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Henri-Lloyd - For the Obsessed

Bar talk, comment, and discussion

by Mark Jardine 18 Apr 2023 20:00 BST
Crews enjoy discussing their race at the daily prizegivings held on the lawn at Antigua Yacht Club - 2019 Antigua Sailing Week © Paul Wyeth

A lot has changed in the online world in 20 years. Back then Friends Reunited was the go-to place for social media, Facebook was a year off from being founded, and Google was only five years old.

2003 was when I launched a discussion forum on YachtsandYachting.com using WebWiz software which, at the time, was the most suitable we could find for the job. Times have certainly changed, but on the whole our forum hasn't. It's an area of the website which is woefully out-of-date, and something we need to address.

The forum has had its ups and downs over the years. High points include the running of the Forum Open Meeting, or FOM as it became known, held at Broxbourne Sailing Club in 2012. This brought together many of personalities on the forum for a great fun event, and indirectly lead to Dan Holman's Punk dinghy becoming the D-Zero class. Low points are what plagues all social media platforms: toxicity, insults and spam.

Comment and discussion is vital for our sport, whether that be in sailing club bars, dinghy parks, online via social media, Whatsapp or just about any other platform. While our forum is well past its heyday, there is a huge amount of discussion on social media about articles we post - when clubs, classes and individuals share them on their pages and profiles.

The question I've been asking myself is whether we need a central place for discussion on our website? Is there a way to bring these disparate discussions into one place, or is there even an appetite to? Is our website just the central repository for sailing news which spawns the discussions elsewhere?

It would definitely be easier to just close the forum and let the goliaths of social media handle the platforms for discussion. When the toxicity happens on a platform it needs to be addressed, which is immensely time consuming and stressful. We've had our fair share of problems to deal with over the years, some which we handled well and other we didn't. As we've seen constantly in the news, social media is always grappling with the problem.

I would like to have discussion forums across our entire network of websites, tied in with the articles themselves so that comments had anchor points, so discussion and news became seamless. We have Facebook comments on articles, but most browsers now block this as default, so an in-house solution is likely needed. The problem is the development time needed, and we'll have to monitor and moderate comments, which - unless we create a very efficient system - is extremely time-consuming.

There are some great groups out there on social media, with some huge ones relating to the America's Cup and SailGP in particular. The problem though is a familiar one, where one or two posters tend to dominate conversations, and are often forceful in their views, while dismissing opposing views offhand. Managers of these groups often find the moderation too onerous and give up after a time.

There is no getting away from the fact that people act differently online than they do when face-to-face. A comment online would often be totally unacceptable if said directly to someone in a bar. It is also very tricky to get the context of a comment, often sarcasm and other dry humour can often be totally lost online, even when a ;-) emoji is used, and a sentence can be digested in a completely different way than it was intended by the author.

This is where sailing's network of clubs, open meetings, events, and shows are so important. They offer ways for sailors to get together to discuss things face-to-face. Ideas are shared, moments are relived, battles on the water are re-enacted with the infamous karate hands. They are the hubs for real discussion.

Can we emulate this online on YachtsandYachting.com and Sail-World.com? Can we provide a platform which lets conversations that started in the bar continue in an online space? I feel we need to, with a system which is fit for 2023 and beyond.

We'd very much like your input on this. Please email me directly at mark@yachtsandyachting.com to give us your thoughts. We know how many of you read and appreciate the news on our websites, and if we could provide a way for you all to interact more with each other in a simple and polite way then it could be for the benefit of all of us in sailing.

I know it's a huge task, but it's one we'd like to tackle!

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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