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Bringing the NUMTOT community into the fold

MacheteJames

Cyburbian
Messages
969
Points
21
I've been a member for 15 years. In that time, I've seen the userbase of this site grow steadily older - I think the average age of members here has to be something like 45-50. I don't see self-identified Millennial and Gen Z planners getting involved in the threads here, and I think the site suffers for it. Have a look at r/urbanplanning on Reddit and Cyburbia, and it's like they occupy two separate planning universes.

What I'm getting at is that the site is getting a little stale and new blood is needed. What can we do about it?
 
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luckless pedestrian

Super Moderator
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12,314
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52
I do look at Reddit every once in a while and as a younger-boomer, I feel like graphically it's so jumbled, I barely look at anything as it's visually disturbing - so yeah, that might be part of the generation gap

discussion boards that are topic-oriented off existing sites like Reddit might be a has-been thing for the younger crowd

maybe we pose it to Reddit and ask?

I was on a steely dan discussion board for over 10 years (1999 to maybe 2012?) and have made real-time friends off of it - but once Facebook groups started, we all migrated there and the board kind of washed away - I am facebook friends with many of the people from the old banyan trees site

I think that's something that gets lost in larger discussion boards like Reddit, there may be less likelihood of making real time friends as there's so many people there but I may be wrong on that, not sure
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
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18,604
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69
I completely agree.

It's an issue many message boards are facing. One message board I used to be very active on is pretty much dominated by bearded Boomer types. They're having a hard time pulling in younger users. Message boards now have a reputation as being kind of old fashioned, because they're not seen as a kind of social media"

According to Google, we have a very diverse range of visitors, age-wise. Here's a summary for 1/1/2019 to today:

Analytics_-_2020-07-09_11.17.58.png

Still, if I had to draw a bell curve of who's active, my guess is that it would probably peak at 45, with little participation from those under 25 or over 65.

age_distribution.png

With the move from vBulletin to XenForo, the trend of declining visitors reversed. Visitor count is still nowhere near its peak 15 years ago, but things were looking good -- until the middle of March this year. Traffic dropped about a third, started to recover a bit, and dropped again at the start of May. The timing coincides with school and workplace closures related to COVID 19. Similar thing with posting activity -- a nice jump after the switch to Xenforo, good sustained activity through 2019 and the first few months of 2020, and then :microbe: .

When message boards were at their peak in the early/mid 00's, Cyburbia would get about 15 to 25 new users a day. Today, we get about 1 to 3, and about 10%-20% are spammers that somehow make it past all the various layers of anti-spam security; the IP range and country blocks, prohibited email and username keywords, Stop Forum Spam and other blacklists, and so on "Conversion" -- getting visitors to register and become active users -- has been a growing problem since the start of the social media era. XenForo made joining much easier, since new users can register and log on through Facebook, Reddit, Google, and so on. The average visitor to Cyburbia spends about four minutes on the site, which is actually pretty good. However, the increase in visits hasn't translated into an increase in new users.

Since user registration began in 2001, Cyburbia has had 48,000 registered members. About 90% to 95% of them were "legitimate" -- not spammers. We remove the accounts of members who haven't logged in for a year or more, with zero posts to their name. As of today, that leaves about 11,000 members who posted at least once. About two-thirds of those accounts are essentially dead -- invalid email, and haven't logged in for years. We have no way of contacting them. For the rest -- at least the ones who chose to receive email from Cyburbia in their profiles -- the few times I've sent out an email blast, the response is fairly lukewarm.

Of the 11,246 current member accounts, 4,630 were what we call one-and-done; they posted only once. 1,603 posted only twice. 824 only posted three times. The Pareto principle applies here, as on most message boards -- 80% of the content is created by 20% of the users.

Millennials and Zoomers increasingly use Reddit for the same kind of topical discussion that would have been on independent message boards 10 years ago. If someone is already registered on Reddit, all they have to do is add the /r/urbanplanning group to the list of subreddits they follow. /r/urbanplanning probably drew away a lot of the activity that would have gone to Cyburbia years ago, even though it's really more of an urbanist group, with discussion leaning heavily towards a few pet topics (car-free cities, suburbs are bad, zoning is bad, YIMBY). Also, Reddit posts are more ephemeral. If a thread is more than a day old, it's as good as dead. Still, activity in that subreddit is slowly growing.

