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Who Else Wants a More Controlled Discussion Group?

August 31st, 2009

Recently a number of participants of the PFRE flickr group have requested a discussion group that is more civil and controlled than the PFRE flickr group has become. Several of the popular mentors in the flickr group have left because they felt abused or disrespected by the group.

This is frustrating because the PFRE Flickr group administrators (Tyra Pacheco and myself), don’t have all the tools required to fix the problems group members raise. Part of the problem is undoubtedly the fact that membership is free and open to anyone so members have nothing to loose if they are abusive to others.

The subject of a subscription discussion group was recently suggested in the PFRE flickr group. I’ve been working on an vision of the next level of a real estate photography online learning site and one of the components of that subscription site is a discussion group. The entire site is far from complete, but it would be possible to turn on the discussion group portion of it in the near future.

I want to get input and discussion on what readers think the concept of a subscription PFRE discussion group. Here’s a list of features I’m thinking about:

  • For beginning real estate photographers there would be a yearly subscription. Probably around $30 or $40 USD.
  • This new subscription site probably would NOT replace the current PFRE flickr group. Flickr is very popular and could continue to perform a valuable function for many. Flickr is easy to use. Ease of use features like exporting directly to flickr from Lightroom, Aperture and iPhoto will be difficult or impossible to replace in an new discussion site.
  • For what I will call mentors the site would be free. The general idea is that experienced real estate photographers perform a valuable role of answering questions and providing help, etc. In the current flickr group that all goes unrewarded. In this new model, mentors could be rewarded in several ways.
  • In addition, to getting free membership mentors would also have an opportunity to get paid for their real estate photography content like videos or tutorials that they create for use on the site.
  • The way the mentor payment could work is that there would eventually be several levels of subscriptions to the site. The lowest would be just the discussion group. Other levels of membership would cost more and subscribers would get access to some or all of the premium content provided by mentors. The mentors providing the content would get paid for it.
  • There would have to be a limited number of mentors. I’m not sure at this point how to choose them. We’d have to see if anyone wanted the job.
  • Banning from the discussion group would be an option in this new discussion group. My inclination would be to leave banning to the judgment of the subscribers. Any one could suggest a banning but it would take some percentage of the subscribers to vote for banning another member.

As you can see, I haven’t got it all worked out yet but I’d like your help and ideas on this subject so we can learn from the short comings of the current discussion group and take it to the next level. Is this idea something that would be of value to people?

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18 Responses to “Who Else Wants a More Controlled Discussion Group?”

  • If you want to keep the trolls out a yearly fee of 10 bucks is enough. 30 or 40 smells alot like you only want to make a few extra dollars. There a numerous free group services available online. Tolls have been and always will be part of the internet. It does not speak for the community if they allow trolls to take over. And to avoid that you only need a means of suspending their account. A forum that requires registration and has moderators can be the ticket. By the way, if you close the community too much there are other evils lurking like snobism to new members and overregulation. Just a couple of thoughts.

  • Larry, one of the things I’ve always loved about PFRE is the availability of excellent quality free content and access to experts. At present I just couldn’t justify a subscription of any amount as I’m just getting into REP. It’d be a sad day if it came to this, but if it must then so be it, I’m sure I’ll appreciate it all the more once I can justify a subscription.

  • Ron Kramer @ portranet.com (senior photography) tried the mentor / associate instructor thing in the site’s early days. It eventually backfired & the other guys broke off & started another site b/c it wasn’t worth it to do teaching under another umbrella. You’ve got some good ideas but you really gotta think long-term before pulling a trigger with a subscription-based model. Once members start paying, expectations go WAY up.

  • Larry, this already exists in the form of an association for professional RE photographers, http://www.realestatephotographers.org/, started by the AIAP’s Alan Blakely. It’s currently an informal, private group on Flickr, but the association site and directory will be up soon. So far participation has been extremely cordial, devoid of the derogatory, inflammatory, and amateurish comments that now plague the wide open PFRE group.

