BNC as a resource – call for help

UPDATE

1. I have menus working now — if you look at the top-of-the-blog pages, you’ll see the ABOUT page has a pull-down menu. This can now be expanded to cover many relevant pages (that need to be created).

2. I have posted a PAGE which lists all BNC posts, with a hyperlinked title.

3. Here is an Excel file of the BNC posts, including title, link, author etc. This can be sorted and manipulated in various ways to extract material useful for building index pages.

4. Here is a CSV flat file version of the above.

———————————-

The Brave New Climate blog started out in Aug 2008 as a modest affair. But over the course of 333 posts (and counting), it has grown into quite a resource, covering a wide variety of topics on sustainable energy and climate change. It is about to launch into its 4th year on the circuit!

The blog format has a number of terrific advantages — it keeps the website live and active, with regular posted updates, it allows for topical and up-to-date user feedback via comments, and it provides a platform for easily archiving material by date.

A number of problems exist, however.

For new readers, the site can seem daunting and impenetrable. Digging up relevant information is tough. The top-of-the-site pages, such as Sustainable Nuclear, Renewable Limits and Top 10, are one crude attempt to organise material, but they lack a proper structure and end up becoming little more than washing lists. Same deal with the category classifications (see left sidebar, e.g. TCASE). The new F.A.Q. page serves a somewhat different purpose again (but needs work too).

All in all, I think more innovation is needed to better present the source material to new readers, and to aid existing users with lookups.

What I think may be needed is to set up a static portal (which appears when the user types “http://bravenewclimate.com” in their browser), through which the rest of the site content can be easily accessed. This would include an OBVIOUS link [maybe a button?] to the blog feed (which will then appear exactly in the format we currently see it), a brief description of the purpose of the blog, and a well-laid-out series of links to other “Index” pages which organise the blog’s archived posts (and comments, including direct links to particularly important ones). However, I’m open to suggestions on the details.

I can of course do all of this myself, but that may not be the best course of action, for a number of reasons:

(1) the risk of  ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ syndrome [I know this material too well, and my not be able to organise it properly for a wide audience],

(2) lack of familiarity with optimal layouts for index and tables of contents pages,

(3) others are probably more creative than me, and

(4) time constraints [i.e. I can do this, but it will take time!].

As such, I wondered if any BNC readers/contributors would like to help out with this? Assistance could take the form of (i) designing the portal page, (ii) creating the TOP pages (which hierarchically gather a set of nested INDEX pages), (iii) gathering together posts into the INDEX pages, or (iv) ???.

Ideas appreciated, and if you’d like to help out, please do feel free to email me. I can then send you a listing of all the 333 BNC pages posted to date, along with their associated permalinks, i.e. the material that needs organising in various ways for the INDEX pages.

A few ideas were discussed here, but the discussion can continue below.

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38 Comments

  1. 333 posts, eh? Halfway there!

    A lot of the value of this blog is in the comment threads, and they sometimes drift away from the initial topic. Not always to the advantage of the public discourse, but sometimes. This is going to be one hell of an indexing task.

  2. If you are doing a major reorganisation anyway, would you consider adding a discussion forum? The comment/post ratio on BNC is so high that it has almost outgrown the blog format. Most posts start what should be several threads of discussion, some of which carry on for months. The freer forum format also lets you be stricter about what is off topic in some parts of the site, without heavy handed censorship, by encouraging e.g. overtly political comments to go in the politics section.

    This would, of course, be paralleling the Energy_from_Thorium structure, and may not be what you want to do, but it would de-clutter the blog post comments. BNC is potentially a bigger community than the narrowly focussed EfT, and EfT is at 33,000 comments on 2,000 threads. I don’t think a blog can get that big.

  3. Luke_UK,

    I am not familiar with the EfT site. Is it possible to search/filter for previous comments by, for example, author, date range and keyword. I would find this capability very valuable (I recognise it cannot be done with the existing WordPress thingy).

  4. Barry,

    When this subject was discussed some time ago, there was one person who I believe was a Librarian. That person made a lot of good suggestions (I think from memory). Who was that, and is that person still active on BNC?

    I have a concern about how some of Luke_UK’s suggestions might be applied. I’ve seen them applied on other sites and they seem to be simply a way to control the debate to propogate the views of the blog owner (I am referring to other sites, not BNC). I am hoping BNC will become more receptive to and welcome a broader church. In that case cutting off debate may not be helpful. For example, pricing carbon or alternative policy will be a really important topic this year in Australia, but to ban all comments that relate to politics will stifle debate. The sides of the debate are clearly closely tied into the politics and policies of the three major political parties. If debate is stifled , political points will still be made in a nuanced way and this will drive others spare (those who prefer to say what they mean rather than imply it by smart wording).

