What can be done to improve forum engagement?

Activity here at the RHA forum has fallen off quite a lot over the last few years. Partly that is due to demographics - the Boomers are dying off in a hurry - but part of it is generational. I notice that members are using other outlets such as Daves Garden, facebook groups like the European Rose Breeders, and even twitter.

I’m open to ideas for improvement.

You know, Don, I think this is an extremely important question. Generational turnover stalks all decent long-running organizations. In my opinion, there is no other organization that treats this subject with as much care and passion as the Rose Hybridizers Association. As a beginner, schlepping my twenty-odd (and I do mean odd in some ways!) open-pollenated seedlings across the country in a recent move, and largely missing the season when I would have begun my first crosses in earnest, I can’t tell you how encouraging the RHA Forum has been to me. Important rose scholars like yourself, Henry Kuska, David Zlesak, and especially Kim Rupert have taken the time to answer my questions and applaud my progress.

I do, however, notice a general trend toward highly specialized, scholarly discussion of important topics such as the origins and treatment of Rose Rosette Disease and “jumping” genes. These are great, but I miss the entries of enthusiastic new rose breeders, their goals, methods, and especially, the beautiful photos of their, well, “babies.” This is a wonderful forum to encourage these hybridizers. And here’s the good news: every single one of these offspring is beautiful and worthy of thoughtful advice and admiration, even by people who have been involved in this process for decades.

So, I suggest that we

  1. encourage lots of photos, both of successes and interesting flops.
  2. share our rose pedigrees as much as possible, following the example of the late Ralph Moore.
  3. start the occasional forum entry aimed at newcomers, especially specific directions and tricks to make beginners experience surprising success, even though these subjects might have been explored some 300 threads ago. Beginners are unlikely to plow through years of entries unless they have been thoroughly hooked on the amazing hobby.
  4. Encourage the more reserved of our members to express their genuine admiration for the efforts of beginning hybridizers. Your words have meant a lot to me, even to the point of contributing to the forum myself.
  5. I enjoy the entries in HelpMeFind roses, and am delighted to read the entries from members in Spanish, Italian, French, and other languages, usually with a quick, rough, Google Translate version in English, so that most people can understand.
  6. Lastly, I find the process of uploading my own photos and quotations from journals to the forum to be pretty daunting. A simple guide for new contributors might yield lots of new entries from members eager to share their work.
    Brian

… once l break the germination barrier for planned crosses … “l’ll be back” … though have 7 o.p.s heading into first winter

I’m here every day :stuck_out_tongue:

I agree with Brian in a lot of ways. Without attracting newer folk, who typically will be interested in different things than those who’ve been doing it a decade+, that engagement won’t increase. Newer folk are less likely to be enthralled by the extreme niches of some of us and the near species work that isn’t as showy as the moderns that got them interested :slight_smile:

I do think there’s a bit of an identity ambiguity for anyone that just comes across the forums. Having read most of it over the last couple of years, I can see how things have changed from date stamps and things have kind of distilled into the more niche-y aspects and research papers (which I tend to enjoy but probably not as interesting to the broader audience that isn’t here or just stumble across the forums) but that probably wasn’t the goal and things just evolved that way. The kind of things a new person probably wants to post aren’t really reflected on the first page which unintentionally communicates a message.

One of the easier ways to tackle some of that would be sub forums (eg scholary things, show and tell, advice, etc) which would highlight “these things are fine to post”, which would just be a slight changing in messaging compared to what…granted we’d need people to post in them as a sort of example.

I don’t think there is an easy answer. A huge part of it is attention span. Facebook makes it SO easy to add content, including photos, in a matter of nearly seconds and requires none of the effort required here. There is nearly no uploading, selecting and adding of photos files. You can literally copy and paste from your hard drive, flash drive, another web site or even someone else’s FB page, then paste it to your post, comment or message. It’s virtually effortless. These other “pages” are literally that, “pages” in the larger “magazine” of the entire platform. It appeals to our flagging attention spans. It’s colorful. It makes noise, some good, some bad, some funny. It entices people from literally all over the world and it’s very easy for them to stumble across a thread, add their comments (or not) and move on. The RHA can never compete with that simply because of the platform. It’s a similar problem for HMF. People post photos to FB all the time of roses which have no illustrations on HMF and I BEG them to PLEASE post them to HMF. Some do, many don’t. Post it to FB and it’s usually long gone within a day, never to be seen again unless you know who posted it, specifically look for their post and it isn’t set to “private”, preventing you from accessing it. At least when posted here or to HMF, the information is as “permanent” as the site and easily accessible. This platform is “educational”; an excellent reference resource and “scholarly”. It isn’t, unfortunately, “entertainment” which FB is, nor can it be massaged into being that due to its limitations. This site appeals to the type of person who more often enjoys reading scientific papers. FB appeals to those who are addicted to their phones for immediate gratification and entertainment. I don’t know how you can attract that kind of traffic here. And, yes, I watch both daily and I do refer people to this site for more in depth information than they are likely to find elsewhere.

