Reworking the Google Lunar X PRIZE Forums: What do you think?

One of the downsides to casting a wide net in the online media arena is that sometimes things will slip through that net. For any of you who have followed the Google Lunar X PRIZE for a while now, you've probably noticed one big dark spot on our community: the forums.

While some of our various web properties have really picked up steam as of late (team blogs are chugging along nicely, and The Launch Pad has finally found its voice.... did I mention that Will Pomerantz is a BLOGGER?), the forums have largely stagnated. I don't mean to berate the poor thing, but it has become riddled with the occasional spammer and flame war. There is, of course, plenty of worthwhile conversation there as well, but we're trying to boost the signal to noise ratio.

And so I pose the following question to you: what would you like to see on our forums?

Should we keep the current platform of PHPBB or switch to something a little more social, like Ning? Should we provide methods for user generated content? Or should we just get rid of the thing altogether?

The sky is the limit here (or not), so feel free to throw us any suggestions you might have. We are committed to making our community thrive in every possible way, and we want our forums to be a vital piece of a vibrant online ecosystem.

James Tauber said...

If you are interested in moving to something more social-network oriented, I'm sure the developers of Pinax (myself included) would be delighted to help out.

William said...

Alright, crowd: you've been sourced! Don't let us down!

Seriously--though there are some definitely diamonds in the forum, it's also largely inactive. Perhaps worst of all, it's most ignored by the teams themselves.

How can we make an effective business / promotional tool for the teams AND a valuable resource (and fun place) for fans, educators, customers, et cetera?

Jeff said...

I second the look at Pinax; it's built in Django, which makes life ten thousand times easier by itself.

Paolo Amoroso said...

Some thoughts:

* The forum is not prominently featured on the GLXP site, and there were few, if any, mentions on the blog or @glxp with links to interesting/hot topics or highlights.

* The forum purpose is not clear. The hierarchy seems to suggest that it is team-oriented rather than community oriented.

* Given the caution with which teams share information, there is perhaps too much subforum granularity and most subforums remain mostly empty. This is apparently not a forum issue because some team blogs are also mostly silent. There has been some initial discussion on team information sharing at the Wired for Space panel.

* I'm not sure a platform change would make a major difference. With over 3,000(?) forum members, stagnation may have other reasons.

Jenntos said...
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Phil said...

My biggest regret is that people who are actually involved in the teams are so reticent. Clearly, technology information will be proprietary, and so will specific details of business plans. Work done to select specific landing points may be as well. But more general discussions of landing site pros and cons, or public outreach efforts, or generic aspects of mission design or business models... things which would interest outside observers and stimulate thought among team members - much more could be done there. I've tried to raise topics I thought would have some interest, but I find the lack of serious or constructive followup discouraging. And I really don't want to hear about the latest scheme to launch a cardboard rocket that uses no fuel, or that Apollo never happened.


alexc said...

I can't disagree with that the teams are mostly inactive on the forum although they are seen there from time to time. Maybe they (okay, I'm guilty too) need to be encouraged to initiate discussions about selected blog posts, since the forum might provide a better infrastructure for discussions than the comment system is.

In any case, maintaining an active forum will require an effort from all involved parties, in this case the teams, X PRIZE staff and the public. If any of these parties is missing it will not fulfill its intended purpose.

I recruited several skilled people via the GLXP forum who are doing very valuable work for us today, so I hope that the forum stays - or a better replacement as suggested by other comments.

mike fabio said...

This is fantastic feedback, everyone. Thank you so much. I'm picking out a couple of themes here, which deserve addressing:

*Lack of participation by teams. This, as Paolo pointed out, is not exclusive to the forums; indeed we've had some trouble getting certain teams to participate in much of anything. But rest assured that this is currently being fixed.

*Lack of direction. That is to say that the forums have no clear purpose other than to give a soapbox to anybody that wants one. This discourages teams, since it appears on the surface to be a waste of time, and encourages trolls and flamers, who see this as an opportunity to spout off about whatever they please.

*The most effective part of the forums so far is the team formation and recruiting section. This is great.

Keep the feedback coming. This is extremely helpful.

nickazer said...

The key is the interactivity--having more interaction with "VIP" type posters, e.g. teams, or even just the X PRIZE moderators.

An idea to get around the sharing of information issue: have, say, a 'topic of the week' thread on a related lunar or space subject. E.g., helium-3 and fusion power; national efforts like Constellation; historical perspective (this colonial era and how it compares to past ones); etc., etc. That way there's discourse from the teams, and potentially even VIP posters from NASA and elsewhere that are invited to join the discussion, without the problem of giving away mission info.

Having 'celebrity'-type posters around (even just the mods) really helps drive the life of a forum--the World of Warcraft forums (seriously) probably being the most wildly successful example of that, or having Guillermo Del Toro (director of the upcoming "Hobbit" films) on the film message boards at There's plenty of interesting figures in the space world probably willing to swing by (maybe even get Harrison Schmitt in there :D ).

Also, I agree on the aesthetics--the presentation on both the main page and the hierarchy of the forum list could use work to be more intuitive and inviting.

Monroe said...

I concur the forum is to well hidden. Secondly the teams are far to quite some healthy competition would liven things up plenty! Our team is busy with our N-Prize attempt (it's cheaper) and we cant spare the funds (don't have) right now to sign up! But we don’t want to come into the X-Prize empty handed. You can bet we will stir things up plenty when we get here. The forum looks great it just needs more activity. Give our team a forum here and I'll help you stir things up. In fact make a section for forming teams under their names something like Teams in the Making or upcoming teams how about Future Teams forum? Put it were the other teams can see us make progress. Give the little guy's a little more room to show their wares. Just because we can't get the funds together shouldn’t mean we can’t interact and provide challenge at least intellectually. Let real believers get in the fray somehow without having to spend so much money to get something going! You've got it just out of our reach. We have to win the N-Prize just to make it here. How desperate is that!

Team Prometheus

Today's the day! We go into space!

We are coming anyway! These teams better get ready.

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