  5. Barry,

    Category for “Carbon Price, for and against”

    Barry, given that this year is likely to have considerable debate about carbon pricing, would you consider having a tab (or category) for “Carbon Price – for and against” or some better title that is totally impartial?

    In your opening comments for Open Thread 6 you said:

    Given the recent discussion on BNC in various threads, a topic worth collecting up here is the merits/demerits of imposing a price on carbon, rather than simply pursuing policy to lower the costs (and regulatory burdens) of low-carbon energy sources. In reference to past discussions on BNC about the form a carbon price might take, read about cap-and-trade vs carbon tax and fee-and-dividend. An argument NOT to impose a carbon price is given here. An argument FOR a carbon price is outline here.

    You linked to:

    “Alternative to the CPRS”
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/

    “Carbon Price or Cap and Trade – the debate we never had”
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/14/carbon-tax-or-cap-and-trade-the-debate-we-never-had/

    “Fee and Dividend …”
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/11/09/fee-and-dividend-better/

    “How to get rid of coal”
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/03/15/how-to-get-rid-of-existing-coal/

    And, discussion on this subject on Open Thread 6.

  6. @Peter
    The forum software on EfT – which is a WordPress site – will do the searches you mention, in theory. It works on other sites, but in the specific case of EfT the index database got corrupted and Kirk has never had time to fix it. Google searching the site is adequate. WordPress now offer their own forum software, rather than using a third-party add-on, which might be simpler.

    On curtailing debate – sorry if I was unclear. I was NOT recommending this, quite the opposite. The fact that any registered user can start a new thread on a topic of their choice allows for a lot of ‘invisible hand’ self-regulation. Uncivil debaters find that the audience has started a new thread relevant to the topic, and left them shouting in an empty room. Of course, the site owner CAN always act as a censor, but they don’t NEED to.

  7. I’d approach reorganization of the website with some care, being sensitive not to lose some of the structural elements that contribute to the quality of the discussions.  Here are some of my thoughts on this.

    * The blog post format results in focussed discussion on a particular topic, for a period of time.  This is very valuable – it gives space for a sustained and considered discussion on a single topic to develop, before moving on to the next subject.  This is one of the most identifiable features of Brave New Climate.  I’d be reluctant to move this a click away from the front page.

    * Similarly, there is only a single top post at any time, which provides focus.  A multithreaded discussion forum could, possibly, dilute that focus.

    * And again, the top post is either written by Barry, or chosen by Barry.  We have a single individual providing, within quite broad parameters, a coherent vision for the shape and direction of the content and discussion.  This curatorship is in my opinion very valuable, and might be diluted in a forum-style structure.  Of course it only scales as far as a single individual can take it, but Barry’s bandwidth appears to exceed the Shannon limit so apparently there’s no issue with that.  The open threads seem to provide good space for side discussion, and I’m glad they’re there.

    * Frequent updates, both main posts and comments, drive a lot of traffic to the blog.  Would encountering a static front page draw less engagement to the casual visitor?  Would some repeat visits be lost?

    * The “Recent Comments” sidebar is the front page feature I find most useful, and is the way I usually load into the site’s content.  The fixed number of past comments displayed is limiting – occasional comments on older threads can be lost when there is very active discussion on current threads.  Maybe consider ways to improve the functionality of this element.  Perhaps an rss feed for each articles comments?  The ‘post to follow’ interface is clunky.

    * I quite like Barry’s twitter feed as well.

    * But I very rarely use any of the content in the left sidebar.  This could probably be pushed off to a links page or somesuch.

    * I support retaining the long single comment stream for a given post.  This is annoying to load, but breaking into multiple pages would make discussions almost impossible to follow.  This format has allowed detailed, long form discussions to develop.

    * Reinstate comment numbering!  That was really useful.

    * Search!

    * BNC has followed a story arc over a long period.  One useful way to organize the content of the site for new readers would be some high level history of the posts and ideas here, with links to a number of important posts along the way.  Understanding where we have come from and why is probably important to articulate for new and more recent visitors.

    * A great deal of the content is in the comments.  There are some fantastic mini-essay comments throughout.   Some attempt should be made to find and index some of the gems.  This is obviously hard, but maybe some sort of crowdsourced effort could find and index some of these outstanding contributions.

