Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

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geckzilla
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by geckzilla » Thu Jul 01, 2010 10:40 am

I'm not sure mfortsm realizes that his questions just got answered by one of the creators. ;)

RJN = Robert Nemiroff = That APOD editor guy
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by makc » Thu Jul 01, 2010 12:08 pm

geckzilla wrote:I'm not sure mfortsm realizes that his questions just got answered by one of the creators.
mfortsm wrote:My first thought at each images was HOW WAS THAT DONE. Would be nice if the creators could answer visitors questions somehow.
I think it means image creators not site creators.

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by geckzilla » Fri Jul 02, 2010 5:04 pm

Sure, ruin my fun.
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by makc » Fri Jul 02, 2010 5:57 pm

well, RJN did post his own stuff, too, I think one of the 1st apods was his PhD black holes research or smth like that.

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by StarstruckKid » Sun Aug 08, 2010 8:31 pm

Here's a thought: how many of you guys/gals aren't in the 99th percentile in intelligence? You want discussion - and jokes - that are at your level, and that's how the conversation tends to proceed. Fine, me too.

Add to that the depth of your experience as scientists and all the unspoken meanings that you take for granted.

Mix in a desire to keep the science 'clean' so kids or others don't go away with misconceptions due to uncorrected mis-statements by newbies or non-scientists. Those corrections may tend to have a somewhat humorless air about them.

Dust on a liberal sprinkling of humor/jokes that are so far over the heads of those other 99% they might as well leave contrails.

I'm with you in that 99th percentile, I love science, but I left the path of science in part because my interests are way broader, and I found some of those interests looked upon with disdain by many who would have been my colleagues. I'm sad to say I detect a breath of that here...

By way of going through the looking glass, I know how I felt - and was treated - every time I walked into the gym class locker room. Familiar to anyone?

I say this without rancor or judgment, but I also say it without any smilies. Maybe it's too much to expect the general public to stick around a lot, much less feel like they have anything to say worth contributing. Kind of like going to the dentist's office and picking up a copy of Scientific American off the table, cool pictures, but what the **** are they talking about???

Just something to ponder, can it be both erudite and worth the time of astronomy professionals and still be welcoming for everybody else?

Great site design, by the way, fascinating topics and discussions, and I particularly like the sharing of what's being done with software and visualization tools, blows me away.

Michael

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by owlice » Sun Aug 08, 2010 9:31 pm

StarstruckKid wrote:Here's a thought: how many of you guys/gals aren't in the 99th percentile in intelligence?
Let's leave intelligence out of this, please, so I can take part in the conversation, because if one in the 99th percentile is required, I need to scoot!

Michael, most here are not scientists, so far as I know. I'm not; don't play one on TV, either. I don't live somewhere with dark skies, so outside of a few asterisms/constellations, couldn't point anything out if I were presented with a dark sky. And I know little more about astronomy than a reasonable-educated high-schooler (and I am not confident I even know that much). But some things -- a few things -- I read here and at APOD do stick with me for longer than 30 seconds, for which I'm grateful.

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by StarstruckKid » Wed Aug 11, 2010 9:16 pm

:D More posts like yours! :D

Sure wasn't my intent to put anybody down for any reason, just trying to answer the question that was asked, based on my own experiences here. Lest anyone think otherwise, I think the Asterisk is the cat's meow, love those APODs, and whether I said it clearly or not, my own intelligence level being whatever it is, I don't live and breathe astronomy, so much of what I find here also goes over my head. :lol:

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by StarstruckKid » Thu Aug 12, 2010 12:08 am

owlice wrote:

Let's leave intelligence out of this, please, so I can take part in the conversation, because if one in the 99th percentile is required, I need to scoot!
owlice, many people and forces in this world will try to convince you that your intelligence doesn't measure up. Never believe them, and never put yourself down. Odds are, you're smarter than you think you are, or you wouldn't be hanging out here! :)

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by neufer » Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:22 am

StarstruckKid wrote:
owlice wrote:
Let's leave intelligence out of this, please, so I can take part in the conversation,
because if one in the 99th percentile is required, I need to scoot!
owlice, many people and forces in this world will try to convince you that your intelligence doesn't measure up. Never believe them,
and never put yourself down. Odds are, you're smarter than you think you are, or you wouldn't be hanging out here! :)
Owlice is just being modest, Michael.

