problems/suggestions for this group

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William Tunstall-Pedoe

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Jul 17, 2001, 7:23:16 AM7/17/01
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I have some random suggestions to improve this group. They are just my 2
pence (2 cents) worth. I am posting them simply to throw them open for
discussion.

First I want to say that there is absolutely no doubt that the efforts
of Larry and others with the anagrammies, faq etc. has had a very
positive influence on this group and transformed it over the last few
years. I am a very long time veteran of this group and there were many
periods when it was nothing like as good. This post should not be taken
as any kind of criticism whatsoever of everyone's efforts.

However, I have noticed a few bad comments being made recently which
might be a sign that some kind of brief look at how things can be
improved is in order.

In some ways the group is becoming a victim of its own success. However,
this doesn't in any way mean that the problems can't be solved or that
the group still isn't a fun place to be for many people.

I would summarise the problems with the group as follows:

(1) Volume. alt.anagrams gets quite a remarkable number of posts. I also
subscribe to rec.puzzles.crosswords and it never ceases to amaze me how
the only group discussing an activity done by tens of millions of people
daily should have such a small fraction of the traffic of alt.anagrams.
It is really quite extraordinary.

However, the volume does pose a serious problem to some people. Even I
have long ago given up trying to read every post. I read the odd thread
that looks interesting from the title, scan the articles for things of
interest and when it gets to the point where I have several hundred
unread articles and know that I am never going to catch up I press the
"Mark all as read" button on my newsreader. I've been doing this for
quite a while now.

I probably count as a serious anagrammatist and yet even I don't seem to
find the time to completely keep up with the group any more. What this
means is that I no longer feel on top of what is happening in the group
and certainly feel less involved than I did. It also means that many
other new people probably don't have the time to read every post either.

This isn't necessarily a fatal flaw - there are many high volume groups
but it is an indication of how the group has changed. In the past, when
volume was 20% of what it is now say, everyone participating would be
completely on top of everything that is happening.

One partial solution to this would be to encourage people to be more
selective about the anagrams they post. Improving the signal to noise
ratio of always a good idea.

Another possibility would be to adopt some quite strict conventions to
put in the title line showing what the thread is about. This would
enable people like me who can't read everything to pick out the threads
that are more likely to be of interest.

For example. "ANAGRAMMY ADMIN:", "REQUEST:", "NEW ANAGRAM:", "SOFTWARE:"
as the start of the thread titles would be very useful in picking
through the group.

(2) Anagrammy overload

There is no doubt that the anagrammies have helped this group in a
number of ways and for many people the competition is the main reason
for being here.

Again the competition is becoming a victim of its own success. The high
volume of nominations means large amounts of work for the people running
it and means that the voting procedure is extra difficult and time
consuming which can only decrease the number of people making the
effort.

The obvious way to reduce the number of noms is to increase the
standard. Quite a big percentage of the anagrams posted here get nommed
- IMO it should only be around 20% or so. As anyone can nominate the
judgement an individual should make should be closer to the top 10%.

Another thing I have noticed is that very large anagrams get nominated
far too much, I suspect out of sympathy to the person doing the work.
Because large anagrams often require several hours of effort people are
very reluctant to let it get posted without earning the author a
nomination. Feeling sorry for the author should not be a valid reason to
nominate their anagram.

We need to change the culture of the group so that a nomination is a
pleasant surprise to the person posting the anagram, not an expectation
and a consequent disappointment when the anagram doesn't get nominated.
People should post their anagrams and expect them not to be nominated.

Other ways to make voting easier (and thus attract more people to do it)
would be to reduce the number of categories. Perhaps simply categorising
the anagrams by length is all that is needed. With ranking of anagrams
by the voters it isn't unreasonable that a rude anagram should be
compared with a topical anagram or an anagram of a person's name and the
time taken to vote would be greatly reduced.

Yet another way would be to attach a perl script to the voting form to
send out the email so that everyone can vote automatically. Having to
retype all one's votes into an email greatly increases the work
involved.

There is also a danger that the domination of the anagrammies and the
automatic way that all anagrams are considered for the competition may
put people off who want to discuss their anagrams without necessarily
being part of the anagrammy culture and monthly competition. I'm not
quite sure what to suggest here. I'm not sure how practical opting out
of the anagrammies would be (or if there is a demand for it).

