OK, I've read over the past few pages, and I have some more thoughts. First of all, I am sorry to hear that vox is leaving, as he has generated some of the best content on this forum. Bill, I'm sorry if my own n00bishness and dumb PMs were part of what drove you away. I do appreciate the time and energy you put into your threads. Thank you.
Second, I want to say that in the year since I joined the site, SF has become an important part of my life, which I never anticipated. By finding a community of like-minded individuals, I've been able to develop my interest in style in a way that I never could have on my own, and in the process interact with some people that I now consider friends. I hope they think the same of me. I can't speak to how much better the community was before, because I wasn't around. I do think there is room for improvement, as I'll describe. But this place means a lot to me now, and I feel like I owe it to myself and the community to do whatever small part I can in helping it survive and thrive.
That done, the rest of this post is divided into three parts. First, I offer my own view of the "State of MC". Second, I suggest ways that each individual SF member can help to make the site a better place. Lastly, I propose some changes to the administration/moderation of the site that I think could be helpful, without regard to how feasible these changes are or to what degree they are already under consideration or enactment, as I don't know. Because some of this will sound preachy, let me say now that all of this is submitted as the humble point of view of someone with the best of intentions for this site.
Not long ago, Spoo started a 'Why do you come to SF?' thread. Plenty of the answers were silly, but it's a good question to ask before we start talking about any "problems" or the "quality" of MC right now. Maybe it's the economist in me, but I'd measure the efficacy of MC in terms of the degree to which users are getting what they want out of the forum. Obviously the desires of each user are different. But what is the universe of motives for coming to MC? Here's my list:
1) To learn basic information (I'll call this "SF 101", in part because of the new section, but also to contrast with the next point). About how a suit is made, about how to put together "fits", about the history of menswear, about what to wear to a job interview.
2) To discuss "graduate topics". Differences between bespoke tailors, higher "difficulty" combinations such as pattern matching, the utility and availability of different fabrics for bespoke tailoring, etc.
3) To show off/seek approval. We're all human, and humans are social animals. We get a new widget, we want to show our friends how cool it is.
4) To sell. Applies only to retailers, but they are forum users as well.
5) To espouse and influence. Some users have a vested (har har) interest in a particular mode of dress, and derive utility from influencing others to dress in this way and/or educating others about menswear history or guidelines.
6) To look at pr0n. Even vox can't have a suit made from every tailor in the world, or buy every pair of John Lobbs. SF has many pictures of beautiful items that you can enjoy gawking at without any intention of buying. Browsing fit pics goes here too.
7) To chat about random shit with people/goof off.
These are all things that people come to MC to do. Of course, a user might fall into many categories. On the whole, I think the forum does a remarkably good job of satisfying these diverse goals. It's remarkable because almost everybody who falls into one of these 7 categories needs somebody in a different category to satisfy their MC needs. 1) needs 5), and vice versa. 3) and 6) are a happy couple, just like 1) and 4). A forum that functions well has a balance between all these categories, so that there are enough voyeurs to satisfy the exhibitionists and so on for all the other symbiotic relationships.
There are two exceptions: 2) and 7). They are only looking for other 2)s and other 7)s, respectively. This creates a tension between them and the rest of the forum, because they don't need anyone else, unless they are users who also fall into other categories. They can survive only with their own kind, but they also can grow uncontrollably since they are not limited by need of any other type. Thus their share of membership and poasting is quite unstable. Even apart from any fundamental change in the site, it's normal for there to be fluctuations in these types of people, because if one leaves, it decreases the value of the site for the others, and the process spirals. If one arrives, it increases the value, so more arrive.
Clearly some posters are upset that there isn't enough of 2). But you have to realize that not everyone is coming to the forum for that. There is still plenty of content to satisfy 2) on MC, it's just hidden in heaps of the other things, and those other things are providing value for other members, who matter also. Even so, I think the forum gives you tools (as a DH especially, but even just the power to start threads and subscribe to threads) to sort through this haystack of content to get to what you want without too much trouble, although I'll come back to this later. One might suggest that this being a style forum, the needs of these other users should be subservient to 2), and in particular 1) and 7) types should be generally discouraged from interacting with the forum. But i) in the words of Austin Powers, this train has sailed - the interests of those who run the site are overwhelmingly in favor of getting more traffic, and that means pleasing as many users as possible, and ii) some people come originally for 1) but eventually turn into 2) or 3), and iii) most people who are 2)s are also one of the other types, like a 5), and are sometimes helped by these types of members.
