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Promoting Cyburbia: your thoughts!

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,699
Points
69
I've discussed it with the mods, and it's time to discuss it with the gang again.

Although there are bulletin boards that are geared towards urbanists, or those who are interested in cities in general, the Cyburbia Forums is the only Web-based bulletin board where planners are the primary audience. There are some smaller APA chapter-related bulletin boards out there, but that's it.

It might seem like Cyburbia has a lot of traffic, but consider these numbers.

The American Planning Association has about 30,000 members.
The Canadian Institute of Planners has about 6,000 members.
The Royal Town Planning Institute has about 18,000 members.
The Planning Institute of Australia has ... well, a lot of members. (I couldn't find any information on their Web site.)
The New Zealand Planning Institute has 1,400 members.

The Cyburbia Forums has 640 members. Only 120 have more than 50 posts. (There are 25 in the Clube, in case you're wondering.)

There is a lot of potential for growth here. Despite the fact that the site has been running for nine years, very few planners I meet know about Cyburbia. Every couple of years, APA National reveals plans for a bulletin board of their own. Efforts to establish a partnership with the folks on the South Side of Chicago have, unfortunately, always been met with silence.

A few questions to discuss:

How can we increase awareness of Cyburbia, without the support of APA National?

How can we get more users from outside North America?

A multi-parter: How busy should the forums be? Should they continue to grow slowly through word-of-mouth and the few who stay after finding the site through a Google hit, or should we do more? If so, what?

The majority of articles in Planning magazine are written by practicing planners, not those working at APA National. Would a very well-written article about the Cyburbia Forums make it onto the pages of the magazine? Do you have to be an APA insider to get on the pages of Planning? Every year or two, there's a tech-related edition of Planning. Usually, it's just more articles about visualization, GPS, traffic modeling and their Web site. Think they'll look at an article about the Forums?
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,623
Points
34
Fun ideas

El Guapo should write a "Viewpoint" editorial for the next Planning magazine!

POP UPS! (not)

Hack a redirect from not work safe www.whitehouse.com
 

Jeff

Cyburbian
Messages
4,161
Points
27
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that a large % of the planning population is barely "computer literate." Not a bust, but look around your office, you know what I mean, and thus, they aren't the types to be hanging around internet BBs.

Can we get some "advertising" on planning-student related BBs? I think that is where the best shot at upping the numbers lies.
 

Zoning Goddess

Cyburbian
Messages
13,852
Points
39
I found Cyburbia via a link from the FL APA Chapter several years ago, posted a bit, then lurked before I re-registered in its new incarnation. Word of mouth brought Trail Nazi in. Cyburbia isn't for everyone. Not a bad thing.

Honestly, I think if the links I've seen would emphasize the "real-time" discussion on various topics, it would help draw folks in.
 
Messages
16
Points
1
Conferences give out kits to attendees. You could get the organizations you mentioned to include a flyer. I bookmarked a few sites from the CIP kit this summer....and trust me, in comparison, Cyburbia is revolutionary :)
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,212
Points
29
Jeff said:
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that a large % of the planning population is barely "computer literate." Not a bust, but look around your office, you know what I mean, and thus, they aren't the types to be hanging around internet BBs.

Can we get some "advertising" on planning-student related BBs? I think that is where the best shot at upping the numbers lies.
Good point about the computer literacy of our planning peers. Relating that to student-related BBs, I wonder: How many professors could we get to use Cyburbia as a component to their teaching? Further, some professors might be willing to include a link on their class web pages. I have a couple of professors at my alma mater that have extensive resource pages for their class web pages. However, not one has a link to Cyburbia. Dan, PM me and I can give you the links to these pages. Getting students to explore Cyburbia before they go into the working world is probably the best way to get long-term users on Cyburbia. For what it's worth, it was my time in grad school that got me connected to Cyburbia.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
Students are good, but we need to have a healthy number of experienced, practicing planners. These are the people who can answer the more serious planning- and zoning-related questions. I like the idea of a submission to Planning Magazine. Perhaps we can also do something at conferences as well.

