(The saga continues in episode two: organisation).

StackExchange has a facility for associating a blog with a site. I checked the sites that are ranked higher than us, and other than the original trilogy, as far as I can tell only gaming has one at the moment (stats is also developing one at the moment). Gaming is a similar site to ours in many ways, and I suspect it may also work for us.

If we do, we need to:

  • Define the scope and purpose of the blog.
  • Figure out who will contribute.
  • Figure out a schedule (minimum one per week).

Going backwards, Rebecca says that we probably want to aim for 2-3 posts a week.

Example topics (in no particular order):

  • Answering questions that can't be answered on the site (e.g. lists and recommendations). I'm thinking of something that's enjoyable by someone not familiar with the site, but where the topic is selected by looking through the inappropriate questions we've had recently.
  • Summaries of the chat events (e.g. the recommendation chat). Reading through the transcript isn't easy - it would be nice to have a short (1/2 paragraph) summary of what was discussed and recommended with a link to the full transcript. Again, I think this could be done so that it was enjoyable by someone that wasn't a site regular, rather than just a dry summary.
  • Summaries of questions. Ever since the site launched there have been periodic meta posts (by several different users) that summarise what's happening so far in terms of popular topics. These suit a blog more than meta IMO. Other than just figuring out what popular topics are, a post could highlight recent particularly good questions/answers, or areas that need a bit more love. (Probably these wouldn't occur very often - the ones in meta appear only every couple of months).
  • Meta-y stuff. Although a lot of the heaviest users follow what's happening throughout the entire SE network (e.g. the SE blog), not everyone does (or should need to) do this. Sometimes there are announcements made elsewhere that would be great to expose to all our users. For example, that SE is now an OpenID provider (but our post can skimp on the technical stuff and just explain how this is useful here), and (if we were out of beta) the community ad opportunities.
  • Highlights of activity on the site. For example, Gaming has a "Question of the Week" (voted on in a meta question), that gets a post.
  • Reviews. FWIW, the gaming.se blog seems to be mostly reviews. The question here is what we add that other review sites don't. (Reviews can be of anything site-related: movies, books, events, etc).
  • News. FWIW, a few people periodically post (links to) news in chat. Same question here: what are we contributing that existing new sites aren't? News blogs tend towards either being "link rolls" (i.e. just a quote and link to the original source) or including commentary (e.g. combining news about something from multiple sources and including original material).

We can probably firm up exactly what we like to have posts on as we go - knowing what our contributors are best at writing about comes from experience, and is particularly useful (it's no good deciding we'll focus on X and finding out all our best writers write about Y).

The point of having the blog would be to:

  • Increase the visibility of the site. I'm not sure that it would do a great deal here, but every little bit helps.
  • Provide an outlet for material that isn't suitable for the site, without having to send users outside of the SE network.
  • Promote important events (assuming that the blog gets readers). The mods are fairly limited in what they can do to promote things (from what I've read in chat), so this is a place where people can read about important meta questions, upcoming deletions, chat events, de-beta'ing, and so forth.

Assuming we approach this in a similar way to the other SE blogs, we'd have a small editorial team that would be responsible for co-ordinating submissions from anyone that's interested in writing for us. The editors would plan a schedule of posts, solicit material from users, and ensure that the post quality remained high. We'd need to be confident enough that we'd be able to get 2+ posts a week without the editors having to spend all their time on the solicitation work :)

So:

  1. Do people think that it's worth trying this? (If it doesn't get any traction after X amount of time, presumably it can be folded, hence the 'beta' tag).
  2. Is anyone willing to volunteer to write something, and if so, what sort of thing and roughly how often?
  • 3
    5 posts a week is a lot. 1 minimum, 2-3 a week I think is a fine pace. – Rebecca Chernoff Jun 1 '11 at 19:46
  • @Rebecca great :) I was guestimating based on what it seems like gaming is doing. – Tony Meyer Jun 2 '11 at 5:19
  • 2
  • @Rebecca thanks again! I've added a link to that as a comment on your meta.so post about this. – Tony Meyer Jun 2 '11 at 5:29
  • It's probably obvious, but for the record: I would be willing to write something approximately once a week. Possibly a review, definitely something general about scifi/fantasy. Not about news - I don't follow things closely enough (especially being in NZ) to be any good at that. – Tony Meyer Jun 2 '11 at 5:41
  • I think having a chat about this would be a good idea (the one that stats.se had was pretty short, but also seemed productive). Not as an immediate precursor to doing anything, but for a real-time chat about who might do what. If you're interested and have a time/date preference, could you let me know? In a few days I'll ask Gilles/Dampes8n/Mark to set up an event. – Tony Meyer Jun 18 '11 at 2:49
  • If you're waiting on me, whenever, especially during the day in the US is fine. I'll make an effort to attend whenever it is. – Rebecca Chernoff Jun 23 '11 at 3:16
  • Those topics sound good to me, but I think that there needs to be a few other elements thrown in for both the SE users and non SE users. Reviews, movies, recently published lists, author interviews (if possible), maybe some short stories being "published" on the blog. Look at sites like tor.com and themillions.com. – Rincewind Oct 14 '16 at 5:28

