When Grady and I launched this site roughly one year ago, we weren't sure what would come out of this experiment. We each had Cougar blogs of our own (Grady at Stadium Way, me at WSU Hoops), but both had been around for less than one calendar year, and we saw CougCenter* as a tremendous opportunity to join a great organization on a fantastic publishing platform that would offer the potential for growth that our own sites simply couldn't.
* Little known fact: We actually wanted to call the site Stadium Way, but some internet domain squatter had snatched it up and wouldn't respond to our inquiries. Thanks, jerk!
It's safe to say that after 12 months and more than 700 stories, this thing has evolved into something I'm pretty sure neither one of us imagined. We've got 353 members of the blog who have left thousands of comments. We've added a writer with perhaps the greatest handle on the site. And we saw our unique visitors increase from roughly 8,700 in September (our first full month) to 31,700 in April (a 364 percent increase, and quite possibly the only good thing to come out of Tony Bennett's resignation).
Because we weren't sure what we were getting ourselves into, we had a plan to just let the site grow organically -- specifically on the community side. Our desire was to let the members work with us to shape the personality of the site through their comments, FanPosts and FanShots, rather than the other way around with us imposing strict guidelines which might stifle participation.
But now, after these past 12 months, CougCenter has developed its own personality. Because of that, Grady, Craig and I have all agreed that its time to enumerate some norms for the benefit of everyone -- longtime readers and newcomers this fall. (We anticipate more than a few of those; we're already seeing a distinct uptick now that we have a partnership with CBSSports.com where our posts are linked on the CBS team pages. Cool, huh?)
Here are some of the things we expect if you're going to participate in the CougCenter community. Don't worry about us dropping some kind of giant metaphorical hammer if you run afoul of these; they exist more to ensure everyone's enjoyment of the site -- something we can point to if someone needs a reminder about what we value.
Whether you're new or have been with us from the beginning, please take a few moments to read the following so that we'll all be on the same page moving forward:
- This is not a message board. Every guideline that follows flows out of that understanding. If you've ever spent any time around Cougfan.com's forums, you know what we're talking about. That's not a knock on them; it serves a valid purpose. But that's not what we're about. Keep that in mind, and you'll be successful around here.
Whenever you write, make sure you bring something to the table. Part of our stated mission for the blog is that "we aim to bring – and encourage – the kind of smart, thoughtful analysis about Cougar athletics you won't find anywhere else." That goes for you guys, too. When you leave a comment or write a FanPost, it should be done with the goal of enhancing the conversation. It's something that most of our members are generally excellent at, but every once in a while, we get some real stinkers. We'll be a little more strict about FanPosts than comments with regards to this. Make sure we don't feel dumber for having read your comment or post, and don't waste everyone's time.
- Have some evidence for your assertions. Simply saying this guy or that guy sucks/is awesome is not enlightening, and does not enhance the conversation. Give us a reason why said guy sucks/is awesome. Subjective observations are OK, but objective statistical analysis is better. If you don't do this, expect to get challenged.
- Be willing to engage. If you make an assertion and it's challenged, don't shy away from the conversation. You might learn something!
- Be respectful. Disagreeing is OK. Insulting is not. This extends to name calling of other schools. (I'm thinking of one school in particular ...) Call schools by their proper mascots, rather than demeaning nicknames. It just makes you -- and by extension all of us -- seem small and petty, and it becomes much easier to engage visitors from other schools in our discussions when we leave that stuff out. It might seem good-natured, but it irritates people. Let other sites have that stuff. Let's be above it.
Be coherent. This means using reasonable grammar and spelling, abstaining from chatspeak ("lol," "ur," "brb," etc.), avoiding the use of all caps (unless done for a specific purpose), and refraining from the phrase "in my opinion" (this is a discussion site; we know it's your opinion, silly!). We don't expect everyone to be perfect, but let's be honest: Most of us are either college graduates or college students, so it's not unreasonable to expect comments to feature complete sentences (with proper capitalization) and FanPosts to utilize these things called paragraphs, which also come in handy on long comments to make them more readable. Take some care with what you write to make sure you're communicated your thought effectively. It usually only takes about 60 seconds to re-read your writing before clicking "post." The "preview" button can come in quite handy on this front.
Use the proper forum for your expression. Comments are for discussion of that particular post. Avoid hijacking a thread with something off topic. If you have something else you want to talk about, write a FanPost or a FanShot.
Use the forum for your expression properly. A FanPost is for an extended thought (75 words or more -- pretty much your way to write a blog post like we do), while a FanShot is for a quick passing along of link, photo, video or quote. FanPosts have a minimum word count of 75 words. If you have something to say in a FanPost, make sure that it contains 75 words pertaining to the topic which you want to discuss -- a FanPost should not be "Bench Nik Koprivica" followed by "75 words" repeated over and over again to hit the 75 word limit, or any other random text as filler after your five-word FanPost. If you write a FanPost, make sure it includes a developed thought, which usually will require multiple paragraphs. If you don't have that much to say, consider a FanShot.
- Be nice to newbies. No. 5 should make this clear, but just in case it doesn't, here you go. Many sites go through a cycle: Site launches, site is inclusive as it tries to grow, site develops devoted followers, site attracts new followers, devoted followers haze newbies, some newbies get offended and never come back, other newbies stick it out and become one of the initiated. It's a silly cycle, and we don't like it -- we want more people to join this community. Be gentle with them if they deviate from one of these guidelines.
- Avoid politics and religion. We're here to talk about the Cougs, not health care. If it's relevant, then we'll let you know it's OK to head that direction. But expect us to shut down any such unsanctioned conversations quickly.
That about covers it. Thanks again for being a part of this community. It's what makes it worthwhile for all of us.