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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 3:17 pm 
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This has taken me some time to read, think about, and respond to.

As others have said, this piece is needlessly long, and prone to avoidable errors. By my count there are 137 paragraphs, ignoring the forum reviews at the end. Of these, a cursory first pass allows one to easily eliminate 33 whole paragraphs as redundant. The piece includes dozens of run-on sentences, and a general lack of appreciation of the proper use of “there” and “their”. All in all, it is a published first draft, requiring significant tightening and polishing.

Lest I be accused of ignoring the substance, and focusing on the process, here are my comments on the content.

The underlying premise of this piece seems to be that all bonsai forums must be for serious bonsai artists. This is not surprising from a posting on Art of Bonsai. I fundamentally disagree with this premise. I feel that people come to bonsai for different reasons, and one of them is to have fun. Another is to socialize with like-minded people. Neither of these activities diminishes from those who view bonsai as a serious art. Nor are they mutually exclusive. The author has done his best to provide a site here at Art of Bonsai that is free from the faults he perceives in other forums. The author and those that agree with him certainly have the option of avoiding all of the other forums, or participating in them selectively. I guess I would describe my position as “live and let live”.

Specifically:

The Pain of Learning

This section is devoted mostly to explaining why the KOB Classroom is less successful than the author anticipated. The author focuses on “leveling” as the primary fault. I don’t regularly frequent KOB, and had never heard of the Classroom until reading this piece (thanks for the information, by the way). I would not rule out the author’s first contention, lack of knowledge about the resource, as the primary factor. His contention that learning is inherently painful (no one likes critique) is, I believe, wrong. Most people I know, at least, are excited by learning, and eager to take part as long as they are treated with courtesy.

Hang The Elitist, Shoot the Literati, Ignore the Master

Here the author contends that those who wish to seriously discuss the art of bonsai are belittled in one way or another. I’m sure this is sometimes true. Then the author spends most of the section discussing “leveling” again, repeating much of the discussion from the first section.

Where Are All The Masters?

Here the author contends that most bonsai masters don’t bother with the forums anymore. I suspect most never did, and those that tried them found better things to do. I agree that many probably got tired of debating the same points, or answering the same questions over and over. We all appreciate all the time and attention that the generally recognized masters are willing to provide. I too wish we could keep their participation.

Playing to the Beginner

There is no point to this section that is not covered in the next.

Profit Orientation

The author contends that most forums cater to beginners to make money. I’ve never run a forum, and so have no idea if there is significant money to be made. The impression I have is that most owners are looking to break even, but I have no data to back up that contention. With regard to this argument, I would make two points. First, most people in bonsai are beginners (many of which will never advance very far) so it makes sense that forums would be populated mostly by beginners. Second, if site owners choose offer a product to a particular customer base, what business is it of yours or mine to advise them differently? You are free to offer your own product, which to your credit, you have done. Let the bonsai marketplace sort out who survives and who dies.

Socialites

Here the author contends that people socializing on bonsai sites are somehow degrading the real bonsai content of the sites. I honestly don’t understand how a group of people who enjoy the jokes, banter, and social aspects of a site, in any way degrade the experience for anyone else. We are all capable of ignoring postings that do not interest us.

Attacking The Person

Here the author complains about the style of debate on forums. Clearly, generally accepted rules of debate are rarely followed, and all are guilty of one kind of infraction or another, at one time or another. Still it seems unrealistic to expect everyone to know how to debate effectively and fairly. I suggest the best we can do is call attention to the faults at the time that they occur.

Checkbook Bonsai Mentality

The author contends that those who buy finished bonsai are skipping the most important part of bonsai, the creation. The author has, here and elsewhere, argued that not all people have talent, and talent cannot be taught. So what is wrong with buying and appreciated good bonsai, those better than can be created by themselves? The author’s only valid point is that collectors should acknowledge the artists who created the bonsai they collect. Here we agree.

The Chat Fallacy

This section essentially repeats the arguments of the “Socialite” section. However, here the author also contends that discussions should not go on out of view of the general membership. In the socialite section, the author argues that “chit-chat” should not take up forum time and resources. Between the two, the author seems to be arguing that there is no place for any socializing on bonsai sites. This seems draconian and unrealistic.

