Attracting readers and making Crimespace a special place for them was always something I wanted out of this virtual bar of ours. I began with a starry-eyed vision of authors and fans mixing it up in the stalls together, united in a common love of all that is crime fiction.

But it doesn't seem to be working.

I've noticed that there a number of readers who have joined up who aren't quite as vocal as us writer types. I think this is partly the nature of the beast -- writers write and readers read -- but I'd like to see if I can do something to improve on the situation.

One of the features of this site that I've been reluctant to add is that of Groups, a way to band together with like-minded Crimespacers. Groups can exist within Crimespace and have their own Forum and list of members. I've had a number of ideas for particular Groups myself, but I won't mention them just yet.

Have a peek at Library 2.0 to see what I mean by this whole Group thing. You may see that my reluctance towards the feature comes from the fact that most of the Groups only have 1 or 2 members.

Still, one good thing about Groups is that I can choose which ones to feature on the main page, so at least this way I can pick the more useful or popular groups to put the spotlight on.

If this all this talk about Groups is just gobbledy-gook to you, then if you have any other suggestions for changes to Crimespace, feel free to drop me a line in this thread, or send me a message with your thoughts. This site has a limited set of features, so it may not be possible for me to fulfil your requests, but I do want to make Crimespace rock even harder than it does already.

Yes, I grew up in the 80s.

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One of the reasons I wanted to add the Groups function was to have either me or someone else (or everyone!) get together a list of recommended reads/authors.

Actually, I think I can do something about this.

*rubs hands together and cackles*
I think I.J. Parker has it right when she says she picks the topics that interest her. We all do, don't we? And we're not all going to be interested in the same thing. I don't think Crimespace needs any more features. It has more features than most forums do already. Adding groups would just make the place more exclusionary and cliquey, and it would provide more work for you, Daniel, because you'll have to keep changing up the front page. And it might get confusing, like when you walk into Target (as an example) and notice that everything has been rearranged. You'll have to find things all over again. And having been the guy who makes all those changes at Target, I can tell you it's a lot of work in its own right. Of course a website is different by nature, but it would still be more things for you to deal with.

I think the responsibility of making Crimespace better rests with the individual. The biggest thing I see that needs to be addressed is what a discussion forum is and how it should be treated. A discussion forum is a place for people to come together and express his/her opinions on a given topic. We're all dealing in opinions here, and sometimes that gets heated. Everyone at a forum should be aware that what is being discussed is the opinions a person puts out there, not the person himself.

For example, let's say I make a post and say that genre fiction is formulaic and dull. Well, that's sue to garner a response. Let's say Bill (example name, not anyone in particular) takes issue with my comment and says "Hey, you're wrong, you're just generalizing, not all genre fiction is formulaic and boring." Now this is rather tame example, but the principle behind it is the same. Bill is commenting on my opinion, not me. He is not saying that my value as a human being is any less, he is not making fun of me, he is simply saying that my opinion is not valid.

Now I can respond to Bill and give reasons why I think genre fiction is formulaic and boring (which I should have done in the first place), or I can restate my opinion, or I can simply not reply to Bill. If I don't want to get into the discussion, than I don't have to go any further. It's that simple.

Everyone who joins in on a discussion should be aware that it may get heated, and that that is a good thing. If everyone agreed on everything than a discussion would be pointless. And a person should feel strongly about something, or else why bother commenting on it? But that's just me. If Bill wants to chime in and say "me too, I agree", then that's his right. If that's all he wants to say then that's all he has to say. If I ask why he agrees, then Bill can tell me or he can not tell me. It's up to him.

The important thing, is not to make a comment personal in the first place, but it is equally important to read what is said and figure out whether something is personal or not. 90% of the time it's going to be a comment about the issues. Personal attacks don't usually crop up until the discussion is already adequately heated. And if a personal attack does come up, then you can either fight back or let it go, but the important thing is don't take it too seriously.

This is just an internet discussion forum. Don't take it too personally or too seriously. Jon Loomis and I had a heated discussion not too long ago, but now we're back to trading opinions like nothing happened. Because nothing did happen. We had issues with each other, we stated them, we moved on. That's how message boards are supposed to work.

As far as readers go, I just don't see how they are being left out. The only topics specific to writers are those posted in the Writer's Den, and even then there are things that non-writers can discuss. Every other section of the forums is open to anyone. It's the responsibility of the readers to make Crimespace what they want it to be. If they want to discuss more books, start a thread for it. Anyone can start a discussion. The Jim Thompson discussion was started recently. I don't know anything about Jim Thompson except that I've heard the name, and I'm not really interested in learning about him, so I didn't post there. But others have been. Others are interested, so they post there.

I'll close with another example. I am a member of Netphoria, which is a message board for fans of the rock band The Smashing Pumpkins. That place has flame wars on a constant basis. One minute Jack flames Bill for no apparent reason, and the next minute Jack and Bill are side-by-side defending a given topic. The unruliness of Netphoria is the kind of thing most discussion boards try to stay away from, but honestly, Netphoria is a more comfortable, relaxed environment than Crimespace.