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(and it's not simply because she can spin her head around 360º).
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by StarstruckKid » Thu Aug 12, 2010 3:52 am

Glad you chimed in, neufer; talk about jokes going over someone's head: the first time I visited it was to see if my back-of-the-envelope calculation of the speed of the cruise ship following the eclipse was anywhere close, and what did I encounter but a long quote from "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", the relevance of which totally escaped me (the avatar should have been a giveaway), and a representation of the ship's path mapped onto a globe. Good grief! All I wanted was a straight answer... man, did I beat a hasty retreat! :shock: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

My return was prompted by RJN referring me again in response to my little poem. If there's a lesson to be learned there, I guess it would be that it worked better when I arrived with something to share rather than seeking some sort of validation.

All laughs and philosophising aside, I might have stuck around had I found that straight answer I was looking for, but someone would have had to take the time, and assume some newbie would appreciate it, for that to happen. I was certain that if I posted my humble, newbie answer in the midst of all that, even as a question, I would be ignored or outright laughed at. Now I know better, of course.

Ok, Mad Magazine Man, what cowboy had a still from one of his movies, holding a pair of six-guns on a pair of scruffy outlaws, with the caption "You fellas are gonna stand here while I sing my song", in the aforementioned rag?
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by neufer » Thu Aug 12, 2010 4:14 am

StarstruckKid wrote:
Ok, Mad Magazine Man, what cowboy had a still from one of his movies, holding a pair of six-guns on a pair of scruffy outlaws, with the caption "You fellas are gonna stand here while I sing my song", in the aforementioned rag?
That's too deep for me, StarstruckKid.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_cowboy
Click to play embedded YouTube video.
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by Beyond » Thu Aug 12, 2010 5:49 am

neufer wrote:
StarstruckKid wrote:
Ok, Mad Magazine Man, what cowboy had a still from one of his movies, holding a pair of six-guns on a pair of scruffy outlaws, with the caption "You fellas are gonna stand here while I sing my song", in the aforementioned rag?
That's too deep for me, StarstruckKid.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_cowboy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Mw9F5zawRQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HdlYVKBUVE
I think that there are more people that search the Asterisk than many are aware of. Some for the nice pictures in Apod - some for the scientific aspects that are presented here and some for the antics that sometimes occur between those who post here.
For instance -- Starstruckkid has just given neufer, the Quotidian Quotationist aka Man on the lam, aka Sno-Ball pun Man, a new alias- -Mad Magazine Man. Starstruckkid did not realize when he did that that he also created another alias for neufer -- The M&M&M man. M&M&M's are so weird and hard to make, that the makers of M&M's gave up trying to mass produce them and only made a few small batches.
It is rumored that a certain laquacious Quotationist talked them out of one of their batches. If that is true, all we can do is hope that the M&M&M's do not merge with the case lot of Sno-Ball puns that he already has or we could very well end up seeing the weirdest things ever to be seen in Asterisk to this very day. However that may attract more visitors to Asterisk. I suppose the key here is "risk". It very well could be that we are about to see a man go out of posting bounds farther than any man has gone before.
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by Beyond » Thu Aug 12, 2010 6:03 am

Starstruckkid; would the guy holding a pair of six-guns on a couple of scruffy out laws be Gene Autry? I hope them six shooters don't go off in the Asterisk! We'd loose all our air.
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by StarstruckKid » Fri Aug 13, 2010 6:58 pm

beyond wrote:Starstruckkid; would the guy holding a pair of six-guns on a couple of scruffy out laws be Gene Autry?...
You got it! Now everybody else knows what we were doing in the back of that boring sixth-grade classroom. :roll:

Whooooooo, me worry?

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by StarstruckKid » Fri Aug 13, 2010 7:12 pm

StarstruckKid wrote:...I might have stuck around had I found that straight answer I was looking for, but someone would have had to take the time, and assume some newbie would appreciate it, for that to happen.
Why risk quoting a fool, when I can quote myself and be certain of it? <== On re-reading: that's aimed at me, not anybody else :wink:

Here 'tis: http://asterisk.apod.com/vie ... 09#p129609

As if them horses didn't leave enough of that stuff behind when they charged through here... deep ain't the half of it!
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by JeanTate » Wed Sep 15, 2010 6:59 pm

RJN wrote:Although biased, I find myself really liking the redesign of the Asterisk. For one thing, it just makes the forum more fun to browse -- for me, anyway. For another, I think it is a better voluntary support mechanism for APOD. Next, another plus in my book is that the Asterisk is now more geared toward discussing current space events and images, and less geared toward discussing people's own speculative theories. Perhaps the Asterisk now leads the web in "rapid topicality" in space items, being much faster and broader, for example, than APOD can be.

Perhaps such thoughts are egoistical, but I do wonder why the newly redesigned Asterisk has not become more popular than it is. The main "trunk" link from the APOD front page is creating at a trickle of prospective new members to browse the greater board every day, but very few of them are staying past their initial foray. Why not?