Contests

I have little comment here, other than to allow for the possibility that some beginners do learn and advance. Let’s not shut them out.

Dilution

There is nothing in this section that hasn’t been discussed previously. It is completely redundant.

Moderation

My impression here is that the author is contending that moderators on forums are a good thing only if moderators agree with him. While we all have stories of a run-in with a moderator that we felt was unfair, one might have to make allowances for more diversity of opinion than our own.

The International Factor

I agree with the author’s contention that discussions across culture lines can cause misunderstanding, particularly in “all text” environments like forums. One point I would like to make regards “honest truth” vs “sugarcoating”. The author sets up a false dichotomy between factual critique and massaging feelings. I contend it is perfectly possible to offer factual, useful critique in a manner that is not rude or condescending. This discussion reappears often on various forums, and there is not space here to go into detail.

Forum Reviews

Everyone is entitled to their opinion

I did not include all the detailed comments on the piece, since that would take an inordinate amount of space. If you'd like the line-by-line, blow-by-blow, I can provide it.

Best Regards,
Brian


Last edited by Brian Brandley on Thu May 14, 2009 9:07 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 2:14 am 
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Joined: Sun Dec 17, 2006 7:18 am
Posts: 17
Location: australia
I believe that the same problem afflicts bonsai forums as American bonsai.
NO PROBLEM
I've always lived in a world that afforded 1% for talking about and 99% for doing.
In forums, however eloquent we may be the most that we might expect is 1%.
The initial possibility that those of us living in culturally impoverished bonsai communities experienced was an ability to communicate with diverse intelligent conversation through forums. A release for decades of isolation and inner narrative. A welcome platform for our cultural needs.

Forums continue to be a useful resource for bonsai people new and old.
Information is more freely available than ever.

ACTION remains our greatest asset. As a great man from Hawthorn once said "don't think, DO"

Cheers
Lindsay


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 8:59 am 
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Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2005 9:40 pm
Posts: 383
lindsay farr wrote:
I believe that the same problem afflicts bonsai forums as American bonsai.
NO PROBLEM
I've always lived in a world that afforded 1% for talking about and 99% for doing.
In forums, however eloquent we may be the most that we might expect is 1%.
The initial possibility that those of us living in culturally impoverished bonsai communities experienced was an ability to communicate with diverse intelligent conversation through forums. A release for decades of isolation and inner narrative. A welcome platform for our cultural needs.

Forums continue to be a useful resource for bonsai people new and old.
Information is more freely available than ever.

ACTION remains our greatest asset. As a great man from Hawthorn once said "don't think, DO"

Cheers
Lindsay


That's fine as long as the forum holds the same principles for its own operation. I was made aware of an incident a short time ago where someone was not only banned but erased from a form and its data base for critiquing a tree. There was no profanity and no one was personally attacked, other than the one who posted the tree comments. As it turned out the tree belonged to the owner of the forum or one of its moderators and the individual who made those comments was virtually eliminated from existence as far as that forum is concerned after three years of active participation.

This is the kind of thing that is wrong with Internet forums. Granted an Internet forum is only as useful as the information presented but if that information comes from its participants and the participants are not allowed to offer their honest opinions, the forum is useless---in my opinion. It then becomes an electronic cult intolerant of any descent. In essence the underlying rule is you must believe my bonsai are wonderful or you are gone.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 11:39 pm 
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Posts: 17
Location: australia
Vance, I find that type of conduct shameful. Those who create platforms for communication in or community would serve better by allowing full self expression. of others
Small minded individuals who seek only to elevate themselves by tearing down others have long been a part of bonsai. They are not a function of the web. They may be egged on by the tacit anonymity the web affords but they would bring the same low values to any social bonsai situation if they thought that they could get away with it. Certainly, my early web activity involved seeking out and confronting such individuals.

I believe that this is simply a human condition driven by our brittle bonsai ego's. Lets face it, we take on a lot by devoting ourselves to a culture where the ultimate goal is to show no signs of our striving.

Bonsai will probably always have communities where individuals seek to stop others. The forums will be a welcome ascension to these small worlds.

I agree it would be great without them but I fear that we're stuck.

