HyperNews Forum at CCCC's 97

HyperNews is a web based program that functions much like a newsgroup, only each thread has its own space or forum. CCCC introduced HyperNews for a number of purposes. First, it works "as a tool for CCCC presenters to use throughout the year for planning their f2f presentations," and second, in the hopes that it could "extend presentations themselves to the Net, allowing people who cannot attend the convention in Phoenix to participate." In addition, it also gives people a place to plan social events. While the forum has produced some interesting conversations and served as a useful organizing tool, overall it has been slow to take off.

HyperNews was first introduced in 1996, and, on first glance, the 1996 sessions seemed more successful. In ‘96, there were 63 forums, compared to only 9 in ‘97. However, participation in the ‘96 version was extremely low. Most forums contained only the introductory message (meaning no one responded). And discussion, when it did occur, was limited to a handful of people who were already familiar names in the C&W community. The fact that the introductory message of many of the forums was the presenter's paper or a long abstract means that HyperNews ‘96 serves as an interesting archive, but while that is a benefit, it is certainly not what the conference organizers had hoped for.

In the ‘97 version, the number of forums dropped from 63 to 9, but the number of participants rose dramatically. The second most popular forum (after the Roomie Roundup!) was "Reflections on the Writing Center," chaired by Keith Dorwick of the University of Illinois at Chicago. It's interesting to note that though Dorwick has long been a part of the C&W community, the panel didn't directly deal with technology. That a non-technology oriented panel could thrive in an online forum is a healthy sign. However, there were still three forums which received no responses.

The most successful use of the forum in both ‘96 and ‘97 was the Proposal Party. The ‘97 version had a wider range of participants than ‘96, but in a disappointing trend, there were a large number of people whose proposals elicited no response.

The sum of all this is that we see a core group of people using the interactive online components of CCCC, and a fairly wide number of people dipping their feet in, mostly in the form of beginning their own forum. In other words, newcomers are looking at HyperNews as a kind of electronic bulletin-board, rather than a form of asynchronous interchange.

The question, then, is how to get people to enter the conversation more easily? The major hurdle facing the convention planner is time; newcomers to CCCC Online don't have the luxury of lurking for a couple of months before diving in, as they do in successful listservs. And the fractured nature of the forums gives the conversations a somewhat private feel, at least to the newcomer. One way around this might be to have people from the core group to respond to new forums in order to get the conversations going. (Who stops to eat at a restaurant when the parking lot's empty?) Though this is asking a lot of people's time. Another possibility is a CCCC listserv or newsgroup, discussing general issues of concern to conference participants, from which people could "break off" to go to HyperNews if it seemed advantageous. The drawback, of course, is that someone signing on to the listserv in January couldn't see what was said in December (though after the conference the listserv archive could be attached to the webpage). The advantage would be that a central listserv might draw more people in, and it might capture more involvement of people who check out CCCC Online.

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