Unlocking the Slugger ‘Brain Trust’

On and off for the past 9-12 months I have been working on a personal analysis of Unionism and its future. When I first agreed to be a blogger on the site I mentioned I wanted to do an online consultation about it. I have had a couple of conversations with Mick about how best to utilise the site to do this but no real conclusions were reached. Now I want your views.The unfinished paper has 8 sections (part of the reason to start consulting is to motivate me to finish it). The intention would be to put up a section at a time for comment. I thought a sectional approach would enable earlier comments to have the ability to influence the conclusions as well as make it easier for people to read.

Unlike a normal thread the aim would not be for a debate among sluggerites but seeking their advice and criticisms and outline any ommissions from and agreement with the analysis that I am offering.

As this paper is about Unionism it is primarily the response of Unionists I am looking for. However, as some of the analysis goes beyond the bounds of Northern Ireland and Unionism the input of others would be useful too but as the thread needs to keep focus and not disappear down a inter-community debate or some tangental cul-de-sac. Thus I am considering two threads, one for unionist comment and one for all others, this would be a self-regulatory approach (Update I’ve dropped the idea).

What do you think about the sectional approach? How can debate maintain a focus? Will two threads and self-regulation work? (Already answered loud and clear, No) What alternative suggestions do you have for managing an online consultation?

  • TAFKABO

    The idea of two threads seems like making a rod for your own back, since people would invariably see posts in one thread and just cut and paste them to reply to on the thread where they could respond. I am a Unionist but I can imagine the frutration of non Unionists having a thread to make comments and not being able to offer criticism and fair reply to those comments.

    Maybe it would work, I don’t know.
    Alternatively you could set out the terms of enagegment at the begining and make it clear that you would edit the thread as you saw fit, with no reasons offered.
    Anyone who took part in the thread would be deemed to be doing so under the acceptance of those terms.

  • Mark Mc

    ‘As this paper is about Unionism it is primarily the response of Unionists I am looking for.’

    ‘Thus I am considering two threads, one for unionist comment and one for all others, this would be a self-regulatory approach.’

    In that case I think it is entirely inappropriate for this site while possibly an interesting paper.

    I suggest you stick it on an independent blog and let Slugger’s to continue allowing everyone to discuss together rather than leading the site down this segregationist and possibly destructive route.

    I probably won’t visit regularly the moment Unionists or anyone else has separate ‘self-regulating’ areas or any separate areas.

  • fair_deal

    TAFKABO

    Interesting suggestion. I don’t presently have moderation rights on the site.

    Mark Mc

    Thanks for the comment. Do you have anything to suggest on the other three questions?

  • slug

    I would suggest you (i) lock the thread so that only you can add comments, then (ii) give people an email address to send the comments to you, and (iii) add comments you think are valuable.

    That way you keep the focus, don’t go off-topic.

  • Mark Mc

    FD,

    I’ll answer all your questions but find the idea entirely inappropriate so the questions are irrelevant to me as a result.

    What do you think about the sectional approach?

    I don’t think it will work and it seems to run contrary to the previous open access approach of the blog owner.

    How can debate maintain a focus?

    Ultimately it can’t as Slugger’s demonstrates. Tangents will occur. Detail will be picked over by some. Some will whatabout. It happens, often.

    Will two threads and self-regulation work?

    No. Some will be against it on principle, like me. Others will try and mess it up out of spite if it is exclusionist.

    What alternative suggestions do you have for managing an online consultation?

    Set up your own Unionists only blog, with premoderation on comments. That way you can ensure Nationalists/Irish/Republicans do not interfere with Unionists talking among themselves, then Mick could link to it and others could comment openly on Slugger’s about the closed Unionist only debate elsewhere without having to segregate this site.

  • Pete Baker

    fair deal

    I don’t see what the problem is. Although I suspect, as Mark has suggested, that Mick would have had an objection to the segregation of comments – was that the basis of a lack of conclusion from your discussions?

    “Unlike a normal thread the aim would not be for a debate among sluggerites but seeking their advice and criticisms and outline any ommissions from and agreement with the analysis that I am offering.”

    Unlike a normal thread? That’s exactly what a normal thread should be rather than a slanging match between the members of the commentariat. Although, you will always get debate between those offering different opinions on the topic – whatever the topic is.

    Just post the sections, one a week or whatever, and take from the resulting conversations what you think is important.

