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Open letter to Taunton’s Forum Users

JasonRevzon's picture

I have been reading, with growing consternation, the posts related to the switch from mZinga to Drupal based forums. They have ranged from grudging acceptance to mild mourning to xenophobic howls of rage. I am used to this. My career started in moderating message boards and chats at AOL’s Digital City more than 13 years ago. I remember the switch from AOL-style message boards to HTML, so I knew there would be pain in any change. Many complaints, however, have been couched in language so hurtful to the people who build Taunton’s popular and award-winning sites that I feel I need to address the issues.

  • The original forum was better; this new site looks like it was made by one-handed monkeys using COBOL; bring back my frames: We understand that changing a system you are used to using every day for a number of years can and will be upsetting. It’s akin to someone rearranging your furniture and painting your walls at home while you’re out at work. That said, the long-process the small group of talented people at Taunton Interactive (tech and editorial) went through to launch the new forums with as many features as we could preserve and all of the years worth of your posting data intact, without more than a day’s worth of downtime, was monumental. Is the new forum everything you hoped and dreamed for? No, and us neither. Drupal is, however, an easily updated framework that can be changed directly by the online producers (want comments in reverse chronological order? Change length before pagination? We can do that.) on a regular basis to make it a more perfect experience for everyone involved. We will also be making changes so that you can set your own themes and preferences to view the forums. It is, in my opinion, much better than what we had, and with years of minor and major improvements to come.
  • You are greedy, it’s all about the money OR you’re killing a goldmine: Yes, it is (in part) about money. It was costing us tens of thousands of dollars to host the free mZinga forums. They were run at an almost complete loss. They were invisible to Google and the rest of our sites and had few ads. So, in a time of drastic financial upset in the publishing world we had three choices: make a cut (person or project), remove the forums, or find a way to keep the forums while drastically lowering costs. We think the forums represent a vibrant community feature and went with #3.
  • You didn’t listen enough/much/at all to our suggestions or complaints: We went through a very deliberate process with a Forums Task Force made up of web producers (Matt, Gina, Robyn, Kate & Vicky) who solicited feedback before we launched into the process. Some things could be done at launch, some afterward, and some could not/would not be done at all. We did read all of the feedback, assigned priorities to changes and will be listening for constructive criticism to improve the forums on a regular basis.
  • Taunton hates us; we hate Taunton; let’s take our ball and go home: What can I say to this? Taunton is a very ethical company with decades of producing the highest-quality content and communities for enthusiasts. We take our role in each community, and the members of those communities, very seriously. No decision is made lightly and never for venial reasons. If any of you feel so strongly that Taunton no longer represents the best way to interact with others about building, gardening, woodworking, sewing and cooking and want to form your own groups or forums on other sites, we wish you well. For those who would like to change what’s here for the better, we are always open to constructive criticism and offers of help. Personal and off-topic attacks, however, will be removed.

Thank you for your time and patience. Remember, there are real people (with real names) working long hours behind all of our content you see online. The person you talk to from Taunton in a discussion about formatting your post may have just finished a video shoot from a job site or may be working on a how-to article on planting shrubs. We are a small, but dedicated crew who will strive to give you our best and use the latest in technology to do so. We look forward to growing with you as Taunton Interactive continues to expand online and beyond.

Jason Revzon

VP, Taunton Interactive

Gretchen's picture

Please tell us from whom your (post #68381, reply #1 of 46)

Please tell us from whom your IT people solicited feedback.It would have seemed intuitive to ask people who do spend a lot of time on the forum boards, yet we know none.
Why hasn't anyone said, as you do, that things can be changed, instead of "you can't please everyone"?
When will we know what can be changed/altered? Is there a way for more communication among your IT people on progress?
Why was it billed as a "launch" (fait accompli) and then as a "BETA" version?
If you take the trouble to note, the vast majority of posters here have a true loyalty to Taunton and its products. Most are saying we are hoping for a useable site again (NOT the OLD one) but in the meantime we are also gathering elsewhere--not to stay, but to be able to have a useful experience. The current format does not allow that--it is either "broken" (new messages, and other things) or is endless scrolling through old/read messages--among other things.
Many of us have said also that it is certainly your Forums to do with as you will, and that money is involved. We recognize that, and have appreciated it and expressed it often in the past--and now.
I am not at all sure we resemble or deserve your depiction of xenophobic rage on this board.

Gretchen
assibams's picture

Very well said, Gretchen. (post #68381, reply #2 of 46)

Very well said, Gretchen.

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."
Herm Albright

RDA's picture

Gretchen, I've been saying (post #68381, reply #5 of 46)

Gretchen,
I've been saying all along that we're working on change. . .