Cheers
Lindsay


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 7:49 am 
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lindsay farr wrote:
Vance, I find that type of conduct shameful. Those who create platforms for communication in or community would serve better by allowing full self expression. of others
Small minded individuals who seek only to elevate themselves by tearing down others have long been a part of bonsai. They are not a function of the web. They may be egged on by the tacit anonymity the web affords but they would bring the same low values to any social bonsai situation if they thought that they could get away with it. Certainly, my early web activity involved seeking out and confronting such individuals.

I believe that this is simply a human condition driven by our brittle bonsai ego's. Lets face it, we take on a lot by devoting ourselves to a culture where the ultimate goal is to show no signs of our striving.

Bonsai will probably always have communities where individuals seek to stop others. The forums will be a welcome ascension to these small worlds.

I agree it would be great without them but I fear that we're stuck.

Cheers
Lindsay


I agree that you are correct to a point. However; in a club setting where this type of thing may occur there are several differences. Those that do such things are identifiable to the entire organization and even though they scream loudly and get in your face, ultimately reason, wisdom and skill, if it is patient, will overcome the bluster and bullying, and this individual will be shunned and or ignored.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 9:47 am 
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Posts: 34
Location: Ottawa, KS
There are a couple of portions of the article that I agree with, to an extent. But there is a major flaw with bonsai forums (the nature of any forum, really) that was never hinted at and really should be brought to light.

The ephemeral nature of the threads on forums causes good information, posts, and threads to be buried under the dross of everyday junk posts. Walter Pall has commented on this as one of the main reasons he posts to his blog now, instead of engaging in the forums. Unless an administrator wishes to spend every waking moment indexing the good stuff, it gets lost.

So we recommend people use the search function, and this is what we get"

Quote:
I do know how to use the search function, believe it or not. I don't have hours and hours to go through sometimes very long discussions to find a small snipit of what I was looking for. Some may, but I don't. I've found lots of great information (before this, mind you) on other sites. However, some things just aren't out there. As well, I found there is great variation and "controversy" over some subjects that I wasn't aware. That answers some questions for me.


In a very large forum, such as bonsaiTALK (currently down and perhaps permanently), even a tightly refined search pulls up pages of threads that must be sorted. And gods forbid a large forum should go down and never get up again...which we may be seeing. A lot of great information in the archives may never be seen again.

Is the answer that we each need to purchase our own server to save what we want? Or perhaps a way should be found to produce a compendium of some of the best information in a place not subject to the vagaries of cyberspace.

Chris


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 12:58 pm 
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Location: Nova Scotia 5a/b
... as with IBC which has re-surfaced under a new format and a lot of good data was lost or is no longer available (I had several links that are now dead.)

For quite some time now I have been copying and pasting to word, easily retrievable in a pinch.

Even searching on a specific forum could be a daunting task.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri May 29, 2009 9:03 pm 
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Will- just want to thank you for taking the time to write another thought provoking article. I am not sure of how much of what you said I agree with, but I will think about it. After all, is that not the reason the article was written.

I started to read the replies, but fond that too many words were being used to tell you your article was too long.

It also made me remember why I went running and screaming from the Bonsai Forum world for a number of months now. Debate should be direct (or indirect when effective,) caustic, blunt, brutally honest and even down and dirty, but it should never be petty. There are many wonderful and thoughtful articles and replies, however after a while they get drowned in banality.

Anyway, I have "stop leveling and step out of the runt" ( :-) found the typo very funny.)


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Sat Jun 13, 2009 9:18 pm 
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Richard Bickerton wrote:

I started to read the replies, but fond that too many words were being used to tell you your article was too long.



It's hard to intelligently respond to a massive and excessive article without using too many words, but I'll be happy to be more succinct.

The underlying premise of this piece seems to be that all bonsai forums must be for serious bonsai artists. I fundamentally disagree, and feel that people come to bonsai for different reasons. One of them is to have fun and socialize with like-minded people, which in no diminshes from the "serious" artists. Beginners should be able to interact too.

That's as tight as I can make it.

Brian


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Mon Jun 15, 2009 2:13 am 
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Location: Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
I've read this article a second time, and have summarized what I believe Will was trying to get across. Will, if I have misunderstood you, please correct me.

