Jeff leads leads marekting at Ping Identity; more than 2,000 companies use Ping to provide secure and convenient single signon to their customers, employees, and partners. Jeff is a former venture capitalist with wide ranging experience in enterprise software, consumer applications, social technologies, and media markets.
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20 responses to “Man Bites Dog or Who Really Owns a Community”

  1. Mike P

    I wonder if Taunton worked with its core members and asked them what they thought of the changes before they rolled them out? Was there any focus group activity planned to ensure to retain their membership? Does not sound like it.
    It is1 thing to not have a strategy when you launch a new community, but to not have one when you are replacing the current overlaying technology, talk about a disaster in the making.
    Open source does have benefits, but only if you are ready to take the bull by the horns and dig in deep, you can not do this by the seat of your pants, which from the outside looking in, it looks like Taunton did.

    Mike P
    *used to work for Prospero/Mzinga now at Ektron.com

  2. Jeana P

    About a month before the change, we were told that there would be changes and what people would like to see different. A few suggestions were given and then we didn’t hear anything at the time the switch was to be made (Nov. 16). We weren’t told that the old format would be tossed out and a new, out-of-the-box format would be in its place. Nor were we given warning on the Fine Gardening site when it was yanked down at the start of December. Needless to say, it was a shock to see our old forum and everything familiar gone. In it’s place was something that destroyed out sense of community.

    I’ve let my subscription to Fine Gardening lapse and won’t even consider renewing it unless and until they have a reasonable forum since they’re not offering me anything I want in return. And our alternative Delphi site, Sproutoff suits me just fine.

  3. StevenHB

    It wasn’t only the BreakTime participants who created their own new forums on Delphi. There are “classic” versions of CooksTalk (Fine Cooking) and Sproutoff (Fine Gardening) as well. I don’t know about Fine Woodworking.

    From the Cooks’ point-of-view, the change was ill-timed as the Thanksgiving-New Year’s season is a very busy cooking time for many. The indexing required to support search took weeks to complete, so many cooks found that they couldn’t find information they knew to be in the archives.

  4. Dave45

    I was a regular at Breaktime and Knots (Fine Woodworking) for five years, but haven’t been back to either since the changeover – except for brief looks to see if anything was improved. (If it has, it’s pretty well hidden – lol). I had thought that I would give it some time and hope that some of the worst problems would be fixed, but Jason Revson’s letter was a real turn off, so I’m just staying away.

    The “Classic” versions on Delphi have actually broadened the Breaktime and Cooks Talk communities since there’s a lot of crossover between members of each site. Quite frankly, I’m very happy with Breaktime Classic although I’m hoping that it can find a way to attract new blood.

    I would have liked to have seen a Knots Classic, but that didn’t happen. For my woodworking “fix”, I’m now using Lumber Jocks which has a different “look and feel”, but very similar content.

  5. Ashleyd

    Well said Jeff, I had been trying to put together some kind of lucid response to the changes that Taunton have made, not only have you beaten me to it, but said it better than I could. I salute your insight and clarity.

  6. piffin

    Since Taunton untertook their destruction of the forums they had sponsored by replacing them with an unworkable, un-usable “trial version” of drupal I have returned to see if they have it fixed yet a few times.

    Twice on those return visits, I find letters from the VP in charge of this disaster published there declaring essentially, like Tom Thumb, “Look what a good boy I am!” and telling members in the face of facts that declare the truth to all who try to use the site how wonder it is and how many features they are adding, while ignoring the fact that none of these great features actually work as desired or intended.

    given the principle that “by their fruits, ye shall know…” it is clear that Jason revzon is an amateur in website development.
    The question was asked above here whether any communication or collaboration with frequent users or members of the forums was a part of the preparation for this change. As the most frequent user/visitor of record to Taunton’s forums I can unequivocally say that NO, there was not any attempt to involve users. It is clear that understanding his audience is not one of Mr Revzon’s concerns, unfortunately for Taunbton Press and its clientele.