AnnL's picture

Robyn -- I know you've said (post #68381, reply #6 of 46)

Robyn -- I know you've said you're working on change, but it would really be so helpful if you could give more details. Even Jason's condescending missive, doesn't give any real answers. He states: "want comments in reverse chronological order? Change length before pagination? We can do that." But, we don't want comments in reverse chronological order. What we REALLY want is comments in TRUE CHRONOLOGICAL order. No one has said whether or not that is possible. The other thing we REALLY want is to be able to see ONLY the new posts since the last time we read a thread. No one has said whether or not that will be possible. We realize we will not have all the things we really liked about the old forums, but if someone, ANYONE could at least tell us that the items we really want ARE possible, we can be patient. Really, we can.

We still haven't seen anything from you or anyone at Taunton that gives us any feeling of confidence that you really understand what we want. Jason's letter just re-inforces the feeling that no one at Taunton is really listening and really understands what we want/need. Recall when you reversed the order of posts--making them reverse chronological in order. That is NOT what we wanted at all. Yes, you changed it back quickly, but how can we feel confident that the changes you're working on are what we want when you're not communcating them to us? When I start a project with a customer, I sit down with them to discuss their needs and wants. I then write up a document clearly detailing what I heard from them, so they can correct any misunderstandings and make changes.

Ann
"The elders were wise.  They knew that man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard; they knew that lack of respect for growing, living things, soon led to lack of respect for humans, too."  Chief Luther Standing Bear, Lakota Sioux

DJHinAZ's picture

Extremely well said, (post #68381, reply #12 of 46)

Extremely well said, especially on the key features we want.

Syrah's picture

Robyn, we do know you are (post #68381, reply #23 of 46)

Robyn, we do know you are trying. There is a tiredness to your posts that suggests you're having issues getting the answers to the questions that we pose. Vague comments like "We are working on change" don't really help us much and quite frankly don't give the "warm and fuzzy" feeling we've become accustomed to.

I think we all read the initial thread about this and thought "Great! They've told us what's coming, so it won't be too much of a shock", but it really was because it didn't matter what we used. Also, I know the search is being indexed, but the timing really sucks for a cooking forum.

"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be obtained." -Marie Curie

tomato's picture

Wow. I was on your side (post #68381, reply #3 of 46)

Wow. I was on your side until I read this condescending portrayal of your customers as a bunch of whining, sniveling losers. I'm astonished at the anger and lack of maturity and professionalism in your message.

If you would read the complaints for what they are, you would see that most boil down to you new forum's lack of a method for people to find new unread posts quickly. If you would address that problem, I think everyone would adjust and accept the changes. Why aren't you addressing that problem?

I expect this will be categorized as an "attack" and removed, but I'll give it a try anyway.

tomato's picture

Just one more thing. I do (post #68381, reply #4 of 46)

Just one more thing. I do realize the effort it took to preserve the old content (I'm in the business), but it's useless without working search. It's been a couple of weeks, but there is still no search access to that data. I can imagine that access by the old message # is useful for your testing, but it certainly isn't of any use to your customers.

MEANCHEF's picture

This task force certainly (post #68381, reply #7 of 46)

This task force certainly didn't get any feedback from us before launching the new forum.

mireillec's picture

And who are the (post #68381, reply #8 of 46)

And who are the xenophobic?
People from other Countries like Canada, etc...?

kathymcmo's picture

Wow. Just speechless at the (post #68381, reply #9 of 46)

Wow. Just speechless at the hostility and lack of any semblance of professionalism in your letter Jason. I have been giving Taunton the benefit of the doubt and offering concrete specific suggestions for improvement. But if this is the attitude of the head honcho, there's no reason to hope anymore.
And xenophobia??? Do you even know what that word means?
You just libeled about 1000 intensely loyal and engaged customers.
The rollout of Drupal could be used as a business case study in how to alienate loyal customers and take a small PR glitch and turn it into a costly degradation of Taunton's once impeccable brand.
I feel so sorry for Robyn.

ashleyd's picture

Wow,I'm obviously reading a (post #68381, reply #10 of 46)

Wow,I'm obviously reading a different letter to everybody else. Or I'm reading the same letter in a different way. Given the almost unmitigated sniping and snarling that has gone on I thought it was a reasonable letter, but given the current reaction I think probably the only thing that would have satisfied the majority of users would have been a grovelling apology for any change Taunton have ever made and a firm commitment to have it all fixed to our total satisfaction by no later than the day after tomorrow.
My view is what it always was, the Drupal solution needs urgent attention to a couple of high profile issues, which is clearly being addressed, after that we should at least give them time to work on the product. As a launch it wasn't the greatest, but it's now done, too late to change it so let's get over it and get back on an even keel.

Age is unimportant unless you’re a cheese.

