, “Eek, I’ve got to produce a post again this week?” For the West Coasters, we only have to produce a post once every 2 months or so, which suits me fine.

    As to privacy issues, sensitivity is of the essence. Even those of us who don’ t use pseudonyms have things we might not want revealed in public. Only after I started writing here under my own name did I think (duh) that potential clients and others could easily find what I’d written and use it to judge me. This was naive, of course, and I’ll happily deal with the consequences of my own errors in judgement. However, participants should also remember that whatever they write in a post or comment about someone in the GW community who uses his/her own name (whether a joke, exaggeration, or the plain truth) can contribute to public perception of that person.

  9. ah, and even more crucial, it can contribute to *private* perception …

  10. Stephanie Wells says:

    I feel strongly about one post a day too. When there are two, the early post sometimes ges bumped down before I ever wake up (if I’m having a reeeal good morning) and it never seems fair that it doesn’t get to stay on top for the whole day, getting its due attention and responses. If we wanted more days, has anyone considered weekend posts, or are too many people livin’ lives away from their computers then?

    I also like the essay format that currently exists, especially because it’s so diverse in topic. I’d vote for keeping things as they are, but going to one post a day and including the contributor privacy considerations. I too like that contributors have their own “personalities”–some of you I’ve never met but have a strong sense of–and think that personal posts are excellent and compelling as long as everyone has control over what is posted about them.

    p.s. I recommend partying with Scott

  11. Dave says:

    What about, in addition to the one post a day (which I’m also in favor of), there were also a mini-blog in the side column where people could share links to wacky or noteworthy things they’ve found on the Intartubes? It’s a functionality that’s relatively easy to add, but I wonder if you think it would be worthwhile — would people take the time to post things to it, would people click things, and would it add value to the site?

  12. Jeremy says:

    i recommend partying with scott too–maybe we can have a weekly feature called “partying with scott” so our readership doesn’t feel left out.

    i agree with steph, et al., that i’m not a fan of having two posts (especially since it’s based on east coast time, the new post updating for us at 10 am)–but i’m not averse to the idea of spreading out the west coasters. there are currently (i believe) 9 of us writing on wednesdays, and although i like not having to post every week or every other week even, sometimes i forget that it’s nice to be motivated by more-frequent deadlines (i.e., every month rather than every two months…). but i’m not sure how the other west-coasters feel about that.

    and, yes, we should probably practice a bit more discretion, at least until certain contributors get tenure…

  13. MarleyFan says:

    1. Don’t fix what ain’t broke; TGW works well, and as an outsider (who only knows a couple of insiders) TGW is just perfect. If it becomes too sterile and impersonal, it would lose it’s flavor.
    2. Author’s choice. By allowing each author to write about what turns his/her crank, it stays alluring.
    3. Schedule- Although I wish that there would be more posts, I agree with BW, in that a higher number of short posts may dilute their “polished” nature, which makes TGW what it is.
    4. Anonymity- I too agree that for those who want/need anonymity (for whatever their reasons), it should be respected. That being said, should I have not “outed” my sisters ability to pee standing up?
    5. Contributors- TGW may consider having a section for guest contributors, who would like to contribute (or try it on for size) on an occasional basis.
    6. Editorial Board- Last but not least, if something “crosses the line” (try defining that one), the editor(s) have the right to take care of it. And if you don’t like it you can bugger off…

  14. Stephanie Wells says:

    I think MarleyFan has just articulated the perfect policy!!! And I like the mini-blog “raves” section idea too. Anyone object? Can that be the mission statement?

  15. Scott Godfrey says:

    Dave, I like your idea in comment 11. There are a lot of little things I come across throughout my day that don’t warrant an entire post, but I’d like to share nonetheless. Maybe if the site consisted of one large daily post and an area for smaller anecdotes and whatnot that any contributor could add at any time.

  16. andrea says:

    What about re-naming the whole site “Partying with Scott “?

  17. bryan says:

    or naming the new links section “and whatnot”?