Summary of "The problem with bonsai forums"

The internet is a useful tool. It offers an abundance of information, but the information is not always correct. There are many pretenders, and as a result, much of the truly useful knowledge is often buried or ignored. The author wanted to incite positive change in the bonsai community, and has helped deliver a product to do so.

One of these resources is the "Knowledge of Bonsai classroom". The author feels it is underused for various reasons. These reasons ranged from lack of exposure, intimidation, "leveling" and the egos of potential users. "ArtofBonsai" challenged the knowledge of "internet masters". They did not respond well, or even intelligently. Instead, they took it as a personal attack.

Too many beginners criticize true scholars of bonsai. Accusing them of being "elitists". It is for this reason that masters are very hard to come by on the internet. Most forums do not provide a good environment for learning.

Many websites are profit oriented, and are plastered with unsightly, useless adds. He also feels there are too many non-bonsai related posts, and that it defeats the purpose of a bonsai forum. Often the non-bonsai topics greatly outnumber the bonsai topics.

Moderators with double standards detract from the forum as a whole, and do not allow honest, constructive advice and critique. They let their authority get the best of them, and see fit to shut the mouths of anyone who does not share their point of view.

Finally, cultural barriers present challenges. He states that Americans are accustomed to "sugar coated" critique. They do not respond well to honest criticism.
-----------------------



Overall I think I agree with the points you've made. If we want to create and participate in a forum that is devoted to understanding bonsai, we must try to keep the posts devoted to the subject of bonsai. However, I think this must be done in a way to welcome beginners as well. Some may feel intimidated, and it indeed may be because of their egos, and subsequent fear of learning as you put it. But it could be for other reasons. Specifically, some users may simply feel unwelcome.

When I wrote an introduction on Knowledge of Bonsai, I was sure to post it in the miscellaneous section. No one replied with so much as a hello, and my post was deleted without warning or reason. I don't believe I was in any violation of any of the rules. Needless to say I did not feel welcome, but stuck with it anyway because I know that these websites are a very good tool for learning. I don't know who deleted my introduction, or why, and I really don't care. But I could understand how someone could feel unwelcome, and thus declare that these websites are run by elitists who are not interested at all in accepting beginners into their discussions. Perhaps if we put more effort towards making people feel welcome, we would see a boost in activity from beginners who actually wish to learn. This would ensure that beginners are receiving good information.

Anyway, those are my two cents.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu Jul 02, 2009 5:45 pm 
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Location: Ojai, California, USA
Will,
I appreciate all of your effort in writing this article, and how it is that you express your views regarding bonsai forums. I've learned quite a bit about you here.
I must add that I am a beginning bonsaist, and that I am always looking for ways to learn and improve my bonsai. I must remember that this article is not about bonsai per se, but about your perceptions of bonsai forums.

I think that one thing, after reading your article three times and them searching other forums to see how you engage others, to remember is that you are expressing your opinions and views.
For you to put this article in a forum that invites disputations is somewhat suspect, in that when trying to dispute another's opinions and views, one's efforts are really fruitless efforts, in that as you mentioned in an earlier reply here, they are indeed your views. Yes there are some truths to what you have written, but what I've read also invites polemics to enter into a senseless fray. No one here or in any other forum is going to change your mind regarding your views on these subjects.
My objective is not adversarial in the lest bit, but to better understand your article, your views, and how it is that you think.
With you presumingly knowing that; my questions to you are: why did you post it in this eristic forum? Are you wanting polemics to dispute the facts that there are the conditions you speak of, and in doing so, how do you see these efforts improving what it is that you find fault with in bonsai forums?


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu Jul 02, 2009 6:37 pm 
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Posts: 6469
Location: Michigan USA
From our guidelines:

"Passionate disagreement is encouraged, but mutual respect is essential to our mission and verbal hostility will not be tolerated."

We never have senseless frays, thanks to moderation.

As far as to how I expect this article to change anything, most problems are easily solved by shining light on them. Most people never really notice things until they are pointed out to them, then they can't help but to notice them.

I agree with a few comments I have received, some changes have been noticed, maybe not due to my article at all, but noticed never-the-less.


Thanks for your post,


Will


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 05, 2009 2:21 pm 
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I think this particular article by Will may have been on the long side, but addresses the topic thoroughly and hits on a lot of points. I keep wondering about the "why." The big picture "why." Why are forums created? Why do they dissolve? Why do people passionately participate in a forum?