    I have moved over to this group primarily because I no longer want to help members who do not contribute by posting myself. I feel if the group has 3200+ members, there should be more than the same 100 posting. In addition, there is such a wealth of information on the PFRE site that someone is just plain lazy if they don’t spend some time and thoroughly research a topic before posting. Even in this age of “free education,” there’s still is a price to put on learning and that is time. IMHO, If someone is not willing to put the time into researching the basics, they don’t deserve the free help of the more experienced members.

  • Hi Larry,
    I agree with the others above that a controlled membership to a forum is the way to go. I’ve seen too many subscription sites fizzle out after a relatively short period of time. You are actually limiting your potential for this site if you go to a subscription basis.
    If you are looking to generate more $$ from the site then selling the eBooks and training sessions as well as seminars is the way to go. Those programs generate even more interest in the site because participants can take away tangible learning. As it was said above, if you want to create competition for your site then go to a subscription basis because someone will come behind you and offer a free site. Just some thoughts to ponder.
    Keep up the great work, keep the course, you are pointed in the right direction.
    Best Regards,
    Ron

  • HI there, well your premise is a good one but there are pit falls as stated above. I also belong to quite a few subscription sites, I pay some 10 dollars some 25 and some 35 a year. Often I seem to forget to check these sites on a daily basis. Even though when I remember to do so they are very informative. I wish the subscriptions had more and better implementation of reminders that new content is available even though I subscribe to e-mail updates. So I assume I am wasting money on some of them because I don’t check with the frequency I check in here. Of course some that I belong to cost a lot of money PPA an NAPP to name a few, I sure wish I used it as much as I should. I suppose that is the problem of belong to to many things. But whatever you decide to do I will definitely be on board although to pay more money for tutorials as well as a subscription would be a lot and I believe the group would suffer because of that. I sure wish all the senior members did not drop out as they were a font of valuable information. To me even though I am a newer member the group is not the same as it was before all those members dropped out. And that is a real shame

  • If I recall, you were on the right track late last year with implementing a real discussion forum.
    It was a major error not to continue moving forward in this direction.

    I remember Scott Hargis saying that it was all about the pictures, and cited this reason not to go with it.
    True, what we do is totally about the pictures.
    I wonder if Scott realizes most modern discussion forums allow you to upload pictures?
    Probably not, that is the only explanation for a crazy excuse.

    You can also upload other content, like DOCs, XLS, PDFs, etc.
    This makes it a valuable repository for sharing learning resources, not just checking out group pictures.

    What else.
    Configurable admin and moderation functions you set up, not Flickr. Ban users/IPs easily, if that is required. (The core of this topic?)

    You can easily set user/group privileges.
    Lock out subforums to members unless they have a minimum of xx posts, for instance.
    Make subforums available to paid-up donators, if you wish to make even more money out of this whole thing.

    Better search facilites.
    How often do we see posts on Flickr asking where that lost topic was. Too often.
    What is the point of posting anything, if people cannot refer to it down the track, and I’m talking more than a week ago?
    This is about the average life span of a Flickr topic, then it can become difficult to refer to again.
    The same old, same old topics that come up by Newbs every few weeks simply bores the pants of more established members. It’s because they cannot easily find the previous topics.

    There comes a point in time where you just out grow the limited offerings of Flickr.
    It was obvious a year ago, and even more so now.

    A properly implemented forum would even make this categorized BLOG obsolete, because that is what a discussion forum essentially is.
    All your content could be in the one spot with categories similar to what you have now.

    This really is a no brainer.
    Thanks for reading.

  • We don’t need a fee for a new group, it’s misunderstood to pay fees to keep up a decent group.

    Invite all the members on the “Real Estate Photographer Directory” into a Linkedin forum or similar and then we get the benefit of the membership as well.

    Kris

  • I’ve also noticed the absence of many of the contributors who originally attracted me to PFRE and that is sad for all of us. Another trend is that those mentors who are still a part of the group seem to post with less frequency, specifically Scott, Thomas, and folks like John Muir and Milton. I can’t remember the last time I saw Scott or Thomas critique an image.

