The key to the success of MyFootballClub was always going to be control and direction of information, and I have constantly tried to promote this idea on the MyFC website and on this blog.
Many of the problems of engagement and retention that are causing panic for the Operator, Board and Club (not to mention the remaining members who really want this venture to work) come back to this issue – that our activities and information flow are not coordinated by the website.
Coming back to a previous post, All of this, for me, relates to Activity Theory, the idea that we can look at what is happening across our organisation in terms of:
- Participants – members, board, web team, club management
- The community, which all these are part of (and sub-communities)
- The rules that describe how these people take part in the community
- The divisions of labour – who does what
- The tools we use to achieve our goal
Groups – bad implementation
The MyFC Operator implemented the Group functionality in July 2008, partly as an attempt to get away from repetitive or cliquey threads in the main forums. Unfortunately, like other aspects of the website, it wasn’t put in place with proper consideration of how it would benefit the Society, how they relate to the Soapbox and Society forums, Proposals, Votes etc.
Coming back to Activity Theory, there was no clear link between the Groups (a “tool”) and Subjects, Community and Divisions of Labour. There were no clear rules about how they should be used to achieve the Objects of the Society.
It’s no wonder then that the same debates that we’ve been having over the last year continue as ever on the forums with no resolution (and not just the controversial Pick The Team issue). It’s no wonder that conversations persist concurrently in one or more Groups, Society and Soapbox, as well as having been assigned to Board members for action.
Getting Groups working
Here’s some suggestions for getting groups working. These could be written down as explicit guidelines but we can always just start working this way. Other elements need minor changes to the site by the Operator’s Web Team, who are paid by the Society to maintain and develop the website.
1) Cull Duplicate groups.
E.g. There are 5 groups with PTT in the title, one called “Pick the team f’christsakes” and one called “Selector Solutions”
- Solution: We make a rule that someone who creates a duplicate group is pointed in the direction of the existing group. If there is an argument for a similar group to be set up, e.g. “Pro PTT / Anti PTT”, then this shall be made when creating a group, for the Forum Team to approve.
2)Encourage more ownership and participation in the groups
Some of these have very few members, and only on has seen any activity in the last month. Despite this, there are similar threads on the Society, Football and Soapbox forums.
- Solution: Allow group moderators to send “Newsletters” to their membership, with obvious guidelines so that spamming is discouraged.
- Solution: Allow more than one forum moderator so that the group can remain active
- Solution: Allow moderators to create quick polls
3)Move emphasis from the Forums to the Groups.
There are many repetitive threads on the forums that never really resolve any of the issues they are supposed to.
- Solution: Forum Team to direct Forum threads (where appropriate) to a relevant group. e.g.
- Solution: Encourage Groups to summarise a debate or proposal from their group in the Society / Soapbox forum. Or just what they’ve been talking about recently.
4) Cull inactive groups
There are dozens of groups that have few members in, and no activity.
- Solution: Archive groups with less than 8 members
- Solution: Archive groups with no activity for 6 weeks
5) Make special website sections for Society wide interests
There are some groups that should would better serve the Society by being part of a well formed section on the site, rather than being buried within a group thread. There are two main areas that come to mind:
Make this a distinct section which shows the recent and upcoming games, latest updates to each match etc.
Each upcoming match has it’s own page, with match previews, Jaiku rota, Questions for Liam, fitness, away travel information, who’s attending, match representatives and a place for banter.
Previous matches show previews, photos, Liam’s feedback etc. Each of these elements are available in various unlinked places throughout the site, whereas to have them in one location would tidy things up and put them all in context.
Make this a distinct page, more like a group blog than the same, dull article system. Use it to show recent board articles, meeting agendas and minutes, proposals, but also calls for action from the members, whether it be physical help like handing out leaflets, or expert advice from qualified members.
And of course use tags and categories to link common threads together.
6) Broken Windows
There is far too much name-calling, inappropriate or irrelevant comments that slow down the flow of a conversation and make considered debate impossible. For too long we as a Society have not discouraged it, and the Forum Team have allowed this to continue unabated. In fact the Operator’s Web Team themselves have been guilty on occasion, which hasn’t helped matters.