IEDC started up a forum a few months ago. At first there were a handful of people posting to it, but it has died off to almost nothing. I doubt they have more than a couple dozen posts in total.
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
Messages
2,549
Points
25
I agree with Cardinal that some type of a conference presence would help. Maybe have a booth (although I reckon they are expensive) or propose a conference sesson on Cyburbia (how planners use it as a resouce tool, etc)

Another thing that could be done would be to take out ads in the state planning newsletters and on the websites. They are probably a lot cheaper than Planning Magazine. Or similar to the idea of submitting an article to Planning, submit articles to the state APA divisions. It would be far more likely to get published.

Another way to attract users of other message boards would be to encourage cyburbia users to have a signature line with a link to Cyburbia.
 

ludes98

Cyburbian
Messages
1,264
Points
22
Not suggestions, but a note that Cyburbia is out there. I am reading the latest newsletter from the Arizona Planning Association and they have a top 10 planning websites list. They note the list is actually Rich Carson's, manager of APA's "Planning Publication List", with descriptions of each site. A pdf of the newletter is here. See page 8.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
ludes98 said:
Not suggestions, but a note that Cyburbia is out there. I am reading the latest newsletter from the Arizona Planning Association and they have a top 10 planning websites list. They note the list is actually Rich Carson's, manager of APA's "Planning Publication List", with descriptions of each site. A pdf of the newletter is here. See page 8.
Rich would give Cyburbia credit. He has visited here and occassionally picked the Throbbing Brian.
 

Jeff

Cyburbian
Messages
4,161
Points
27
Cardinal said:
Rich would give Cyburbia credit. He has visited here and occassionally picked the Throbbing Brian.
We need more famous people to realize the full potential of the throbbing brain and all its powers.
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
31
Word of mouth needs a sender as well as receivers. When you make presentations, spend a minute or two on Cyburbia. When at conferences, mention how the throbbing brain helped you out. A few years ago, I did the U Wisconsin zoning thing...Cyburbia was listed in one of my handouts for "helpful sites." I did the same at a state conference on code enforcement.

BTW, who is more famous than el Guapo?
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
mike gurnee said:
Word of mouth needs a sender as well as receivers. When you make presentations, spend a minute or two on Cyburbia. When at conferences, mention how the throbbing brain helped you out. A few years ago, I did the U Wisconsin zoning thing...Cyburbia was listed in one of my handouts for "helpful sites." I did the same at a state conference on code enforcement.
absolutley, I believe word of mouth, via new employees, an old professor, presentations, etc would be the most effective way to ensure a limited number of "crap posts/bad users" and more quality posts/active good users.

General advertising tends to attract everyone, those who are planners, those who enjoy planning, those who are interested, those who are curious, and those who have nothing to do with planning but would like to toy with the board
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
Dan said:

It might seem like Cyburbia has a lot of traffic, but consider these numbers.

The American Planning Association has about 30,000 members.
The Canadian Institute of Planners has about 6,000 members.
The Royal Town Planning Institute has about 18,000 members.
The Planning Institute of Australia has ... well, a lot of members. (I couldn't find any information on their Web site.)
The New Zealand Planning Institute has 1,400 members.

The Cyburbia Forums has 640 members. Only 120 have more than 50 posts. (There are 25 in the Clube, in case you're wondering.)

Well, and consider these numbers: in most forums, only about 10% of those who are registered are "active" postors (tm). Another 10% post occasionally and mostly lurk. The other 80% never post. But that certanly doesn't mean they get nothing out of it. In another forum where I am rather well known, I occasionally get a private note from someone who has never posted. The feedback I sometimes get from such people tells me that those who don't post do get a lot out of being members. If they didn't, they wouldn't be subscribed to that forum, which is infamous for having more volume of e-mails than most members can keep up with.

Given that so many people here have said they occasionally surfed Cyburbia long before joining and given what I view as a "high" stat -- that 1/6th post 'actively' -- I think you can pretty conservatively guess that your registered users only represent the 20% or so who would be posting at all in a forum where no one but members can read the archives. Which suggests that you may well have a regular audience in the neighborhood of 3000 or so. Not bad, given that the Internet isn't very old and other factors.