Thank you Lindsay for your wonderful video series (I know, off topic, but I just have to work it in how much I appreciate the contribution those videos have made to bonsai and how much I enjoy watching them over and over), and I appreciate the insight and truth of your recent words in response to Will's article posted above:

Quote:
I believe that this is simply a human condition driven by our brittle bonsai ego's. Lets face it, we take on a lot by devoting ourselves to a culture where the ultimate goal is to show no signs of our striving.


Bonsai forums are a miracle of modern day technology. A wealth of information is available at the touch of a few buttons. Indeed, a bonsai asset, accessible to anyone wishing to learn more and discuss ideas. A virtual international 'club.' But what about all the other subliminal stuff going on beneath the surface?

Many bonsai masters and enthusiasts have not cultivated a presence on any internet forum for a bunch of reasons. Perhaps they have no computer, or want to ignore advancing technology. Perhaps they are not comfortable with English. Perhaps they see this platform as a method of unsubstantiated self-promotion by those who say, but do not know, believing that those who know do not say. Perhaps they have nothing they feel compelled to defend or criticize. Perhaps they do not see the value of discussion and dissection of historical, hypothetical, or conceptual suppositions.

Many people simply choose to live this art, and not engage in so much talking about it. Valuable time is often better spent in practice, actually creating bonsai, instead of composing words. It is conceivable that many people are aware of the existence of Internet forums and choose to watch from the sidelines rather than jumping in to participate (me, for example, who chose to only read, and not participate for quite some time; I'd imagine this is preferable to participants who do more writing than reading).

A forum should contain a bit of lightheartedness and even entertainment, and not create the headache of too many egos crashing into one another. A forum is a terrific tool. And when used appropriately, can be rewarding, educational at every level, and yes, even fun. There are problems with everything and hopefully they are offset by the rewards. Thank you Will for your many contributions to this forum.

Michelle


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:23 pm 
It was a very interesting article. I am a total beginner, having read about 6 books and lurked on the internet, trying to learn all I can. I purchased a tree this summer because I love how bonsai looks and have always wanted one. I'm trying to learn bonsai to learn how to take care of it properly. I want to try to style a tree from the beginning myself, too, but I have no delusions that I'm an artist--I'm an amateur doing this because I enjoy it. I have neither time (I'm in my 60's) nor inclination to become a master. I'm telling you all this as a way to explain another reason why beginners might not post their work to get expert criticism. I love to learn and I want to get better, but I would feel silly taking up the time of an expert. Nonetheless, I'd appreciate someone a little more experienced then me giving me advice. We have to start somewhere.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem With Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri Dec 18, 2009 6:49 pm 
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GraniteGneiss wrote:
It was a very interesting article. I am a total beginner, having read about 6 books and lurked on the internet, trying to learn all I can. I purchased a tree this summer because I love how bonsai looks and have always wanted one. I'm trying to learn bonsai to learn how to take care of it properly. I want to try to style a tree from the beginning myself, too, but I have no delusions that I'm an artist--I'm an amateur doing this because I enjoy it. I have neither time (I'm in my 60's) nor inclination to become a master. I'm telling you all this as a way to explain another reason why beginners might not post their work to get expert criticism. I love to learn and I want to get better, but I would feel silly taking up the time of an expert. Nonetheless, I'd appreciate someone a little more experienced then me giving me advice. We have to start somewhere.


You shouldn't feel silly about taking up the time of an expert. The so called expert is not obliged to answer your questions and if they do it is because they are interested in helping you to make bonsai. You might find a few that will tell you your work is a lost cause but most of us will tell you if you are headed in the wrong direction. There is a pretty steep learning curve in bonsai; bonsai being far more complicated than the simple act of forcing a tree into a shallow brown pot. There is not one single aspect of bonsai that I can think of that does not call for some sort of activity, way of thinking or special tool that will not be common to the every day gardener.

Bonsai will force you to think about perspective, soil components, watering, sun exposure, winter care, growing under lights, pots and probably a half dozen other large categories that you have not considered as important before. You are not going to learn this stuff over-night, so be patient.


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