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.)
The community is freshly back from airing its collective dirty laundry, with articles like Mark's and Ash's. In my opinion, this was a healthy exercise, but it's done. We've laid the wound bare, we don't need to pour salt on it. Naming names and pointing fingers is a useless exercise here. I will be naming names when I see something that I like, and hold them up as an example of what should be done.
To some extent, we're all to blame, anyways. I shoulder my share of the responsibility as well as the next man. However, I also know that I can make my site, and by extension, the community, the best it can be. So I submit the following ideas to my peers. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor is it designed to be. It is simply a collection of ideas that I think we have been lacking. Nor are they entirely my own ideas. Some members of our forums, as well as people all around the community, have submitted their ideas as well. I'm going to try to present some of these ideas here, so don't feel I'm ripping them. I'm trying to bring some ideas that I think would have an impact into one solid package.
The last time I wrote an article about solutions, it was perhaps, said too soon. Also, it was aimed at what you, the individual, could do to better the community. Now, this article is pointed more to webmasters and the community as a whole. I still recommend it to everyone, as you an see exactly how your favorite CNC site can be even better.
Affiliates. What does that word bring to mind? A list jam-packed with links in the right sidebar of your favorite site? No, that's not quite it, I was sure it was on the left. Regardless, affiliates have degraded into nothing more than a huge solid block of links to every other relevant site in the community. In my mind, the idea of 'affiliates' needs to be redefined. Yes, you can keep your massive 'affiliate' list, but just make a links page. Have all of the sites in the community there, maybe even with the ability to have people submit their own sites (subject to a review by your staff, of course, there's always those troublemakers who think a goatse.cx link is funny). Have a rated link section a la CNCNZ. The possibilities are endless.
As for affiliates, they should be meaningful. As Mark pointed out, an affiliate used to be more than a link. You usually knew the webmaster of the site, and often would consider them a friend. If you had a question about how to do something that he had on his site, more often than not, he'd be glad to help you out.
Be choosy with your affiliates. Choose sites you know and trust, and that you like. I'm not going to feel bad if you don't ask me to be an affiliate. I've developed a taste for certain sites around the community, and some of their staffers visit CCU on a regular basis. So the logical choice is that we would become affiliates. I'm not going to give a hard and fast number for affiliates, but I should think 5-10 would be more than adequate. Affiliates should be a special thing. I don't mean send them valentines cards with chocolate, but they should be more than a link on your page. They should also be a mutual thing. I know everyone would love to affiliate with Lion or PCNC, etc, because they get LOTS of hits, but realistically, they, like anyone else, should affiliate with whom they want. Affiliates should not be popularity contest (alas they often are), they should be a way to strengthen both sites.
So what should affiliates be? As already mentioned, they should be your friends. You should rely on each other for advice, and above all, trust. Say you have just finished writing an article (much like this one) and you want some unbiased opinions on it. Send it over to a friend at your affiliate, see what he thinks. Obviously, this makes trust very important, as you'll have to make sure they won't steal your work. The benefits are great though. Also, don't be afraid to send them a mail saying "hey, Chris just sent me some answers to questions I had and I just posted about it, figured I'd give you the scoop." Don't be a braggart about it, but it's nice to give your friends a jump ahead on the news once in a while, so they don't have to constantly search for it.
Affiliates might even have a special place on your site. Maybe a little sidebar saying "our affiliate so and so has a new feature up, check it out and give them some feedback." Not a frontpage news post necessarily, but just a little something to drive traffic between your sites. Obviously, it's been said many times that the community isn't about hits, but it's nice to give something back to a friend.
Now, something different would be to plan a project together. Not any old project, a big one. This is where the power of affiliates would shine. Work on it together, and post it up on both your sites (or all your sites, depending on the size of your project), this way you both/all reap the benefits. I've heard many smaller size sites say that they don't have the resources to compete with the 'big boys.' And this is a true legitimate concern, if you continue to work on your own. By banding together, a few smaller sites have the staff and talent equal to one of the big time players, and can do some pretty amazing stuff. And if some of the big boys band together? Then we could see some projects that could change the face of the CNC community. Now, this is why I'm suggesting that affiliates do this. It all goes back to trust. Lots of big, ambitious projects have failed in the past. One of the reasons is lack of cooperation between staff involved in that project. With affiliates, hopefully all the people working on said project would know and trust one another.
"Practice what you preach, Steve." I know, I know. As I said, I accept the blame as well as the next person, hell we don't have a link section at all yet. That will change, and I've already got my short list drawn up, do you?