  7. oldbeachbum

    Taunton has chosen to ignore the wishes of its large and loyal base of customers.

    Their arrogance and refusal to answer the most basic questions have caused many to stop any and all participation. That is the very lifeblood of what Taunton had built over the years.

    I personally had 3 separate magazine subscriptions and frequented 4 of their forums. I no longer subscribe or participate. How does that approach gain them more revenue, especially when their advertisers note the change in numbers of those that used to be exposed to their messages.

    There is much competition for our time and money. I have chosen to spend mine elsewhere.

  8. shtrum

    Nothing new to add here, just commiseration. i checked in at Breaktime every now and then for 4-5 years. It was always lively, communal and honest, the dialogue refreshing and peppery at times. There were several points of view, which made it all the more interesting. Underlying all of it was a great level of professionalism that raised all boats. Like others, i’m flummoxed as to why the site was changed for the worst.

    Taunton has ultimate rights to do what they want. But they would be well advised to eat some humble pie and accept some honest criticism. It takes a long time to develop customer loyalty, and only a second to throw it away.

  9. zippy

    I have already cancelled my online membership to Fine Woodworking and have removed Knots from my favorites. I used to be a daily user with over 1000 posts and four years of membership but, I’m not going to support a platform that is garbage to use. Life goes on.

  10. Brenda

    It is sad what has happened to the Taunton forums. I was a relatively new user (a little over one year) of the gardening discussion ‘Over the Fence’. The members there had an amazing amount of knowledge and willingly shared it. They were a friendly and welcoming bunch. They were old and young, lived in many different gardening zones and formed a great gardening community. That community still exists; just not on the Taunton website.

    Taunton did tell us that changes were coming and repeatedly asked for our input for the new change. We gave some examples but didn’t think to tell them that we wanted a new forum that ‘worked’. We thought that would be a given. The new design is laborious to use and that certainly doesn’t facilitate conversation. Now you spend most of your time scrolling through old posts in hopes of finding a new reply to a thread. The only good new change to the forum is the way photos can be posted. That is a huge and excellent improvement. Early on, I posted a reply giving specific examples of what I would like to see changed to the new design so it would be easier for us to use. My post just disappeared.

    Mr. Revson’s open letter to the forum users was patronizing and condescending. I think his letter was the final nail in the coffin for many users. I guess what has happened is a good example of what not to do if you want to keep your on-line community.

  11. mizshredder2

    I was a loyal Breaktime user and currently am still a (LONG TIME) subscriber to FHB magazine. I had over 5 years with BT and that group of guys and gals helped me with so many projects and issues with my own house and that of family members that I grew to love them…and went out of my way whenever possible to meet/greet them at the annual “Fest” get togethers!

    I think Jeff’s writeup and Piffin’s comments above cover it all. Ever since the conversion of the Taunton forums, I’ve logged back into BT and been foiled in my attempts to make sense of it all. I just HATE IT. There is no other way to put it.

    I find myself wishing fervently that TPTB at TP would act like Coke and admit to themselves their folly, and give us back out Forums!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Meantime, I’m finding my way to the BT Classic forum when next I need help or just want to pop in and communicate with the ole’ gang.

    If ever there should be a “webhosting case study” in FUBAR compendium – the way Taunton has handled this conversion should be in it.

  12. Chiffonade

    Thank you very much for your insightful piece on the Taunton website debacle. Mr. Revzon has made several critical mistakes as you’ve pointed out; and as evidenced by the forum communities at Taunton fleeing to start anew somewhere else. Perhaps the worst offense by Revzon is that he spat in the face of the users, subscribers to Taunton publications, subscribers to the website (something I thought was a complete ripoff from the get-go – mag subscribers should be permitted to use the whole site for free); not to mention buyers of DVD’s and special editions of Taunton magazines over and above regular issues. Now that’s a lot of saliva to be spraying around on people who, in a roundabout way, provide you with employment.

