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Beyond the Remote: Audience Power, An in depth analysis of message boards

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  • Beyond the Remote: Audience Power, An in depth analysis of message boards

    I am finishing up my essay on message boards. Its a little more than 10 pages. If you have time give it a read and tell me what you think. I still need to find another source (acidemic source) so if you have any ideas for that, that would be great too.
    So let me know what you think:

    Beyond the Remote: Audience Power
    The advent of the internet created a new form of text, the message board. Message boards are unlike any other modern text and define new rules about who the audience is and what they can do. Production is handled in a way also unique to the message board. In most texts the audience either observes, as in film and television, or participates, like in a computer game. On a message board, however, the audience is a major player in the production of the text. The audience dictates the board’s survival and popularity. Message boards become communities which adopt a special dialect, board specific rules, and in the end, a way of living and a unique life online.
    The message board depends upon its audience to create its content. The opportunity to exert individual control over the medium encourages repeat visits to the site. The website “Maine-Street.com” is a message board for car enthusiasts who live in Maine. The site originally consisted of two kinds of written content: a monthly magazine created by the administrator, and a message board which was the heart of the site. A year after its launch, Maine-Street.com discontinued the magazine and became solely a message board. The switch in content resulted in an average new user registration increase of 32% (Maine-Street.com Board Statistics). This increase in new users was most likely due to the change in board format. With the elimination of the monthly magazine, visitors to the site were routed directly to message forums instead of being presented with a variety of content choices. Many other websites have found that the most motivating element of interactive websites is the discussion of the topic at hand. These websites have also taken the approach of consolidating content.
    Users generally find websites either via word of mouth or through a search engine. Web logs show 18% of initial traffic arrives from a search engine. The remaining 82% arrive through links from other sites or by word of mouth. This means that users on a site may not be accustomed to the specific culture of a message board. Online etiquette (often referred to as netiquette) must be learned through observation. For new users, 68% do not post within the first 3 months of registering. The reason is that they “lurk” on the site, viewing, but not posting, learning the methods of communication particular to the site. Because what is acceptable on each board is different, even savvy message board users will lurk for a few days on a new board while determining board netiquette.