There's a feed of Cyburbia threads on Reddit and Twitter. I don't think they helped draw traffic to Cyburbia. I paid for ads on /r/urbanplanning, and they were all downvoted to oblivion. Even though outreach to the Reddit crowd has been largely a failure, there's still plenty of younger folks out there who might like what they see here -- if they even know we exist.

We face the same issue with with Facebook. If you have a Facebook account, all you have to do is join a group. Cyburbia struggles to get more than a few hundred Facebook fans -- it's depressing. Like I said earlier, joining Cyburbia is easy if you have a Facebook or Reddit account, but cross-registration hasn't been the "bridge" I thought it could be

The biggest issue Cyburbia has struggled with for the past 20 years is the lack of "buzz". After the emergence of Planetizen, CityLab, blogs, and so on, Cyburbia has gotten absolutely zero buzz. Cyburbia has never been mentioned -- not once -- in any articles or anywhere else on CityLab, Treehugger, Strong Cities, Governing, Next City, Streetsblog, The CIty Fix, New Geography, Inhabitat ... I could go on. Nobody from those sites has ever contacted me. Cyburbia has been online for 25 years, and there's been absolutely no recognition of that anywhere else online. None. Nothing. Nada. Not even on some obscure blog. We're truly out of the loop. Even the blogs of once-active Cyburbia members don't mention Cyburbia. This is one of the reasons why I was scarce for a while. If the site wasn't getting recognition after so many years, the tens of thousands of hours of work so many put into it, why even bother? I could care less about being recognized personally -- my full name don't even appear here -- but it still bothers me that Cyburbia has generally been ignored by the built environment community.

The result of being ignored? No buzz = fewer inbound links = declining positions in search engine pages. In the early 2000s, Cyburbia came up as the very first result in a Google search for "urban planning." It then fell to 2nd. Then 3rd. Now, it's not even on the first 10 pages. Fortunately, it still comes up first for "urban planning" + "discussion", but for how long? Few remember Cyburbia exists until they come across a thread in a Google search. A couple of minutes later, they forget, because a site that's never had a mention in CityLab can't be that great, right?

What to do to get new blood? Recognition from the outside world that this site exists, and that there's a great community here, would be a good start. How to get recognition without spamming the bejezus out of the Internet? I've been trying to find the answer for years.

Sorry for my tone. This has always been a sore spot for me. More thoughts in a few.
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,208
Points
28
Might participation issues with online boards geared toward people who regularly engage the public in their work life relate to fears - perceived or real - of being publicly outed?
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
14,792
Points
51
There would have to be some kind of blog that can be pushed out through RSS or whatever feed similar to CityLab and the others. The other option is to cross promote by doing feature articles for the other blogs, but I doubt they are to interested in promoting what they consider competition and when it comes down to it, Cyburbia discusses actual planning problems in a local sense. Not some planning topic that is hyper specific to a community of a major city. We tend to discuss the differences of the job, how to do it, how to survive it, more than how the latest coffee/bookstore is revitalizing some neighborhood in San Francisco.
 

luckless pedestrian

Super Moderator
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12,314
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52
There would have to be some kind of blog that can be pushed out through RSS or whatever feed similar to CityLab and the others. The other option is to cross promote by doing feature articles for the other blogs, but I doubt they are to interested in promoting what they consider competition and when it comes down to it, Cyburbia discusses actual planning problems in a local sense. Not some planning topic that is hyper specific to a community of a major city. We tend to discuss the differences of the job, how to do it, how to survive it, more than how the latest coffee/bookstore is revitalizing some neighborhood in San Francisco.
like therapy for planners

maybe that's our byline, but in a much cooler font
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,604
Points
69
Continuing my last post: how the fuck can Cyburbia attract new members if nobody else in the online built environment even acknowledges its existence? Rebranding, and changing the name of Cyburbia to something else. It's something I bought up with the mods a few months ago.

Paraphrasing what I posed to the mods: why change the name of Cyburbia?

1) To give this site a more legitimate .com domain.

