(Note: I sent this out in the email newsletter.)
This is something I sent to the CoasterBuzz mailing list, and also posted in the forums there.
It has been awhile since I've written you. This is typical of winter, because there isn't much going on with roller coasters, but this year I've been even more disconnected because of my professional and home life. Indeed, there are a lot of things that lean personal that I'd like to share with you.
For those of you who have been visiting CoasterBuzz since the beginning, you'll recall that one of the site's primary goals was to connect to you to all of the amazing content that people were creating. In the wild west days of the Internet, it seemed like every park had unofficial fan pages, and there were even pages for seasonal employees at some parks. Sure, the sites sometimes looked terrible, and the photos were bad, but there was a lot of passion. CoasterBuzz had a directory with hundreds of links, organized by park, and the news that was posted frequently promoted those sites. By 2008, the site directory was gone, and the news shifted almost entirely to mainstream sites.
The consistent thing throughout the site's history has been the community. This is where things get weird. CoasterBuzz has been growing in the number of users almost every year since its inception. With the exception of 2010, there has been growth every year, and in fact the site sees 35% more users on a daily basis than it did 10 years ago. The problem is that they don't engage the same way. I'm sure in the age of social media and mobile devices this doesn't surprise you, but visits are short and people post less.
The revenue story is much worse. Half of our traffic is mobile now, which is harder to monetize unless you use really obtrusive and obnoxious ads (and I refuse to subject people to that). Where we used to have four ad companies filling the inventory, there is mostly just Google. And if that weren't enough, Google keeps cutting about a third of their payout, saying it's for "invalid traffic," which of course no human at Google can ever explain to me. Club membership revenue is down too, in part because there are fewer big events, and when Coastermania stopped being free, that negatively impacted us as well. On the plus side, hosting is fairly inexpensive compared to what it was in 2001, when it was more than a grand per month. Still, I have to spend about $3,000 per year on hosting and related expenses to make sure the experience is awesome, and that doesn't count software and hardware of my own to build and maintain the stuff.
I'm not even going to pitch joining CoasterBuzz Club specifically, but I would encourage you to spend a little money with any site or app that you find valuable. I still pay Vimeo $60 every year, even though I probably only upload two or three videos a year, because I love the community and quality of the things that I find there. I probably spend about $300 a year on subscriptions, because I want those resources to be around. Compared to the cost of cable TV, I think it's a great value. For small and independent publishers, it may be the difference between carrying on and shutting down.
With all of that out of the way, I've worked hard over the years to make sure the technical experience is awesome. CoasterBuzz went all-secure almost two years ago, it works great on mobile and most pages come to you in under a quarter-second. About every six or seven years, the platform the site is written on sees some significant changes, and I'm about at that place again where I have to port the whole thing. That work is already in progress, and it should result in even more speed.
This leaves the bigger question: What do you want CoasterBuzz to be? Product development is what I do in my day job, and my first rule is always to not assume you know better than your customers in terms of what they want. I'm leaving this totally open ended, and I'd like to get your feedback in the forums under the "State of the CoasterBuzz" thread. For more than a decade I've assumed that you want a forum, news, a park and coaster database, and lots of photos. Please challenge my assumptions.
Thank you for being a part of CoasterBuzz!
Long time member here (your post made me come out of my usual lurking). I mostly come here for the forum, news, and a park/coaster database. I don't engage on the forum as much as I did back in the old days, but I do like reading others' comments. I mostly enjoy the news section, but I have to admit, I've been creeping on the /r/rollercoasters on Reddit and they also have news.
I'd love an expanded forum with more topics. Over a decade ago, I suggested adding polls. Would also be cool to have a video section if you wanted to support that. I'll try to think of more things, but having a dedicated POV video section would be pretty nice.
Edit: I realized, I've been here for 18 years. Jeez...
YouTube links resolve as embedded video today, FYI.
It's funny that you mention Reddit, but it, along with Facebook, tend to be where people go for everything, which is unfortunate. It feels like the Walmarting of the Internet. That's certainly why all of the smaller niche sites are gone. I get why, I just think it's a bummer.
There are a lot of things that I prefer when it comes to CB over Reddit and Facebook. I've always thought the conversation on CB was much better than what you'd find on FB, simply because there is better moderation here. It's also a bit easier to dig into topics and get folks who actually know what they are talking about.