I absolutely agree that SFF should have a blog post eventually. I'm not convinced that the right time is now, but the main obstacle is finding willing contributors — if we have that, let's go for it!

On the other hand, I disagree about your topic selections. Most of these are meta stuff, of interest only to SFF.SE regular or occasional users. That's not the point of the blog! The point is to reach out to people who don't usually post here as well.

Answering list and recommendation questions isn't well-suited to a blog either. Each topic should be fundamentally crowed-sourced, unlike a blog where each post is usually written by one person.

On the other hand, I feel reviews would be a natural complement to SFF.SE, and I'm un unsurprised Gaming came to the same conclusion. Why?

  • Sure, there are already a ton of review sites out there, but it's always difficult to know whose reviews will tell you what you will enjoy, and not just what the reviewer enjoys. Having reviews posted by someone you know something about (ok, he seems to like and a lot, but not , etc.) is a plus.
  • Going in the other direction, there are three things that I think would be nice to have on an SF discussion site but don't fit in the questions and answer format: reviews, lists, and recommendations. A blog is the right format for reviews. A wiki would be the right format for lists. I've yet to find a really nice venues for recommendations. (Note: If you have ideas for complements to this Q&A site, for lists, recommendations, or other things that you'd like to see but don't work in Q&A form, please throw the idea around on this meta, or if you prefer in chat first.)

Not just book and movie reviews; for example there's an exhibition about science fiction at the British Library (until 25 Sep). If someone can go, a trip report would make a fine blog post!

Regarding the rhythm, I don't see why there should be a minimum of five posts a week, or regular authors. As long as we don't drop below one a month or something, the schedule should be whenever someone has something decent to post.

  • Not just to reach out to others. You want it to be something interesting for this community also. What is the community interested in? – Rebecca Chernoff Jun 1 '11 at 19:47
  • @RebeccaChernoff: Agreed (and I just added two crucial words to my answer). As a user of the site, I like to read reviews, and the blog seems to be the right tool for that. The reviews being from people I might know in a related capacity (from their SF questions and answers) is a plus. – user56 Jun 1 '11 at 19:55
  • My concern with reviews is how we contribute something that the many existing review sites don't. Is there a gap we can fill? – Tony Meyer Jun 2 '11 at 5:37
  • For the rhythm, the guidelines indicate that 1/week is the minimum. Assuming that Jeff is involved in evaluating the beta blogs, he's written before about regularity being important (i.e. agree or not, we should follow his rules - so also a picture in every post!). Good point about regular authors - although I worry that without a core that are committed to regular posts it will be too hard to find enough occasional/one-off posters. – Tony Meyer Jun 2 '11 at 5:39

Gaming and Super User have a group of editors that proof read posts and have some measure of quality control. With max 2/3 posts per week it shouldn't be too difficult to manage this. This ensures the focus is on quality rather than quantity; you don't want to burden the writers too much causing them to stop participating and most importantly, the blog should be secondary to the site not the other way around.

We use chatrooms (Gaming and Super User) and Google Docs (Gaming and Super User) to discuss what to write about, try and plan when what gets posted and share ideas for future posts.

Some random thoughts:

  • I think reviews are great. Why? Because like Gilles points out, I trust a review from a trusted user more than a 'professional' review from someone I don't know. If I liked said users answers about tags I liked, its also likely that I'll like something he recommends. Yes there are a ton of review sites out there, but just because you read them all, doesn't mean other users do.
  • We've abused the blog in the past to talk about recent changes to the network. Since most new changes get discussed on Meta.Stackoverflow, it can help to repeat such changes in a newsletter fashion on the blog. We've also had a blog post about how to get your questions answered, which I believe was very useful. Especially on topics, like Scifi, that are very different from Stack Overflow its important to guide new users on how to ask good, on-topic questions.
  • I like Questions of the Week not because its meta-ish or only interesting for the 'locals' as Gilles puts it, but rather because they serve as an example for new users as to what questions we really, really, really want on the site.
  • As Jeff pointed out on Gaming, game diaries are an awesome way to engage with the community. I think in the case of scifi, discussing the latest episode of Doctor Who or Game of Thrones could also provide a nice outlet and potentially lead to new questions.

