Wednesday, April 27, 2011

History: Notifications (Part I)

Even though the guiding principle behind headquartering major page action in the forums was that in doing so traffic to major page action discussions would increase, this increased traffic never materialized. In the first months of the trope rename forum this wasn't really seen as that big a deal, mainly because in between all the razzle dazzle of avatars and signatures and pinned threads, it certainly felt as if we were making a significant improvement. But as time went on it became more difficult to ignore the fact that while the names and faces changed, there never seemed to be any more than two dozen people actively posting in Trope Repair Shop at a time.

The lack of meaningful connection between Trope Repair Shop and the wiki proper always had a propensity for some awkwardness. Initially this difficulty was only really noted on the Trope Repair Shop end of things. Courtesy links (usually Wiki Words) to pages under discussion were often requested, as it was a bit of a pain to try and navigate to a page knowing only its name. This irritation only increased after the native TV Tropes search bar (which searches for exact titles) was fully replaced by a Google search bar after a hacker used a flaw in the TV Tropes search bar architecture to attack the wiki. As many of the pages under Trope Repair Shop discussion were poorly linked, it was often difficult to find them using a Google search.

By contrast, notifications are the first, and so far as I know, only serious effort ever made to try and guide traffic toward Trope Repair Shop. The way they work is pretty simple. The first-generation notifications were a special piece of wiki formatting. A person would take the html address of the forum topic under discussion, put it in the formatting, and then post it at the top of the page which was under discussion under the assumption that people would click on it to see the discussion.

This effort failed to garner any new traffic. Threads which had notifications on discussed pages seldom had much more discussion than pages without flags. These notifications did occasionally result in the revival of ancient threads where nothing was accomplished by users who belatedly saw the notification and decided to chime in, usually to no purpose. The notifications had a habit of lingering indefinitely because no one was really sure when a discussion "ended", and so no one was willing to delete a notification.

The main other attempt to draw in traffic came in the form of a a blue circle that would appear in the upper-right corner of TV Tropes saying "Hey, check out Trope Repair Shop!" with a small picture of Trope-Tan underneath the words. This effort similarly failed. In retrospect I realize that this was likely because most people had no idea what Trope Repair Shop was, or why they should have any interest in it relative to the parts of the wiki they already frequented. There were a lot of assumptions in this icon that forumites took for granted but which were not obvious to the rest of the wiki. Even though there was a great deal of deliberation over the title Trope Repair Shop in the forums, elsewhere no one was really sure what it meant. Trope-tan as well was well-known to some members of the wiki, but about as many had no idea who she was or why her picture was supposed to be appealing.

While it only takes me a few paragraphs to summarize all this, when we were actually discussing these matters it took long forum threads of painstaking discussion before we arrived at any action at all. This made the failure of these efforts all the sharper. However much we tried, no one wanted to come to Trope Repair Shop. The only way we could think of to salvage these losses was through a simple credo- anyone can join Trope Repair Shop, and since we go through so much work to try to get people here, it's their own fault if major page action happens that they don't like. Discussions are long, and usually have crowners, so you've only yourself to blame if something happens without your input.

If this attitude sounds rather jingoist, well, it kind of was. It must be understood that forumites were mostly just discussing these things with each other because that's all we had to discuss with. Indeed, even though I was active in YKTTW and regularly launched new tropes, I never tried to get people there to join Trope Repair Shop, and it would not have occurred to me to try given how renames were excised from YKTTW to begin with. As a result, I accepted this attitude as well, though with a bit of resignation as I certainly would have liked to get more people involved in Trope Repair Shop, if only such a thing were possible.

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