Welcome back for the continuation of this interview with moderators from the Great Steampunk Debate – Amanda Stock, John Sondericker III, and Tome Wilson.
AA: Continuing our discussion about the Great Steampunk Debate, what were the challenges of being a moderator but posting personal replies in a discussion?
AS: As I already mentioned, initial confusion over when the moderators were acting as such was the biggest hurdle. Once that was solved, it was more a matter of trying to be civil even in personal posts replying to people who were becoming incensed over opinions you’d expressed. It was important to keep yourself in check even when not acting as a moderator, because you still had to keep in mind that you were one of the faces of the debate’s organizational structure.
TW: I kept my personal participation to a minimum after the start of the debate, so as not to confuse my own outlook and personality with my role as an impartial moderator. When my service was needed as a mod, I changed the visual style of my posts to let people know what “voice” I was speaking with, my own or that of the moderators.
AA: Everyone brings their own bias on a given topic to a discussion. Do you think your postings carried more, less, or equal weight, and/or if people perceived it a certain way just because you were a moderator?
AS: I think posts by moderators carried no more weight than anyone else’s; we didn’t present them as such or all have one unified opinion that was being heralded as the “correct” one. However, due to the credentials and associations some of the team possessed and their frequency of posts, they were sometimes perceived differently by some members, I feel.
JS: I largely stayed out of the debate and spent more time interested in what others were saying.
AA: How was the Great Steampunk Debate promoted to bring in participants? Any idea where people mostly came from? Forums, ezines, facebook?
AS: The debate was promoted via all of the associated websites and forums as well as any other discussion boards the moderators were members of. Advertisements were placed in online steampunk publications such as the Gatehouse Gazette. At least some of us were promoting it through Facebook; I probably bugged everyone in the Canadian steampunk groups there about it at one point or another.
JS: We mentioned the debate in the forward of Steampunk Tales the month beforehand, and I made sure that my higher profile steampunk buddies were talking about the event on the net.
TW: It was promoted via the social networks and all of the moderator’s personal sites, along with a plethora of other related sites where people might find it interesting. Nick and Allegra also promoted the site heavily in their respective eZines, The Gatehouse Gazette and Steampunk Magazine.
AA: Were the numbers of registered users about what was expected?
AS: I was personally expecting a slightly higher number of users, although the turn-out was not half-bad. The one thing that was slightly disappointing was the number of people who were registered but did not post. The majority of posts were made by a very small fraction of the total user base!
JS: I had no idea what to expect. I don’t really have a good handle on how many people are actually enthusiastic about steampunk. I know that many people who buy Steampunk Tales just enjoy the genre, enjoy the fiction, but would probably not participate in a debate.
TW: Personally, I expected more, but my views are biased on how many steampunks I believe are active, online, and willing to participate in an event such as the Debate. Some are just in it for the fun, and could not care less about the ideological end of it.
AA: Any numbers for site traffic from non-registered users? How many ‘guests’ were reading the threads?
AS: I haven’t got any hard and fast numbers, but based on my personal observations of guest numbers whenever I signed on to the debate, there was a sizable number of people reading who never registered for an account.
AA: People came to the GSD for any number of their own reasons, ranging from lurking to learn more to wanting to express their views. As a guess, 95% (99%?) or more of 1042 registered users never posted anything. On my own blog, I can see that thousands of people read it but hardly anyone leaves a comment. Why do you think that was for GSD in particular? Was this expected? Is that common in other forums?
AS: Lurkers will always exist, people who are interested in reading the opinions being expressed by others but not necessarily interested in sharing their own. I was hoping that anyone who went through the trouble of creating an account would post at least once, but that was rather optimistic.
JS: I used to ask myself the same question back when I was running a very popular blog called Non-Prophet. It would sometimes get 80,000 hits a day. People generally comment on things that irritate them or that they feel like they have a particular expertise in. They comment on snarky chatty things. I could write a great, interesting post about a science or technology topic and nobody would reply. If I was critical of evangelicals involvement in politics I could get 50 comments.
TW: Coming from a web development and marketing background, it’s common for 85% – 95% of website visitors to not engage themselves in an interactive website. The majority of people who use the internet are still passive viewers and without incentive, they are typically unwilling to get involved in something that doesn’t directly affect their personal life. This translates to the real world as well, where active response rates are typically much lower (5% – 7%).
AA: Once the debate began, what challenges and rewards were there for you from the participant’s involvement?
AS: The major challenge was dealing with recalcitrant members who were there mostly to stir up trouble. We didn’t want to silence anybody, but sometimes threads would get so far off topic from senseless arguments that seemed more personal than steampunk focused.
Overall, the experience was incredibly rewarding. I enjoyed being able to discuss some of the harder-hitting questions about steampunk ideology that don’t show up quite as often on the regular forums with people I might not normally encounter online. Seeing the geographical trends in opinion was very interesting. I had my ideas challenged and sometimes I even had my opinion shifted. I definitely came out of the debate with a greater sense of what steampunk meant to me than I had going in.
JS: It was fun lurking and taking in the topography. I wasn’t overly surprised by anything.
TW: Challenges? Having enough free time to cover all of the topics and threads in a timely manner while maintaining my life, home, job, and Dieselpunks.
Rewards? None, other than an increased awareness of the orthodox steampunks who feel that it should return to its roots as a literary genre and not involve itself in the arts & craft movement.
AA: Looking at the debate as a whole, what was one of the most unexpected items for you? Number of registrants, site hits, topics, discussions, responses, etc?
AS: The number of spam-bots! Because moderators had to activate all memberships manually, we definitely got a first-hand look at how many spam bots sign up for a forum. Sometimes you could catch them right away and not let them register, but frequently enough they slipped under the radar and had to be banned and deleted. You wouldn’t think a small, newly created special interest forum like the GSD would attract so many spammers, but this is the internet, after all…
JS: I think it all went down more or less as I was expecting. Good stuff.
End of Part 2
Please join us next week for the continuation of this interview with moderators from the Great Steampunk Debate.
Kevin Steil is the creator of the steampunk news and information resource website, Airship Ambassador, the annual month-long global blogathon, Steampunk Hands Around the World, and is the curator of the online Steampunk Museum. He has been a guest and speaker at a number of conventions, contributed to several books, and has consulted for national media programs and events. He can also officiate your wedding!