    We seem to have fewer and fewer posts that are actually informative and instructive and many more on relatively mundane topics like memory cards or the announcement of a new camera. I’m not saying these aren’t helpful, just not on a par with Scott’s piece on lighting a room or Dan’s video on HDR or Larry’s on Fixing Verticals.

    We seem to have been discovered by the HDR forums who are now flooding the group pool with images that are not appropriate as marketing material for real estate pros.

    Personally, I would sign on to a fee site at the prices you mention if it well bring back those mentors.

    As for submitting images, I think there should be a section of the pool for Juried Images. Also, all images should REQUIRE camera and lighting information.

    I also suggest that additional instructional topics be assigned to those mentors who have expertise, even if I have to pay extra. I speaking of resources like those in the “Popular Posts” section. Topics like basic Photoshop Processing of a RE Image or Software That Works in PFRE might be candidates.

    I hope you move ahead with this idea.

  • Larry,
    I’m glad to see you are looking on how to improve the site. As stated above, PRE has grown beyond what flick’r can provide. You need to move this beyond Flick’r and to a larger forum platform. That will give you more resources to handle abusive vistors. It will also allow you to provide a better service to the users.

    Last – if you charge a fee, I think you will kill the site. I suspect a large number of the poster will seek free forums. IMO.

    Neal M

  • Anonymous has the right idea,

    Get a vbulletin forum, its $90 a year, has a ton of features and an outstanding support area.

    Set up is super easy and backup can be done daily.

    The feature list is endless, and on top of that there are a ton of add ons specific to photo uploads etc

  • There are two issues here that I feel differently about: discussion forums and other online tools.

    Regarding forums, even though I mostly just read without posting, the Flickr group has been very useful and instructive for me. Yes, trolls occasionally impact the flow of a discussion, but participating in the fray — or even paying much attention to it — is strictly optional. I can easily recognize and/or ignore it, when it suits me. It’s just not such a bother that I would pay to reduce it. Truthfully, there have even been times when I still learned something useful from following one those threads. So the idea of creating a fee-based alternative seems like an extreme reaction to a minor problem. I’m not averse to paying for good information. I’ve personally purchased both of the PFRE e-books and I’ve attended Thomas and Scott’s lighting workshop. But paying for access to a more “controlled” discussion (especially at $40 annually) is not something I would do.

    Concerning the part of the proposal to offer a broader set of other online tools, that might be a useful resource I would consider. The quality of the information would have to be fairly high — basic how-to stuff is so easy to find that there is no value there for me. But if there were professional-grade topics or tools, combined with a dependable level of access to professional-grade practitioners, then I might pay for that. But if the prime value was simply access to a more controlled forum, then I seriously doubt it.

  • @CJ & Adam Anonymous – I’ve been there and done that. With Adam’s help I setup and ran a a vbulletin forum for several months. Participation was minimal and it takes 10 times the time to administer than a flickr group. Managing comment spam is a huge time sink. This little exercise with vbulletin made clear to me what a big factor ease of use is in the popularity of flickr.

    I gave vbulletin a try and decided it’s not the solution for me. Perhaps for someone else.

  • Larry,

    Please don’t change the flickr group or set up some alternate discussion group. You have a great thing going and the information provided freely by contributors to the Flickr group is a fantastic resource. Some of the images displayed in that pool are probably the best examples of real estate photography anywhere. Changing the formula to satisfy certain thin skinned members of our community is a mistake in my opinion.

    Complaints that the PFRE Flickr group is full of trolls are highly exaggerated. The grumblings from members right now are just the growing pains of a successful community. The righteous indignation exhibited by some people who are apparently not getting out of the group as much as they feel they’ve put in is temporary… those individuals will move on and others will take their place. Trolls, lurkers, white knights, etc. are all normal internet denizens that exist in any forum that is public and remotely interesting once membership gets to a certain size.

    People who complain about the level of discourse in our community probably haven’t spent much time on many other forums. Let them start their own elitist forum where “professionals” can share their secrets. It doesn’t work if the goal is to advance the quality of work or the standing of this profession. What you’ve done so far is spot on, the decisions you’ve made as far as moderating the Flickr site were correct.