Tuesday's APOD (2010 February 23) mentioned and pointed right at the Asterisk which gave me another angle to see how "the public" might view the new Asterisk. The main discussion link was popular (over 5000 views) and did lead to a very interesting discussion of those strange air ripples, the deepest scientific discussion of the ripples of which I am aware. Still, given the Asterisk attendance numbers today, few have stuck around to contribute images or social bookmarks, or even browse those posted by bystander and others. Why not?

Are people today already committed to their own social networking sites? Are those who follow the BAUT forum, the space.com forum, Facebook discussions, or leave comments on Bad Astronomy, etc., already committed there and have little want for "yet another astronomy forum?" Or is our discussion too technical so that the average browser feels too intimidated to post? Or is it that the Asterisk doesn't carry the "NASA brand" that APOD does?

Now as I said before, I enjoy the Asterisk just as it is and do not need to see it change at all (beyond minor updates, topical updates, and continued spam removal). Since becoming more active again, I see better and feel closer to the established board members who have been here for many years. Nevertheless, a forum with perhaps twice the current active members might make the Asterisk even more vibrant and interesting for everyone. Any thoughts on how to get there?

- RJN
It's certainly true that BAUT etc have a lot of dedicated followers, few of whom would 'jump ship', so to speak. Too, few of those followers have enough spare time to become regulars here also.

If there's no significant problem with getting newbies to visit this site, from APOD, and that the challenge is to get them to stay (and get involved), here are some quick suggestions:

* have a stickied thread called New Members, Introduce Yourself! (or similar). Few will, perhaps, but it's a welcoming feature that creates a sense of community

* for every first post, perhaps a regular could respond, ASAP, with a "Welcome to the Asterisk!" post, with a short sentence that's personal. Again, this creates the impression of an open, welcoming community

* if possible, contact a random selection of those who've recently come, and left, and ask them about their experience

* perhaps do some marketing or outreach to sites which have a strong astronomy focus, such as Galaxy Zoo and Einstein@Home (everyone knows of APOD; few of the Asterisk). Building a community needs to leverage networks, which is, principally, a numbers game.

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by RJN » Thu Sep 16, 2010 1:50 am

Hi JeanTate,

Thanks for your quite perceptive comments! You mentioned the BAUT board and so I hope you could field a few questions comparing the two boards. In particular, I am curious to understand why the BAUT board is more popular than the Asterisk. Did BAUT have a large "first mover advantage"? Is it more friendly over at BAUT? Is the wider variety of discussion forums key? Is APOD considered light weight fluff, and by association the people who post on the "APOD board" all fluffy and touchy-feely? Or perhaps does the Asterisk seem more like an exclusive club to an outsider than BAUT? Does BAUT have more popular lead-in links pointing to it? Any thoughts you might have would be appreciated.

You might be interested to hear that years ago there was talk of combining the Asterisk into BAUT. Unfortunately, a major stumbling block on my end was that the BAUT forum is commercial (they run advertisements), and I was reluctant to have APOD's main discussion board be commercial. It now seems unlikely that this impasse will ever be resolved.

- RJN

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by rstevenson » Thu Sep 16, 2010 2:42 pm

RJN wrote:... You might be interested to hear that years ago there was talk of combining the Asterisk into BAUT. Unfortunately, a major stumbling block on my end was that the BAUT forum is commercial (they run advertisements), and I was reluctant to have APOD's main discussion board be commercial. ...
Hope you don't mind me butting in here. I hadn't known about BAUT before it was mentioned here, so I just spent an hour having a look around. I'll definitely be going back, mostly because of the specific different sub-forums but also because of the general level of discussion. (There's much less of the I'm really funny so I'm going to make a joke in every thread attitude that is unfortunately rife here on the good ship Asterisk.) But while I was there I failed to notice any advertising. There may have been some but it just wasn't intrusive enough to come to my attention. Perhaps they dropped the ads?

