Tools for evolving civilizations
Project Sextant in The Three Bullet Points:
FLASH (June 26, 02000):
Maybe you'd prefer to skip all the verbiage and start using the real thing.
What follows is a brief "white paper" on the motivation, goals and potential for Sextant. Help us improve it by forwarding your questions and comments to email@example.com.
Summary: Idiot-proof online discussion forums for building valuable and effective online communities
Some good examples of simple weblogs are the politics and culture sites www.robotwisdom.com and www.flutterby.com, and the web technology and design sites www.camworld.com and www.tomalak.org. Each is maintained by one, two or three people and has accumulated a sizable and loyal reader base.
The weblogger is acting as, and excercising the influence of, a conventional magazine or newspaper editor. However, since his time and money investment is so tiny, he can choose content solely on the basis of his ideals and interests, instead of marketing necessities. His base of like-minded readers forms naturally by word of mouth. Most weblogs turn no revenue at all because they don't need to.
With this small but crucial bit of editorial "value added" to the ocean of online content, a weblog can serve the "information needs" of a small and specific reader base far better than conventional news sources, and that is exactly what is happening. Many people now turn to a favorite weblog for the latest news in their areas of interest instead of searching through the larger and more general-purpose online magazines like www.cnn.com, www.news.com and www.msn.com.
Stated grandly: Weblogs, with their unprecidented economy and specificity, are usurping and democratising the editorial functions of traditional mass media.
Background: Online discussion forums
The key to Slashdot's success has been its discussion forums. Every article referred to on Slashdot gets its own discussion forum, where the readers discuss and argue the truthfulness, implications and significance of the original article. The reader base of Slashdot has evolved into an online community with its own identity and considerable clout. It has banded together to act with great and critical effect on many technical and legal issues.
The Problem: Discussion forums take a lot of work to implement and support
Enter Sextant: Host the forums remotely
This is a relatively simple goal, given the systems and toolkits that are available now (see our Technical Details page). Our second and greater challenge, then, has been to implement a user interface that is clear and simple enough to be used by anyone, yet compact enough to download quickly. This is a first.
Webmasters who use the service are able to specify the formatting of their discussion forums with custom HTML templates. Templates have so far been popularized by the weblog-creation tool Blogger. They allow users to dictate the looks of their pages at the HTML level, with special service-specific functions accessed throgh a set of custom non-HTML tags that are dynamically "filled in" by the service provider.
Sextant also records clickthroughs to discussed pages and provides those statistics to both the weblog maintainers and to the readers. These statistics can be interesting because they let readers discover what other weblogs link to which articles of interest.
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