Site content and community revitalization project

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Clay
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Site content and community revitalization project

Post by Clay » Fri Feb 19, 2021 9:09 pm

Hello all,

Over the course of the pandemic, I know I have, like so many others, been cooped up in the house with the internet being my primary mechanism for social interaction. As terrifying as that sounds, it has given me some time to reflect on our little forum here and how we've gone about updating the site over the years, and even what role our little site plays within the larger community of people who want to talk about transforming robots.

Now, it's important to understand that the Archive has been around at this point for 25 years. In the internet wild-west of the late 90s, it was the transformers site that came up first in search results since it hosted a lot of media (clips of cartoons, comics scans) that weren't readily available otherwise at that point (given the ubiquity of streaming services and comixology nowadays, this seems rather quaint). Now, that obviously didn't last, so the site moved toward the format of discussion forum and hosted, written reviews of toys and comics by members in the early 2000s. That was about twenty years ago, and... we've never really had a tune up since then. That, among other factors such as members getting older, having less time, and less enthusiasm for the same old thing, has led to the site suffering from atrophy over the last ten years or so.

But, it doesn't need to be this way. Currently, the two largest fan sites are a discussion forum that's so massive as to be unwieldy, and a wiki that doesn't host discussion at all. Surely we can find a happy medium?

I think that we can. After a lot of discussion with other staff members, we realized that the current style of hosted content functions best as curios of a time capsule. Which is to say that it exists in an antiseptic way that's completely walled off from discussion. Now, that's all well and good for being an archive, but it's terrible for driving a discussion community. So, we had the idea of review content that is deliberately thought provoking, building to a discussion point. Here's a rough example from Stonecold Skywarp:
Allow me to introduce to you Mastermind Creations (MMC) Sphinx. To those of you of a younger persuasion, this is G1 Mirage. Who this character is isn't really important but there is something very specific about this toy that bring up an interesting point and something that we take for granted as a transformers fan. How seamlessly alien robots are able to disguise themselves and hide amongst us without evident blemish in their disguise. So, why Sphinx? What was it about that figure brought up this topic? Having picked up the figure I also added some reprolabels from toyhax to add a few extra flourishes to the appearance of the toy and add real world aesthetics to a toy based on a cartoon. The tyres of the figure are rubber are come with a tampographed logo already - great! However they aren't quite as real world as they look; they should read "GOOD YEAR" per the popular and expensive tyre brand but they actually read "GOOO YEAR" an easy enough fix with a touch of paint.

Whilst discussing this with Clay he raised an interesting literary point that dissuaded me from making the change. Loosely told, in The Man Whole Fell to Earth, there is a piece of evidence that finally convinces the authorities of the deception in front of them. An imperfect aspirin tin, missing details that would be impossible to replicate using the technology available at the time. So what if that third o in GOOO year is the giveaway, the reminder that a toy line that spans 40 years are alien robots from another planet. Whilst writing this piece it also made me think of the Transformers movie from 2007 and the various "hidden in plain sight, but strikingly poorly" and more specifically the character Barricade. The introduced Decepticon style police car, at first glance passing by it would be easy to spot as a generic police cruiser, look closer however and you start to spot the imperfections spoken about in this piece. The police badge with clear decepticon insignia and even more subtle the replacement of "to protect and serve" with "to punish and enslave" a clever piece of movie writing but could be seen as that imperfection and replacement with the closest understanding an alien could contemplate. Beyond things like design choices there are even cases where alternate modes do not match their real world equivalents quite perfectly. From the 1984 cartoon Cliffjumper's Porsche vehicle mode is a severely condensed. Yes, we could argue that it matches the size of the character but given the show makes no secret that its not concerned with relative size of characters you could conceivably suggest that there is "more than meets the eye" going on.

Now, nothing about the form is finalized, but it's a great example of how a toy review (or comic, or cartoon, or movie) can be used to create a prompt to drive discussion. Therefore, content updates drive discussion, and from those discussions we can develop new content. It's so obvious that it's physically painful that we didn't think of it years ago! Under this revision, think of the site as becoming a blog of many voices buttressed by its forum instead of content filed away and a disconnected forum left to atrophy. Another reason this is idea is attractive is that it frees us from having to constantly chase new media or new toys. It leans into the idea of an “archive” differently: rather than filing away reviews into some sort of static record that's never amended, the content of the site is concerned with interesting ideas in a dialogue with its members without worrying so much about the shiny new thing at every moment. Things from the past can be just as topical as the bleeding edge of new stuff as long as someone has a neat idea about it to discuss.

So, if that seems like a reasonable idea to rethink content and how it can used to drive a feedback loop on the discussion forum, it leads to the next question. Where are the people that want that? Are there people that want that?