This is Broken Windows – in social behaviour this is the idea that a single broken window left unrepaired will lead to further vandalism. On a website site it’s the idea that you would write things on a forum post that you would not say to that person in a pub. We call it “trolling” and there are various ways to deal with it.
At the least, before you hit return, read out what you’ve just typed aloud to the person next to you. If they punch you in the face then perhaps you should consider rewriting it.
After all, we all have the same goal, don’t we?
The continued success of the MyFootball Club Society and Ebbsfleet United.
Nothing posted for a while. There’s been a couple of times I’ve been meaning to update on Ebbsfleet/MyFC but lacked the time / energy. I have no idea what’s going to happen there. There are one group who are highly concerned that the Operator (the guy who started it up) has too much control over the Society and therefore the club. The possibilities for this venture, in terms of using the skills and knowledge of thousands of members hasn’t been realised, and each time there is an “improvement” to the website, it becomes less useful. Constructive criticism is regularly ignored, and more often ridiculed with accusations of making a big deal of nothing, or picking holes to have a pop.
The site isn’t engaging and useful in a way that so many other web 2.0 projects are, mainly because the website operators just don’t talk that language. In the early days, (last August) there were so many ideas for what we could do, in terms of organising ourselves, disseminating information, conducting votes, all at a time when these kinds of ventures were common place. Many members joined with this in mind, and offered their skills and services for free.
But this was never taken up by the Operator, despite the obvious lack of technical skills – the site was in “Phase 3.1beta” for many weeks after the club was taken over, there was no place to register feature requests and track bugs, and each new “feature” that they proudly announced was inferior to what was available either commercially, by open source or just by a bit of hacking. In fact there were a number of instances where members had created their own resource (Wiki, Chatroom, Calendar, Twitter match updates) which was working fine, only to find the Operator allocating time to adding this functionality (again often inferior) to the site.
In recent months, as the technical side has become more difficult for the Operator to sustain, the site has become peppered with banner ads, adverts and betting applets, making doing the business of running the club more difficult.
This leads to a problem of engagement. Existing members, including the board, can’t easily work out what is going on from a top-level view, and communication back to the members from the club, board or operator is inconsistent and in one of several places. It’s hard to get involved in debates as the same discussions keep cropping up in different forum areas. So involvement has dropped off massively in recent months. One elected board member has already quit, not surprising given his lack of interaction with the members of the Society he was supposed to represent. A voting committee was put in place to help proposals from members be turned into functional votes, but this quickly got into trouble as it was perceived that they had too much control over what proposals were presented to the membership, allegedly under the “guidance” of the Operator.
There are still new members attracted by the concept of being involved in running a club, especially when the vote to sell John Akinde was put to the members, but I imagine it takes great dedication to wade through the site and work out what is going on.
Now this might seem like great news for the Ebbsfleet fans, who might be happy to see this mob of web geeks fail and get back control of their club. But the club is still making a regular loss, and there’s a February deadline for the renewal of membership to the Society, ultimately the financial backers of the club. If there aren’t enough renewals, then the cash could quite easily run out by September next year, so some of the “malcontents” have speculated. Often these “malcontents” are the same ones who are critical of the operator – are they out to cause trouble or genuinely concerned for the Society and the Club and not afraid to tackle the issues head on?
Either way, several of the more vocal ones earned themselves a ban (though the legality of this according to the Society Rules is on the vague side) and so formed their own website where they invited MyFC members to discuss issues without fear of censorship. This then got repackaged with a chatroom and wiki as FreeMyFC.co.uk in a couple of days, just as effective as the laboured efforts of the MyFC Operator. Quite a few of the less controversial members joined in some of the discussions, taking their questions back the the MyFC site.
So there are a number of ways this could all go:
Things carry on as they are, the renewals don’t materialise and the club goes bust sometime between now and next christmas.
The Operator starts to open up to suggestions and criticism, the site becomes more democratic and open and useful, people get engaged, the project continues as it should have.
The FreeMyFC people produce an alternative to the Operator and come to the rescue of the Society.
The FreeMyFC people start a new venture without the baggage.
I could be wrong of course, there could be plenty of people renew in February and keep the club going into the future. I’m just not sure I’ll be one of them at the moment.