But you're right in that Reddit is a convenience. I'm typically there to read on politics and I'll see a post on roller coaster and engage there.
So, what would drive me to CB more? I've found that I really enjoy feature articles focusing on the industry, coaster mechanics, roller coasters, and other topics. Theme Park Tourist has a series called Lost Legends where they write about infamous rides and roller coasters of yesteryear. The YouTube channel, Defunctland, does something similar and often in conjunction with Theme Park Tourist. I'm almost certain CB or PointBuzz has done this before, but I can't find the articles.
There's another YouTube channel called Coasterbot that I enjoy. On that channel, the creator simply gives facts and figures about a single roller coaster or coaster feature. I typically know most of what the guy will talk about, but every so often, he'll hit on a fact I'd never known before. This is also helpful for new enthusiast who might be nervous about posting a simple question on a forum of seasoned enthusiasts.
So, in short, I'd love to see more content written by you knowledgeable folks in addition to what's in the news section and the forums. Hell, even I wouldn't mind contributing an article or two.
By the way, I agree with you about paying for sites you think are quality. I haven't done that with CB until now, but I'm officially part of the club. Many sites are going the Patreon route, which I also enjoy because of the flexibility. Either way, I'll keep thinking. Even though I mostly lurk, I want CB to be here forever. Maybe I need to lurk less...
To be honest, we don't really moderate very often outside of deleting spam. We maybe get one or two people a year who show up and get abusive, but we rarely delete anything otherwise. It's been that way for more than a decade. The community mostly polices itself.
Creating original content is hard, because it takes a lot of time. And it pains me not to create content, because I see so much out there that's crap. One of the guys who writes stuff for the big theme park audience, and sometimes for newspapers, doesn't practice journalism or bona fide editorial commentary, mostly writes hyperbolic link bait, and seems to be making a good dime that way. That's unfortunate.
One of the things that Walt (my partner on PointBuzz) and I always complain about is that there's so much Disney/Orlando content out there, but none of it is very good, and the communities they have grown seem like the kind of people who would be the least fun to go to the parks with. It's always felt like an opportunity, and we tried it once, but it didn't go far with me in Seattle at the time and him in Cleveland.
I also wonder if there's any value in a broader social-ish network for coaster nerds, but I don't know what something like that would look like. I always thought the meeting calendar was a good idea, but it doesn't get used. And as much as I hate it, I already have a tight circle of friends I stalk on Facebook, some of whom also happen to like coasters.
Very interesting thread.
Every once in a while it is good for any endeavor to pause, take stock in itself and determine where it could and should go.
Here are a few thoughts....
1) We have to remember that we are a minority...a very small one. On any given summer day at a park, how many of the people inside are "enthusiasts?" 10, 20, 100? Walmart and Amazon are for the masses. So are amusement parks. Custom made quality craftsmanship is usually not found at big box stores. You have to seek it out and pay for it.
By the way, I have no way of knowing this, but I will ask in general...are T shirts and other stuff from the "store" selling more, less or as usual as in the past?
2) I agree that there is considerable quality conversation here. Discouraging words are seldom heard...and this site is well moderated. We tend to agree or disagree without the nasty rhetoric that appears on most web sites and thankfully disagreements aren't quickly blamed on current or former presidential candidates.
3) I find myself going to parks less frequently. What about the rest of you? For me, it might be due to age, constant responsibilities or friction from my other hobbies. I tried to give a away a few free tickets over the years and in most cases nobody wanted them. If I held up anything "free" at a Walmart, there would be a stampede. This past year I did a nice trip to Wildwood, more Music in the Parks trips with my students, and a couple of things with my son. I am guilty that I didn't post, but most of it would have been re-hashed.
4) I used to like the podcasts (which I know take a long time to do) and I like the calendar (which never led to meeting other buzzers) and seeing posts from the regulars... but I guess what I am trying to say is - I like it for what it is. It's always there and when I have something to say, which is rare lately, I'll chime in.
5) Jeff, where do YOU want "this thing of ours" to go? Are you hoping to expand your presence in the field, become the quotable authority, make a few bucks, speak politically on issues in the hobby...? Whatever you have in mind...I can't speak for all, but most of us will follow. I know I will.