William


---
Author of Anagram Genius the software and book
http://www.genius2000.com/ag.html

Richard Brodie

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Jul 18, 2001, 3:49:49 AM7/18/01
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William Tunstall-Pedoe wrote:

> (1) Volume. alt.anagrams gets quite a remarkable number of posts. I also
> subscribe to rec.puzzles.crosswords and it never ceases to amaze me how
> the only group discussing an activity done by tens of millions of people
> daily should have such a small fraction of the traffic of alt.anagrams.
> It is really quite extraordinary.

I can think of several reasons:

1) Of these tens of millions, there are probably only a handful engaged
in creating crossword puzzles. The rest are engaged in the less
creative activity of solving puzzles created by others. It is only the
former small group who would be motivated to participate in a
newsgroup discussing such topics as the principles of crossword puzzle
construction, etc.

2) Short anagrams can be found relatively easily, and so the novice with
little more than a casual interest can have the satisfaction of discovery,
and, with the Anagrammies, even the prospect of a little glory.

3) Longer anagrams, especially of poetry, offer those more serious
about the business the opportunity to create something with a degree
of literary merit.

> One partial solution to this would be to encourage people to be more
> selective about the anagrams they post. Improving the signal to noise
> ratio of always a good idea.

I've noticed that new people do tend to get a little carried away.
Perhaps there should be a way of calling more attention to that
part of the FAQ that talks about "What makes a good anagram."
Lately I've seen a lot of ungrammatical and sometimes outright
meaningless word jumbles (but then of course one sees that a
lot in what passes for ordinary poetry these days!)

- Richard Brodie

William Tunstall-Pedoe

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Jul 18, 2001, 10:43:30 AM7/18/01
to
In article <3B55409E...@home.com>, Richard Brodie <richard-
bro...@home.com> writes

>William Tunstall-Pedoe wrote:
>
>> (1) Volume. alt.anagrams gets quite a remarkable number of posts. I also
>> subscribe to rec.puzzles.crosswords and it never ceases to amaze me how
>> the only group discussing an activity done by tens of millions of people
>> daily should have such a small fraction of the traffic of alt.anagrams.
>> It is really quite extraordinary.
>
>I can think of several reasons:
>
>1) Of these tens of millions, there are probably only a handful engaged
>in creating crossword puzzles. The rest are engaged in the less
>creative activity of solving puzzles created by others. It is only the
>former small group who would be motivated to participate in a
>newsgroup discussing such topics as the principles of crossword puzzle
>construction, etc.
>
That isn't true in practice. Only a minority of the readers set puzzles
and "this clue appeared in the Times and I don't understand it" threads
do exist too.

[...]

You also have to remember that this difference in traffic wasn't always
true. There was a time when alt.anagrams got almost no traffic at all.

The real reason is the fact that the group (despite all the minor faults
that people are talking about) is a really good place to hang out. By
news standards the group is essentially flame free and the signal to
noise ratio is high (although every unmoderated group could have some
improvement). This is all the more reason to think hard about how to
keep things good.

walter3965

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Jul 18, 2001, 6:12:49 PM7/18/01
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it should have more 'nominations' (my "2 cents"..) nothing more
encouraging than a little gold medal by your piece :-)

a gold medal = God made all


* * * * * *
walter newboldt - "world wb talent"
walte...@hotmail.com

Richard G

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Jul 18, 2001, 10:34:08 PM7/18/01
to
"William Tunstall-Pedoe" wrote in message
news:$6eagABk...@genius2000.com...

> I have some random suggestions to improve this group. They are just my 2
> pence (2 cents) worth. I am posting them simply to throw them open for
> discussion.

Thanks for your suggestions and kind comments, William.

> I would summarise the problems with the group as follows:
>
> (1) Volume. alt.anagrams gets quite a remarkable number of posts. I also
> subscribe to rec.puzzles.crosswords and it never ceases to amaze me how
> the only group discussing an activity done by tens of millions of people
> daily should have such a small fraction of the traffic of alt.anagrams.
> It is really quite extraordinary.

To add to Richard B's comments: while it's true that most of those millions
of crossword lovers would be busy doing actual crosswords, I think it's more
important to remember that anagrammatists are pretty much stuck with
alt.anagrams or nothing - certainly in places like Australia and Israel.
Also, the fact that most anagramming these days is computer-assisted, thanks
in no small part to yourself, gives a much more natural link to newsgroups
than does paper-and-pencil crosswords. But as you've said, it's the
friendliness of the place that provides the real hook.

> However, the volume does pose a serious problem to some people.

<snip>


> What this means is that I no longer feel on top of what is happening in
> the group and certainly feel less involved than I did. It also means that
> many other new people probably don't have the time to read every post
> either. This isn't necessarily a fatal flaw - there are many high volume
> groups but it is an indication of how the group has changed. In the past,
> when volume was 20% of what it is now say, everyone participating
> would be completely on top of everything that is happening.