    * Brave New Climate needs a facebook page, separate from Barry’s own facebook page.  Obviously there are exceptions, but many of us here are crusty old geezers.  We are comfortable with long form writing.  We have a high level of education.  We read and absorb long posts and very long discussion threads.  We write essays as comments.  And we’re kidding ourselves if we think the demographic of facebook users – the most visited site on the internet, which has replaced email and other tools for most people’s communication needs – will engage with the discussion here.  The ideas here are really important, and they need to reach a broader demographic.  We need to figure out a good way to propagate the content and discussion to facebook.

  8. @John
    I agree a forum structure would not be a suitable replacement for the blog. It would be an addition that allowed broad discussion, but more structured than a series of open threads. The blog post + comments should remain for focussed discussion.

  9. I’d largely endorse John Morgan’s observations as well.

    I do wonder though, if it is possible once a certain number of comments have accrued on a topic — say 50, if the surplus comments could not load to a new page with the initial 50, 100, 150 etc. being reduced to their first 200(?) characters as a link to whatever page they are now on in full. There would be some JavaScript for that I feel sure.

    In my case loading the Open Threads and other heavily commented topics can take up to a minute. Knowing this, on one occasion, while waiting, I had time to load put on the kettle, load the washing machine, and set up the tea pot only to see the page time out out I returned. I reloaded, swept the kitchen, popped back to see Flickr still loading, unpacked the dishdrainer and then finally got the page.

    That’s discouraging.

  10. I’ve never had a problem with page load speed on BNC. I tried the most recent Open Thread with four different browsers – Chrome, Opera, Firefox and Konqueror – and load speed ranged from 4 to 9 seconds. In my experience this is typical and probably representative of the respective browser performance.

    I do have a good ADSL 2+ service that runs at a genuine 20 mbps, and am running Linux on a quick (Intel Q9550) but but not top of the line PC with very modest graphics hardware.

    For those having performance issues, what browser are you using and what sort of internet service do you have?

    If using IE, it might be worth giving Chrome, Opera or Firefox a try. I’ve found Chrome to be the quickest, sometimes by a fair bit.

  11. Google Chrome is not only fast but harder for malware to intrude. It looks a bit bare bones though. As I keep mentioning I have no speed problems with my satellite internet so let’s cut the NBN budget in half and buy a couple of AP 1000s.

    Some websites like Gristmill use tags. However the search lists can be long. An internal search engine would be invaluable, for uncommon but crucial keywords like ‘capacity credit’ or ‘electric cars’. If the site is undergoing a revamp a comment preview button would be nice. I know it hasn’t been raised on this page since I just did Chrome’s ctrl F ‘preview’.

  12. I should have mentioned that I also run a squid caching proxy server, mostly so I can impose some net access control in the forlorn hope of seeing some homework get done.

    For those with a slow or dodgy internet service, installing a caching proxy may improve the browsing experience considerably especially when refreshing pages with lots of images. There is a Windows build of squid, though I’ve never tried it.

  13. Comment numbering removal was not my choice – it is a ‘feature’ of the Digg 3 WordPress theme that I now use. The only way to restore comment numbers is to choose an alternative theme that has them. But this will involve sacrificing other features that make the current theme s good one. There is no perfect answer. Indeed, I’ve previewed all 106 of the WP themes that are available on the wordpress.com templates and none are a perfect match to my needs. Many of the other features people have mentioned sound great, but I simply cannot do them. My customization options are limited by my tools, not my wishes or our imagination!

  14. Even though I have Optus Broadband (Cable) it’s a rare day when my pages download at 500kbps.

    Typical speed is between about 270-420, though once just after Xmas I got an astonishing 650kbps.

    I can’t wait for NBN, even if all I get is a steady 1Mb minimum!

    About 30% of the time, pages fail to load at all and I get “Internet Explorer could not find …”. I then press F5 and the page loads up.

    Sometimes (about 5% of the time when in “tabbed browsing” and especially when at Crikey) IE hangs, then shuts down completety and offers to send an error message to MS. I suspect this has something to do with active scripts running at the site.

  15. Seems to me Barry that we need at least two more of you:) I would hate to see you overwhelmed by the workload you set yourself. Isn’t there someone in the IT section of the Uni who could help out even if it was in their own time (which is, I know, how you produce this blog).
    Peter – I am a retired librarian but, even though classification and cataloguing was my forte, I fear that the game has moved on and left me behind. We need a librarian who has recently completed an Information Science course, Is there anybody out there who could fit the bill.

