Some said it couldn't be done... but we're still here.
It was a year ago that the Society of the Old West Network premiered on Ning, and for those of you who are new here is how it all started.
I had been a regular contributor over on the True West forum, and for a time True West was a great place to be because the administrators stayed on top of things and the occasional trouble-makers who showed up were quickly given the boot. Then one day Bob Bell decided he wanted to have more debate, so he blogged about a controversial subject. That opened the door for a member to pursue a modern day political agenda, and True West has not been the same since. For whatever reason this individual was allowed to wreak havoc and personally attack anyone who disagreed with his radical point of view. Despite many complaints from many of the other members he was never booted, even though a number of others had been for far less serious transgressions. Well, it's Bob's forum and he's certainly free to run it as he sees fit, however a number of us decided that enough was enough. We wanted a forum that would stay on topic and where we could have serious discussions about Old West history and culture without being harassed by trouble-makers, so I took the initiative and set up a new forum on Ning. Thus SOTOW was born.
The first thing I did was recruit a committee of "deputies" to administer the site, and they've done an outstanding job. I sought out people who had more experience on Internet forums than I had and who were savvy enough to spot the trouble-makers before they had a chance to gain a foothold. They've done their job and they've done it well. We've had our fair share of trolls. Some have even tried hiding under different identities, but my crew has a way of quickly sniffing them out and nipping them in the bud before they've had the chance to do any significant damage. We're also had a few disgruntled ex-members go back over to True West to throw tantrums, but in spite of it all we're still here. In fact the last individual who pitched a fit on True West later contacted me on Facebook and apologized.
My biggest challenge to this forum however didn't come from any of our detractors. It came from Ning.
Last spring Ning announced that it was eliminating free networks, such as SOTOW, and as of July first it would become a paying network only, And even though Ning had made its announcement months in advance, it would be sometime before they divulged what the new rates would be. Needless to say this caused a lot of concern. We'd finally worked out all the kinks and were running smoothly, and I sure didn't want to be put in a position where I would have to ask the members for money.
I spent several days trying out different free social networking platforms. I am somewhat Net savvy, but some of them were so difficult to use that just trying to set the site up got to be so frustrating that I had to give up. I figured if I was having that much trouble what would happen when our members came on board and tried to use it. I did however manage to find one that wasn't too bad. Remember when we tried moving over to grou.ps? Like I said, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't that great either. It just didn't have all the features we were used to, and a number of members told me they just didn't like it. Luckily by that time Ning had finally revealed the new rate plans, and they did have one that I could afford. We'd have to give up some of our features, like groups and events, but fortunately they were minor so it hasn't been as much of a problem as we thought it would be.
So here we are, a year later. We're still here, and we're still growing. Yes, there has been some decline in activity the past few months, but other forums, including True West and Facebook, are also experiencing a decline. This could be attributed to a number of factors, but I personally think that it's the uncertainty of the times we're currently living in. In a bad economy people cut back on frills, and for some Internet service is a luxury. I'm reading news reports that many people are disconnecting their cable and Internet service and either going on-line at the office or using their smart phones to check their e-mail. But as long as new people are coming on board, and as long as members are contributing, we'll still be here.
Thanks for being a part of it all.