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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is nothing in this section that hasn’t been discussed previously. It is completely redundant.
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.
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.
Last edited by Brian Brandley on Thu May 14, 2009 9:07 am, edited 1 time in total.