Sunday, September 20, 2015

More Chowhound Redesign Angst

Another day, another email from a disconsolate Chowhound member (here was the last one).

Hi Jim --

You don't know me, but..... Is there any chance I could prevail upon you to use your considerable power [sic] to do something about that disaster of a new site?

You've no doubt seen the reactions of others. I was hoping I could take advantage of a desire on your part to preserve the incredible gem you created.

THANK YOU, in advance, just for reading this.
Hi! Thanks for writing!

Some historical perspective for you. The old Chowhound site, while I ran it, delivered 100mb index files to every user every three clicks or so....over dial-up connections. If you’re not technical, what I’m saying is that the software was almost completely unviable. It was sheer torture to use. It was something to work around and put up with. (Here's an explanation of how this came to be, though you may want to read this series from the beginning).

It also worked really well to ensure that the only people who stuck around through the duress were really serious food lovers. To this day, whatever level of expertise remains in force is due to that adversity, which did a fantastic job of filtering our usership by repelling nearly all the casual eaters.

No doubt, this redesign was awful. It’s almost unusable. But it’s still way more usable than it once was. Here’s the thing: the hounds who remain, who squat within this awkward new landscape and calculate ways to work around it, will be awesome. The community will be better than ever. All the causal ditzy users will give up and split.

I’m not a masochist, but I kinda look forward to apocalypse. Great things happen amid ruin. That’s where humanity does its best work. Make people comfortable in the perfect software environment (or any other perfect environment) and they'll get lazy and ditzy. That’s when the Olive Garden people took over. Now they'll be gone (and hopefully CBS will keep the lights on in spite of the traffic dip).

Just some very long view perspective; hope it helps!


My previous posting about this redesign spurred many comments. I think my final reply within that comment stream managed to get to the heart of things. I'll reprint it below:
What really makes no sense are the folks in total anguish about losing this really important community and part of their existence, when there really is nothing chasing them away.

Exactly. Even as one of them even insists it's about people, not software.

I've seen the same happen after every make-over, upgrade, and re-do of every online forum I've ever run or participated in. Even when the changes are smart, reason has no part of the response. Freaking out and acting irrationally (e.g. the notion that a FB group would provide a better environment) is what humans do when their communities are radically upended.

It's easiest to understand by visualizing reaction if real-world communities were radically and unilaterally changed overnight. Even if you woke up to discover that the water faucets pour champagne, there'd be extreme angst. It's deep. It's limbic.

Obviously, this ain't just software. And companies like CBS Interactive should understand that change (even positive change) must be gentle if you don't want to outrage the citizenry. And, 20 years into Internet culture, community members should have learned that they're ALWAYS forced into workarounds. The old workarounds feel comfortable, and the new problems will spur new workarounds that will come to feel equally comfortable. We're all squatters; always were, always will be.

But, no. It's the ancient dynamic of ham-handed administrators and anguished users. They can't even hear each other.


shel emm said...

There is another possibility: That TPTB will work to address and improve most major concerns. The rest will just be noise. You can have your cake and your cupcake too.

Unknown said...

Looks like the exodus has officially begun.

Here's my contribution.

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