2) With a few exceptions, Web sites tend to get less popular as they age. Cyburbia lost its "buzz" about 10-15 years ago, in the face of sites like Planetizen, the various urbanism mega-blogs, and now social media. It's hard to refresh the image of an old Web site, while keeping the same name.

3) The name of this site sounds dated. A variant on "cyber" might have been catchy in the late 1990s, but today it's just old fashioned, just like the "e-whatever" names from the 1990s. Also, the name by itself doesn't really say "planning" or "built environment" when you first see it. Visitors might think this is just another lame general interest message board.

I was going through my head, thinking of all kinds of domain name variants. I wanted a future name to still have a planning theme, but not so much that it wards off non-planners or folks in allied fields. I found a memorable domain name that was miraculously available, in .com, .net, and .org forms, and registered it. The next steps, if I actually go through with it? New theme and logo, doing all the coding magic to make sure links to any cyburbia.org URLs are seamlessly redirected to the new domain name, flipping the switch, and publicizing the name change as much as I could.

Long term? I'll never pull the plug. However, I'll consider giving Cyburbia (or whatever) away to someone else who can take it to the next level. They'd have to promise to grow the Forums and the community behind it, and keep it active. I won't sell or give away the site to anybody who just wants the Google juice of a big legacy web site, and could care less about the Forums.
 

MacheteJames

Cyburbian
Messages
969
Points
21
This site adds a ton of value to the practitioner in a way that r/urbanplannning and CityLab, etc just don't. The urbanism news sphere has a LOT of platitudinous filler product, because a lot of it is written by journalists who are interested in urbanism, but are not career professionals, have never sat on a board, are writing content that isn't necessarily place-based, and who don't understand how the sausage is actually made. We know.

To me, that's what sets Cyburbia apart, and how its contribution to the field can be positioned vs that of the more ephemeral fora like r/urbanplanning.

But that said, I love the NUMOTS! I love their energy, and their ability to keep pushing, and to dream and to wonder and to see and do what I'm unable to see and do as I drown in public comment on packet friday.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
14,792
Points
51
So comparing content. Granted Cyburbia has variety like randomness that is our Friday afternoon club. Which I would think is the most active part, but what do I know. So I'll use a couple of examples of actual job stuff being discussed instead, plus whatever I see as the main headline on some other sites:

Cyburbia, talking about how to deal with inspection services in a small community or talking about issues with bosses (goes to the therapy thing)
Planetizen. Plant-Wrapped Towers Coming to Beverly Hills
CityLab, Trump's National Garden of American Heroes Pushes Another Modernism Ban
Reddit, Wow! "The American Conservative: It's Time to Abolish Single-Family Zoning" or AOC is trying to repeal the Faircloth Amendment (reposted junk)
Curbed, No, Manhattan Home Prices Are Not Plummeting or Cities Are Even Worse For Women Than You Might Imagine
Strong Towns, To Promote Local Food Resilience: Get Social, or But My City Doesn't Spend Very Much on Infrastructure
NextCity, Is Financial Counseling an Essential City Service?

The list goes on, but have you noticed that the articles are:
City specific. I guess I'd like to see cool stuff built in other cities as reported by a reporter.
Topics too big for local planners to be handling. I have little interest in the national housing crisis because as a lowly planner I have very little impact on it. An occasional informational article is still nice, but I'm not as concerned about national politics or trying to solve world hunger.
Reposting articles from others. I think this is common practice for some blogs because of google magic I don't understand. On reddit it's just people looking for kharma.
Every now and then I see an interesting article - mostly from StrongTowns. The problem is that articles rarely promote discussion like a forum can. Reddit could do that, but they kind of suck at it. People want to armchair quarterback solving the housing crisis with the latest buzz worthy idea. Where we tend to share how we got some extra grants to help our main street with the idea that it might not work for you, but you never know.

Plus we provide a place for planners to generally get things off their chest that other planners would understand.
 

ChairmanMeow

Cyburbian
Messages
220
Points
8
We face the same issue with with Facebook. If you have a Facebook account, all you have to do is join a group. Cyburbia struggles to get more than a few hundred Facebook fans -- it's depressing.
I am a member of the FB group but feel unclear on whether I should post something here or there. As for reddit, I find it overwhelming in a sense with all the minutiae of various subreddits - it's like a rabbit hole.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,604
Points
69
More later, but first ...