    Message boards have rules for what the audience is allowed to do and a different set of rules about how the audience should create the text. Correct grammar, accurate spelling, and well-written messages are not admired. New words are created and existing words take on whole new meanings on each board. If a user is not up to date on the latest happenings on the message board, he may be “flamed”, made fun of, or called a “newb” even if he has been a member for years. This practice ensures that an audience member will stay current with other members and the site by visiting and posting messages often. New words spring up from message boards. Some are site specific, while others are used on most boards. Audience members who frequent many message boards generally know these terms, thus making it easier to move up in status
    from a “lurker” to a regular user. Words as simple as “the” get new treatment on message boards. After its frequent misspelling, ”the” is often intentionally typed as “teh”. These are little things that users bring to the message board, and make it unique.
    The users of a message board are its greatest asset. A message board would not exist without its audience. The more interaction on a message board (calculated in numbers of messages posted), the more the popular the site is deemed to be. Many people are eager to join a message board because of the flexibility it allows. In a film, viewers can be transported to a different land or time for an hour or two. One can become a contrived persona all day long with little fear of having this deception uncovered on a message board. In the world of cyber space and message boards, unlike high school, athletic ability and physical appearance do not dictate popularity. It is the number of posts that one has accumulated which confers status. Because the numbers of posts generated are a measure of the popularity of the site, it is important to the board as a whole that all members participate. This popularity, visible in the “posting numbers” found on the site, encourages new visitors. High posting numbers on a site confer an assurance that the site is a worthwhile one. Each visitor, lured both by specific topic areas and by the prospect of being a part of a site’s popularity, is encouraged to leave a posting trail to mark his visit. This interaction makes each member of the audience responsible for creating the popularity and visibility of the site. As the numbers of visitors to the site grow, so does the necessity of developing a common set of expectations and guidelines for audience members. The job of enforcing proper audience participation falls to the site moderators.
    Site moderators are positions of respect awarded by the site’s administrator (or owner), to users he deems worthy of helping run the site. These moderators have the power to delete people’s posts and even completely banish users from the site. Moderators are also an integral part of production as they regulate what is created. Moderators frequently follow the stereotypical “good cop, bad cop” role. Successful sites, measured in posting, rely on users who respect the moderators. In the absence of respect, sites become chaotic, and most users will simply abandon the message board. No moderation results in the same site failure. A happy medium helps ensure site popularity and survival. One common site approach is to have a lone moderator do the dirty work. On Maine-Street is a moderator who does just that. The majority of site moderators (referred to as “Mods”) simply move posts into appropriate categories and warn users against using foul and inappropriate language. When a major problem arises, it is time for the bad cop to step in and handle the situation. Mods who serve the function of regulator develop a following of enemies. Some Administrators actually create what is known as an Alter Ego to fill this role. The Alter Ego, or bad cop, is the administrator disguised under a different user name. The adoption of an alternate user name shrouds the Administrator’s identity and preserves his “good cop” role on the site. This “oversight” of the audience allows the Administrator to adopt false identities easily. The Administrator has direct and sole access to individual “profiles”; user information which may include names, addresses, and photos, that each site member supplies when he joins the site. Although there is always the possibility of some or all of this member information to be falsified, the more specialized the site is, the harder it is for a member to maintain false information. Specialized sites carry with them an expectation of specialized information and shared passion. Members on these sites are far more likely to actually meet in person than members of general sites. Regulating functions on the site, however, are developed and maintained by the Administrator. This site regulation minimizes the possibility of users uncovering the Alter Ego or “good cop, bad cop” deception.
    Moderators and regular users of a site are the most important ingredient in the production of a message board. There are many different attractions that can bring a group of people together to initiate conversation on a message board. One of these attractions is the automobile. The users on an automobile message board share a common interest, and the chances are good that they will get along better than on users of a general message board. Message boards exist both for specific cars, i.e., Maxima.org which was developed for Nissan Maxima owners, and boards like Maine-Street.com, which covers a number of vehicle categories in a designated geographical area. Production problems such as discord, which negatively impacts audience participation, tend to be similar between sites. Each interest-specific site tends to use similar production ingredients such as websites layout and board rules. These similarities make it fairly easy for the audience to pursue entertainment from one site to the next. Production of the site, which is the job of the Administrator/Owner, is also aided by the use common software components.
    An essential part of production is the actual construction of the set. Building the “set” of a message board site requires the use of software. The most common piece of message board software used is vBulletin. This $120.00 software package has standard features which online audiences have grown accustomed to and expect on a message board. Using an unfamiliar or poorly constructed software package can lead to message board failure. Production features that users look for include board lay-out and ease of navigation. On Maine-Street, the board itself consists of twelve discreet forums. The audience may choose to click on “Imports” to participate in a discussion of the modifications a user plans to do on his imported car, and from there navigate to the “Off Topic” forum to discuss something of interest to fellow audience members which does not fall into a vehicle category, or to any one of the other forums. There are links that track audience statistics, other links which allow members to post pictures of their vehicles or search archived posts for information on specific topics. There are also links which track the latest post and the name of the audience member who wrote the post. This production feature simplifies the job of checking on what happened while an audience member was not online. Unlike other mediums, this feature allows the audience to be part of the production at all times, even during the audience’s absence. Maine-Street offers members private messaging, which is a special email system for use only within the message board. Maine-Street also supplies graphics, known as “Smiles” for member use. Smiles are small graphics of a face which depict emotions such as sadness, happiness, laughter, or tears. These graphics are essential for Internet communication, as words alone can not convey the cues that face to face communication provides.
    The message board software is not the only cost incurred in running online communities. Another major production cost is web hosting fees. The administrator must pay a monthly fee for having the website online. Many message boards generate so much traffic that these fees range upwards of $1,000 per month. Generally, a banner advertising system is used to help defray costs. With the vehicle aftermarket parts industry booming, many companies are eager to place ads on message boards. Message boards represent a venue with a very large target audience. Other methods for raising money include charging members a monthly fee, asking for donations, and selling site merchandise. Maine-Street relies on the sale of car decals, Maine-Street T-shirts, and banner advertising space to cover the expense of maintaining the board. Members are encouraged to patronize the advertisers, make purchases from one of the site’s sponsors, and to use the connecting link on the Maine-Street site. The use of links to advertisers provides tangible proof of the effectiveness of site advertising. These money generating strategies are necessary because members generally avoid sites that charge a monthly fee. The audience knows that the Internet is home to a large number of easy to find sites, and that sites exist in such numbers that paying to use them is not necessary. The internet audience does not expect to pay.
    Given proper board software, the message board is available for users. The site will slowly take shape and evolve into an online world. Each message board creates its own sub-culture and has different standards for popularity. On a car message board like Maine-Street, members with “status” cars are instantly popular. As this site grows and diversifies, different groups form and people with less esteemed cars unite. On Maine-Street, as on some other car message boards, attempts to anticipate the divisiveness generated between owners of different types of cars resulted in the creation of sub-boards within the site. Devotees of import cars traditionally hold little respect or appreciation for domestic cars and trucks. These fans are able to post within their own area on the board. The same is true for American car, truck, and motorcycle owners. Separate sub-boards exist to discuss off-topic matters, to buy and sell cars and parts, to discuss racing, and to administrate the site. These sub-boards evolved as methods to “manage” both the audience and the disruptions which can flare up and engulf a message board. When an audience member chooses to post on a sub-board which best matches his individual interests, personal attacks and disagreements over vehicles are minimized. The message board is the only medium that sets its own standards in this way.
    Once groups form, they will occasionally stage attacks to different subsections of the board. A group of users who drive import cars may get together and post messages in the domestic section. These often erupt into” flame wars”. A common resolution to such a war is the banning of the main instigators. Every site handles these situations differently. Usually a first offensive will leave a user banned for just a few days. A third infraction may leave him permanently banned. Banned users may gain the status of a “political prisoner”. The user’s followers and admirers will frequently make posts asking to “Free” the user from exile and allow him back to the site. Frequently a banned user will create an alter ego, similar to the method used by the administrator to manage the site. The banned user then attempts to return to the board under a different name. Although there is always the possibility of some or all of the member information to be falsified, the more specialized the site is, the harder it is for a member to maintain false information. Using alter egos, those audience members who create significant disruption tend to repeat this behavior and get banned again.
    Owning a status car guarantees a visitor to a car website a warm welcome and many new friends. An enthusiast who enjoys talking about prized cars without owning one will generate instant ridicule with the first post and be called names like “newb”, which is short for newbie, a person new to the site. On Maine-Street, the user SuperSpyder attempted to gain instant respect with his first post by stating he owned a rare super car, an Acura NSX. Speculation mounted as to the user’s identity and availability. In a rare turn of events on a message board, SuperSpyder was ultimately uncovered as not even holding a driver’s license, let alone an exotic sports car. Such attempts to gain popularity are not necessarily doomed to failure. A more knowledgeable person might have been able to pull off this deception. The possibility of deception creates a great deal of speculation on message boards and can actively boost visits.

