I heart RapidWeaver

Of all the hip features RapidWeaver has to offer, the best might be that it’s free.

A relatively new Web design application created for Macs by British company Real Mac Software, RapidWeaver incorporates many of the cool things Mac-lovers know and adore about Apple products: it’s clean and sleek with eye-popping design, and, of course, ridiculously user-friendly. It literally takes three mouse clicks to create a page, add a theme and publish a professional-looking site to the Web.

Undoubtedly the most attractive feature for novice Web publishers is that RapidWeaver does not just excuse your ignorance of HTML with an annoyed sigh. Rather, it lovingly embraces it. Without knowing a single line of code, you can add zippy little photo galleries, blog and movie pages, and you can upload files to share. Even better, it all works seamlessly with Mac OSX applications like iPhoto and iMovie.

For those who dream about coding pages from scratch, RapidWeaver didn’t forget about you. You have the option of creating pages in HTML, XHTML or PHP.

The design window is blessedly unclogged by distracting rows of buttons, fields and boxes. If you want to create a new page, click the plus sign in the lower left corner. To delete a page, click minus. Click the appropriate button on the top left, and a drawer of more than 20 themes pops out. You can also toggle back and forth between “edit” and “preview” modes.

To publish your site, you need only fill in the site path, FTP address, username and password. RapidWeaver also makes it just as easy, if not easier, to upload directly to a .Mac account.

If you do indeed grow to love RapidWeaver and decide you want to create more than three pages, you’ll have to fork over $35. But that’s really not much compared to the stress-free experience and ease of use that come bundled free of charge.

OJR 2006: Building and managing your community

If you blog it, will they come?

And if they come, will they stay, make nice with others and contribute to the conversation?

These were the essential questions asked in the “Building Your Community” session at Friday’s OJR 2006.

The answer is: yes. Maybe. Hopefully. Probably. The real answer is that there is not a concrete one — yet. But many of the participants, being experienced bloggers, media strategists and online news reporters, shared their timeworn tactics for involving readers in stimulating debate.

Settling in for the discussion, the 35-plus conferees agreed to disagree — civilly, like a successful online community any of them would want to join.

Moderator Lisa Stone, founder of BlogHer, asked the group about their own struggles with community building and the associated problems with maintaining and moderating an online family.

Herding those cats

Mack Reed, editor and publisher of LAVoice.org, suggested the best way to maintain successful debate within a peaceful community is a straightforward approach and trust in the readership.

“If you establish the rules ahead of time, the community will enforce them,” he said. “Have faith in people’s interest in communicating intelligently with each other.”

OJR editor Robert Niles compared moderating blog comments or discussion boards to basic journalism skills.

Just asking readers the general “What do you think?” question as a topic starter will get broad, unfocused answers, he said. As any good journalist would, it’s important to “maintain control of the interview.”

“If you ask a targeted, well-tailored question, you’re more likely to get a specific response,” he said.

But what do you do when all of your well-intentioned ground rules and pointed, focused threads continue to be hijacked by “trolls” or “flamers” seeking to dominate or disrupt the discussion community? When is it time to revoke a user’s posting privileges?

Usually when that person is dominating the site, harassing other users or showing disregard for the posted community rules, suggested Violinist.com‘s Laurie Niles.

The group agreed: Even the most obscure topic can and will generate strong emotion among users. But learning how to channel those passionate feelings into constructive conversation is a skill, one that many online users may not have acquired just yet, said Staci Kramer of PaidContent.org.

“We need to understand the difference between ‘trolls’ and people who don’t know they’re acting like one,” she said.

Sometimes, it seems, all that’s needed is a little message-board etiquette lesson.

Discussion moderator Stone said she is in favor of exacting less control over a community. Other attendees echoed that, with some suggesting “deputizing” select readers to aid in keeping the discourse clean and civil.

The group suggested some guidelines to keep in mind when trying to establish a successful community:

  • Establish rules of conduct right up front.
  • Be able to ignore some level of obnoxious behavior.
  • Try turning off some comments instead of scrapping the whole message board.
  • Try to engage your readers in decisions that affect the life of the community.

Helping your readers help you

Moving on from the perils of putting users in charge of content, the group began pondering the importance of engaging a smart, informed reader base in open-source journalism.

Most agreed that the value of reader feedback, even on already well-reported stories, is priceless. Often the community does the extra legwork, running down facts that the reporter/blogger could not.

As Stone put it, “If we’re going to use blogging technology, why not use it to do better reporting?”

You might get stronger journalism if — when the community disagrees with the reported story — you invite members to do the fact-checking themselves, Stone added.

Discussion soon turned toward blog evangelism. Female and multi-lingual bloggers are underrepresented in the blogosphere, one participant noted. What’s the best way to recruit non-traditional bloggers and discussion community members?

Rod Amis said personal initiative in supporting writers is very important as an editor and/or publisher. For his international news site, G21.net, Amis said he often recruits female writers through other women. While praising the importance of finding international voices, he also cautioned the group to be sensitive to the cultural standards of communities that are inexperienced with the concept of blogging.