Dead weight is another sore topic that I have to touch on, though not for long. Back in the tumsun days, we had our fair share of that. You know the staffers, they might do something really minor once in a while just to keep their head above water, but more often than not they're just taking up space on your staff page. Don't be hesistant to confront them about it. It's one thing if a staffer is on vacation with his family, it's quite another if they're just loafing. Give them a fair chance, but don't be afraid to give them the heave ho either. If you notice that staffers in that particular position tend to slack for long periods of time, perhaps it's because the position is useless. Get rid of it, and reassign the staffer somewhere else.
This also helps eliminate another problem that's been voiced. Namely, it's hard to 'break into' the community, and be recognized. With more slots open at the sites, I think that we will give some new guys the chance to show us what they've got. Working with some established sites will also reduce the number of clone sites, and will give guys that are new to the game a chance to work alongside seasoned community veterans, and learn the tricks of the trade.
Specialization is a thing that webmasters can do to reduce the redundancy we've seen lately. Pick an area for your site to specialize in, and do that. At CCU, we try to have the best analysis and the best Generals content we can. Will we ever have RA2 or Renegade content equal to the other sites? No, so we don't try. This isn't fatalistic, it's realistic. We'll still have some important content for the legacy games, but they are not the main focus for the site. You, as the webmaster, must have some particular talent, or perhaps your staff does. Focus on it. Trying to spread out to cover all areas will only result in wasted effort, unless you have a gargantuan yet totally dedicated staff (something which I have yet to observe).
Does this mean that there should only be one article site, one downloads site, etc? No. Competition is healthy, in moderation. It's what helps us strive to be the best we can be, because moral satisfaction doesn't always cut it. However, when every site starts to be a clone of greatestcncsiteever.com, that's where problems begin. That's why I beseech the webmasters, choose something, do it well. You will be recognized for your effort.
This also comes back to my point about affiliates. If each of you specializes in your particular area, together you can have all the content that the big sites have, and perhaps even present it in a better way. I'm not suggesting a merger, as that often leads to the mega sites you so strive to be distinct from. I'm suggesting a partnership. One of the reason the professional media are so successful is because of these partnerships. An example? The AP newswire. Pick up two major newspapers, odds are, a lot of their stories will sound identical. Why? Because they are. They share information. No one newspaper can be everywhere at once, the same way no one fansite can be all things to all people.
All these plans take cooperation. Now, how will we foster that? There's always the community chatroom, #ww, which I encourage you all to join at least once in a while. Nothing beats real time interaction. Aside from things like instant messenger, it's the closest most of us will ever get to talking face to face. The room is pretty well moderated, with a minimum of unwarranted kicking. Granted, if you go in to talk about sites and expect everyone to follow this whim, you'll probably be laughed at. If you have a legitimate concern, there's usually someone willing to talk about it.
Also, the forums are an invaluable source of information and friends. Who knows who you might run into. The boards offer you a greater chance to be heard by your favorite community leader/WW employee (provided you post coherently), and can provide the biggest group to interact with, some boards running in the hundreds and even thousands of members.
That said, maybe there should be a sort of "meet the community" day? One day a month, or however lazy we all turn out to be, where community leaders should make it a point to be in some sort of chatroom together, and be easily accessible to other members. Sort of like a community convention, or a meet and greet. This would be a good place to talk shop, and perhaps meet a few of your (can I say it without sounding ridiculous?) idols. It should be different from the normal #ww chat, with all community site personnel invited, but NOT posted about on front pages. I'm not trying to exclude site fans with this idea, but it would be nice to have an arena where webmasters and staff could talk to each other with a minimum of interruption. Every major industry has these sort of events, maybe we should have them too.
Of course, scheduling a time would be quite difficult, that's why I would recommend a full 24 hours, probably based on greenwich time since it's a standard we can all agree upon. Of course, attendance is not mandatory (hey, we're fans, we can come and go as we please), but it would be very nice if we had as many people as possible there. If the room became too large, we might be able to split it, much like conferences are often split up into different lectures and discussion groups. A room for site critiques, a room for new community ideas, etc.
For a quick summation, I will repeat what I've said before. We've heard about the problems in the community. New problems will continue to be laid bare, but will we think of ways to solve them, or bicker about whose fault it is? That is no way to run a community, especially one as tight knit as ours. I eagerly await your responses, and hopefully we can brainstorm some good solutions together.