RDA's picture

ashleyd, Thank you so much. I (post #68381, reply #11 of 46)

ashleyd,
Thank you so much. I so appreciate you.
Robyn

kathymcmo's picture

Ashley said: I think probably (post #68381, reply #13 of 46)

Ashley said: I think probably the only thing that would have satisfied the majority of users would have been a grovelling apology for any change Taunton have ever made and a firm commitment to have it all fixed to our total satisfaction by no later than the day after tomorrow>

Oh spare me, pul-leeze. The letter the majority of us were hoping to get would've gone something like this:
Dear Taunton Forum Users:
I've been reading all the forum feedback on our switch to Drupal and I understand that the new platforms are not yet meeting Taunton's high standards. In hindsight, this rollout could've been done more smoothly, no question, and we could've done more to solicit input and beta testing from these very active communities.

But the switch has been made and we want to turn our attention to implementing the most critical changes to improve forum functionality. To that end, here is a list of the top five things we're working on improving, and a target date for completing them. .

However, some features cannot be restored, like frames (and list all the others one that the majority has asked for that can't be done so we at least know), and here's why . Our software developers are exploring other solutions to return these functions in some other form than on the Mzinga software.

To keep you abreast of our progress, please check this thread each Monday (or whatever day of the week) for detailed updates on forum improvements and timelines. Please feel free to give us feedback in these threads about how you think the changes are working.

We ask your patience while we work through these changes, we're a small but dedicated staff that is committed to restoring the useability of the forums so that these valued communities can grow and thrive.

Thank you for hanging in there while we do so.
Jason R.

Instead we got a letter calling us xenophobes and complainers, with NO specific details about what they're going to change, even though he says that the software is really easy to change. E.g. no answer STILL about whether posts can be put in chronological order. No answer STILL about whether posts can ever be addressed to someone specific. I'd have been happy if he even simply said, "We've heard you want the posts to appear in chronological order, and we should know the anwser to that question by Jan 31."

ashleyd's picture

Well yes, but you do have an (post #68381, reply #14 of 46)

Well yes, but you do have an excellent and lucid style of writing. I think we'd all like the what and when, but I've found as an IT project manager that if you give a delivery date for something and then, for whatever reason, you miss it then it is far worse than if you just said "soon"

Age is unimportant unless you’re a cheese.

kathymcmo's picture

Well that's why I said (post #68381, reply #15 of 46)

Well that's why I said "target date" because stuff happens, but then all you need to do is come back and say, "we're terribly sorry, things proved more complex than anticipated, and our new target date is XX."

It's amazing how understanding customers will be if they're just given useful information. I did notice a new box in the upper right for forum improvement updates, that's a positive sign, but oddly, Jason didn't even mention that in his letter.

You know, the letter wouldn't have been so bad if he'd just elminated these lines:
They have ranged from grudging acceptance to mild mourning to xenophobic howls of rage. I am used to this. My career started in moderating message boards and chats at AOL’s Digital City more than 13 years ago...this new site looks like it was made by one-handed monkeys using COBOL...It is, in my opinion, much better than what we had [that's a particularly unfathomable claim]...You are greedy, it’s all about the money [I would've let this go but still state there is a strong businss need to control costs, most of us understand that and there's not been even one gripe on CT about the increase in ads--we're realists]...Taunton hates us; we hate Taunton; let’s take our ball and go home [needlessly condescending and petty] ... If any of you feel so strongly that Taunton no longer represents the best way to interact with others and want to form your own groups or forums on other sites, we wish you well [no need to say this, just say we hope your remain with Taunton].

Obviously, Jason has access to professional editors and PR staff. Obviously he did not avail himself of their expertise.

MEANCHEF's picture

You only defend this because (post #68381, reply #25 of 46)

You only defend this because you were an IT project manager. To me this has all of the earmarks of a project that was managed by some IT guy instead of the user.

kathymcmo's picture

Meanchef, your post was to (post #68381, reply #26 of 46)

Meanchef, your post was to Ashley, not me, right?
Dang I wish we could address posts to specific people.

hambiscuit's picture

kathymcmo, actually, you just (post #68381, reply #29 of 46)

kathymcmo, actually, you just did address your reply to a specific person by saying...."Meanchef, " at the beginning of your post. That's all it takes.

I'm not attempting to make light of complaints about the forum, because it definitely is difficult in some ways. Some of the problems have simple workarounds however.

kathymcmo's picture

Yes I know I can name the (post #68381, reply #33 of 46)

Yes I know I can name the person I'm addressing in my post, hambiscuit, and have been trying to do that. But MC's post was indented as if a reply to me, when I was pretty sure it was a reply to Ashley, and that turned out to be the case.

MEANCHEF's picture

Kathy, my post was to Ashley. (post #68381, reply #30 of 46)

Kathy, my post was to Ashley.

lwj2's picture

Ashleyd: There are several (post #68381, reply #43 of 46)

Ashleyd:

There are several points I'll address:

1) Few, if any, enquiries were made regarding what forum users consider important.