The reason: Because we all know that everyone on Netphoria is a Smashing Pumpkins fan, so we're all in this together. We have different likes and dislikes, and we are not shy about sharing them and having stupid, ridiculous, immature fun doing it. And we don't take it too seriously. It's a message board. Nothing said there is going to affect the world. We're just hurling opinions at each other and occasionally having a real discussion.

I'm not advocating Crimespace to become like that. I am just pointing out that the reason a message board becomes an oppressive place is because the people on it. Everyone flames on Netphoria, but no one cares so everything is good. And everyone gets it equally. On Crimespace, however, it's like walking on egg shells because some people get offended anytime another person challenges their opinion. Why? Because these people are taking it too seriously and are not realizing that it is the issues which are being discussed, not the person who discusses it.

So it is up to all of us to make Crimespace what we want it to be. No added features are going to do any good.
At the risk of heated discussion--

Every group has it's own 'culture', if you will. What works well for one group won't necessarily work at all for another. Many, many people will leave a group if bashing behaviors start up, because it becomes an unpleasant environment. And if I recall correctly, an entire thread got yanked off the board because of an opinion being expressed in an impolite manner.

One might consider that when one enters a group of strangers, one might want to work with the culture of that group, rather than trying to force it to adapt to oneself. Words have power, and sometimes very unintended meanings, and if one choses to use a sledge hammer to voice one's opinion rather than the prevailing tool of choice, one may be taken to task for it.

I may be wrong, but I believe most groups that discuss books and writing frown on flaming. And, by the way, telling someone their opinion is 'invalid' as in your example above is a personal attack. Stating that you disagree can be done in a way that doesn't ruffle everyone's feathers and engenders useful discussion. Being polite and thinking about how your words are going to affect others shouldn't be a problem.
I understand what you're saying, but you don't want to go too far in either direction. No one is advocating flaming. The Netphoria example was to point out how an unruly environment can be more pleasant than a "civil" environment. I don't like false politeness. There are plenty of attacks on here that are veiled by polite language, but the meaning comes through anyway. I prefer to state it as I feel it rather than dress it up and make it look pretty.

You're right that you shouldn't force people to adapt to your own ways, but the culture can't force someone else to adapt to them either. It goes both ways. That is why it is the individual's responsibility to take from a discussion board what that person wants. In any environment there will be things you can't control. I'm not saying that people have freedom to talk however they want, of course not. There is not free speech on a message board. But you can say what you feel, and just because you "I don't think that opinion makes sense", that doesn't mean you're being impolite.

No one's feather's need get ruffled if everyone realizes that we're here to discuss our views on things and not each other. There is no reason a person should be offended by another's opinion.

You're right that "valid" is the wrong word to use there; it would have been better to say that the person is saying that my opinion is not credible, or carries no weight, or something like that, but that was not part of my example; that was my part of my commentary on my example. It's misinterpretations like that which leads to heated debates and people getting offended. I can't help it if someone reads what I wrote wrong.

Now I agree we should all be polite with each other. But I don't agree with veiling your meaning behind pretty-sounding words. Just come out and say what you mean, and let's have a real discussion. We're all adults here, and we should be able to have a meaningful discussion without getting offended when someone occasionally uses an impolite word.

The first words you wrote say it all "At the risk of heated discussion"--What's to be cautious about? If it's an important topic, there probably is going to be heated discussion, because people are passionate about their beliefs. I don't like discussions where everyone agrees with everything. But now that's just me. If everyone else wants nice and calm discussions where everyone says the same thing over and over again, then they can go ahead and do it.

A person is responsible for the things he/she writes on a public forum. If someone posts something and I take issue with it, I have the right to say so. If that person doesn't want to back up his/her claims, he/she doesn't have to. Just don't reply, and the discussion ends right there. But if you post something, don't get all flustered if someone takes issue with it or asks you to back it up. That's what message boards are all about. But you're right about your sledge hammer analogy. People are responsible for the things they say. I just think more people need to learn what a sledge hammer looks like.

Anyway, Daniel asked for suggestions, and so I gave mine. It's all right if no one else agrees with me.
There are plenty of attacks on here that are veiled by polite language, but the meaning comes through anyway. I prefer to state it as I feel it rather than dress it up and make it look pretty.

I don't have time at the moment to address everything John, and my apologies for that. But the above has me wondering something. It would seem, in your opinion, there are posts that are veiled attacks. However, what if that is a person reading more into it than was meant? There are times all of us come off sharper than we meant, or are in a rush and don't fully express ourselves.

And then there are issues of people perhaps being sensitive.

Having just been through a scenario where so many people said they wouldn't post on a discussion group because they feared being attacked and had negative experiences with that, my own preference is to err on caution. Disagreement can be done with civility but if there's hostility some people may not feel comfortable and leave.