Here are some more "stats": A) computer literate individuals tend to be introverts with few social skills. B) More sociable types tend to have a yawning disinterest in computers. (I actually "should" fall into category B and used to. This was definitely a "shot gun wedding" but I am now totally committed to my "marriage" to my computer.)

So, a forum for "networking" online like this is actually going fundamentally against the tide. I am subscribed to a number of e-mail lists and the "professional" ones have extremely low traffic. I sometimes don't get any mail from some of them for weeks at a time. I was quite surprised at how much traffic there is here (especially compared to other things) and the high quality of what is here and I have thought about why that might be. In some forums, what is "on topic" and keeping people "on topic", etc, are on-going battles. I think the FAC is a cornerstone of the success of Cyburbia: it allows for the socializing that is absolutely essential to getting good professional feedback in the other parts of Cyburbia and also allows those other parts to be free of the distraction of being "off topic" a lot. I have learned a lot from observing how this forum is run (and I am sure that what I see is just the tip of the iceberg -- I know how that works and that most of what goes on, we never see) and I expect to learn a lot more.

I think Wanigas has an extremely good point and that is an avenue worth exploring. But Cardinal's counterpoint is also on target. However, I don't know how to promote Cyburbia for that audience (of established planners). I would be interested in hearing what Rem has to say -- if he has any ideas about how to get more hooked up in Australia.

For what it's worth: nearly 4 years ago, I was asked to accept the position of "Director of Community Life" for an online organization (because this is a "shot gun wedding" for me, I had a lot more social skills than the IT people running the place). I instituted 2 policies that transformed one of the lists almost overnight from a cold list with little traffic to a warm environment with a lot more traffic (and it eventually melded into a full-blown online community). My first policy was to "greet everyone at the door and show them around" -- say "hi" to anyone who posted an intro and try to answer any questions they might have. You have that one covered and I think that is as important to the success of Cyburbia as is the FAC.

My second policy was to make sure there were no 'orphaned' posts -- that every single e-mail in which a question was asked or a need expressed got some kind of reply. I still sometimes go back and pick up 'orphaned' posts in that forum, even though I no longer 'work' there and haven't for a long time. I find that someone who posted something 3 days ago and got utterly ignored is thrilled to pieces to get a response. And I know from talking to people that when someone posts and gets ignored, they tend to feel "shunned" (not that they would use that word). They tend to feel that "everyone else" is a member of the community but they are an "outsider" who just doesn't fit in.

I know why posts get orphaned: no one is required to answer and sometimes no one has an answer or the question wasn't asked very well or it was a holiday and there was no one around or whatever. But it tends to have a chilling effect on the entire forum -- to know that it is something of a 'popularity' contest and not a truly inclusive environment. If one person can be 'kicked to the curb', anyone can. It raises the tension levels and makes people 'afraid' to open their mouths. It may be a very subtle thing but it definitely has an effect. My observation over and over has been that, in this other forum I am in, just about anyone who talks to me and claims to be a lurker or 'first timer' becomes a much more active participant. My policies grew out of a deeper set of values about inclusiveness and I have a tendency to make people feel right at home and fully accepted as they are. I do not have to 'agree' with their point of view to validate them. For me, it is not a 'right or wrong' thing.

I would think that, given how "public" this forum is, doing a better job of making the existing members feel fully included -- even if they aren't "in the clube" -- would tend to both promote traffic and draw in new members. ZG brought in Trail Nazi. People who are enthusiastic about the place will talk about it to others. Etc.

And now I will shut up. Let the boos and hisses begin. I know folks think I am "nuts" when I speak about why and how I did what I did. I can't "prove" any of it. I just know what it looks like from the inside looking out and I know that this other forum remained a community while I was absent for 2 years of medical hell. So, whatever I did, I did extremely well: The foundation I put in place stood the test of time, without me being there to play nursemaid every time something went wrong.

EDIT: In rereading the thread, ZG also has a point. I don't think I really understood what was "different" or unique about Cyburbia until I became a member and began hearing it here. Well, that is wonderful, but how will others ever know what Cyburbia really is other than a "website" if you do not have a good description written up somewhere?

