A Little Community-Based (Web) Planning

We at Streetsblog have been thinking about ways to improve the site, so, true to our stated philosophy on these issues, we thought we’d reach out to you, the readers.

We’d love it if you could take a few moments and send in your comments / suggestions about the site – how you use it and how we might be able to make it better.  Here are a few questions to guide your thoughts:

  1. What do you like best about Streetsblog?
  2. What could we do to  improve Streetsblog for you?
  3. What’s one thing we absolutely SHOULDN’T change?
  4. Name one thing another website does well that we should copy emulate?
  5. How often do you visit Streetsblog?

Of all the comments posted, we’ll randomly select one to receive a brand spanking new Streetsblog t-shirt!  (No, these don’t exist yet, but I’ve decided to force the issue)

Ok, we’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say.  Thanks in advance for your feedback.

Photo: amortize on Flickr

  • First, I should say that Streetsblog is fantastic and is a major reason that what used to feel like lonely fractured causes a few years ago feels like a movement today.

    3. What could we do to improve Streetsblog for you?

    My main problem with blogs is that important stories quickly move down the page and into the archives. That’s good for generating quick outrage but bad for building a real solid body of knowledge.

    The “Recent Headlines” helps a little by highlighting standout stories. But all the knowledge and expertise on display every day on this site could build towards something really encyclopedic.

    Also, you should add local tags so I can easily find all the stories about Clinton Hill, Jamaica, etc.

    4. What’s one thing we absolutely SHOULDN’T change?

    The Weekly Carnage, though heartbreaking, is a really valuable service. It helps break the silence.

    5. Name one thing another website does well that we should copy emulate?

    OnNYTurf.com has incredible map features that illustrate complicated issues in accessible, compelling ways and provide tools for taking action.

    6. How often do you visit Streetsblog?

    Daily.

  • bev_rd

    Face the reality that though blogs are great for one-way content publishing, they totally suck for threading discussions. If the discussions are something you value, than move to a forum format or have a link to a discussion forum for each topic.

  • Brooklyn Boy

    In the “Today’s Headline’s” section, you sometimes post a photo (i.e. accidents) but you don’t have a link to the article.
    The photo is sometimes very attention-getting but there’s no way to know which article it’s from.
    This can easily be corrected by making the photo a “click-on” option, or, just having a caption beneath it.
    Good luck!!!

  • Agree with Ryan, especially about #1

    I think the way to solve the problem of good stories that need to stay up top is to emulate what Streetfilms does with some of their best videos. It has 4-6 thumbnail photos and the headlines of their best stuff to the right.

  • Dan

    1. The empowerment that comes from knowing that I’m not the only one screaming into the darkness about planning issues in NYC.

    2. I think somebody said it already, but a forum would be a good idea. Really the discussions could really blossom I think if there was a better commenting structure. But I think the concern is basically that the forum will wither and so will the comments as the new medium divides the content. I don’t know what to say, but I think you are on the verge of something great and it has momentum.

    5. Hourly.

  • comentz

    I visit the site several times a day almost everyday as it is a great source of information and news (and some analysis). The links you provide are also most useful. The site not only compiles but is also a gateway. It’s best to remain focused and do a few things extraordinarily well. More later.

  • elgin

    I love Streetsblog, it’s very informative. Suggestions: could you add more coverage of national trends (but without sacrificing NYC depth)? Maybe you could accomplish this by encouraging far-flung readers to send anecdotes or links to regional news stories.

    At its best, this blog can be a kind of a transportation-related Talking Points Memo, compiling news stories and reader tips on transportation issues, plus original reportage and in-depth coverage of NYC transportation politics, plus occasionally mobilizing reader activism on selected issues.

  • pat

    This is a fabulous site! I come here daily and enjoy this often hard to find coverage of transportation matters.

    The one suggestion I’d have is to expand your coverage zone. I’ve seen countless posts on the Park Slope traffic changes, but little about my neighborhood out here in astoria queens (or other parts of queens.)

    Ok, i have another suggestion. I object to using terms like ‘carnage’ to describe pedestrian deaths — this is an important enough issue by as it is — no need for sensationalism!

  • Thanks for all the kind words so far – it’s great to hear that people think we’re on the right track.

    Ryan (#1) – Your point about important stories dropping off is something we’ve been thinking about. We’re considering switching to a more magazine-style layout (like http://www.huffingtonpost.com), or just doing a better job tying related posts together (http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com does a great job of this — yes, I read that site). Would people be shocked & outraged if Streetsblog became less of a "traditional" blog?

    bev_rd (#2) and Dan (#5) – Figuring out how to take the discussion to the next level is another issue we’ve been discussing. I feel Dan’s concerns about splintering content, but also believe that there’s un-tapped reader energy out there. Can anyone think of other sites that have done a good job with this?