    Specialized sites carry with them an expectation of specialized information and shared passion. Members of these focused sites are more likely to actually meet in person than members of more general sites. The audience, identified by chosen screen names, makes posts on the board, and individuals come to “know” each other. Sometimes there are attempts to “prove” an audience member’s claim of ownership, by posting “sightings. This most often occurs if claims seem outrageous given the history and context of the member’s postings. Members sometimes post times and days when certain vehicles, identified on the site by photos of cars associated with a screen name, have been spotted. These attempts to match a face and vehicle in real life with a screen name and picture online serve a double purpose. Matching online photos with an actual viewing quells the general attitude of disbelief that is always present in cyberspace. Sightings, and the excitement they generate, also serve to promote affiliation of the audience with the board. Maine-Street users, having identified themselves by their membership on the board as sharing geography as well as interest in cars, have organized “meets”. This practice is somewhat unusual for message board users in general. Vehicle message board users, however, don’t want to just talk about cars, they want to see cars.
    Maine-Street sponsored “meets” represent another departure from audience behavior in other mediums. There is no other medium in which the audience assembles outside of the medium. At meets, members have an opportunity to see each other’s cars, buy T-shirts and other message board items, and test out the accuracy of member claims. At some meets, special equipment was available for members to measure their vehicle’s horsepower. At other meets, members arrange to travel together to car shows and races. Some Maine-Street meets have been organized at locations that are more convenient for members who live in the northern and western parts of the state. Other meets had been arranged at import parts stores. This practice was discontinued after some members invited the attention of the local police for noise violations. Online rules of behavior, under the eye of the Administrator, are more difficult to enforce in the real world. At meets, parts may be sold, promises made, and friendships cemented. The message board audience, unlike television, movie, or print audiences, develops a loyalty and culture that can change instantly, dependent upon the behavior of the audience itself, change instantly.
    The message board audience, like audiences of all mediums, ultimately determines the success or failure of the site. Online audiences of a message board do not demonstrate approval of the medium by buying a product, and there is no charge to the audience to observe or participate. There is not necessarily any monetary gain for the administrators of the site. Although a successful site may generate interest from retail advertisers, success of the site is determined by its audience and the frequency and content of its interaction. The moderators and administrators do not do it for the money, however, they do it to unite a group of people in a way not possible before. As technology improves, these internet parking lots will become more advanced and allow users to unite further and learn even more.


  • #2
    Err, wow.
    Need a job done? Get in contact with me and we'll see what we can work out.

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    • #3
      Its my final for a class on popular culture, BTW

      Comment


      • #4
        NJRDesign - how about attaching it as a text file?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by poolking
          NJRDesign - how about attaching it as a text file?
          Here ya go!
          Attached Files

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          • #6
            Originally posted by NJRDesign
            Here ya go!
            Cheers.

            Comment


            • #7
              Yeap I can say WOW and for just about any topic this is how things pretty much go.

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