2) There was NO, I say again, NO beta site for the change where users could offer comment. It went live without, it seems, any thought on the part of Mr. Revzon.

3) The coders or web developers -- whoever set this up -- did not bother to proof their code by looking at the site on anything but Internet Explorer. Nor did Mr. Revzon, or anyone else in the upper echelons of Taunton.

4) Constructive suggestions have been ignored by Taunton's IT department. Nor have they bothered to respond with details as to why they can't be implemented and what's offered in place of them.

5) Functionality: What functionality? Taunton's IT department went live with an un-proofed, un-tested set of changes. Regardless of budget constraints, that's flat-out stupid.

6) Every place I've seen has "excellent communication abilities" listed as a requirement for virtually every job in IT. Mr. Revzon appears to lack both skills as a communicator and the sense to run his prose past any number of editors employed by Taunton's various publications.

7) Mr. Revzon's profile (this morning, at about 11:00 EST)indicated he'd been registered as a forum user for 52 (fifty-two) HOURS. He's been employed in an IT capacity by Taunton for most of a year. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes for how much interest he has in his customers.

Sorry, sir, but "unprofessional" is the least I can say about Mr. Revzon's abilities.

V/R,
Leon Jester
Roanoke, VA

Leon
wonka's picture

Kathy, you have an amazing (post #68381, reply #32 of 46)

Kathy, you have an amazing way with words. I wish that Jason had hired someone like you, or you, to do his PR writing for him. He wouldn't have such a large number of people as mad as they are now.

kathymcmo's picture

Thank you Wonka, that's kind (post #68381, reply #34 of 46)

Thank you Wonka, that's kind of you to say. It is my line of work, as it were, to communicate through the written word effectively so that the reader gets the message intended and the tone doesn't belie it. I really am flabberghasted that Taunton would allow Jason to post such a letter to its customers, a good PR person would've stripped out the reactive and condescending tone and kept the rest, because there was some good content in there. But the tone just counteracted the overall message.

AnnL's picture

Ashley -- How do you know (post #68381, reply #21 of 46)

Ashley -- How do you know that the high profile issues are being addressed? As I said in my earlier post, we still don't know if they have even a basic understanding of what we want. And, given Jason's letter, he reinforces that--we do not want posts in reverse chronological order, which is what he mentions! Who has ever asked for that?

Ann
"The elders were wise.  They knew that man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard; they knew that lack of respect for growing, living things, soon led to lack of respect for humans, too."  Chief Luther Standing Bear, Lakota Sioux

kathymcmo's picture

And Ann, on Knots the mod (post #68381, reply #27 of 46)

And Ann, on Knots the mod just told the members that all the new posts in a thread are marked new, he didn't seem to know that only applies to new posts on the first page.

That was discouraging to read. Somehow our issues are not coming through to Taunton.

AnnL's picture

http://forums.finecooking.com (post #68381, reply #31 of 46)

http://forums.finecooking.com/comment/815406#comment-815406

Kathy, That's exactly my point. They say they can fix things, but we don't know what they're fixing! We have no way of knowing if they really understand what we want and I have little confidence since they have repeatedly shown that they don't understand our concerns. So, what are they off 'fixing'? Who knows.

Ann
"The elders were wise.  They knew that man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard; they knew that lack of respect for growing, living things, soon led to lack of respect for humans, too."  Chief Luther Standing Bear, Lakota Sioux

ashleyd's picture

Ann, we have been told the (post #68381, reply #35 of 46)

Ann, we have been told the high profile issues are being addressed because Robyn & Jason said so, at the moment I believe them. If they aren't I shall simply leave, but I'm in no rush.

Age is unimportant unless you’re a cheese.

Syrah's picture

My view is what it always (post #68381, reply #22 of 46)

My view is what it always was, the Drupal solution needs urgent attention to a couple of high profile issues, which is clearly being addressed, after that we should at least give them time to work on the product. As a launch it wasn't the greatest, but it's now done, too late to change it so let's get over it and get back on an even keel.

This is true. I do think that any business will suffer if they don't understand what it is that their customers want, and it seems that key features were not considered key. I also gather that it wasn't just the CT members who wanted these key features.

There are certain snarly bits of the letter that I didn't appreciate. However, since it wasn't addressed directly to Syrah, I'm willing to believe it was a case of taking the brunt of abuse across all the forums and is not just about us.

"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be obtained." -Marie Curie

Glenys's picture

I agree; being Web-guy (post #68381, reply #37 of 46)

I agree; being Web-guy doesn't mean wearing a shirt that's say s beat me. I'm still tweaking from this end to use my computer to its best advantage, and it looks as if other details that confused moi are being addressed.