19 September 2008

Week 6

Online community: Discussion forums


Road cycling: I have recently purchased a road bike and now want to become familiar with finding interesting and challenging distances to ride as I come to grips with the training. I joined the Manawatu Masters Cycling Club (MMCC) but at present prefer to do most of my training independently until I become more confident with using my bike, especially with hill climbing, before riding in a pack.

I need information on road cycling for newbies, cross-training, nutrition, find cycling routes, clothing, and networking with others, locally, nationally and internationally.

I was recommended a commercially-sponsored website MapMyRide.com. The site states: “users are able to visualize their health and fitness training progress through the use of maps, workout logs, fitness calculators/tools, and user-led community groups”. As a newbie to this sport, so far it appears to offer a wide range of information, to support my initiation into road cycling! I have been able to plot maps of my rides without a GPS, search for rides or routes globally, keep track of my routes including distances, and even calculate how many calories I’ve burned on one route versus another! Tabs in the site include:
  • Map new ride
  • Search for rides
  • My training log
  • Cycling races and events
  • Community
  • Stories and photos
  • New features
I need to register (free) on the site to become a member to access all the content. I have yet to do so, but was still able to search many features that are useful for my current needs: I easily found rides for Palmerston North and could simply map my ride from my home. I could select my map settings (e.g. elevation, follow roads, etc), map my ride then see the distance and elevation for my journey.

How would the forum benefit from facilitation services?

Within the Community tab, there are currently seven forum categories:
  • cycling forum
  • cycling gear
  • road cycling
  • general fitness and nutrition
  • cycling clubs and groups
  • cycling routes
  • mountain biking
Each category shows the last post, who posted it (and when), the number of topics and number of postings within the topics. Each posting shows the category of the forum, who started it, how many comments, last comment and when it was last active. Profiles of users are available with a star rating and number of views log. It is a ‘private’ forum in the sense I have to register on the site to be able to participate.

A block in the discussion forums page monitors the statistics for discussions, comments, newest user and postings in the last 24 hours.

I would have liked to see a star rating in the Discussion Forums facilitated by the community within this community. It could assist me in trying to find qualitative information. Events listed can be rated.

In the Help area, under the heading "Elevation descent/ascent seem to be wrong", it states … another reason we've released the raw data is so that we can collaborate to improve this feature. We'll soon be adding forums to the site, and we'll have a community collaboration on improving the elevation calculation functions”. I believe this would benefit its development and promote confidence, especially for novices like me, that promote are valid and substantiated comments.

Already I have found the site to be helpful as it is easy to see the forums and their threads that have generated the most interest and most frequently asked questions from ‘old’ posts (maybe weeks, months or even years ago), that are still relevant.

List of facilitation techniques useful in assisting community communications

The role of an online facilitator has been expressed by Tammara R. Winn in her blog, Epiphany 2008. While her heading identifies ‘facilitator’ Tammara refers to techniques for an online ‘instructor’. I agree with her statements that identify pedagogical, social, managerial and technical aspects to promote good facilitation, summarising with what she sees as most important: be patient! I did feel she could also include reference to Web 2.0 tools such as collaboration by use of blogs and wikis.

Elaine's post identified a practical list of really useful points with relevant examples that I relate to with my limited experience to date.

A link to ‘The Art of Hosting Good Communication online’ by Howard Reingold lists sensible, practical techniques within the following topics:
  • What an online host wants to achieve
  • Good online discussions
  • What a host does, what a host tries to grow
  • Host behaviour
An article Facilitating and hosting a virtual community by Nancy White, identifies the four frameworks for online facilitation, group processes, applications, key skills, and links to relevant articles. When discussing ‘Facilitators as Role Models’ she states … “they are often the first members to be challenged. Integrity, patience, a good sense of humour and a love of other people will be valued in any host”. The key skills she identified included:
  • Group facilitation skills
  • Cybrarianship
  • Passion for community
  • Ability to facilitate facilitative behaviours within the community
If the facilitator is acting also as the ‘referee’, Ms White identified the key skills as:
  • Thick skin and slow fuse
  • Internet experience
  • Familiarity with common netiquette
I related particularly the statement she quoted from virtual communitarian Howard Rheingold “One point of heart is worth ten points of intellect” – a skill I have observed in Leigh’s facilitation.


Nancy White said...

Hey Kay! I enjoyed visiting NZ last month and drove through, but alas did not stop in Palmerston North.

I think you did a great job analysing the cycling community site. Cyclists I find are a passionate bunch, so motivated to participate. The site probably needs less facilitating than some others.

Howard's work was what I cut my teeth on - he still is one of my important "teachers!"

Leigh Blackall said...

Great post Kay! Lots of info, reflection and references out. From the very start, when you mentioned you were getting into cycling, I though - Podcasts! Its just an idea, but a 'radio journalist' - or someone with audio editing skills could monitor and participate in the forum and use the posts as a basis to form 1 hour long podcasts on cycling. Interviews with some of the members, ads from the sponsors, music nominated by your listeners, etc etc. The idea of adding another media dimension to the forum, and distributing the weekly or monthly podcasts through that same forum, for listening to while on the bike.. I get the feeling it would work, and would possibly stimulate a sense of community connection - depending on you abilities to facilitate that through the asynchronous and monologue nature of your podcasts :)

Kay Lewis said...

Thanks Nancy and Leigh for your comments. Also reading russtreflect's posting dated 11 September, ! At the weekend I "mapped" my ride, got the elevation details, ventured out at 7 am Sunday morning (I am a fitness nut) and the 60 km ride felt against the famous Manawatu wind the whole time! That got me thinking that the mapmyride site could add another link to include weather reports!

I like the idea of podcasts too, Leigh! Given my time is limited I have thought I could listen to the articles while cycling but I have been reluctant to use my IPod as I enjoy the sound of the wheels spinning, birds twittering etc and I need to listen for traffic - especially big trucks that suck you into their wind (cyclists would know what I mean) - but another enthusiast suggested just using one earplug! Hmmm, it's still early days and am still frantically concentrating on gear changing on our many hills!

Maybe the podcasts could have the sounds I love while out cycling playing in the background while being recorded!

Leigh Blackall said...

hmm, well.. I have ridden around the south island of NZ unsupported. Ear plugs, or speakers on the handlebars.. its gotta sound better than a truck and still dieing road kill. Perhaps you really want to be on a MTB backcountry ;)

Kay Lewis said...

Leigh - got attacked by magpies while out on a ride on Sunday morning! I wonder if there's a Podcast that identifies these and other dangers I have yet to experience and offers sound advice!