The very short answer is yes. Over the course of the pandemic, I've been sitting in and sometimes participating in discussion groups that aren't hosted on websites or through forum software, like twitter and facebook. In my purely anecdotal experience and observations, these groups pop up not because of an aversion to registering on a forum, but mostly because of the prevalent attitudes of existing forums. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the forums that have maintained critical mass over the past fifteen years have done so with the participation of old geezers like us who, more or less, have the same entry point of the original series from the 1980s. Now, that's important because the franchise has been chugging along and kicking out new iterations every few years ever since, and you know what? It works! Out in the wilds of twitter and facebook, younger fans who don't default to G1 seem quite hungry for discussion and community. Basically, they get turned off from the bigger forums because of the general attitude that, if G1 isn't the universal starting point, then it must be the inevitable conclusion. One of the things that have led me to this conclusion is the use of groups with fairly narrow focus (meme sharing, or shitposting as it were) for broader community building like seeking advice or sharing opinions. This is different from all the other meme groups I'm part of (entememology, paleontological coprolite-posting, etc.) which all stick to the point much more closely (though granted that I'm not a part of other fan-oriented meme groups). Another thing that's lead me to this is that they're explicit about older/original fans not welcoming them.

So, to pull these different threads together into some sort of cohesion, it seems to me that we have both a reasonable structure of a content-feedback loop that can drive and grow the community again, and also a community of younger fans that's in want of the kind of discussions and connections that we were having fifteen and twenty years ago if we're willing to re-brand the archive as a kind of “non-denominational” transformers site. Yes, there really are fans who default to Animated, Prime, the Bay Movies, and even the Unicron trilogy as their default conception of what transformers are. Fans whose holy grail figures include Animated Blackout, not G1 Soundblaster.

I find that fascinating. And I find myself missing the vibrant discussion community we used to have. That's not to say that I lament the Archive not being able to become what those sites are now, as I find them so large as to be useless for actually engaging with people. So I know I don't want that. But I would like to redevelop the archive into the kind of the community that I want to participate in with guided, smart content.

So, please regard this post as trying to find the balance between speaking to those you still about in a "we are going to give this a shot, you want in?" and speaking to those we're trying to attract in a "we are mostly harmless and open to a good conversation regardless of preferred generation." Plans are nebulous and fuzzy at this point, so don't expect dramatic changes in the short term. But if people are interested and positive about the idea, I can start to share some of the ideas and concepts we've been kicking around intermittently for the past six months and see what people think.

I should like to add that the goal is not to displace other online communities based on social media as social media does do some things better: ease of image sharing, for example. But what it's bad at is longer, text based discussion that spans over days or weeks instead of hours. I'm interested in building that kind of community with people that otherwise don't participate in this kind of environment.

But also facebook is the devil. The less influence it has generally, the better.

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Re: Site content and community revitalization project

Post by Auntie Slag » Sat Feb 20, 2021 7:50 pm

Really cool idea. I feel like Youtube, Twitch and podcasts lead the way these days. People want to see stuff, and I feel like a message board is very pre-broadband old hat.

I'd love to see Archive certified/owned Youtube videos backed up with a live Twitch stream that maybe follows a regular broadcast schedule so that your phone beeps at you to let you know that Dalek and Co. are now live doing a Question Time style breakdown of a comic issue or whatever. I really like the idea of interaction that Twitch gives the viewer, letting them text in questions to the hosts.

And then Youtube vids for things like toy reviews, kitbashes, fixing broken toys or anything interesting. I felt the podcast you guys run really has added an extra dimension because it can be listened to anywhere & it sometimes has a Youtube vid to accompany. Then you can take short clips of these things and put them in a Tweet to make viewers click on the full vids.

I follow a site that does all this, and their members are active and invested. There's an option to contribute money (a dollar month or whatever) and get early access to the latest content, and/or the right to help drive the themes of future content. It feels very supportive and fun. But yeah, more video, more sounds... Prime died 16 years ago and now everything's a 6G hyper-speed Disney+ always on never die clickathon. Evolution, Revolution Love.

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Re: Site content and community revitalization project

Post by Auntie Slag » Sat Feb 20, 2021 8:11 pm

Imagine having modern updates of stuff that's already on the archive:

- Members doing videos of their collections
- Sir Auros used to do TF video game reviews, now they could be Twitched and Youtubed. I know there's millions of these videos already out there, but not with the background depth and knowledge of a TF fan, usually they're just done by games who know six character names and that's it.
- Relaxing Bob Ross videos of people painting Transformers to curb lockdown suicides.

And turn the Archive into an App so all its contents are available on your phone, on your Switch, on your Amazon Prime stick, on your cat and its as easy to swipe/click on the content as it is the next episode of the Mandalorian.