Here's To Shorter Lines & Longer Trip Reports!
Thank you for all that you do.
Has there been any discussion involving bringing back the podcast? I realize that it’s probably a big commitment time-wise and that life has made it difficult, but I always enjoyed it.
I'm genuinely intrigued that you're paying $3000 for hosting. Can you give some idea of the bandwidth figures behind that?
(As a data point, I'm paying about a tenth of that to host a number of busy sites with typical monthly transfer of 300GB/month).
I'm guilty of finding myself hitting up Facebook for everything. It annoys me. I constantly gripe about how much I hate FB, yet spend the most time there because that's where most of the activity seems to be. A year ago I found a new hobby, stumbled on a couple decent online forums with great layouts, intuitive interfaces, helpful members and lots of great content...and within a couple months found that there were even more Facebook groups dedicated to the same hobby with many of the same active members posting even more than on the forums, and within a few weeks I found that I had stopped viewing the forums altogether.
That said, this site has become my only coaster enthusiast venue. I've been a part of other forums that I never visit anymore; I've followed Facebook pages and groups that I just can't stomach anymore. I have nothing to suggest, really...I don't find much value in coaster and park related content, I feel like I've exhausted this hobby and much of any actual coaster and park related discussion, even here, has been beaten to death, minced, diced, chopped, cooked, devoured, vomited back up, then further beaten, minced, diced, etc...
I stay because I dig the community here. I've been a club member every year since 2002 and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Whatever changes occur, I'll likely keep coming back as long as the core group remains.
I was a geeky coaster teenager during the glory years of the coaster wars in the late 90s and early 2000s. Growing up in Northeast Ohio, having Geauga Lake transform into Worlds of Adventure and Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster all in my backyard gave me as much excitement as discovering girls. High school was the bane of my existence, and my coaster obsession was my escape from that.
Then in the mid 2000s I went to college, Geauga Lake got pretty sucky and then closed, and I became a much more casual park goer. I still would go to GL and CP once or twice a season during summer vacation, but coasters weren't a priority. In 2008 I graduated and moved to Orlando to work for Disney. My 20s and years working front line and attractions management at WDW were so-so, and the lack of work-life balance made it tough to pursue the hobby even though I was literally in a theme park six out of seven days a week. Only once in those years of young adulthood did I actually take a coaster "trip", something my teenage self would have been horrified with.
Fast forward to now - my interest has come back almost to early 2000s levels. I am more excited to get up to CP for Steel Vengeance than I have been about a ride opening in over a decade. I have plans to do some coaster trips this summer. And I am attending my first ever enthusiast event in May. I am happier professionally and personally than I ever have been, and it's almost like I am rediscovering the hobby all over again. Minus the geeky t shirts this time. Usually.
One thing I notice from when some troll brings up a 15 year old thread for no reason is how much better the quality of posts and contributions has become since then. While there may be fewer posts and discussions, I believe what is here is the highest quality of any site devoted to the hobby. Other sites may have more members or hits, but I believe this is where the only quality, intelligent conversation is truly taking place. I would describe it to someone as the "anti enthusiast site" and I mean that in the best possible way. I feel like the regular contributers here, for the most part, have lives and understand that this is truly just a hobby for us. And when discussions happen, they are of high quality. We may disagree and call names from time to time, but it's never mean spirited. The same can obviously not be said for other sites.
I hope the site continues for a long, long time. I like it pretty much the way it is and can't think of anything I would want different. I am a second time CB Club member for the reason Jeff mentions in the first post. I have enjoyed this site now for almost 20 years (wow...) and I want to give back. Plus, access to Coasterstock in a few months won't hurt either :)
I have found that in recent years I have migrated more of my viewing to a different site for the content for which I used to come to Coasterbuzz. I think Gonch's Facebook page has become your major competition. You need to get rid of that guy in order to increase viewership and revenue. Perhaps a bounty would be in order.
Richie Reflux said:
Jeff, where do YOU want "this thing of ours" to go? Are you hoping to expand your presence in the field, become the quotable authority, make a few bucks, speak politically on issues in the hobby...?