I would be willing to help, but it would probably be pretty ad-hoc, so when I've read the latest GRR Martin book, I'd be happy to review it, but nothing regular.

Most importantly, is that users should feel confident enough that we care about what they have to say and pitch in when they do have something to share. I think getting as many different users to participate is the most important factor for making the blog a success.

  • 1
    Thanks for sharing your experience! Do you think having firm commitments is necessary before getting started, or is it ok if we have many people like myself (I'm willing to contribute the occasional post but not to commit to a regular writing schedule)? – user56 Jun 10 '11 at 19:42
  • I think you need one person in charge (points @Tony) and the mods pitching in with the proof reading/editing side and helping promote the blog to users (so they write posts). One dedicated person can ensure he get's at least 1 post/week either written by himself or by someone else. Then a small group of occasional writers should ensure we get 2 posts/week, theoretically this only requires 4 users to write once per month. So I'd say go for it, if everybody who's interested starts writing a draft, you can already have a small backlog before even starting out. – Ivo Flipse Jun 10 '11 at 20:29
  • I agree with almost everything here except for one thing: To get a blog to to come out regularly, you need commitments from writers to write on a regular basis. If this doesn't happen, it's likely that the blog will come out infrequently, or that one or two people will be doing most of the writing to fill in the gaps. – neilfein Jun 19 '11 at 5:32
up vote 3 down vote accepted

In case anyone has missed it, we've started this. See this post for information about contributing.

I think this is a great idea. We have quite a few good writers here, judging from the questions and answers. Put me down as a occasional contributor, maybe a post a month if that's okay. (I already have a blog I update three times a week.)

I'm a terrible critic--I hate writing bad reviews--but I love writing about books I enjoyed, or writers I love. (That includes Heinlein, Vonnegut, Twain, Niven, Simmons, Stross.)

My main question: Who's going to coordinate this? Who will receive submissions and either accept them or reject them? (Please tell me there will be quality control on this blog!) How do the other site blogs handle this?

  • 1
    Hopefully a SE staff member will chime in about the QC issue. Gaming started this and I think they have one person who organises everything. stats.se have a chat scheduled for the 11th to discuss setting one up, so I thought I'd listen in there for tips too (and will add anything useful back on this post). – Tony Meyer Jun 4 '11 at 1:15

I think it's a good idea, but somewhat premature. I don't think we could find five authors right now.

I agree with the four topics you recommend, plus I would also like to have the news part. Examples - new book releases, award news, some particular event that is sweeping through the community(like the BBC protest) etc.

To clarify, when I say news on the blog, I don't mean put news here, but instead link to the original news articles. Also, since it's a blog and not a twitter feed, this could perhaps be done weekly/fortnightly with something like 5-20 links per blog.

Also, I disagree with the reviews part. There are enough reviews out there, so having original reviews doesn't make sense.

  • We have 16 users with 2k+ rep, and another 25 with 1k+ rep, and quite a few more coming up to 1k. My hunch is that there are five people in there that are dedicated enough to the site and interested in writing. We'll see :) (Although if they don't read meta...) – Tony Meyer Jun 2 '11 at 5:31
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    Can you suggest how we could do news while avoiding being yet-another scifi/fantasy news site? What could we do that io9/blastr/slice of scifi (etc) don't provide already? – Tony Meyer Jun 2 '11 at 5:33
  • 1
    Having posts that grow out of our Q&A, as well as referring back to them, will set us apart. Although I disagree with this blog being a news blog. I'd rather read people's impressions of the sci-fi/fantasy they consume. – neilfein Jun 4 '11 at 15:32
  • @Tony:having high rep users is not the same as having people who are good writers, since a blog would probably be substantially larger than a typical question/answer. – apoorv020 Jun 4 '11 at 16:41
  • I was using rep as an indicator of commitment to the site, not writing quality. However, high rep is a good indicator of good writing, because good writing gets votes. (Many edits is also a good indicator). It takes as much skill (often more) to write well concisely as it does to write a longer piece. (And many answers are blog post length anyway). – Tony Meyer Jun 4 '11 at 21:41
  • It'd be great if you are able to finish off the The Hollows post you've started. Can someone help out with something maybe? Editing, motivation, discussion, ? – Tony Meyer Dec 8 '11 at 8:52

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