  • Super G

    Some readers of this site may be familiar with The Oil Drum ( http://www.theoildrum.com ), a site that I work on. There, we have a top-level “world” site, and local sub-sites, e.g. nyc.theoildrum.com, europe.theoildrum.com, etc. The best stories from the local sites get promoted to the “front page”. If Streetsblog wants to go national, that might be a model to follow.

  • ddartley

    1. What do you like best about Streetsblog?

    I don’t know if this is what I like BEST, but I am very glad that the discussion is civil, and when some nut does post something repugnant, most readers don’t take the bait, but reply coolly, if at all.

    2. What could we do to improve Streetsblog for you?

    Due to my tech-laziness, this answer might be ill-informed: It seems that some content does not get archived, but just goes offline after a while (I’m not talking about stuff that has to be taken because of errors/legal issues, etc.). If that’s true, I would really love it if we could search all past content. Don’t know how feasible that is. Also, it would be great if the search function also searched through comments.

    5. How often do you visit Streetsblog?

    from Merriam Webster:
    *crack: noun
    a potent form of cocaine that is obtained by treating the hydrochloride of cocaine with sodium bicarbonate to create small chips used illicitly for smoking

  • Gizler

    I wholeheartedly agree with Ryan that “Streetsblog is fantastic and is a major reason that what used to feel like lonely fractured causes a few years ago feels like a movement today.”

    I also agree with his remarks re the blog format, and I like Nick’s proposal for a more magazine style layout.

    And while I see the need for a sober approach, but I miss the humor of the posts in Naparstek.com.

  • bev_rd

    Replying to Nick (9)

    If you want to keep the ease of use and display characteristics of the Blog format, you can keep it as is, but link to a PHP forum for *all* discussions. Shut off comments on the blog content, allow users to start discussions which refer back to the blog, or have blog contributor’s start the discussion thread on the forum, if you want to limit the ability for posters to start new threads.

  • If you’re thinking of a magazine format, WorldChanging.org might be a good model. On the other hand, I visit that site only rarely and don’t feel like a participant like I do here.

    It seems useful to maintain the rapid-response aspect, but this site can certainly be much more than a blog. There are already a lot of valuable features (calendar, streetfilms) that could be expanded with a magazine format.

    A few articles posted here have fundamentally changed my thinking on certain issues. They should stay prominent rather than slowly fade into memory…

  • Xue

    1. I agree it could be nice to incorporate forum-style commenting into the articles – but don’t link to separate forum pages, just integrate it into the article page as it is now, albeit with the different format.
    2. In regards to keeping important headlines, I suggest having a user ranking system (e.g. 1-5) like many other sites have, so users can prioritize important posts. This would provide more 2-way interaction and “collective intelligence”. Then you could have a link to the top ranked stories, and/or a sidebar with the top 5-10 etc.
    3. Regarding the comment above about better covering a variety of neighborhoods, may be consider an ongoing feature focusing one at a time on individual neighborhoods (or community boards) and taking a close look at their in-depth transportation issues. You could speak to the CB staff and/or local residents, business owners, etc. Eventually you would have covered every neighborhood/CB in the city. This might be a good way to get geographic equity of coverage – outside the brownstone belt.
    4. How about establishing a user registration system so regular users can have an account and profile and their forum login/preferences saved, and you could then search the comments by user. This could be similar to the Gristmill website on Grist Magazine.

  • momos

    1. Streetsblog is hands down the best source of NYC transportation related news there is. I love it.

    2. As others have said, change the archiving system so that posts meeting the following criteria are prominently accessible:
    a). Contain original reporting
    b). Contain info with longer shelf life (such as the post “Electeds React to Congestion Pricing,” useful for readers who want to follow up with phone calls to electeds)
    c). Many user reader comments (over 15)

    Another suggestion: Make it easier for readers to become activists immediately after reading a post. For example, post the phone numbers of the 3 most important players with influence on the issue the post discusses. I posted the tel#s of various reps encouraging readers to call in support of PlaNYC. Glad to see some have done so.

    3. Don’t split discussion off from posts. People write responses because they’re reasonably confident they will be seen by most readers of a given post. If the discussion is split away, they will become more general and less tightly focused on a post.

    5. I read Streetsblog several times a day.

  • momos

    Sorry, two more suggestions I forgot:

    To manage comments better, use nestled posting in which readers can specifically respond to other readers.

    A few responses request more national coverage. I disagree. This blog has the right balance: occasional national/int’l stories providing case examples and new information, but remains committed to the particularities of transportation in NYC. There are whole areas of NYC that don’t get coverage, namely the Bronx (the ongoing battle to get NYSDOT to entirely dismantle the 1.25 Sheridan Expressway, for ex), Queens and Staten Island. Improve coverage of these before pursuing national ambitions.

  • Nested Comments
    For the life of me I can not understand how any blogs today can not have threaded comments. Streetsblog, Curbed, Gothamist – all lack threaded comments – makes no sense.

    Get Liquid
    Also, please lose the fixed width layout – its a form of aesthetic control you impose on people – but you make assumptions about their monitor size, resolution, and type size the reader is comfortable reading at – in the end its basically anti-accessibility.