    The complainers will probably continue to be the loudest voice in the room but I suspect that there is a silent majority that agrees with me and doesn’t want to see a good thing go away.

    Finally, I agree with Scott, “its all about the pictures” and Flickr is the best place for that. Maybe what really needed are a few more posts about photography or requests for critique. As far as I’ve seen, everyone whose requested a critique has gotten it, myself included.

    Thanks Larry.

    Cheers!

    Luis

  • In the short time that I have been a part of this community, (and I say this with all sincerity) I have learned a wealth of knowledge well beyond what my photography school has tried to teach me for over a year! I have always been extremely drawn towards architectural and industrial photography, and in deciding what route to focus my business under I choose real estate photography (in part because my father is a realtor with 30 years experience plus a photographer even longer). Wondering if I made a wise or foolish decision I began cruising the internet to see if there were others in this field, especially during one of the worst economies that has devastated the Real Estate market as it is… and I found PFRE! It was such an inspiration because I thought that relying primarily on Real Estate photography may have isolated me so much that I was doomed for failure.
    All of that said, I feel that the current setup you have for PFRE is excellent, as far as the actual website is concerned. I have noticed though, in my few months here, that the Flickr discussions can have a tendency to lean towards the negative side where some tend to spat instead of discuss. Now, knowing that there will always be elitists and silly “newbs”, there is a minor degree of control you can put over the Flickr discussion forum and picture pool via the control settings you have as the forum administrator. You have the authority to “promote” individuals as Admins, Moderators, and Members, where:
    A group moderator can:

    1. Approve or remove photos from the pool
    2. Moderate group discussions
    3. Remove or ban members
    http://www.flickr.com/help/with/groups/

    Having a handful of moderators rather than 1 should greatly take some of the burden off of your shoulders as being the sole Administrator. This should knock down on some of the less than desirable discussions and non-PFRE photos submitted. Create clear guidelines and have your group moderators keep them consistent.
    If you want to take the route of creating a more exclusive forum, might I suggest that instead of charging a yearly fee, just for certain individuals, and then trying to create a “mentor” level of participation that grants them a possible income (which sounds like a nightmare to try to accomplish & manage), maybe make membership for only those who purchase your books. Then, within the forum, if these “mentors” want to create workshops and tutorial videos, they can submit for your approval, and you and they can split the fee that is charged for access to them. And these learning tools can be advertised on the Free PFRE main page, which can then generate more interest in the paid side of the site, which can in turn have more ebook purchases for you!
    I feel that in your generosity that you have given those of us in the RE photography field a massive educating tool that can and will be used for years to come, and the fact that it’s freely accessible speaks to the large participation and enjoyment you have created. On top of everything I’ve gleaned off of the free side of your time, I gladly bought your ebooks and have learned so much more because I was so impressed with the total package you have put together.
    I’d be happy to help in any way that I can to ensure that this site continues to grow and offer my time and any knowledge I can give, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    Regards/
    Joshua Hoynes

  • My perspective as a relative new comer is that things are working fine pretty much as they are. I see little return on value for a lot of effort to change things. There may be fewer detailed new posts simply because the key subjects have been covered well, so we can avoid the needless re-engineering of the constant radius weight transportation and bearing device (i.e. reinvent the wheel).

    BTW, here in the U.P. of Michigan, “trolls” are people who live in downstate Michigan; after all, they live below the Bridge (the Mackinac Bridge that is).

    Best wishes to all and Sisu, eh?

    Bill Fink

  • Where would the subscription dollars go?

  • Luis,
    Thin skinned? I figured most people preferred not to see bullying in professional groups. After all, that’s really what the group was before it became a playground. I’d vote for a new group, I miss the activity of MJ, Chris, Aaron, Jeremy, Michael to name a few.

    On the other hand, some people need recess time at the end of the day, so keep it free and open for them, just don’t get upset when the more experienced members decide to quit posting because they’re tired of the childish activity.

    -Joe