  • joeCanuck

    Fair deal

    I’m not a unionist so feel free to ignore me.
    I agree with comments 1 and 2.
    Too unwieldy and you’ll be swamped with no-unionist comments no matter what.
    I don’t think a debate will ever kept focussed; so don’t debate. If you could set up a link to a PDF file somewhere and just accept comments to a temporary e-mail address , it might work better for you.

    Regards and good luck.

  • Pete Baker

    Actually, joe’s suggestion of highlighting an email address for those not wishing to comment on the thread is probably a good idea.

  • fair_deal

    All

    You’ve convinced me the the two threads stuff is inappropriate and inoperable.

    Mark Mc

    The sectional approach was not about the two threads but putting the paper onto the site as individual sections but thanks for taking the time.

    Pete

    “I don’t see what the problem is. ”

    The problem is maximising the response to what is actually written and so I don’t have to wade through reams of ad hominen stuff.

    “was that the basis of a lack of conclusion from your discussions?”

    No, more that something like this hadn’t been tried and we weren’t sure how it could. It is something of a first on the site. It was also viewed as a possible pilot, if we crack the approach it could be regularly used on slugger and even generate some income for the site.

    “That’s exactly what a normal thread should be rather than a slanging match between the members of the commentariat”

    Should but isn’t. So how do I maximise the proprtion of people who do what it should?

  • Miss Fitz

    FD
    I think that there is certainly a lot of potential in your idea, indeed I have been toying with a similar approach for a particular piece of research I am engaged in at present.

    What would concern me as someone who is concerned about the integrity of Slugger, is the idea of basically drawing a sectarian line around the commentary. I full understand your basis, but I think it is not a healthy platform. Dont forget, the ‘rest’ of us will be outisde, looking in, and whether you like this or not, I think I would feel like Rosa Parkes not being able to sit at the front of the bus.

    On the other hand, I think Slug’s idea is a good one. Post your sections, week on week, close the comments box, invite emails and see how that goes. Once you have a selection of good feedback, open some of the threads to full debate.

    But please dont introduce segregation to Slugger, I think it sends out the wrong message entirely.

  • willis

    I think the answer is a seperate blog. It’s about time you did anyhow, it might enable you to keep better control.

    I think you have made an enormous contribution to this site, and I’m sure you still will.

  • slug

    Miss Fitz and FD

    I think the only problem with my suggestion is that many people who have a useful contribution may not comment, either because of the extra effort of sending an email or because it is no longer anonymous.

  • Miss Fitz

    Slug
    Maybe that is a benefit!

    If I was soliciting comments (as opposed to the usual soliciting), I would want them to be robust and from a trustworthy source.

    If FD is doing an valuable piece of research that will stand up to scrutiny in the future, it has to have some verifiability.

    ‘The lads on Slugger said……’ is OK in the pub, but doesnt hold much water academically.
    The other point here is that it is indeed very easy to post a wee quip in a box and pop it off into the blogosphere. However, when you do that, it doesnt neccesarily guarantee you have thought through your arguments, or would stand over them

    God knows, I have been more than guilty of that in the past, and although more careful now, FD might have an awful lot of sifting to do to find some nuggets through the invitation of commentary alone.

  • Mark Mc

    He can set up a blogspot account with premoderated anonymous comments facility in about 20mins. It’s then easy to link a blog here to his own site. That way he gets to control the debate on his own site and Slugger’s gets to go on its merry way without segregating the audience on political opinion.

    Or he could just have an open thread here and accept others may be interested in any future for Unionism as it would also be part of the future of non-Unionism and the ‘others’ could have opinions/thoughts that enhance and add to intra-Unionist opinions on his opinion piece?

    I recall Mick using the site for similar consultative exercises and he seemed to get decent interesting responses without preventing/segregating any political opinion from commenting.

    My first thought would be any piece on the future of Unionism that doesn’t think it wants or needs interaction with ‘others’ seems a doomed exercise from the outset.

  • fair_deal

    Mark Mc

    You and others already convinced me the two threads was a bad idea.

    “I recall Mick using the site for similar consultative exercises and he seemed to get decent interesting responses without preventing/segregating any political opinion from commenting.”

    1. Mick doesn’t come from an ideological position like myself.
    2. This is an interesting point I may be worrying too much. Ask for a particular approach from people and hope they keep a focus. However, on a few my threads I have had to put up with a certain amount of man-playing lately. I’ve put up with it as slugger has kept the game flowing by being sparing with the yellow and red cards and it would set a dangerous precedent if a blogger started demanding mick start handing out cards willy-nilly. That may be tainting my expectations.