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by neufer » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:14 pm

rstevenson wrote:
I hadn't known about BAUT before it was mentioned here, so I just spent an hour having a look around. I'll definitely be going back, mostly because of the specific different sub-forums but also because of the general level of discussion. (There's much less of the I'm really funny so I'm going to make a joke in every thread attitude that is unfortunately rife here on the good ship Asterisk.)
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_The Ship of Fools_ by Hieronymus Bosch
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Musee du Louvre, Paris Illustrated allegories
In The Ship of Fools Bosch is imagining that the whole of mankind is voyaging through the seas of time on a ship, a small ship, that is representative of humanity. Sadly, every one of the representatives is a fool. This is how we live, says Bosch--we eat, drink, flirt, cheat, play silly games, pursue unattainable objectives. Meanwhile our ship drifts aimlessly and we never reach the harbour. The fools are not the irreligious, since promiment among them are a monk and a nun, but they are all those who live "in stupidity." Bosch laughs, and it is sad laugh. Which one of us does not sail in the wretched discomfort of the ship of human folly? Eccentric and secret genius that he was, Bosch not only moved the heart but scandalized it into full awareness. The sinister and monstrous things that he brought forth are the hidden creatures of our inward self-love: he externalizes the ugliness within, and so his misshapen demons have an effect beyond curiosity. We feel a hateful kinship with them. The Ship of Fools is not about other people, it is about us.
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APBAUT BAUT

Post by neufer » Thu Sep 16, 2010 4:12 pm

rstevenson wrote:
RJN wrote:
... You might be interested to hear that years ago there was talk of combining the Asterisk into BAUT. Unfortunately, a major stumbling block on my end was that the BAUT forum is commercial (they run advertisements), and I was reluctant to have APOD's main discussion board be commercial. ...
I failed to notice any advertising.
There may have been some but it just wasn't intrusive enough to come to my attention.
Perhaps they dropped the ads?
BAUT is a combined blog for two excellent commercial sites:
  • Bad Astronomy & Universe Today
http://www.badastronomy.com/index.html
http://www.universetoday.com/
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/


BAUT: Imperative plural of bauen.(German)
  • 1. to build (a building)
    2. to roll a joint
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by RJN » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:57 pm

Well it does indeed appear that the BAUT forum has dropped banner and google-type advertising, at least for non-registered people just browsing. Interesting. This appears to be a change from about a year ago when I last did some significant browsing around the site. The upper banner does link back to the commercial Bad Astronomy blog and the Universe Today web sites, though.

Next, let me also say that I like both the BA Blog and the Universe Today news sites, and I also have quite a bit of respect for Phil Plait and Fraser Cain, those sites originators. I also feel that the BAUT forum is quite good.

Nevertheless, the BAUT forum appears to me to have significant differences with the Asterisk. For one, BAUT does still seem to me to have a base that is fundamentally commercial, which it might need to survive. So long as APOD is supported by NASA, the Asterisk has the luxury of providing a non-commercial environment for astronomy-oriented discussions.

Next, the Asterisk actually has a mission beyond that of providing a forum for enjoyable discussions. It supports APOD. People browsing APOD might want to comment about it, correct a mistake on it, or ask a question about it. Some people want to have their images considered by APOD. News stories possibly relevant to once or future APODs can be linked to. Content that can be linked to from APOD can be housed on the Asterisk -- either in the form of discussions or image conglomerations or course lectures or announcements. In this vein, I have been increasingly thinking of the Asterisk really as a Star Trek-like starship, almost as advertised, with the regular posters as part of the crew! (And I apologize for that. Nobody is a Romulan.)

Next, the Asterisk has developed a sense of community. People know each other's online personalities, and possibly stay partly because of this sense of community. In particular, those that feel they fit in, like the repartee, and feel they have something to contribute, are more likely to stay.

Next, I have now begun to believe that there is something like Dunbar's number operating on the Asterisk which would prevent the number of regular posters from increasing beyond some socially and interactively awkward number. Possibly, one way around this would be to open other "starships" that could develop their own communities (who wants to captain their own starship?). I don't know, though, if APOD itself would really need more starships, since the Asterisk is helping out APOD pretty well just now by itself.

Last, it turns out that the Asterisk readership is actually growing! So contrary to the title of this thread, Starship Asterisk really is becoming more popular. I would guess that the average number of people browsing has gone up by at least 100% since the starship reformatting last year, and much of that even since the start of this thread in 2010 February. The credit goes mostly to the crew members working hard on keeping the Asterisk running well, scientifically accurate, and up to date.

- RJN

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by JeanTate » Thu Sep 16, 2010 7:11 pm

Let's start with the big picture.

If you're keen on astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, etc and if you like to keep up to date with developments, and if you like astronomical images, of galaxies, stars, planets, etc ... then you have rather a lot of websites to choose from!

There are blogs, like Bad Astronomy and Cosmic Variance, both on Discover. Now a blog is someone's (or someones') post, followed by lots of comments. And there are rather a lot of physics blogs, most of which have some blog entries that are interesting to space fans (one of my faves is BackReaction).

There are news sites, like Universe Today, which allow comments on each story.

There are discussion fora (forums), like BAUT, which is very general, and GalaxyZoo forum and Einstein@Home Message Boards, which are mainly project oriented.