Facebook. There's two different Facebook groups. I don't quite know how that happened, but I really need to consolidate them. It's been on the to-do list for a long time. Any idea how to do that? For what it's worth, the Cyburbia Facebook group has very few "likes", and nobody uses the "share this page" social media links at the bottom of every page. Ironically, nobody posts links to threads on here in the Cyburbia Facebook group.

NUMTOT outreach: is it even possible? How can we reach out to the NUMTOT crowd? I tried posting to the group once, with a link to a Cyburbia thread with relevant memes. The mods removed the link and posted one of the memes before they approved the post. So, there's no possibility of "let's tell them about Cyburbia" -- NUMTOT mods apparently won't hear of it. Besides, they probably see us as a bunch of Karens and Kens. We're middle aged planners trying to keep dollar stores and mini-storage facilities at bay; not Zoomers devoting our lives to social justice, car-free streets, and affordable Bay Area housing.

Reddit outreach. How do we reach out to the Reddit crowd? Write a post that's like an article on Cyburbia, and post a link to it n /r/urbanplanning. That, or let me know, and I'll do it. I have some articles in the works on the urbanism of modern cartoons.

Consolidating subforums, and emphasizing discussions, not topics. Consolidating subforums might help. Folks using Facebook just see a feed of "news." On Reddit, there's just one planning group, if you don't consider subreddits for planning-adjacent topics, like landscape architecture and GIS.. For on-topic subforums, I'm thinking we can get down to three or four subforums, plus the student, job posting, and confidential subforums.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,604
Points
69
A few more issues:

Wikipedia -- or at least one person there -- hates us. Wikipedia has entries about a bunch of planning sites, including the NUMTOT group on Facebook. However, Wikipedia doesn't have an entry for Cyburbia. I tried writing one once, but it was removed within hours, because it was "self-promotion", and "not a credible resource". (The Wikipedia moderator who apparently removed the entry for Cyburbia is also the same person that added an entry for Planetizen.) Also, links to Cyburbia from within Wikipedia have been removed over the past decade or so. I'm reluctant to try again, and write a new entry for Cyburbia, but maybe someone else can start one?

Saving old blogs, and being a second online venue for active blogs. There's a bunch of abandoned planning blogs out there, probably hundreds. Their content probably won't remain online for the long term. I'd like to do outreach to see if they can move their articles here, in the form of threads.

XenForo 2.2 will have a new feature to accommodate blog-like posts. The update will allow different thread formats for questions, discussion, and articles. The article format is much like a blog. According to Xenforo:

The first post is given an alternative styling to make it stand out from the comments, and we automatically allow more characters and images to reflect the fact that articles will often be longer and more complex than your average forum post.

As with question threads, articles pin the first post to the top of each page of the thread, though on subsequent pages we automatically collapse the article into a more compact form so it doesn't take up too much space, though it is easily expandable.



There's also article forums, which would resemble a blog feed.

Ideal for site news or a blog, using the additional navigation options, you can easily set this up to display as the "home" part of your site or in another navigation section entirely.



And as before, articles are threads, so again, all your regular thread management tools and meta-enhancements are present.
XF 2.2 also promises "writing before registering."

When enabled, guest users will be granted access to the New Thread button and the Quick Reply editor and various other tools that are available to registered members. The experience is almost identical to that of a logged-in user, allowing the guest to create rich content before having registered, such that they can compose the message they want without obstructions.

What a lovely post. Now register or lose it.

And then, when they've spent time lovingly crafting their message and hit the submit button, then we smack them with the registration form.

Now, the hapless visitor has a conundrum. Are they prepared to have wasted the time they spent composing their message and abandon their contribution, or will they spend a few moments completing the annoying registration form? We're betting that a good proportion will choose the latter.
Once XenForo 2.2 is out, I'm probably going to add an article forum, do some outreach to bloggers (if they'll even pay attention to me) and the Cyburbia member base, and ... well, wait.
 