    Do you think I should break the paper down to its different parts or put it up as one full document?

  • Mark Mc

    FD,

    On a personal level I’d prefer to see themed sections to discuss, it could keep it more focused which you are concerned about and my personal experience (which may or may not be that of others) is that too much information or text can be daunting or overly time consuming (I occasionally don’t have the time or the will to get through Pete’s more substantive contributions).

    Quit the teasing, just print the thing and let people get stuck in. I’m interested in reading it now.

  • missfitz

    Fair Deal
    Personally, I think an abstract, or summary to begin, then each section individually.

    Just think it would help to get the overall picture first, and then in incremental segments. If it all comes at once, there is a real danger of not appreciating all of the content

    In my brief time on Slugger, I have learnt the hard way that you have to be robust, and not let negative commentary get under your skin. I was ready to throw in the towel after a month, as it seemed every comment was a negative one aimed toward me.

    But you seem to forget the very positive feedback when you reached 100, and the dozens of posts that let you know in no uncertain terms that your view and voice may not be agreeable to all, but it is very much welcomed, appreciated and valued.

  • Paul

    Fair Deal,

    Myself and Beano (from Everything Ulster) are presently engaged with a project that you may well be interested in.

    Have a word with Mick, who’ll fill you in with a few basic details. If you want to talk about it more, drop me or Beano (his email address is over at his site)an E mail.

  • Minor correction – my email address isn’t on the site, but I can be contacted through this form

  • fair_deal

    Paul and beano

    I have sent a message through the contact form

  • Penelope

    my 2 cents… I’d say post an introduction and then the sections seperately, say one a week… too much at once and many would likely skip reading it or just skim it… I know I would be one of those… not due to lack of interest but just because of time limitations in my personal life… as Miss Fitz mentioned points could be overlooked if presented in one big post.

    I am curious to read it for I find your posts here very interesting, well thought out and presented… and despite the man being played often against you, you tend to respond with a cool head so I admire that!! 🙂

    As an American my input wouldn’t be of much value in that I know little of Unionism but reading your paper would further expand my knowledge and I could direct my partner, who is a unionist, to it… he might have a thing or two to say!!

  • Greenflag

    ‘On and off for the past 9-12 months I have been working on a personal analysis of Unionism and its future.’

    Here’s a suggestion FD . Nationalists like myself have stopped (I wonder if we ever started? ) listening to the Unionist ’cause’. Not since Brian Faulkner has there been IMO a leading Unionist politician who could arouse any kind of ’empathy’ from Irish nationalists .

    So it can’t do any harm to post your analysis by section . Take what you can from contributions from either side of the ‘constitutional divide’ . Irish nationalists and even more Irish republicans need to hear Unionism ‘talking to itself ‘about it’s future’. I’d rather read some of the comments from those unionists who either support or critique your analysis than wade in with my Doc Martins and stomp all over any ‘Unionist’ future .

  • Greenflag

    ‘ I have learnt the hard way that you have to be robust, and not let negative commentary get under your skin.’

    That’s right .At the end of day you need to learn to toss and turn and turn and toss for ten seconds and then fall fast asleep 🙂

    ‘Cast a cold eye on life and death -horseman pass by ‘ or some such .

  • Resolve

    Maybe this sounds a bit pretentious, and also ignorant (considering I don’t know your personal circumstances), but…

    What on earth is the problem with sifting through comments on a ‘normal’ thread geared specifically to sections of your book?
    I recently read through 13 different books for 1 essay, 1 of 10 that i had to do. If you are serious about writing a book, then the inevitable sifting is just one of the unfortunate side-effects of comprehensive research.. but if you accept that, your book will be all the more comprehensive in itself.

    Another point… if i was writing a book about Nationalism, i would be equally (if not more) interested in the criticisms from Unionists as I would be from my fellow nationalists, so i take exception to your comment:

    “As this paper is about Unionism it is primarily the response of Unionists I am looking for”.

    Of course, eejits may take the debate to pointless areas, but i am quite sure (as it is your thread) you will be keeping a close eye on its direction. You can intervene and remind people of the topic of debate, and help re-focus when this is needed.

    I mean, how long can a thread be? I haven’t seen any longer than a few hundred. And, really, how much reading is that?

    Good luck, Fair Deal. I, like others, am intrigued by your forthcoming study. I just hope that when your final research questions are decided, I (as a nationalist) am not excluded from comment.