by John Konrad (gCaptain) Today at 05:15 after waking up, after adjusting the heat, after donning a warm wool sweater, after grinding my favorite beans, after french pressing a pot, after bulletproofing the brew, I walked to my charger and grabbed my iPhone and was met with dozens of notifications about my recent article on increasing funding at Kings Point. For the next hour, I replied to most of them even though I knew that doing so is a waste of time. It’s a waste of time because email and social media are broken. There is a better way.
gCaptain is not the single news webpage, it’s a network of information that includes several social media accounts, a video studio, a job board, incoming email accounts, outgoing email newsletters, information for advertisers, a store, corporate and sponsored news, ways to submit news links, and several other mechanisms to receive, process, and disseminate information.
There is also a forum.
The majority of feedback for yesterday’s article came via social media and email. Those readers younger than myself (43) overwhelmingly contact me via social email, those older prefer email. Neither is a good way to contact us.
The best way, by far, to provide feedback is via our forum.
Out of all the ways to interact with gCaptain the most time consuming, aggravating, and costly for us to maintain is our forum. It’s also the place we receive the most criticism because it contains heated debate that does not fit neatly into a modern world that strives to be “nice” and certainly not into a social media world that promotes civility by separating opposing voices into clusters of people who echo each other’s opinions.
While our forum does have a stellar staff of volunteer moderators and strong rules against personal attacks and bad behavior… it still manages to be a source of hurt feelings. I can not tell you how many people over the years have written to tell me they are quitting the forum because they are tired of being “attacked” by opposing views or tired of reading numerous posts from certain individuals who hold particularly passionate views about certain topics.
Even more troubling is the fact that non-Americans seem especially put off by the loud, overbearing, and too often dismissive American voices that tend to dominate the threads. This is troubling because the value of the forum increases in correlation with the diversity of it’s members.
It’s true. Our forum is a major pain in the ass. And that pain is especially acute for me as CEO of gCaptain. It’s also expensive to maintain and participation numbers continue to decline as readers flock to our social media channels.
But I keep paying our forum server and maintenance bills anyway. I do so because it’s powerful.
In the last decade, no less than 5 major books have been written by journalists who were inspired by our forum. Countless academic papers, working groups, and even Congress continue to cite it. Major expose articles from media powerhouses like the New York Times have been written about it and this year THE Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists started their pieces on our forum.
“Thanks, man!” said 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist T. Christian Miller in a recent text to me “We could not have done without your help.”
The Problem With Email
Overwhelmingly our older readers prefer to provide information for investigative articles and feedback via email and a smaller percentage send me private messages (PMs) via LinkedIn.
This information is critical to our ability to get the information we need to investigate important new stories but it requires a lot of work on our part. Everything submitted to gCaptain via email and private messages require us to assign journalists and fact-checkers to investigate further. Conversely, when it’s posted to the forum our readers have the opportunity to do the initial groundwork for us.
An even bigger problem with email is the fact we get lots of great stories and information we don’t have the resources to follow-up on. If someone sends me an email or PM and, because of the constraints of time, I can’t respond or followup then that information is lost forever. However, if that same information had been posted to our forum then it would be part of the public record and available to researchers forever.
The Problem With Social Media
Despite well-documented problems (which come with significant consequences) social media is better than email. Anyone can share our articles and tag me with comments. It’s super-efficient and easy. And unlike private emails, social media algorithms make sure that larger groups of people who are interested in your information see it.
Social media is especially great for organizing grassroots efforts and to corral groups of like-minded people to support a certain problem.
The problem with social media, however, is because your personal information is highly valuable to the social network, they use various techniques to hide and lock up your information which makes it exceedingly difficult for serious researchers and journalists to access.
Because there is no registration process to view gCaptain forum threads, it is archived and “spidered” by commercial (e.g. google), journalist, and academic search engines.
Almost everything in the forum is attacked and picked apart by those “certain individuals who are particularly passionate views” and “loud overbearing Americans” which helps the journalists decide which information is BS and what is worth investigating further. Unlike social media, the forum gives you tools to upload documents, link to original sources, highlight important passages, and quote other posts. The journalists can’t report on anything posted directly but they can (and do!) use the links and information provided to check facts and further investigate stories.
In a forum thread titled “gCaptain Forum VS Social Media” I discuss my long-held desire to shut down the forum and to push the discussion onto social media which is easy and free for us to use.
“This is the best place for online for maritime information and collective knowledge that I know of,” said Captain Obvious.
Well, thank you Captain Obvious! (Sorry I couldn’t resist).
While I appreciate Captain Obvious’s support the forum is not just a place for anonymous users. It’s also home to experts of the highest caliber. One such expert is Harvard author and Sandia National Laboratories Senior Scientist Earl Boebert whose peer-reviewed and highly acclaimed book Deepwater Horizon began with the information provided by forum members.
In the above mentioned social media thread Boebert writes:
Social media is not your friend. A forum that was one of the great assets to the drilling community, and a primary resource (along with gCaptain) for me was killed dead when somebody set up a competing Facebook group. It would be a tragedy if that happened here.
My response to the Silicon Valley types is that SV today consists of children building toys for children and thinly disguised pump-and-dump stock schemes. Facebook is for children of all ages, and manipulators of all stripes. Professional interchange has no place there. And Linkedin is going the same way. Keep this forum going, folks, it’s important.
We highly value any feedback, information, and news tips you can provide regardless of the method in which you send them, but if you want the policymakers, decision-makers, and researchers to take notice – if you want a gCaptain, New York Times, or a Pulitzer Prize-worthy article written about it… then don’t send me an email or post it to social media… then head over to our forum and click the “Sign Up” button in the upper right corner.
But please note. It’s not a “nice” place (that’s why we let you post anonymously so it won’t hurt your career) and your opinions and information will likely be attacked, questioned, and even made fun of.
It’s not nice or “PC”… and that’s exactly what makes it a powerful tool for change.
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