Answering Questions About SBNation United and Blazer's Edge

Responses to questions and concerns raised about SBN United over the past couple of weeks.

Since Blazer's Edge and all of SBNation switched to the United platform two weeks ago I've read several questions/concerns in my e-mail inbox and in various posts and comments around the site. In the interest of addressing these in a coherent, cohesive manner I'm gathering the most oft-expressed ones here and offering some context. Please read carefully.

"Has site traffic gone down since the switch-over?"

No. Let's be clear on this. Blazer's Edge had already broken its single-year record for most visits in August of this year. That record was substantial but it took us roughly 7.5 months of 2012 to blow it away. We've been growing since forever because we do this Blazers site thing pretty well. Anything...anything...that caused a nosedive in our traffic would be an immediate concern. That has not happened. Our traffic numbers before United are consistent with our numbers after United and both are consistent with traffic expectations in September and October.

"Commenting has gone way down."

This is also something we monitor closely. Personally I tend to ignore traffic stats, preferring just to write and let the rest take care of itself. But I'm always aware of comments. I daresay I keep better tabs on them and am more involved with this aspect of this site than anyone on the planet. The anecdotal impression that comments have sagged involves several aspects, only one of which is truly United-related.

  1. As some other long-time staff have noted, the site always "seems dead" in the pre-season. Nobody bothers to look much in early August because it's understood that the dog-days of the off-season will be slow. But early October rolls around and people start thinking "season" in their heads. They begin remembering comment rushes from Novembers, Aprils, even Junes. Then they look and see that the site still looks August-ish and wonder aloud why it has "died". It hasn't. (See also: traffic notes just above.)
  2. This summer has presented particular challenges for topics and comments because of its placidity. The draft was huge. Summer League was pretty big. But the only significant item after that was re-signing Nicolas Batum and that was a re-signing. No doubt you remember the onslaught of Batum-related Fanposts and comments during early free-agency. Once that contract was done, so was the summer. There's no Roy-Oden comeback speculation this year, no Raymond Felton or Jamaal Crawford signings, no wondering how Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby will gel and whether that'll mean a playoff trip. In actuality Fanposts and Fanshots had been a little slower than normal all through the latter weeks of summer, a fact which I had noted before United even appeared on the horizon. This hasn't changed yet. It likely will as the season picks up.
  3. The switch to United has made Fanposts and Fanshots harder to find and categorize. This has confused and frustrated some longer-term members and no doubt made it more difficult for newer members to understand what the sidebar is about.
  4. Many Fanposts lately have either directly complained about United, included prominent doses of complaints about United, been derailed in the comment section into complaints about United, or started off with claims of "the site being dead" because of United. These don't encourage anybody to join the conversation except those invested in complaining. Such claims makes the sidebar a more prickly place overall, at times downright depressing.

All four of these factors have played a part in the perception that "Comments are down!" Even if that perception were true--and I'm not sure it is--claiming it's entirely related to the platform switch is neither accurate nor helpful.

"You've stopped linking to other people's work in favor of just your stuff!"

Factoring out a couple personal interest stories and a promoted Fanpost, 24 posts appear on the front page of Blazer's Edge as I'm typing. Of those, 4 are of the general press-release variety available to all media. 3 are original analysis pieces by me. 1 is an aggregate piece recapping the first week of training camp. 6 are stories by Ben incorporating direct interviews given by Blazers players and staff to Blazer's Edge. The remaining 10--by far the biggest group--are no-holds-barred links to outside sources. Counting the press releases, that means 6 out of 10 posts come from voices other than our own. The next biggest group is Ben's direct interviews from ground zero. That's exactly what he's there for. I can't imagine anyone saying, "Ben! Stop talking to players and telling us what they say!" Only 1 out of 8 posts can be considered 100%, wholly original, out-of-someone's brain analysis.

Unless the outside quote is earth-shaking, you're not likely to see somebody else's work in the biggest spot on our front page. If that's a sin, it's one that every other site in the universe commits. You can find our work linked at ESPN or Yahoo Sports plenty of times. How many times are you going to see it in the banner headline? We've had some adjustments trying to figure out how to best utilize the new platform and you've had some adjustments finding linked content. This is particularly true of the Fanshot section which was instrumental to our news-delivery in our old system (and might be again soon). But we are carrying plenty of outside material and will always continue to do so.

"SBNation isn't responding to my complaints."

If you sent your thoughts to support@sbnation they've been read and noted. If you sent your thoughts to me I've either passed them on or aggregated them for further discussion. SBNation did respond to a pressing issue on Day 2 and will continue to evolve the platform. The Blazer's Edge staff has a stake in seeing it evolve and will act accordingly. But Rome wasn't built in a day. The most immediate concerns after launch are also the most critical: making sure the platform is stable for all users, squishing inevitable bugs and glitches. Just because things haven't changed exactly the way you'd like them to in the first two weeks of a massive launch over 300+ websites doesn't mean that they'll remain the same forever.

"Why are people complaining so much?"

Just to show the other side of the coin, we do get these e-mails too. Part of it is inevitable with change. Part of it is because functionality can be improved...no surprise in a new system. I've appreciated the honest critiques of those with specific ideas for change and explanations why their changes would be helpful. Support feels the same. I haven't minded the other, general complaining too much either, but we've reached a point of seriously diminishing returns. General complaints and moans don't get anything improved, nor do they make the process move faster. While I empathize with the grief and angst, some of the things said in the midst of that grief (such as the examples cited above) are not only inaccurate, they're being repeated enough to create a weird kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Certainly creating a Fanpost about nobody creating Fanposts because the site sucks is an act of irony, and one not likely to improve the perceived condition. As the question heading this paragraph shows, this kind of thing does make the atmosphere unpleasant and not conducive to productive discussion. We were willing to ride with it for a couple weeks to give everybody a fair hearing, but it's time to rally around more productive pursuits now, getting back to the site's guiding purpose.

To that end, we are sending out an announcement.

1. We welcome continued critique of the new platform: systemic changes and ways we, the staff, could use it more effectively. This platform will evolve to the better and we'd like you to help define "better". However we need to channel those thoughts/complaints/concerns where they will actually do some good. Therefore we invite you to submit all such thoughts to one or both of the following e-mail addresses:

blazersub@gmail.com support@sbnation.com

The first is my inbox, the second that of the people who administer the platform. At the end of either one are people who'd be happy to hear what you think, even if it's a complaint.

2. On-site, including in Fanposts, Fanshots, and comment sections, we are going to resume on-topic discussion of Blazers Basketball and the NBA. These topics bring us together and are guaranteed, by definition, to be of interest to all who come here. They also do credit to all the people who work hard to provide great content for the site, be they on the masthead or readers offering thoughts.

We will continue to guide newcomers and folks returning for the new season in the whys and wherefores of the United platform. We will answer their questions as best as possible and affirm these principles for them, including welcoming their thoughts and critiques via e-mail just as we welcome yours. Meanwhile there's a whole new season to explore and enjoy and it's time to be about the business of doing it.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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