I have no idea. Like you, I'm not into coasters the way I used to be. I did three of the four coasters at Magic Kingdom yesterday with my kid and that might as well have been the best day ever, even though those rides "suck" by enthusiast standards. But I was at a wedding a few years ago (same-sex even), and it came up that a subset of the people there may not have ever met were it not for this site. That was pretty gratifying, and as far as I'm concerned, the site could disappear and I could live with the satisfaction that it meant something to people.
But for me, it's always been a place for me to do things to keep my technological edge that I couldn't do in my day job, which leads me to Richard's question...
Richard Bannister said:
I'm genuinely intrigued that you're paying $3000 for hosting. Can you give some idea of the bandwidth figures behind that?
Actual cloud spend is less than that, but I'm including things like SSL's, geo-redundant backups of stuff at home, monitoring and such. Bandwidth is an inconsequential part of the cost, but I'm using fast databases and overkill CPU's, because my professional side can't settle for less. The cost should be down a bit this coming year, because I used to have stuff split on two services, but recently consolidated. Also keep in mind this includes PointBuzz.
I'm guilty of finding myself hitting up Facebook for everything. It annoys me. I constantly gripe about how much I hate FB, yet spend the most time there because that's where most of the activity seems to be.
I have a friend who doesn't use Facebook at all, because, as he puts it, "Facebook is where all the people are." It really is a struggle, because Zuckerberg doesn't give a **** about those hobbies of yours, but you know the people who run those sites do. I think that's the thing that a lot of people have brought up, that the common venues have a terrible signal-to-noise ratio with low quality discussion. I see this in the Tesla enthusiast communities too (that people can afford a $150k SUV and be functionally illiterate is something I can't figure out). I definitely don't think CB needs more discussion, because the quality is solid.
This is all good feedback, even if it hasn't yet resulted in anything actionable. Web-based forums have been around now for more than two decades, and they still seem to have richer discussions. I just wonder if I'm overlooking something.
Richie Reflux said:
3) I find myself going to parks less frequently. What about the rest of you?
I've been fairly steady in my parks over the last few years and I don't see that changing in the near term, but there's one thing I do that most of you don't; I concentrate my visits on places that I've not been to, which keeps things new and interesting. I've also started putting in a bit of oddball tourism in the mix, like Chernobyl and the DPRK. I'm probably going to do a US park or two this year, but only because I'll be in the country on business.
I really love Coasterbuzz, mostly for the people. I've only met a handful of folks in person and due to age, kids, location, and a leveling out of interest in the hobby, I'm not sure how much coaster focused travel I'll do in the foreseeable future, but I can genuinely say that my political, religious, and economic views have been refined tremendously by the discussions here. I vaguely care about what new coasters are being built in China (which seems to be where all the new cool stuff is being built) and care a moderate amount about what's being built in the US, but I will forever tune in to see what people think about "the future of the amusement industry."
Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."
While I am not a coaster enthusiast, I do work in the amusement industry full time and I have been a part of the CB community for many years. Other than Disney (which I don't even consider to be an amusement park), I don't visit amusement parks to have fun and I really don't enjoy them as a form of entertainment, so go figure.
CB for me is part informative, part entertainment and more about getting a pulse on various industry topics and trends. While the members of the CB community are fairly segmented, most are well informed and I find that many of the discussion topics are relevant to the industry and representative of the general public at large.
So when a newsworthy event or topic results in a CB discussion thread, I always find it interesting to gauge opinions and thoughts on the respective topic, and even take that information into my job/park at times.
The only thing that I don’t like about CB is when the discussions sway away from industry related topics and drift into political or social debates. There are plenty of other forums to engage in those types of discussions. On CB, discussions should stick to industry related stuff (at least 95% of the time…).