  18. Lisa Tremain says:

    Just want to hear-hear the vote toward one polished essay-ish post per day (and for partying with Scott). Spreading the Wednesday writers around is a move toward integrating and growing the site– but no need to do too much at once. Marley Fan’s got it right.

  19. Scott Godfrey says:

    I knew there would be a backlash on account of me being so charming and whatnot.

  20. Scott Godfrey says:

    But in all seriousness, I agree with Tremain on spreading the WCers out. I’m also a strong advocate of the one post per day situation. With professional and pseudonym concerns in mind, like MR, I believe that we would be harming the spontaneity of the site by over thinking it.

  21. Jeremy says:

    besides just conintuing to be super awesome, what other ways could we grow our readership? at first, i was sending out an email to many friends each time i was posting, but i’ve sort of gotten away from that. i seem to remember that dave was working on some kind of template that we could use to send out email announcements and such. does anyone else promote the site to friends/acquaintances? should we develop a myspace page? any other ideas?

  22. bryan says:

    all this talk about once a week, once a month, once every two months.

    can i just say (again): i know a place where you can get lisa parrish every damn day!!! what a lucky world.

  23. PB says:

    Thank you Bryan for the link!!!

    You guys are so smart and on the ball, what is there left to say?
    (except I feel left out, Scott, when I go to LA next, will you sign my dance card?)

    I like the idea of an editorial board (I actually thought we already had one) just to keep up with the privacy things. I do like one post a day. I love the “what not” idea. I want West Coast whenever they want to be wanted, not just Wednesday. I may be a no-life nerdling, but I would read posts on the weekend. As a writer and reader, I like the eclectic mix of author’s choice, but now and then it would be fun to have a theme week or even day of shorter posts, like the reviews only ideas or postions on current events or whatever.

    PS, I love the title of this–only you Dave could make a “post” out of a title.

  24. Stella says:

    Did I move to the wrong coast? We’re all frenetically writing our blogs to a military schedule back east while out in CA they’re waking up to a little fresh-squeezed orange juice and every 9 weeks Jeremy asks them to break off the SG party to make time for a little TGW. Boy, it’s tough.

    Anyway, yes to current format/structure, yes to the new sidebar of raves, yes, I really like my post staying up all day (all weekend!) because it feels like I earned it, and we know I’m self-indulgent. And I really love that we do these more complete essays rather than random blogs, because I think we all secretly aspire to write the Talk of the Town column for The New Yorker.

  25. Jeremy Zitter says:

    Don’t forget about the bountiful strawberries we wake up to every morning out here, Stella!

  26. Stephanie Wells says:

    Yeah, and big steaks too. Ah, California! I love that Dave has begged for short review for tomorrow because no one has a post ready, whereas we all have 90 backed up in the hopper for when our thrice-yearly turns come up. It’s VERY relaxing out here that way! Can someone massage my feet? I think I pulled something in my noon Pilates. Thanks–that feels great. Pass the patchouli.

  27. Dave says:

    Summing up so far: There seems to be support for keeping the schedule and general format, perhaps tinkering with Wednesdays or other scheduling matters at the margins, and adding a short links blog. Also, coming up with a few guidelines for maintaining anonymity and privacy, everyone being sensitive to such concerns, and the editors policing things they see as potentially harmful to privacy. And Jeremy, at least, wants it to be more popular but doesn’t know how to do that. (Although Jeremy has already done more than probably anyone to bring readers to the site.) Anything else?

  28. Dave says:

    Okay, so regarding privacy concerns and the sharing of photos of events with camera-shy TGW people, I looked into Flickr’s group function. Basically, we could have a private group, meaning only people we invite could join (authors and regular commenters). (Flickr accounts are free and I really like their site.) Then, group members would upload photos to Flickr, mark them as private in their own “photostream,” and share them with our group, which would let only group members see them.

    Do people think this sounds secure enough to be comfortable with it? It looks to me like images would be protected as long as Flickr isn’t hacked, but I can see having concerns, for instance about trusting one’s privacy to a big corporation (Yahoo owns Flickr). Give me some feedback, either in comments or by email.