Some sites, like APOD/Spaceship Asterisk* and Space.com, combine "news" with "discussion".

It seems that every one of these develops a community after a while, with a smallish number of high post-count members, a smallish number of respected/trusted members, a lot of irregulars (low post-count, but they don't leave), many butterflies (come for just a while, then flit off elsewhere), and many, many lurkers.

Interestingly, most discussion fora, even highly focussed ones, have 'Just Chat'/'Shoot the Breeze'/etc sections, which may end up with more posts & views than the 'serious' part of the forum! Forum members are, it seems, very social creatures.

In terms of hits, I think APOD is by far the leader, as can been seen by the dominance of APOD pages in 'popularity' sites like Digg.

In terms of community, I think BAUT is probably the leader; however, once you break it down at bit, the picture is less clear; for example, Physics Forum's Astronomy & Cosmology section is really the only place to go for high school/undergrad (and some postgrad) level technical discussions (it's fascinating how badly technical threads flop in sites like BAUT).

So, in terms of RJN's question, it seems it comes down to what makes for a good, biggish community?

And, more narrowly, how to 'keep' those who, somehow, drop by? (How to 'fill the funnel' - get more people to visit in the first place - is a separate discussion).

Here's one input: JREF's SMMT section attracts huge numbers of posts and views. And, in astronomy etc, by far the most popular threads are those in which some, um, 'alternative' notions are vigorously promoted (and trashed). I once thought this was a shame; since I have learned that many of these threads are sterling examples of the 'E' in JREF's name ('educational'). It seems that lurkers are legion, and that they become, in their own words, much better educated about, say, LCDM cosmological models than they would if they'd simply visited NASA's Ask An Astrophysicist, say. The same thing has happened with BAUT's ATM (Against the Mainstream) section, despite the enormous pain that section causes the moderators.

Well, that's enough from me, for now.

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by owlice » Thu Sep 16, 2010 7:36 pm

JeanTate, so many good observations! Thanks for posting them!
Interestingly, most discussion fora, even highly focussed ones, have 'Just Chat'/'Shoot the Breeze'/etc sections, which may end up with more posts & views than the 'serious' part of the forum!
This is the case on every forum I've been on (which have not been astronomy/science forums)... except Asterisk. EVERY forum I've been on has had more posts in the yak-about-anything areas than on the subject board(s)!

In general, it is not easy to get a discussion going on the Open Space board. The community here is friendly, knowledgeable, smart, and interesting, and yet, we talk very little about books, music, weather (well, we talk some about weather, but really, not all that much!), art (well, we talk some about Art, but that's mainly self-defense! :D), other sciences, big ideas, (non-political) news, articles, and so on.

This is not a criticism of Asterisk; I'm just pointing out that Asterisk is different in this regard from the (many) other forums I have been on over the years.

As you observed, I think the ATM section of BAUT is responsible for part of BAUT's popularity, both with people who subscribed to alternate theories and some subset of those who don't. Controversy can both build, and if allowed to, kill a board.
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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by JeanTate » Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:39 pm

'Alternatives' is an interesting topic.

In general fora, like BAUT or Space.com, threads on UFOs, anti-relativity ideas, 'Big Bang woz rong', etc are common. To keep them from messing up the whole forum, the admins and moderators of general fora have introduced rules to limit free-for-alls, such as confining them to specific sections, or declaring them beyond scope - and our rules to some extent reflect those of BAUT in this regard.

Curiously, narrowly focussed fora - such as Galaxy Zoo or Einstein@Home - don't seem to attract many threads, or even posts, on 'alternatives'. And when they do happen, the community seems to take very little notice of them, so there's no special section for them in such fora. Even more curious, perhaps, is that at least one 'alternative' website has its own 'not our alternative' section!

Now we - or our predecessor - have certainly had our share of 'alternative' posts and threads, and there's a clear policy on them. However, if we grow as a community, and if our scope remains general, then it may be worth considering having a section exclusively for such posts (and threads), if only to sensibly deal with the inevitable posting of such ideas.

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Re: Why isn't the Asterisk more popular?

Post by owlice » Fri Sep 17, 2010 10:10 pm

Sensibly dealing with the "inevitable postings of such ideas" can, I think, reasonably include not permitting the posts and deleting them when they occur. Asterisk gets spam posts, too, and those are as inevitable as alternative theory posts, yet no one would suggest setting up a forum for such posts here. One need not provide such posts with a home; there are plenty of other places, such as ATM on BAUT, which exist for discussion of alternative theories, and people who want to discuss such theories have other outlets. Asterisk need not be one of them.
A closed mouth gathers no foot.