As do others, I enjoy the discussion threads and the fact that people who frequent this site tend to be considerably knowledgeable about coasters. I agree with Hanging n' Banging that the threads lose something when they transition into political or social debates. Basically apolitical, I quickly lose interest. People who post on this site have been known to get extremely nasty at times but I guess that that goes with the territory. There are coaster and theme park related sites on which all comments are subject to moderation or approval before being posted b/c the webmaster doesn't want anything offensive to appear and I can certainly see the logic in this although then we get into a whole debate about censorship. Jeff's point that creating original content is hard because it takes a lot of time is well taken. I think that one of the blogs for which I write would have much higher readership if I and the other 4 people who write for it were posting on a daily basis but no-one has the time to do that; a coaster review or coaster showdown isn't something that can be knocked off in 10 minutes.. CoasterBuzz seems to be doing fine as is, as any new topic almost invariably prompts a response. Oh, and I suspect that Jeff's comment about "One of the guys who writes stuff for the big theme park audience" may refer to someone whose blog I represented at media events. Ouch! Finally, it's unfortunate that no-one seems to use the meeting calendar. I used to put stuff on it, to no avail. I've met only one person through this site with whom I actually hung out at parks and he was by far one of the nicest guys I ever had the pleasure of meeting; he is now most regrettably deceased but at least I did have the privilege of knowing him and without CoasterBuzz it's unlikely that he and I would have crossed paths.
Web-based forums have been around now for more than two decades, and they still seem to have richer discussions. I just wonder if I'm overlooking something.
Honestly, I think both sites (pointbuzz and here) are really in good shape, and for just this reason. There are knowledgeable people here, holding generally informed and civil discussions. You don't need whiz-bang technology to host that. Web forums are very appropriate media for that.
And I do not see anything that is ROI positive that you could add. There are things that other sites do that you could duplicate, but at what cost? You could become park photo site and take pictures every time someone adds a bolt to Galaxy's Edge, but those sites already exist, and the time costs and the hosting costs are staggering. You could become a stats site, but are you really going to outdo RCDB?
There is a few ways that you could trim the sites. I don't use the pictures features, and the coaster ranking game is a bit extraneous. You could trim back some of the dead threads. But I am not sure those cuts would be ROI positive either.
I think in general, you are in a good spot design wise.
PDXPointer said:You could trim back some of the dead threads.
I enjoy going back and seeing what we were talking about back in the early aughts. And it's fun to call someone out or prove someone right or wrong about stuff. But - if there was a way to lock a discussion after it was dormant for a certain period of time, it would be nice to prevent someone bringing back a 15 year old thread to add "I agree".
I've been on here and on Pointbuzz since the beginning and what makes both sites great are the forums. That is really the main reason I visit the sites and I don't really use the extras like the park and coaster database. But, the forums really shine with the News and General sections of most interest. The news feed is excellent and is my main source of amusement industry news. Going forward, as far as I'm concerned, the only thing Coasterbuzz needs to be is the site with the best amusement industry news and general discussion forums on the internet, which it already is.
I'm not a big fan of social media like Facebook or Twitter and rarely use it. Much of it to me is just a waste of time with little focused news or discussion and just a bunch of vanity pictures or people bragging about what they've done. And whatever real news about the amusement industry is found on Facebook, the significant news will always find its way to the news forum on Coasterbuzz. And, I like using the forums here, it shows that time and effort has been spent to make it a great experience.
It's been a great ride here so far, looking forward to many more years of involvement.
I'd rather be in my boat with a drink on the rocks, than in the drink with a boat on the rocks.
People who post on this site have been known to get extremely nasty at times but I guess that that goes with the territory.
I love this reputation. Mostly because it's so far from true that it's pretty f'n funny. This forum is one of the most civil, intelligent communities I've ever come across.
I think we live in a world where directness is interpreted as nastiness. You will be challenged here. This is not a "me too" forum. (and I don't mean in the sense of the women's movement stuff) There are a lot of very bright, opinionated people here. No one will ever be even sort of mean, let alone nasty or extremely nasty. If you're going to participate, you're likely going to get challenged at some point - whether it be on some drivel like best loop or the off topic stuff like the place of unions in the 21st century. You will learn a lot by just lurking - not just about parks and the business, but also politics and social issues, it seems. Challenging your ideas isn't a slight, it's a favor. Savor it. You'll grow. (and I know that sounds awfully self-important for a coaster forum, but it's true)
For me, this is like an old corner bar. Not the biggest, not the fanciest, but rather the place with the coolest regulars who have the most interesting things to say. We've sort of beome a niche within the niche - it's the community of unenthusiastic enthusaists. Most of us have been around for a long time and parks have taken a back seat to things in real life, but we still get together and talk shop. It's a mature community - both in the sense of the members that participate and in the sense of the life cycle of the forums.
I'm not sure CoasterBuzz needs to be anything else.
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