MacheteJames

Cyburbian
Messages
969
Points
21
Reddit is a thousand pound gorilla and has killed forums in every subject area you can think of. We have to offer something different.

How about rebranding/relaunching the site with a new name like "Planner Confidential" or something else catchy. The idea would be to provide a safe space for planning practitioners to talk about the nuts and bolts of the work, which we already do. It's going to need some new content, though, to suck in the NUMTOTS and layfolks. Many of the NUMTOTS want to be planners but have only a sketchy idea of what the work really entails. I think the value-add of this new site will, like Cyburbia, be the practitioner in the trenches.

There is very little out there in the plannersphere that speaks to planning work from the perspective of the everyday practitioner or board member. That's a niche to be filled. This new/updated site could potentially have a guest contributor on a weekly or monthly basis talking about a planning issue from a practitioner's perspective. As employed planners, I know that there is risk there, but we'd scrub the names and community from each piece. Names and addresses could be fake, but the rest of the stories real. Imagine the stories that could come out of something like that? A lot of planning work involves unbelievable stories that should be shared, but because they aren't antiseptic enough for the APA, you'll never see them in Planning magazine. I've been at public meetings for development projects where residents stood up and chanted "ethnic cleansing". I've had developers scream "I pay your salary" to me when they didn't like where I landed on a decision. Projects that I have worked on, and took through review, have altered the daily routines of thousands of people through their impact on the built environment. There is really nourishing stuff to be had here.

I know you guys have these stories too, and many of us here are now at an age where our professional networks are quite large and could pull in colleagues to contribute. If we scrub the names and places and focus on the planning processes, I think this could really be something.
 

Maister

Chairman of the bored
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
28,396
Points
71
MJ has an interesting idea. Maybe the key is rebranding, but instead of going broad, aiming for a very specific user niche? Why not proclaim this place to be what it is, the working planner's Third Place.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
14,792
Points
51
It has to be more than the forum. The forum is great for us to work things out and just hang out, but what seems to work is having "articles" on a regular basis and then finding a way to push those articles to the public. Most of what the other sites do is just push articles from some paper or blog. They really don't create content, they just consolidate it. Instead of doing that we could do what MJ is suggesting and provide mini articles talking about some nuts and bolts topic like Mskies inspection problem and then adding mini stories about nightmare meetings or the planners point of view when they hear some of the decisions made.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,604
Points
69
That's the key with the new domain name -- it says "planning" more than "Cyburbia" now does. It still had to be short enough to type and remember, and I didn't want to turn off the planner adjacent folks who visit.

Really, I went through hundreds of possible names in the big three TLDs, and they were all taken. Variants of "plan", "planner", or "urban" plus something else, all either being used, or parked and for sale for thousands of dollars. I didn't want to resort to an oddball TLD like ".pizza" or ".futbol".

Anyhow, I found one word that met my criteria, so I registered it -- planurbia.com/.net/.org/.us.

XenForo 2.2 will help a lot when it comes to integrating articles into the site, I think. We do need authors, though, so when it goes live, we can have something to deliver to the outside world.

How do we get the NUMTOTs to take a look, though?
 
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DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
14,792
Points
51
I'm no expert on any of this web/blog stuff, but I'll throw thoughts out there and people can tell me I'm wrong.

Push notifications - is that still a big thing?
Somehow link The Facebook or other social media to drive people to the site. I guess if there is an article you post it on The Facebook, but how do you link The Facebook discussion to the forum discussion or do all us dumb people need to start using social media?
Top 10 list of planning clickbait things?
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,604
Points
69
NUMTOT bait thread? We have a few NUMTOT bait-like posts. Maybe gather those posts and memes together in one place, and add to the mix?
 

Doohickie

Cyburbian
Messages
2,800
Points
38
and I didn't want to turn off the planner adjacent folks who visit.
If you put planning in the domain, I'm never coming back. Ever. Well maybe for Laefest. And a few other things. But that's it.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
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18,604
Points
69
You don't think Cyburbia is catchy? I think it's pretty neat.
It was, but in a 1990s kind of way. Outside of "cybersecurity" and "cybercrime", I think when most people hear the term, something like this comes to mind.