I am both relatively new and a rather young guy here (just turned 20). One piece of feedback that I have is that I simply don’t know a lot about what to say, since I’m inexperienced in gardening (and even more so in breeding of any kind). I’m loathe to post since I simply don’t know what to say - many terms and concepts are still really new to me, and I don’t know how to find straight answers.

I would be loathe to move to FaceBook due to its security concerns and general uselessness for a person of my age (which is why I’m not on there). However, it seems that the majority of people in my generation don’t particularly care about hybridizing in general. Thus, I honestly really like it here - I’d love to get to know y’all better :3 It kind of reminds me of the older style of the Internet that my older friends described from the mid-90s - early 10s!

So yeah, I hope this place stays running.

(Also, how do I upload photographs? I’ve tried before and couldn’t figure it not (not really experienced in HTML lol))

This is precisely a reason that I am often left speechless - I’m young and inexperienced, and these posts, frankly, often confuse me.

Suggestion: perhaps the page theme could be changed? The purple background is somewhat unappealing - perhaps white or another more neutral color?

Additionally, If y’all need a logo, I’m currently a minor in graphic design at my school - that could help with some retention of traffic. Perhaps you could also remind people of the forum’s existence on the Facebook page?

Some good points have been made here. I think of the Forum as the place to go for good up-to-date, in-depth information on any rose hybridizing topic. The search function is great. It’s possible to have a substantive conversation between real experts, and ordinary backyard hybridizers (like me!) can listen in. These conversations go back years and years, and span the entire world.

Facebook is the only social media platform I’ve used for rose purposes. Sharing photos is where it shines. It’s very easy to upload and give a brief amount of information. However, the nature of Facebook is that it’s ephemeral. Roses are jumbled in with all the other things we see from our Facebook friends and interest groups. It’s hard to focus on one subject or read a lengthy post on a complex topic. You see a friend’s rose seedling, admire and like, then scroll down and are distracted by something completely different. If you want to go back to something or ask a question later…good luck even finding that post.

I’ve been thinking about these changes too, Don, especially in reference to the RHA Newsletter. Looking at older (pre-internet) issues of the Newsletter, some of the information offered is very basic. Some of the questions that members had to wait three months for the next quarterly issue to have answered can now be answered in three seconds with a quick internet search. What is the role of the Forum in the age of social media? And what is the role of the printed/digital Newsletter in the age of the internet?

To my mind, all these ways of sharing rose hybridizing knowledge and joy must have their place. Social media is a place to share pictures par excellence and a way to invite new people to explore this wonderful pursuit. Some basic information can be shared, and basic questions answered, but it’s not a complete course in hybridizing, so to speak.

The Forum is a far better way to discuss ongoing rose hybridizing questions than the more primitive method of writing to the RHA editor and waiting for the next issue! Just imagine how widely information is now spread, and how many people have been blessed by it. The Forum is a multi-generational repository of knowledge. The fact that there are a lot of new learners joining us is a Good Thing. Stick with it, new friends, and you will soon get the hang of things. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Rose hybridizers are friendly and love to help out.

I think of the Newsletter as a distillation of all the good stuff to be found elsewhere. With social media and the Forum, a certain amount of sifting is involved to come to the substance and get coherent answers. The Newsletter offers all the rose hybridizing material boiled down to definite facts, experiences, expert advice. Unlike on Facebook (or other social media), your hybridizing question is not going to be answered in the Newsletter in 12 different ways by random people of doubtful experience.

As for using the Forum, easier uploading of photos might be helpful. I know I’ve accidentally managed to do it correctly sometimes! But I don’t know if that would bring more traffic back from Facebook to the Forum. I like Minutifolia (Brian’s) suggestions, as well as Plazbo’s idea of having topic categories. They have those on another forum I visit (for aquarium plants), and that makes it easy for a new person to find basic information.

I am a recent member of the forum and not active. I am new to hybridization and French. I frequent a rose forum and I exchange by email with other hybridizers. I think forums in general suffer from social media and the lack of interest most people have in roses. the reasons why I am not active here are my lack of experience in the field, the absence of other French members and the topics covered here which I find very precise and in-depth. nonetheless, I appreciate being able to find information as the topics are so varied and in-depth. I also appreciate the availability of members and their advice. Finally, I have found members here with whom I sometimes exchange by email.

I find the forum rather well done even if the subfamily could be appreciated and clearer.

Bernardin, bienvenue!

So it seems there is a general dissatisfaction with the current software with regard to ease of posting photos and usability on mobile devices. There is a view that ''bbcode" is a barrier to participation. There is a view that conversations have evolved to such a high degree of specialization that it discourages engagement of non-experts.

There is a need for segregating of content by subject matter. There is a need to advertise the institutional knowledge buried in the forum database and facilitate access to it. There is a desire to expand participation beyond borders. The appearance of the user interface needs improvement. There is a need to drive cross-platform traffic with social media if possible.