Stone encouraged editors to reach out to bloggers by speaking their language: Blog about it! While conducting outreach for writers in offline publications is important as well, she urged those communities that are seeking new talent to put an ad where potential candidates are most likely to see it. Sometimes you can even find a blogger who’s already an active contributor within your community — you just need to ask.

Confrontating online publishing fears and focusing on the mission of using readers to build better editorial content were the hottest topics of the session. The answer in both cases was echoed throughout the morning: Keep faith in the reader.

* * *

Related stories from OJR’s archives:

Week In Review

Takeover Battle Ends in TV/Web Convergence Plan

From The Asahi Shimbun: Fuji TV will take control of Nippon Broadcasting System Inc. after a costly compromise with Internet portal Livedoor Co. on April 17. Sources said Livedoor will sell back its shares in radio broadcaster Nippon Broadcasting, which stand at more than 50 percent, to Fuji TV for 140 billion yen ($1.3 billion), an amount greater than the takeover price. The TV broadcaster will then own a 15 percent stake in Livedoor. The development apparently ends the controversial takeover battle between the companies. Although Fuji executives recoiled at the idea of allowing Livedoor a profit on the deal, they decided they had no other choice after a bitter battle. The two companies plan to create a committee in charge of planning an integration of Internet use and broadcasting. This convergence opportunity was the goal of Livedoor President Takafumi Horie in battling for Nippon Broadcasting.
— By Japan Media Review Managing Editor Shellie Branco
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Group to Post Controversial History Book on Web

From The Korea Times: The Japanese Society of History, a right-wing group, has decided to post a fully translated version of a controversial middle school history textbook online. The society said the Web site will carry the literature in Chinese and Korean to enable people to read it before denouncing it as misleading or incorrect. Fusosha, a middle school textbook, is named after its publisher, Fuso Publishing Co. The book, approved by the Japanese government, has been criticized as “[whitewashing] Japan’s colonial-era brutalities when it was first published in 2001.” The new version, which the Japanese government approved earlier this month, faces scathing criticism from South Korea and China for “justifying Japan’s colonial expansion and glossing over atrocities such as forced labor and sexual slavery.”
— By Japan Media Review Contributing Writer Aarthi Sivaraman
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PSP Users Enable Chat, Web Features

From The Daily Yomiuri: The Sony PlayStation Portable, newly released in the United States, is being used for more than just gaming and video features. PSP users are hacking their way onto the Internet directly through the system’s wireless technology. One user, Robert Balousek, wrote an open-source chat program that takes advantage of a PSP game, called “Wipeout Pure,” that uses a Web browser. Balousek is now devising a way for AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger customers to use PSPs to chat as well. Since Balousek first put his project online April 1, the Web site has received more than 250,000 visitors. PSP users in Japan have used their devices for non-gaming purposes too, using the imaging capability to upload comics.
— By Japan Media Review Associate Editor Erica Ogg
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Web Site Seeks to Repair Japanese-Russian Political Ties

From The Asahi Shimbun: The Tokyo Foundation, a nonprofit Japanese policy advisory group, is attempting to bring Japanese and Russians together through a Web site devoted to divisive regional issues. The site promotes the Japanese perspective in the Russian language through expert analysis and opinion. One of the main issues the site highlights is the decades-long dispute over four islands taken from Japan by the former Soviet Union following World War II. The site has already received requests from Russia to increase the level of analysis. One of the site’s advisory editors, Shigeki Hakamada, wrote recently that he hopes the project will lead to an eventual treaty between the two nations.
— By Japan Media Review Associate Editor Erica Ogg
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Top Two NBS Officials Leave After Takeover

From The Japan Times via Asia Media: The president and vice president of Nippon Broadcasting Systems plan to leave the company in June, company sources said. President Akinobu Kamebuchi and his number two, Kunio Amai, will leave the radio broadcaster when their contracts expire in June, according to sources, taking the blame for the company’s recent hostile takeover by Livedoor Co. Livedoor, an Internet services provider, purchased a controlling stake in NBS last month after a protracted fight to acquire Fuji Television, NBS’s parent company. It is also expected that Livedoor will replace more than half of the NBS board of directors when Kamebuchi and Amai leave in June.
— By Japan Media Review Associate Editor Erica Ogg
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Online Media Pioneer Prepares Students in Aftermath of Digital Revolution

From The Asahi Shimbun: Tokyo-based Digital Hollywood University is turning students and professionals into digital content entrepreneurs. Founded by Tomoyuki Sugiyama 10 years ago, the school recently added new departments to train producers and directors to create and distribute online content, as Sugiyama says the Japanese media and entertainment industries need people who can work across all disciplines. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1980s and returned home to a Japan trying to embrace a vast array of new technology without anyone who could use it. “Back then, only a few talented people were able to use the Internet,” Sugiyama said. “I wanted ordinary people to learn how to become [Web] creators.” More than 30,000 of his students have entered multimedia production over the last 10 years, thanks to the explosion of digital content distribution avenues: cell phones, broadband, and vehicle navigation systems.
–By Japan Media Review Associate Editor Erica Ogg
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