Written by Shinano formerly of CNCUniverse.Com, now closed. Thanks to the staff of CNCUniverse.Com for allowing us to host this, the staff of CNCSeries.Com are only responsible for addition and full credit goes to CNCUniverse.Com. (In other words: cheers Steve & Mark.)
I've seen a few “State of the Community” articles lately, and decided I wanted to write an article that shared my views about it. I thought about it for a bit, and realized that instead of just complaining about how things are, perhaps I should write a little piece on what we can do to make things better. To this end, I submit for your approval a short suggestion list. This is particularly targeted to webmasters, but I encourage staff members and regular lurkers of the CNC community to peruse it as well.
There's some things I really like in the community. Articles, for instance. Reading a well thought out one can change your viewpoints on a number of things. Of course, in the CNC community, good articles are often hard to come by. Few sites have excellent article writers, fewer still use the full extent of their talents on a frequent basis. And this is fine. Really, it's extremely difficult for any site, let alone a small fansite, to be all things to all people. One of the things you should think about as a webmaster is your focus. If you want to focus on mods, maps, Generals news, what have you. To paint an example, we here at CCU are trying to be a little more on the analysis side of things, and backing that up with some good content, Generals content especially. As we're less than a month old, you'll undoubtedly see some evolution in the coming weeks, especially with summer coming along to free up our schedules. There's a bunch of content we hope to show you pretty soon, especially our new Generals stuff.
I digress from that tirade, however. Articles are the main point right now. How can you actually write good articles? Well, the formula is actually fairly simple. First, you'll need someone with a bit of writing talent, and preferably, a good sense of grammar, syntax, and the like. Horror upon horrors, this means you'll have to find someone who actually paid attention in English class. A good vocabulary is invaluable in this respect, it makes your article seem vibrant and alive if you can describe things in an interesting way.
Well let's assume you're that person. First thing to do is come up with an article idea. It doesn't necessarily have to be original (this article's topic sure as hell isn't), but it needs to be insightful, or else, no one will particularly care what you have to say. The one thing I hate to see is articles that rehash the same stuff over and over again. Nail down your idea, and make a short bullet list. Now, here comes the important part: make sure you choose an argument! I've lost count of the times I've seen wishy washy articles that don't back either point, and attempt to placate both sides. Playing both sides of the fence usually results in getting your balls broken, so don't try it. Acknowledging a counter-point is one thing, being indecisive is another. Readers look to you to help them make a decision with cogent arguments. So stick to your guns, and don't afraid to be a little controversial.
Go indepth. This oftentimes means researching your material. Researching can be anything from looking at screenshots, to playing a game, to browsing others' websites. Once you've got your research done, make sure you fully explore your points. A one sentence topic tells your readers nothing about what you think of the point at hand. Feel free to sit back for a moment as you write, and reflect on what you're writing, see how you can refine it, make it better. Being indepth also means length. This is a scary word for some of the more illiterate readers out there, they don't like reading things over three paragraphs. But hook them with a good opener, and the time it takes to read your article will fly by.
Post production. Westwood does it, why can't you? This means spell check, and then manually proofreading your article to make sure you haven't slipped up. Better yet, get a second opinion. Many sites are damn near monolithic these days, so a shortage of staff shouldn't be a problem. Have one of your fellow staffers peruse your work. Make sure it's someone who doesn't pull any punches, because those who post in your forum won't. When you're done, your article should be polished to perfection, and contain some interesting reading. If it doesn't, go back to the drawing board.
The thing that goes hand in hand with content is news. It's the one thing that will most likely bring visitors back on a daily basis. This is where this article will prick a few ears. As it stand right now, the news in this community is horrid. Others have laid out the problems quite eloquently, so instead, I shall try to come up with some solutions.
The golden rule is be professional, but not pompous. Professionalism is easy, just don't go overboard. Don't be too colloquial in your posts. This means no emoticons and using proper grammar and punctuation. That's rough work, I know. Don't get me wrong, this isn't CNN, feel free to infuse your personal opinions into your posts. In fact, I would encourage it. Every site in the community has basically the same news. Rather than beating out another site by one minute, try to infuse some personal style into your post. Tell your audience what you think, maybe add an interesting tidbit that relates to the news. Too many sites just do the cut'n'paste special. This consists of the following format: “Hey, there's some new crap, here's a piece: cut'n'pasted paragraph. Head over to whatever.com for the rest!” Worse yet, it's gotten to the point where all the news is compacted into one post, which is copied by half the sites in the community. I won't name names, but I've seen these posts copied blatantly all over, and some people even steal posts off the official RA2 site. For goodness sakes, get some originality, and spend some effort on your site, or you aren't worth my time.
For this, you don't need an army of news posters. You need at most, maybe a cadre of five. Here at CCU, we make do with a four or five people, as our staff are each multitalented, and really, it's not that hard to write a decent news post if you put some thought into it. Sites with an armada of newsposters, are at the least giving a free ride to some, and at worst opening a potential security problem, especially if the inactive newsposters have admin access or ftp access. You're also pulling down your useful staff to their level, as the bad apples often set the example for the group. If your staff are useless, then fire them. It's not as if you have to give them thirty days notice. Tell them to start pulling their load or they'll be fired. It's not like there's a shortage of those willing to help out, especially with the excitement Generals is creating. Granted, some people have talents that are harder to find or their help is needed less often, but for news posters, you should expect a frequent contribution.
So you need some new staff to replace the deadbeats, how do you proceed? First of all, if you can, hire people you trust. Make sure they have a proper knowledge of the English language, and make sure they're dependable. Also, try to avoid hiring people who work at other CNC sites, a conflict of interest can result, and at the very least, they're spread thinner than they should be.
If you can't find personal friends or other people in which you already have trust, try seeking them out with job offerings. Look for applications that show the person isn't lazy. If they can't be bothered to write out a professional looking email, then they'll probably be lazy/incompetent down the line.
As for the pompous part of the golden rule, remember, you're not god. You run a fan website that gets as many hits a year as Google does in 15 minutes. Be friendly, hang out in the community chat room. Get to know your fellow members of the community. In the long run, contacts can be invaluable if you run into problems, or want to get an inside scoop on a developing story.
As you can gather by the topics above, I feel the main problem in this community is a lack of professionalism and individuality. I think if we all gave a little more thought to what we were writing, rather than cutting and pasting someone else's work, we'd be a lot better off. As webmasters, you can do this by selecting the right staff, and giving them good guidelines. Also, the general who leads his troops is often more highly regarded. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and post. Better yet, don't enforce such a rigid class system at all. Not to sound communist, but if you treat your staff as equals, and run your website as a democracy, I think you'll find you get much better results. Too many sites try to be rigid corporate structures, and for small time fan sites, it just doesn't work well.
As staff, you can try to set an example for your fellows. Be original and you'll gain notoriety, if that's what you crave. If you aren't treated well at your current site, your hard work WILL be noticed by other webmasters.
As readers, I encourage you to take a hand in your community. Sign up to do something, but if you're content to be a reader, at least influence the community. Visit sites that provide new and original content. Boycott ones that post the same inane drivel, and ones that copy posts from other sites. By actively doing something, the community will get better. Merely bitching about it adds to the problem.