The newsletter was also raised with the editor herself questioning the validity of carrying forward with that format when the fact is the role it once played is obsolete and has been subsumed by the forum. She had politely not mentioned the fact that that there is virtually no interest among members in supplying content for publication.

What is the best course of action, then? Should we overhaul the existing forum? Should we stop publishing a newsletter? Should we close shop the online talk shop and cede the field to alternative venues? Are there other comments or ideas?

This forum definitely has a strength to offer that other social media doesn’t (as was mentioned): the array of information, as well as the depth of that information, is unparalleled in the sources I have come across.
The depth is sometimes over the head of those of us that don’t speak science, but there are solutions to that:

  1. those of us starting this rose breeding journey can (and will) learn a lot of words and information that we haven’t previously known, this will require time and dedication on the beginner’s part.
  2. those providing information can try to offer explanations that are more accessible for those without a knowledge of science (and therefore scientific terms).
    Different people will have varying levels of ability/desire in both of these solutions.

It would be terribly sad to lose such a vital source of information! For myself, I know the information is there and available for me when I chose to make the time to work through some of the weightier details and language.

I have been mentioning this forum regularly to people that follow me on Instagram (@duanesroses). I also recommend HMF. Those who are already into rose breeding seem to already know about both (for the most part), but for those who are interested in just dipping a toe in the water, they find this information extremely beneficial. The search on the forum is extremely beneficial to them, as it was to me.

I don’t know enough about social media to know how to best bring interaction between the different opportunities available, but it seems to me that it would be best to use whatever means are available to get the strength of this forum more readily available to those who gain an interest in attempting to breed roses. This, I would surmise, is different for every age group. Of course some of us don’t fall into the norm for our generation, so that complicates things. I think that one thing most of us hold in common is the great benefit we have received from this forum.
Duane

Do not dump the newsletter … please … most issue contents meet my interest needs to a tee … finding out what others are doing. A fast scan through the last The Prairie Gardener periodical may give ideas for rejuvenation … had a high rose content, bios, work targets and learned somewhere near the land of lakes U workers were targeting producing and testing hardy magnolias … this l got to c

… as an annual might be an option to explore

Thank you for your kind words, Riku! The Newsletter is not in danger, never fear.

In consultation with the board, though, we’ve gone to a semiannual rather than quarterly publication schedule as of this year. This was announced in the previous (Spring/Summer) issue. I truly believe there is still a need/demand for curated, coherent literature about rose hybridizing and the RHA should provide that in the form of the RHA Newsletter. We try to provide a range of material to appeal to all experience levels and interests.

My point is that it’s beneficial sometimes to assess goals, especially when we have gone through a period of such profound, rapid technological change as we have in the past 20 years. There are now several outlets for learning about rose hybridizing, each with its own strengths. The Newsletter doesn’t need to contain all the same things it did in decades past. Some of the more basic, ephemeral stuff can best be exchanged on social media. The Forum is a great place to focus in specific questions, even basic questions, and know that you are going to get substantive answers.

Don, I have no idea how complicated it would be to have categories for different topics on the forum. Sounds like a colossal job to me! It would be a matter of weighing the advantages against the work involved in such a change. The search function works well when you know what you are looking for. It is like the index in a book. Dividing the posts into categories would be like providing a table of contents.

One possibility of a forum change is to have a general section and then have each Director be in charge of a section where specific topics that pertain to that section’s conditions would be posted.

  1. I love the newsletter and although IT literate still enjoy receiving it in the mail.

  2. One consideration for maintaining the forum is the connections we make relative to trading or sharing roses. Unless one is breeding HT’s many of us are using parents that are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain commercially.

  3. I, for one, am highly interested in trading offspring as well since commercial introduction is so difficult. The forum is a relatively secure means of doing that.

Stephen

I am just starting off and have been working on establishing a breeding stock this year. I guess I have a couple of goals as far as breeding goes for sure, but I also want to leave room for happy happenstance. So I’ll probably be a little engaged with this throughout time. I am getting my PhD in biochemistry and drug discovery right now and don’t have tons of time. I want to work on making medicinally functional crosses. I am also interested in making old rose x wild rose crosses even though there won’t be repeat blooming. I also really enjoy fragrance and would like to play around with that at well.

Don, thank you for bringing these questions forward and for distilling the responses.

The observations made here I think are right on target, especially: having broad categories of discussions pinned, and making photo uploads easier.

Also, making it easier for newcomers to comment/post would be nice.

The RHA through, Director Jonathan Windham, is working on branding, I don’t know if it will be possible to include branding on the forum, or just the main website itself.

Can the forum software support any of the changes suggested?

Jim

jwdykes asked about uploading photos. If you click on the Attachments tab below the post reply window, you can drag and drop a photo from your computer into your reply as in the example below.

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