    Taunton has inflicted the pain of website format changes on its online community more times than I can count, yet somehow, it all worked out. Users got accustomed to the changes and miraculously, our fingers figured out what to do in the new environment. At NO time did Taunton exhibit the amount of undeniable disrespect to its user population as Mr. Revzon has in this exercise. Something as simple as changing the colors of the screen to make them easier to read is NOT something over which management should get into a pissing contest with users. That, my friend, is what I like to call “business stupidity.”

    Eventually when Mr. Revzon grows up and figures out that if he nukes his work environment, he will no longer have a job – he might choose his battles with a bit more prudence. When this realization hits Taunton, I hope they can repair the relationships damaged by Mr. Revzon who will no doubt move on to his next victim organization.

  13. StevenHB

    Jeff: I’m curious how you learned of the dust-up over Taunton’s fora.

    And whether you’re surprised by the number of Taunton refugees who’ve found your post and commented upon it.

  14. jeff nolan

    StevenHB,
    Easy… I used to be a regular in the Knots forum, a regular until this software changeover. As for the people commenting, which by my count is 100% disapproving of the what Taunton has done, it’s easy to understand given the passion people have for their interests in the things that Taunton covers (e.g. gardening, cooking, etc.).

    As I said in my post, I think Taunton has made a strategic error and then they dug the hole deeper with Revzon’s poor attempt at communicating to the community. At some point they will have to consider pulling a New Coke and admitting the mistake by putting yet another new strategy for how they will proceed forward. The problem is that they probably selected Drupal for a comprehensive content management system, which it is good at, and don’t yet realize that it is terrible as a forum management solution.

  15. ak373

    I think one of your key points bears repeating,

    “This is a blemish on the Taunton brand which is considered a high watermark for information design and high quality publishing.”

    Taunton books and magazines set a standard for high quality design, content and materials but the face they present online is amateurish and poorly designed. Why didn’t they think it valuable to carry the standards they set in paper publishing into the online world?

  16. Mark

    Jeff,
    Well said!!! Very well done writing … and BTW … I agree w/ you and everyone else. I spent a lot of time providing feedback of all forms (rants as well as direct, constructive hints and suggestions).

    They set a high standard with the original forum, intentional or not. They should have taken great care in making wholesale changes to what should have been their prize possession. Yes, like Coke … they better go back or it will be one of the biggest mistakes they make.

  17. chiffonade

    For the first time since Issue 1, I am no longer a Fine Cooking subscriber.

  18. kelly

    Jeff,

    Great post. And though you are a member of the affronted community I think your presentation is very fair. I find this whole issue very fascinating and educational.

    I have worked with the people from Taunton and am a Drupal devotee so I am tempted to defend both. But I think it’s clear they made some mistakes and made a mistake by striking anything like a defiant tone. I know that even if Jason had apologetically groveled the users still would have castigated him but it would have been the right thing to do in the long run. It’s basically what people expect nowadays.

    At the same time, I think the long term effects of this snafu on Taunton’s business might be overstated (there are much bigger structural upheavals in the magazine and publishing businesses). It’s possible they knew full well there would be an uproar but quickly revealing a bunch of keyword rich content previously hidden in a series of un-spiderable frames was worth alienating a relatively small echo chamber.

    Companies tend to underestimate the importance of online communities; online communities tend to overestimate their worth. I look forward to following how this all works out.

  19. jeff nolan

    Kelly,
    “Companies tend to underestimate the importance of online communities; online communities tend to overestimate their worth,” may be one of the most insightful comments this thread has generated (here or on any other site where the original post was syndicated).

  20. sancho

    Im late to this conversation but I must concur with Jeffs conclusion of the downfall of the TP website.
    I go there occasionally and see the gross inactivity and the questions being answered by the same people. It seems the knowledge base has left .

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