This came up recently on my own blog in the comments here.
Now let me guess which group that was. No. Better not. :)
I don't think it's OK to say someone's opinion is not valid - everyone's opinion is valid. Discussion is good, stating opinions is good, flaming is NOT good. If there ARE people who are reluctant to post for whatever reason then fostering an atmoshere where they might be told "Your opinion is not valid, but it's OK because I'm not attacking you personally" isn't going to help.

I like reading differing opinions - it helps me get things straight in my own mind. If I'm discussing something on which the two sides are quite vociferous I prefer discussers who say "I see it a different way and here's why..." rather than "You're wrong and I'm right."

And a place where there is regular flaming is not a happy or fun place to be.
Again, no one is advocating flaming. I refer you to my reply to Pepper Smith above about the "valid" thing; wrong choice of words, but that was not part of the example, but my commentary on it. It's not helpful to jut pick a few choice items from a post and use it to refer to the whole thing. My point in my post was the importance of individual responsibility, not trying to say that hurtful words are okay, yet so far no one's even acknowledged my point. It's much easier to take a few words out of context, I guess.

Sorry, if I seem harsh here. I'm not trying to egg anyone on; it's just frustrating to constantly have my words misread.
As it happens I didn't see your post to Pepper until after I had posted mine, and apologies if you feel I have misread you. I chose to respond to that bit because that was the bit that stood out for me, and because I didn't have time to respond to the rest of it.
I apologize if you feel you're being misread. The tone that came across in your original post seemed to be saying that we should be free to respond to posts any way we please, as long as we take responsibility for what we said, and I believe it's that idea that we're objecting to. Plus, in previous posts, you've come pretty darn close to telling people their opinions are invalid, so there is a little history to go on with this. Perhaps it was not your intention to tell people their opinions didn't count, didn't hold water, were invalid (all of which are personal comments because each person's opinion is a product of his or her own thinking process, likes, and dislikes, and there is nothing invalid, doesn't count, or doesn't hold water about them), but that is the way it comes across sometimes. The more forceful the words, the more it may appear that you would like to argue rather than discuss. Under those circumstances, having a conversation can be trying, if one would rather not argue.

Just my opinion, but as someone who would rather communicate than throw stones, it makes some conversations places I'd rather not be.
You make a good point here, that an opinion is attached to the person. That is very true. That's why it's so important not to take it too serious, because we're talking about the issues. It's not like if you say something I don't agree with then I hate you now or something. I mean I don't know you, why should I have an opinion about you as a person. And I do feel that you can separate the opinion from the person saying it. It's just a perception, but I try to take what someone says and focus on that.

There is a difference between telling someone his opinion is wrong, and saying it holds no water. In my example with Bill, "Genre fiction is formulaic and boring", what water does that hold? That's no opinion that's going to change anyone's mind or make anyone think in a new way. It's just a generalization with nothing to back it up.

What I think should happen, is if I say something that makes you feel uncomfortable or offended, or if you read something that seems inflammatory, then say so. Say, hey, there's no reason to attack me, or something like that. Then I can know that I am being misinterpreted, and I can clarify. What usually happens is that the person (I'm going to call this person "you", since that's how I started) replies to a comment by picking out the inflammatory words and then uses more "civil" language to tell the original poster ("me") that I don't know what I'm talking about, or that I'm not experienced enough, or something other thing, instead of jut coming out and saying that you feel the conversation is going awry.

It's hard to communicate well with just words on a screen, because something which isn't sarcastic might seem like it is, or something like that. And communication i also a two-way street. You can blame the poster only so much. The person receiving the comments has a responsibility to try to process them as accurately as possible.

For example, the "invalid" thing you mentioned: you said it was in my example, which it was not. This is not a matter of interpretation. This is a matter of reading comprehension. Bill said that my opinion was a generalization and held no weight, which is true. It held no weight because I didn't back up my claim. Bill never said the opinion was "invalid", which I take to mean the same as saying that you're opinion is wrong, or not legitimate. I said it was invalid in my attempt to explain the example. That was my mistake, using the wrong word. Your mistake was not separating the opinion from the commentary of it. I'm pointing this out to show that we both failed in our communication.

This kind of thing happens a lot. When it does, we should pause for clarification instead of assuming meaning. In this case we can't really do that because you didn't feel any confusion in what I was saying. So we have to sort it out now.

But anyway, the main thing is that this is just a discussion. We need to lighten up a bit. There's no need to hit the roof if someone happens to say something in an impolite way, because that person may not have intended it that way. Communication goes both ways.
"The biggest thing I see that needs to be addressed is what a discussion forum is and how it should be treated."

Like others have said below, a forum's climate is built from the culture and personalities of the people that contribute. Not that you're calling for this, but I absolutely flat out refuse to make any list of rules or codes of conduct. As long as people respect the opinions of others, we have no problem. And I think that's exactly how it is right now.

And I'll take your views on Groups as another vote against them, which helps confirm my own reluctance. It wouldn't be much work for me, but hey, less is more, right? :)

Thanks for your input on this, John.

I'm also starting see some evidence that people are only viewing the forum posts from the main page. I'm tossing up a few ways to fix this.

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