  16. I think the first step should be to try and organise, index and categories the 334 posts in various ways. The comments can come next. In aid of this, I am currently preparing a flat file with the following columns:

    TITLE DATE #COMMENTS CATEGORIES LINK

    The categories are those listed on the sidebar, e.g. nuclear energy, emissions reduction, TCASE series etc.

    I have most of this file prepared already; the time-consuming part is adding in the links, but that should only take 1 hour or so at my current pace. However, I’m working on it in bits and pieces as it’s so repetitive and tedious and I don’t want to make errors.

    With this list in hand, organisation of the material into various themes, storylines etc. should be much more straighforward – at least that’s the theory. Once done, I will post it up here so that anyone can download it, do some organisation, and send me back any useful results. Thanks also to those who’ve emailed me so far, I will email you a copy of the file once done.

  17. Both BNC and EfT have some outstanding features, and some features that are not so grand. EFT separates blog from discussion, and compared to the discussion, the blog is more like an afterthought. The real basis of EfT discussion is found in the document archive, and BNC has no equivalent. Instead BNC offers de facto white papers, that offer important information primarily on energy related topics. These posts trigger the discussion.

    Indexing and search are primary weaknesses of both EfT and BNC. BNC comments are a mixed bag, with excellent observations mixed with ego trips. The reader must read through several hundred comments on many BNC posts, and this can become a daunting chore. While EfT’s discussions are better organized, the reader is still confronted with 33,000 comments on 2100 topics, so sorting out the topics alone becomes a major challenge.

    Both EfT and BNC discussions contain a lot of valuable information, but much of the value of that information is lost because of their index and search problems.

  18. Fran Barlow:

    Even though I have Optus Broadband (Cable) it’s a rare day when my pages download at 500kbps.

    You should try to find out why it’s so slow because something is wrong if the service really is that slow. My Optus cable here just gave me 6.95 Mb/s with ozspeedtest.com which is the slowest speed it’s ever given me here or at my old address.

    I can’t wait for NBN, even if all I get is a steady 1Mb minimum!

    I don’t need more speed, I just want more Megabytes for the same money. The NBN will be a complete waste of money for me.

  19. Barry, I’m guessing a suitable wordpress guru
    could build that flat file for you with a single query
    to the mysql database underneath. But not being
    such a guru … I may be wrong :)

    On performance … my FitPC2 is probably the slowest
    machine of any regular BNC user, but pages load in
    seconds thanks to ADSL 2+.

  20. Okay, a couple of things.

    1. I have menus working now (thanks Rick for the tip). If you look at the top-of-the-blog pages, you’ll see the ABOUT page has a pull-down menu. This can now be expanded to cover many relevant pages (that need to be created).

    2. I have posted a PAGE which lists all BNC posts, with a hyperlinked title.
    http://bravenewclimate.com/bnc-formatting-guidelines/bnc-post-list/

    3. Here is an Excel file of the BNC posts, including title, link, author etc. This can be sorted and manipulated in various ways to extract material useful for building index pages.

    4. Here is a CSV flat file version of the above.

  21. Note, I’ve discovered that POSTS can also be added to the context menus. For instance. look at the About tab – I’ve now added a link to the post “Who does climate science?” (the blog title can be shortened [customised] for the menu).

    Note also that although I’ve not done this yet, multiple hierarchies are possible – up to 5 or 6 deep I think.

  22. Barry,

    I’ve just noticed the new menu on the “Sustainable Nulcear Thread”. Teo comments:

    1. People new to BNC will not know waht IFR FAD means. (This comment applies to other pull doen menus with abreviations)

    2. Will the other posts that were previously on this thread still be available from the “Sustainable Nulcear” tab? For example, I am thinking of the “What is Risk – A simple Explanation” post.

  23. I’m not well equipped to comment/help on these developments though they do look interesting.
    I assume this is still a work in progress- for me the tabs under HOME are not accessible beyond the first, because these are obscured by the drop down sub-menus in the first (Climate Change Q/A).

  24. Thanks for the additional feedback, I’m still trialing various options, and things sometimes look different on various browsers. I agree that the cascading submenus should be right shifted more, but there’s nothing I can do about this – it’s part of the style. To address this problem, I’ve put the Climate Change Q&A link at the bottom of the list.

    The tabs like Sustainable Nuclear and Renewable Limits are still available – just click on the main tab, rather than any of the cascading tabs.

    I’ve expanded the names of some of the cryptic ones like IFR FaD and added some further ‘hover mouse’ explanatory text.

    This continues to be a work in progress, of course!

  25. Pingback: New BNC podcast series and predict millionth page view « BraveNewClimate

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