February 26, 2002

Preparing for the new Linux.com -- with your help

Author: JT Smith

- By Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
We're getting ready to launch the "new" Linux.com. We have most of the features locked down, based on advice readers like you have already contributed, but we could use your advice on how to handle forums and comments so that they are as useful as possible to as many people as possible.The new version of Linux.com will launch with four sections: News, Documentation, Software, and User Groups. After reading more than 3,000 emails and posted comments from readers about what information was needed most by both new and experienced Linux users, we decided these were the basic "must have" sections, so they're the ones you'll see when the site relaunches sometime in the next week or two. We'll add more sections as time goes on, and which ones come first will be heavily influenced by your requests.

One thing you'll notice immediately is that all news items, including our NewsVac pointers to stories published elsewhere on the Web, will now have space for comments. We are going to try to keep the comment boards as open as possible, consistent with the variety of people from all over the world who read Linux.com and NewsForge, many of whom do not like having obscenities thrown in their faces or to see people call each other nasty names. Most Linux.com and NewsForge readers are working adults or serious students who either use, develop or are curious about Linux and Open Source software. Our job is to provide these people with as much (hopefully accurate) information as we can. As a rule, each conversation revolving around an individual news item will be archived, with no more comments permitted, after about 10 days.

Our comment policy is, and will continue to remain, very simple: either a post belongs or it doesn't. Linux.com and NewsForge editors can and will remove any posts that are obscene, directly insulting or blatantly off-topic. There will be no moderation and no karma. We may, at some point, require registration to post, but we're holding off on that for the moment.

Documentation, including HOWTOs and tutorials, will be classified in our index by topic (networking; security; installation; hardware; sound; programming; etc.). Many docs are going to be filed under multiple topics (security + networking, for example). We are also going to rate each doc in our index by intended user level, as in "beginner," "experienced" or "professional" to give you a better chance to find information that will directly help you solve whatever problem you are having at the moment without either going over your head or repeating basics you already know. This rating system is based on human judgment and will never be perfect, but it will give a little guidance and, hopefully, make the information you need a little easier to find. Some docs will be filed under more than one user level, and each one will carry a "rate this article" poll that will ask you whether it was very helpful, somewhat helpful or not very helpful. This feature will help future readers decide which articles to read first.

The Linux.com docs index will list both articles we publish ourselves and links to docs published elsewhere, with a short summary of each one below its title so that you have a chance to see if it's what you need before you take time to read the whole thing.

There has never been a Web-wide index to Linux documentation. We are trying to create one. Our docs index is going to start small but, with your help, it will grow rapidly. One thing we are going to try to do that has never been done effectively by similar projects in the past is to constantly remove outdated links and obsolete material. This is a huge, ongoing project, but we feel it is vital to the continuing growth and success of Linux and Open Source. This section of Linux.com will never be "finished." It will always evolve, grow and change, just as Linux itself constantly evolves, grows, and changes.

Software.Linux.com will be, at first, a rebranded version of our current Linux DaveCentral index, but its content will change radically over the next few months. It will never be the world's largest Linux, Open Source and Free Software database. That is, and will always be, freshmeat. The Linux.com software section will concentrate on software that is ready to be used, not on projects that are in early development stages. This section, too, will constantly grow and evolve, directed by your comments and suggestions.

Linux.com's current LUG (Linux User Group) section is outdated and not very complete. We are putting a lot of work into it. All Linux.com and NewsForge editors are members of their local LUGs. We believe that, at heart, Linux is a participatory movement as much as it is an operating system. When you come down to it, all Linux support is based on the principle of "users helping users," and that's what LUGs are for. Therefore, it is an important part of our job to make it as easy as possible for people to find and join LUGs -- and to start new ones. We will kick off this section with a simple, geographically searchable LUG index, then build on that basic necessity as time (and budget) allows. In time, we will have the world's most complete LUG database. Day one, it'll be so-so. But everyone needs to start somewhere, right?

And now, the big question: Should Linux.com have a "users helping users" forum? One where readers can post questions and other readers can answer? We, the Linux.com and NewsForge editors, tend to seek (and give) tech help and support through our local LUGs' email lists, but if the constant stream of "How do I...?" email we get through editors@linux.com is any indication, there are plenty of people out there who don't want to take this approach. Should Linux.com have a readers' forum that can take up some of this slack? We worry that the repetitive nature of some of the questions might ruin the idea; most of the ones emailed to us could be answered by reading the Introduction to Linux and Linux.com article prominently displayed on the current Linux.com front page -- and we're working to build an entire "New to Linux" section that will answer virtually every question anyone could have about how to get started with Linux, whether as a home "hobby" user, on an office desktop, in a server environment or as a programmer/developer. But the questions will continue to come, no matter what we do.

So let's assume we have Forum.Linux.Com, if not the day we launch the rebuilt site, shortly afterwards. Should it be limited to "help" requests? Should editors choose questions and post them, a la Ask Slashdot? Or should we have an "open" forum where anyone can post anything at all, as long as they follow our basic posting rules? Should we also create a "linuxhelp@linux.com" email list? If we did, would enough people answer questions to make it viable?

These are not rhetorical questions. We -- Linux.com and NewsForge editors -- take your comments very seriously. Our plans to improve both sites are based almost entirely on what you (and others) have told us you wanted, and this is a continuation of that pattern.

Please post your thoughts in the space below, rather than sending them to us by email, so that others can look at, comment on, and add to your suggestions. Thanks.


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