Possibly a reason the group seems less friendly now (pace Mick). Certainly
with so much more to respond to, it becomes more difficult for the group to
construct long threads.

> One partial solution to this would be to encourage people to be more
> selective about the anagrams they post. Improving the signal to noise
> ratio of always a good idea.

Not advised - the last person to suggest this had dummies spat at him. :(

> Another possibility would be to adopt some quite strict conventions to
> put in the title line showing what the thread is about. This would
> enable people like me who can't read everything to pick out the threads
> that are more likely to be of interest.
> For example. "ANAGRAMMY ADMIN:", "REQUEST:", "NEW ANAGRAM:",
> "SOFTWARE:" as the start of the thread titles would be very useful in
picking
> through the group.

Maybe not "NEW ANAGRAM" - that being the default, of course. The others
could be useful, though.
Best might be, for small anagrams, to make a habit of posting the entire
thing as the subject line (Myers/Kraus-style) so it can be read without
having to open the message. I'll try to adopt this in future.

> (2) Anagrammy overload
<snip>


> The obvious way to reduce the number of noms is to increase the
> standard. Quite a big percentage of the anagrams posted here get nommed
> - IMO it should only be around 20% or so. As anyone can nominate the
> judgement an individual should make should be closer to the top 10%.

I'm not sure what the usual nom/post ratio is, but it's already somewhere
around 10% (150-170 noms, c.1500 threads each month according to Google).
This month is a bit of an anomaly - we've had over 1000 posts already, and
just 58 noms (not including Challenges).
I think the x% concept can be a bit hard to grasp - certainly I've never
consciously taken it into account when nomming, instead thinking "would I
give this anagram points at the end of the month?" Not necessarily three
points, but points. As a result, in June I nommed 6 'grams with every one
finishing in their top five, and three of them winning. The previous month I
picked 6 winners in 14 noms. Here endeth the gloat. :)

> Another thing I have noticed is that very large anagrams get nominated
> far too much, I suspect out of sympathy to the person doing the work.
> Because large anagrams often require several hours of effort people are
> very reluctant to let it get posted without earning the author a
> nomination. Feeling sorry for the author should not be a valid reason to
> nominate their anagram.

I doubt it's that - the long ones are highly impressive and almost
overwhelming to many people including me in my newbie days. However, as
previously noted, I'm no longer so uncritical - but that's another thread.

> We need to change the culture of the group so that a nomination is a
> pleasant surprise to the person posting the anagram, not an expectation
> and a consequent disappointment when the anagram doesn't get nominated.
> People should post their anagrams and expect them not to be nominated.

Hmmmm... could lead to problems. Some categories could end up empty this
way - every category has slow months in which less convincing 'grams get up
(the last couple of Rudes, for instance). In conjunction with further
category reform it might work, I guess. Still, I think people are always
going to expect noms even if they're told not to.

The problem of over-nomming really isn't that bad - I was mainly stepping in
to ensure it didn't get any worse.

> Other ways to make voting easier (and thus attract more people to do it)
> would be to reduce the number of categories. Perhaps simply categorising
> the anagrams by length is all that is needed. With ranking of anagrams
> by the voters it isn't unreasonable that a rude anagram should be
> compared with a topical anagram or an anagram of a person's name and the
> time taken to vote would be greatly reduced.

This makes some sense, but if we classify by length we might find, for
instance, that funny Rude ones are consistently winning out over staid but
ultimately more deserving Generals. Besides, it will be impossible to tell
where best to divide the categories.

> Yet another way would be to attach a perl script to the voting form to
> send out the email so that everyone can vote automatically. Having to
> retype all one's votes into an email greatly increases the work
> involved.

Talk to Larry about that, he's got his head buried in CGI For Dummies at the
moment. :)

> There is also a danger that the domination of the anagrammies and the
> automatic way that all anagrams are considered for the competition may
> put people off who want to discuss their anagrams without necessarily
> being part of the anagrammy culture and monthly competition. I'm not
> quite sure what to suggest here. I'm not sure how practical opting out
> of the anagrammies would be (or if there is a demand for it).

My unfortunate "nommick" suggestion was a step in this direction. The only
other thing I can think of is to create another newsgroup (or reactivate
alt.anagrams.witsend).

Anyway, thanks again for your constructive input William.

--
Richard Grantham
The Anagrammy Awards: http://www.anagrammy.com/
The alt.anagrams FAQ Page: http://www.anagrammy.com/alt-anagrams.html


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