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Re: Site content and community revitalization project

Post by Clay » Sat Feb 20, 2021 10:09 pm

Hooray, enthusiasm! I understand the rushing urge to DO ALL THE THINGS, but I know we (myself, SCSW, and others) have already been through that phase. We've dialed it back to a rough plan that's both actionable and within the knowledge base of what we know how to do and what the website and forum lends itself to anyway. It's not about total fandom domination at this point... just wanting to relight the pilot flame a bit and see where it goes.
Then you can take short clips of these things and put them in a Tweet to make viewers click on the full vids.
More or less that's the idea. Come up with interesting discussion points and then use the social medias to draw people back here and chat about them. Haven't ironed out any details like format, target word count, layout, or anything, but that's the gist... interesting words + pictures.

I will say that I have figured out a thumbnail picture style that's wonderfully suited to the site and quite charming, but beyond that it's all quite open.

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Re: Site content and community revitalization project

Post by Auntie Slag » Sat Feb 20, 2021 11:17 pm

Great, because its been kinda sad these last couple of years watching the message boards consolidate down to a few chief forums. And then viewing page one of a forum, scrolling down a bit & seeing topics last posted a year ago... felt like it was teetering on the precipice a bit.

I really dig the interaction that the modern social media offers (not Twitter or Facebook, but the video sites and traditional websites). Transformers must've passed its sell by date now that we've been through the man-child revival with the films. Maybe fewer fans will come, but those fewer may be more invested because they can interact so much easier.

For my money I'd enjoy checking out all the future Archive future stuff if I can view it from a phone whilst lying on a couch or in bed, I don't want to sit at a desk anymore scrolling up and down message boards. Nice that it'll still be there, but you know... my eyes are getting tired and all I ever really wanted was to see big, cool looking robots beating the shit out of each other, whether that's in 1984 or 2024. And these days I'd prefer to spend my time watching the podcast team doing a roundtable discussion, or Cliffjumper savagely tearing a subject to pieces on camera.

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Re: Site content and community revitalization project

Post by StoneCold Skywarp » Sat Feb 20, 2021 11:55 pm

The forum kinda, sorta does work in the confines of a mobile screen but the pandemic hitting really got me back in website creation and figuring out a way we could make the archive more mobile friendly. That eventually turned into this project to rebirth TFA and gauge if there's interest in it happening.
There's potential for a lot of experiments in terms of the way we produce our content (videos, podcasts etc have all been discussed to varying degrees and for anyone with the set up or interest to do so, please shout up) and a primary focus on articles (not just top 10s) and reviews in the guise of opinion pieces over a traditional review (imagine a written review that could be a produced video review too) have been the most developed ideas so far but there's plenty beyond too.

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Re: Site content and community revitalization project

Post by Computron » Tue Feb 23, 2021 12:10 pm

I agree with Auntie,

YouTube discussions and Twitch events seem the more popular options these days.

I regularly will goon and just watch 10-15 minute video after video with discussions and history about characters. I watch a lot of lord of the rings ones where they will be something like "Where were the Rangers During the Great War" and it will go on about what the Rangers of the North were doing during the events of LOTR or Character driven ones "Who is Gimli?" where it goes on about him

On top of that I'm starting to get in to Twich videos (often put on YouTube) where people will talk about either an episode they watched or some news that has broken about the subject they talk about (i.e. Star Trek, Star Wars etc.). Sometimes they will have 2-3 people on (a host who will get feedback from other Twitchers they are friends with)

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Re: Site content and community revitalization project

Post by StoneCold Skywarp » Tue Feb 23, 2021 1:37 pm

so essentially a podcast with a visual element.
It's something that's been banded about between a few of us already, but it's something to be built up to in terms of equipment etc over something that can be immediately jumped into :)
:) Twitter - @stncldskywarp :) PS5 - StoneColdSkywarp :)
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Re: Site content and community revitalization project

Post by Auntie Slag » Thu Feb 25, 2021 1:52 pm

I dunno, it feels like almost everyone has everything necessary. A camera and mic are built into every smartphone, tablet or laptop these days, and Zoom runs on all of those things. For Twitch I think you have to configure some free software so people can text you live on-screen.

I know its not really as simple as that, but in theory isn't it possible to say, spot Geoff Senior in a corner, set up a Zoom multi-meeting on your phone (with a decent wi-fi) and have people from multiple countries accost him at once? I'm sure Dalek did something similar with James Roberts in a hotel room alongside some other people.

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Re: Site content and community revitalization project

Post by Sades » Thu Feb 25, 2021 8:52 pm

It was me who brought it up it based on your suggestion, but I'm a poor candidate at the moment and we currently don't have anyone with the time/equipment/know-how to get it off the ground. If anyone has any advice in this regard, it would be appreciated. :)

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