Having a good intro/description can make a huge difference. Back in mid-September, a friend of mine mentioned in an e-mail to me that she was considering starting an e-mail list for a specific audience. I said she had a great idea and she asked me to be the 'mouth piece' and announce it to a list she and I met on (but she was no longer subscribed) and tell any friends of mine that I thought would be interested. I think in a week, there were something like 20 members and now there are 35 and it is a very active group (especially when you consider that every member suffers from serious health problems and can't always make it to their computer). I know for a fact that my intro got passed on to more lists than just the one I posted it to. And I modified that intro and posted it to my website. I know for a fact that at least one new member learned of the group from my website. I belong to other e-mail lists that are a lot older and have a lot more members and the traffic is minimal. I think the 'marketing' of this new group is one of the cornerstones of its success.

I am thinking in terms of "marketing", "branding", "image-making", etc. Right now, Cyburbia touts itself as "The Urban Planning Portal" and "one of the top 50 planning-related websites.." At the moment, it seems like you have to actually JOIN before you learn that it is something Unique, not "just" a website. A web "portal" is generally seen as a place with a bunch of links to other stuff, and you do have articles and so forth linked. But I actually did a search LOOKING for some planning-related forum in which to talk to other folks in this profession and had Cyburbia bookmarked and used to surf it some time ago -- but "Cyburbia" never came to mind. It kept coming up on searches I did and I was actually reluctant to join. It didn't seem to fit my idea of what I was looking for -- in part because it has changed a lot from what I remembered of it and in part because you don't have a good "marketing" angle: The image you broadcast to the world doesn't fit with the image and reality you describe to the forum members.

Now I think I am actually going to "shut up".
 
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Xing500

Cyburbian
Messages
112
Points
6
Here's something interesting. St. Louis's downtown Now took two of my pictures from the Cyburbia Gallery and used it in ads promoting Downtown, and the Jefferson Arms Apartments (historic downtown high rise) took one of my pictures for an ad as well. The gallery is an excellent portal to this website. My only issue- I don't like to post too many images here because the quality of the image goes down, and the link (sorry) disturbs the composition of the entire photograph. I know you need that link as an advertisement, but the real truth is that that only keeps me from uploading more images. I post images now and then to promote St. Louis on Cyburbia, but I no longer use it for photo threads. I think the best way to promote the site may be with posters. Create small posters displaying images of cities from the gallery, displaying the logo, and the URL. Final Thought- The gallery here is definately what keeps me coming back.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
Xing500 said:
Here's something interesting. St. Louis's downtown Now took two of my pictures from the Cyburbia Gallery and used it in ads promoting Downtown, and the Jefferson Arms Apartments (historic downtown high rise) took one of my pictures for an ad as well. The gallery is an excellent portal to this website. My only issue- I don't like to post too many images here because the quality of the image goes down, and the link (sorry) disturbs the composition of the entire photograph. I know you need that link as an advertisement, but the real truth is that that only keeps me from uploading more images. I post images now and then to promote St. Louis on Cyburbia, but I no longer use it for photo threads. I think the best way to promote the site may be with posters. Create small posters displaying images of cities from the gallery, displaying the logo, and the URL. Final Thought- The gallery here is definately what keeps me coming back.
Why not add a border to your image? The Cyburbia tagline would then be added to that border, not to the image.
 

DennisMaPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
197
Points
7
As a newer member let me give you my thoughts. I have used Cyburbia for years for research. The Resource Directory has been a wealth of information, it provides links to by-laws, studies etc that are relatively hard to find - even with Google. It was not until I stumbled into the picture gallery looking for "bad land use examples" to use for illustrative purposes with my Planning Board, had I ever ventured beyond the Resource Directory. After visiting the galleries, I thought I would check out the forums to see if there was additional ideas I could glean from the knowledge exchange. At this point I still had not "joined." At least not officially. You could say I was a leech taking but not giving.

Worse, over the years I have directed many people to the Resource Directory to find examples to use in their work. I do not believe any of them ever joined either.

The basic problem is, you only have to join to post. The world has access to all of this information free of charge or commitment to contribute in kind. Unlike APA and many of the other sources you have identified where to get at their Knowledge Base you have to belong.

Can you change that? Of course you could require everyone who enters Cyburbia to join and make all the information password protected - even if there is no charge.