    More Outer Manhattan Outer Brooklyn
    We all cover Brooklyn and Manhattan hard, it would be great to get some better attention on the Bronx, Queens and SI. That goes for everyone publishing online self included.

  • * When covering an important issue, provide info on actions readers can take to help (contact info of relevant officials, etc.)

    * Would love to see headlined news broken down by burrough: news related to Brooklyn, Queens, etc.

    * Make it easy to donate to you.

    * T-shirts: make ’em look good and include women’s versions. (Much as I love TA, their shirts are ugly and don’t fit.)

    * Change yr settings to allow more posts on the home page; as it now, posts only a day old end up going on the second or third page, which makes it harder to find them

    * Have an intern promote particularly good posts to other blogs and newspapers — it’ll help you increase traffic

  • Wow, this is great! You guys are good.

    To respond:

    Ddartley (#11) – the search tool should search all past posts – we never un-archive anything. If something’s not turning up, there could be some sort of bug – let me know if you can’t find something. I really like the idea of searching comments (echoed by Xue #15).

    Ryan (#14) – your point about worldchanging.org is an important one. I look at that site, and I’m not immediately drawn into reading anything, the way I am on Streetsblog. I definitely worry that a magazine-style layout could diminish some of Sblog’s crushing grip on my attention.

    Momos (#16) – I like your idea of breaking down the archives by a) orig reporting, b) ongoing stories and c) posts with lots of comments. When we added the "Hot Topics" sidebar, it really changed the way I read the blog, and these could do the same.

    Re: citywide coverage – this is definitely something we’ve been discussing, and I’ll let the contributors/editors respond if they want. However, from a design point of view, we’d like to give a better way to find posts by borough (such as a google map).

    Will (#18) – your point about going liquid is well taken. We are definitely planning to go wider, but may go all the way liquid. Over 50% of our visitors have >1024px wide monitors.

    Carrie (#19) – donations… I love it! Good point about t-shirts. Perhaps we should have a t-shirt design contest, or at least a slogan contest for the shirt. More posts on the homepage is a great idea.

    Please, keep the comments coming – it’s invaluable to hear how you all use the site, and we’re definitely excited to embark on this round of improvements.

  • mb

    Please make better.

  • moms

    Nick: great idea about finding posts by borough via google map. In addition to making navigation easy, this approach conveys to the reader an informal/unscientific city-wide snapshot of transportation issue “hot spots.”

  • I love this site, I check it every day. I agree with several comments above, however, that some of the posts move down the page too fast. More precisely, having a system based only on the time the piece was posted makes all posts appear to be of equal importance. PlaNYC is arguably more important than anything in the last three months, but it’s being lost in the shuffle of other posts. Would it be possible to split the homepage into two or three areas, and decide what is posted in each of these areas according to several factors, such as time-entered, importance, comments made, etc.

    It might also be nice to provide a space for committed streetsbloggers to get to know each other. People could post profiles with contact information, interests, etc. A way to build/tighten this awesome community.

  • It’s apparent that several themes are emerging here (in order of importance?):

    1) Hierarchy of posts / visibility of important posts: Find a way to keep important stories on top, tie themes together, and find posts easily, without losing the "crack" appeal of the blog.

    2) Discussion / community: One of the most amazing aspects of Sblog has been the great community of community members/activists/officials/experts and regular folks we’ve found. It sounds like we need to find better ways to take discussions to the next level (threading, free-form discussion, etc.) and get to know each other better (through profiles, logins, etc.)

    3) Scope: Obviously, everything we talk about is about place – we can do a better job of balancing coverage of different neighborhoods, and perhaps giving you ways to access more localized info (e.g., sf.streetsblog.org, portland.streetsblog.org).

    Sound about right?

  • Gizler

    This is perhaps the kind of post/thread that we don’t want to have sink off the page so fast.

  • Sarah Goodyear

    Gizler,

    Point well taken. For now, the “Hot Topics” column on the right-hand side of the page is one way of tracking the posts that continue to generate debate.

  • Steve

    On format–should friendly not only to wide or narrow screens but also handhelds.

    On archiving–there was a post about three months ago about residents on the Upper West Side who park in the bike lane during alt-side and were ticketed en masse by NYPD for doing so. A NYT article was quoted. That post seems to have disappeared.

    On splitting of discussions–I tend to favor the current traditional blog format but agree that it would be helpful, whenever a post tops 30 comments or so, for a staffer to collect up to five past on-topic posts, link them to a sidebar, and perhaps even summarize their relevance in a comment to the 30+ comment post at issue.

    Keep carnage–doesn’t draw comments (what can you say?) but is very important.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Jay Enachi

    Socially, height has advantages and for decades studies have continuously proven that taller people have a better self-image, increasing their level of confidence, and as a result are more successful. Height (especially in men) is usually seen as attractive. Recent studies have also shown that taller men are more likely to receive promotions and advancements in their careers. http://tinyurl.com/h8pxftd

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