1990s_extreme_awesome_cool.jpg

A few references:



The term "netizen" is also kind of dated, but I really don't think we have the same critical mass as that other site for visitors to look past that.

I bought the planurbia domain names because they seemed too good to pass up at the time. Because nobody else owned them, it was just the $10 or $15 registration. Don't want to make anybody feel unwelcome, though.

I tried looking for anything related to "adjacent" terms, like "place", "zone", "urb" anything, and a bunch of others. Really, I searched for hours, and came up with very little that sounded halfway decent..

What about placeish.com? I registered that, too.
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,208
Points
28
In my head, Planurbia sounds like Plannerd, which I like. Riffing here, I also like Planurbs, Planurbz, and UrbNerd. And Baronhaussmannwasadick.com has a certain ring to it, too.
 
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Doohickie

Cyburbian
Messages
2,800
Points
38
Placeish is good for people who already know the site. I'm not sure someone seeing it for the first time would get that this is a planning forum. Could be a travel forum, geography forum, small business forum, etc.
 
Messages
2,352
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20
NUMTOT bait thread? We have a few NUMTOT bait-like posts. Maybe gather those posts and memes together in one place, and add to the mix?
Dan, you need a techie extreme "social media influencer". They used to be called fixers, when the word "fixer" could mean something legal and very positive. ("Angel fixer" never caught on. "Cyber Angel" is pretentious-->outdated.)

Your techie influencer should be either lowkey off-the-radar, or on the radar but (falsely) considered to be mediocre or not especially effective..

They need to be friends with and well-liked by lots of millennials (and GenZ!) but don't necessarily need to be millennials. (Some bored Ancient Ones 'from Silicon Valley' are former hippies from the 60s-70s and for some reason, progressive millennials really dig them.)
There's a way to legally swap favors with them so that it won't cost you anything.

It's human nature to resist a big change, and my guess is that some Cyburbia staff members will greatly resist the site having a tech-oriented influencer. (That I am the one suggesting it could mean additional resistance.) Some staff members might say that they'lll leave if you get one, which would be unfortunate, but other successful places have them--even though they fervently deny it.
Honestly, that's what this site really, really needs right now in order to be, as they stay, sustainable in the long run.
 
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Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,208
Points
28
How much does a Facebook ad cost, just for a day, and targeted to one group? I don't want a repeat of the Reddit ad.
When you specify the timeframe, then you tell Facebook how much you want to spend per day. The more you spend per day, the more your ad pops up in people's Facebook feeds. There are variations on this, but this is the simplest way to do it.
 
Messages
2,352
Points
20
How much does a Facebook ad cost, just for a day, and targeted to one group? I don't want a repeat of the Reddit ad.
When you specify the timeframe, then you tell Facebook how much you want to spend per day. The more you spend per day, the more your ad pops up in people's Facebook feeds. There are variations on this, but this is the simplest way to do it.
Dan, Wannaplan, DVD & MacheteJames
Before you spend any money or change Cyburbia's name, make sure that you are giving NUMTOTs what they want:
A lively message board on Saturdays, Sundays, and after 5pm (EDT) on Fridays.
They absolutely do not take off the whole weekend from posting!

For instance, early yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, there were already 83 new posts on the NUMTOT Facebook page. Please contrast this with Dan & I being the only regular presences yesterday afternoon; and between us, we made about a half-dozen posts.

Please consider getting 3 more moderators for Cyburbia, each of whom would only moderate on their respective Saturdays, Sundays, and Friday nights
You might give them access only on their respective days and give them different titles.
An example:
The new moderator who''d be moderating Cybubia from 5pm (EDT) Friday to 3am Saturday (EDT) would ONLY have a moderator's access during that time interval.
He or she would have the title "Friday Night Moderator".
Finally--and this is a big one--he or she would be responsible for getting increased/regular 'traffic flow' on Cyburbia from 5pm-3am (EDT) every Fri-Sat.
And if any new moderator does not increase traffic flow, or does not arrive regularly for 'their time slot', then they do not get to stay as a moderator. You could get a new moderator for that time slot.

This suggestion should very seriously be considered before any more money is spent or other NUMTOT recruitment is done.
Thanks for reading.
 
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