Do you want to change that? I do not think so. As I have seen in some of the posts recently, the membership number fluctuates as inactive "members" are purged from the system. If people who never post are purged from the system, and they need to continuously get a new ID, they may choose not to come to Cyburbia at all. This would actually drain the knowledge base, since the occasional visitor may someday become an important contributor.

If you want a means of knowing how active Cyburbia is, place hit counters on some of the critical sections, such as the Resource Directory, main Forums page and main Page of the Gallery. Tracking cookies are another means, but I know I purge my computer of these on a regular basis, so I would show up as a new visitor once a week or so.

As to publicizing the boards getting the word out to APA or to state chapters for local newsletters would be useful. Getting state chapter websites to update links may also help - a few places still have the old link in their systems.
 

The One

Cyburbian
Messages
8,289
Points
30
How about getting a small grant to make Pins?

How about a small grant from somewhere to make those big cartoonish pins for the APA conference and chapter conferences with the web site address? An intro brochure for conference attendees and chapter websites....? Other cheesey methods of getting the word out....?
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
25,788
Points
61
I like the idea of a pin - as long it is not a "Pledge Pin"

Q. Would wearing a Cyburbia pin
be equal to or better than an AICP and State Chapter Pins at a conference ? :p ;)
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
Dennis: I don't think the point of generating more site traffic and awareness of cyburbia is to get more members posting in the forums as much as it is to get people to use the site for what it is.

I agree with you in that we don't want to force people to register to access the gallery or resources. But we need to be able to sell the 'post your question to community of planners and see quick results' aspect to get users to fully benefit from cyburbia's offerings.

A report or study can only tell me so much. Asking unique questions to planners around the globe will give me personal insight and advice. We need to sell that.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,699
Points
69
DennisMaPlanner said:
As I have seen in some of the posts recently, the membership number fluctuates as inactive "members" are purged from the system. If people who never post are purged from the system, and they need to continuously get a new ID, they may choose not to come to Cyburbia at all. This would actually drain the knowledge base, since the occasional visitor may someday become an important contributor..
Just to clarify ... it's not users that don't post who are purged, but rather users who don't post and don't visit. If a user has zero posts, and they haven't visited in 60 or more days, their membership will be deleted. If they have ONE post ... only one, they're members for life.

Oh, before I forget ... Cyburbia sucks. :5

More tomorrow ... I have to sleep.
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
Dan said:
Just to clarify ... it's not users that don't post who are purged, but rather users who don't post and don't visit. If a user has zero posts, and they haven't visited in 60 or more days, their membership will be deleted. If they have ONE post ... only one, they're members for life.

Oh, before I forget ... Cyburbia sucks. :5

More tomorrow ... I have to sleep.
Bummer that someone who rarely visited, couldn't be bothered to keep his e-mail current, never answered pm's, etc. and burned up tons of bandwidth that you pay for out of your very own pocket without charging anyone a single dime is ticked at the unfairness of how Cyburbia actually has policies that don't include wording like 'Doormat -- please wipe your feet here'.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,699
Points
69
Michele Zone said:
Bummer that someone who rarely visited, couldn't be bothered to keep his e-mail current, never answered pm's, etc. and burned up tons of bandwidth that you pay for out of your very own pocket without charging anyone a single dime is ticked at the unfairness of how Cyburbia actually has policies that don't include wording like 'Doormat -- please wipe your feet here'.
Wiser words have not been said. Will you marry me? :D
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
Dan said:
Wiser words have not been said. Will you marry me? :D
maximov asked first -- see my reply to her in whatever her very first thread was. :-D



EDIT: I guess that translates on your part as "Thank you" and on my part as "You're welcome". 8-|
 
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Gedunker

Moderating
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
11,485
Points
41
Speaking of which, isn't about time we passed the hat? Dan -- PM or email me with you new address and I'll be happy to send another check.
 
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Messages
7,649
Points
29
Gedunker said:
Speaking of which, isn't about time we passed the hat? Dan -- PM or email me and I'll be happy to send another check.
Yes, the hat was being passed when I showed up, about this time last year. I think it must be time for the annual hat-passing event. Dan should really post some info for how to fill the hat post-haste. :)
 
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