Of course new members will be, on average, less knowledgeable and valuable in 2). And the content that they generate may start to drown out those who do want to engage in 2). However, increased traffic is great for some of the other items here. You get more images to browse for members coming for 6), even if the typical picture posted by a n00b is of lower quality. If you're coming for 3) or 5), increased traffic represents a larger audience. Your vox is now louder. How many views did FC's Practical Combinations thread have? Has there ever been a thread in the history of London Lounge with that many views? Posters like vox and Manton have a huge megaphone in SF and their thoughts on style reach an audience of thousands. If you're a retailer, clearly it's great. The more the merrier, so those seeking 7) are probably better off with more traffic. Only 2) and 1), in the event that these new members who are driving the increase in traffic give bad advice, are worse off. How can we mitigate this negative externality?
First, on the individual level. 1) Don't issue blanket "everything here is crap" statements. Some agree with you and assumes you're talking about everyone else but them. They pile on with the same "yea, everything is crap" stuff until all everybody agrees on is that everybody is crap. Which is counterproductive and just bewilders everyone else, who don't know which things you're talking about, because if everybody seems to be agreeing that everything is crap, presumably except for their own stuff. And it discourages them from the next way to make SF a better place, which is even more important: 2) produce original, thoughtful SF content! This takes time and effort, but others have done it before you and you have benefited from reading it, so pay it forward. Obviously FC is a shining example, but allow me to boast of my own SF career to show you that you don't have to be as accomplished or knowledgeable as Bill to make yourself useful around here. I joined a little more than a year ago, and as Spoo alluded to, I didn't have a terrifically auspicious start. I had always been interested in clothes and I am fortunate enough to have money to spend on them, but I came in with basically no knowledge compared to where I am now. Within the past few months I have:
- Drafted StyleForum101, after responding to countless n00b queries
- Posted trip reports of visits to stores in Italy
- Posted an interview with a well-respected but under-publicized DC tailor
- started a thread about how useful rules are in dress, which I think generated some interesting conversation
- started a discussion of the limits of MTM vs. bespoke, which I am now off to re-ignite, I hope
As PSG said (and his curation of the pocket square thread is another excellent example of adding value to SF), we're here to share. If nobody has anything to share, the place shrivels up. Here I'm talking not so much to the "old guard" or whatever, as Vox, Manton,
, just to name three off the top of my head, have made major contributions to the forum that should benefit n00bs and clothes horses a like. I'm talking instead to members of my "generation". It's important to learn from SF vets - but if it's just a classroom and they're at the front, eventually they're going to get bored. Very few want to be a full time 5). Eventually, you have to challenge yourself to join the conversation. Take a risk and don't be afraid of saying something stupid, as long as you put some thought and effort into it. You don't even have to be rich enough to commission bespoke clothing to have something useful to say (although that would definitely help you find new material).
Finally, on a forum level, how can we keep traffic high and keep people in the non-2) groups happy, without getting in the way of 2)? I'm not going to address 7) too much, but stuff gets moved to DT for a reason. But I think we're making a lot of progress on 1). The more quickly and efficiently we can get information to people in the 1) category without wasting forum-thread-space on it, the better.
SF101 is a step in this direction. I don't know if there's actually been a decrease in the number of "what should I wear to my job interview?" posts, or at least an increase in the quality of them, but at least now it's easy to answer them quickly with a link, and then they generally go away. I have some more ideas to add to this section to further this process, and get all this stuff out of the way of good discussion regarding more interesting topics.
Also, I think the search function could be better. We tell people to use it all the time to look up some oft-asked question, but sometimes search results are a little weird. Being able to sort them by views and/or posts would be really useful too. If I ever want to try and find an old thread on SF, I generally just use google to search for it instead of using the SF engine.
I think I might have read mention of it previously, but a thumbs down in addition to a thumbs up would be useful, and would help people in the "everything here sucks camp" be more specific in expressing their disdain without exerting too much effort.
Finally, a couple of ideas to generate more 2) content:
This is a complete trial balloon, and FWIW, I don't think the affiliate threads are creating a problem at all, but rather this gives an incentive for posters who are likely quite knowledgeable to share more: require that vendors make at least half of their posts outside of their own affiliate thread.
Expand the current system of rewarding great contributions to the forum, as has been suggested. This should not be too democratic. Maybe only DH get to vote. Maybe only a committee of 5 can allocate a prize. Maybe the prize should be not a clothing item, but publicity - something better than being featured on Front Page. Maybe getting stickied for a while. Maybe there's a thread that has ONLY winning posts, with links to their original threads, that is perma-stickied. Maybe winner gets their tumblr profiled somehow, or gets one of the DH to do an interview with them (DH asks the winner the questions, not other way around - I'd be happy to do the interviewing of winners if a volunteer is needed). This has the added advantage of being likely to generate yet more 2)-content in the interview.
Those are just a few ideas. Again, I have found MC to be an immensely useful resource and a wonderful community. Out of gratitude, as well as for my own enjoyment, I've tried to "give back to the community" as much as I can. Let's all try to do what we can to appreciate MC as it is, and shape for the better what it will be.