--IMO the trouble is that *none* of these new forums (fora?) are as
easy to use or to read as usenet. I've still got a jones for shell (using
PuTTy and tin), because it shows things you don't get to see in web-based
communities, like degree of divergence of thread. And of course there's the
wonderful killfile, heh. On the web if it ain't moderated you're subjected
to every jerk's whims which really messes with the signal to noise ratio.
Bottom line: I really think that the robotics world would find, and flock to
a web-based forum that had usenet-like utility, but so far...
"Steamboat Ed" Haas : I can make damn near anything
Hacking the Trailing Edge! : ...except money, sigh.
Well, it's not just robotics. For many years I was an avid reader
of comp.graphics and its subsequent subgroups. Early on, there was
a plethora of good activity, spawned in part by the lack of adequate
textbooks and information. Back then, comp.graphics formed the center
of a community of computer graphics people who were interested to learn
and share information.
Now, it too, is basically a wasteland.
It's not that there are fewer graphics wizards out there, or even that
they are any less motivated to share their knowledge with others: it's
simply that there are different, better forums for this kind of exchange
than newsgroups. Let's face it, most of the questions asked on groups
like this have been asked and answered many times before. But the
netnews mechanisms simply do not provide the kinds of search capabilities
that would enable people to weed out these redundant threads. The web,
for all its many problems, does. Yes, it's less conversational, but it
can be more informative, and combined with the ability to display graphics
and video media, it simply becomes the preferred way to talk about things.
But isn't this what Google and similar usenet archives do? I regularly
check usenet posts through Google when I'm researching. Some people use
Google (or another Web-usenet gateway) to post usenet messages.
In Google's case, the messages can appear threaded, and the search
mechanism is far better than what you'd find with phpBB, UBB, or their
ink. So I'm not sure this is the reason for the decline in usenet posts.
I rather think there is a decline *everywhere*, probably because there
are more resources to choose from, and only a finite set of eyes. In
another post Mike hits it on the head: there is a bifurcation of
robotics and people are gravitating toward the resources that best fit
their needs. C.r.m. is a general purpose group.
I've been lurking here for the last year or two, but while my robotics hobby
has stalled, my intent to pick it up again remains. I've actually been
welcoming the slowdown because I just don't have time to keep up with such a
I lurk in comp.graphics.algorithms, too (and I used to read 4 or 5 other
graphics newsgroups, since I was working full time on that stuff and it
I'm curious but a bit behind the times, so would you mind telling me what
these better forums are?
I just wanted say something to encourage those of you who are still
active here to keep up the good work. It's certainly appreciated by me,
even if I don't always say anything. It's somehow comforting to know that
when I do start up my projects again there'll be someone around to help me
with the many obstacles I'm sure to encounter.
- Owen -
Observation from the trenches. It used to be that when you proposed a
book to a publisher, you researched any competing titles, so that the
publisher could A) judge the overall market before adding their title to
the mix, and B) ensure that your book was unique. Today other books on
the subject are but a footnote. In writing a book, you have to keep
asking yourself if what you're writing about hasn't already been
hammered to death on Web sites. People have more choices.
There are other means to teach. Example: A well-scripted
book on designing various types of timers. Accompanying explanatory text
can be concise, and "readers" walk away with a hands-on grasp that a
book alone doesn't provide. People might even may for such a
demonstrator, though the more likely business model would be Google
advertising, or similar.
Whole segments of books genres make little or no sense these days. These
include "circuit scrapbooks," which were popular in the 60s to 80s. The
quality of the designs notwithstanding, what you can't find on the
Internet, someone makes available in a CD collection you can purchase
for $5 at the swap meet.
This doesn't mean the information is no longer sought, but that the
traditional methods of providing the information have been supplanted by
Actually, there are "howto" books that do quite well. Much of the
success of any howto book is the age of the topic, which means how
likely the information can be found somewhere else. Amateur robotics is
a mature topic, even as new things are developed. So, books on robotics
won't do as well as a book on something that is new. MAKE magazine's
compilation books on making geek gadgets are doing pretty well, for
instance -- any Amazon ranking under 10,000 usually points to a book
that is making money for its publisher and author(s).
In the ideal world, you want a printed book that is self-discoverable by
readers who enter a bookstore to browse, because there is a section of
the buying public that still does not use online resources to buy
things. This book, in turn, leverages a Web site where you can upsell
readers with additional product, or cross-sell with ads, or whatever.
Some years ago, Fatbrain (since sold to IDG, which changed its name to
Hungry Minds, since sold to Wiley) would publish and sell online
content, specializing in technical topics, including robotics. Other
than one or two success stories, most of the "books" didn't sell a
single copy. The problem was (and is) in marketing; the effort to sell a
virtual book is much harder than most publishers and authors are willing
As you alluded to, a printed book is its own marketing and advertising,
and still represents the easiest way of getting something sold. The
author sells it once (to the publisher), and the publisher sells it just
a handful of times (to the product buyers of bookstores; over 50% of all
bookstores in the country belong to one of two major chains). The
bookstore puts the book out on display, and readers do the rest.
Books haven't been made irrelevent, but for authors -- especially for
books on more mature topics -- the traditional
writer/publisher/bookseller model may not provide the financial
motivation it once did. It's much more of a packaged deal these days.
Authors pretty much have to brand themselves.
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