The Challenge this past week...
... was to locate communities of people who could act as experts in a field to help us understand a particular topic area. I proposed three topic areas to seek online help: apraxia, slickensides, and learning Finnish.
|A small community solving a navigation challenge
But the difference here is that we're looking for communities of people who are interested in the topic. Generally speaking, online communities are folks who are both interested AND have the time (and inclination) to be helpful. But my friend's comment is a good point: online communities may (or may not) have the world's most expert in that topic. Still, there's a lot of value to be had in Online Communities. People who might not want to be contacted directly might very well participate in a discussion forum, if only because they realize the answer they post might well help many more people than they could help in-person. (So be polite out there! Feel free to ask, but don't get your knickers in a bundle if the one world expert on your topic doesn't answer you immediately!)
What's common between these topics?Smart context term choice: In almost all cases, it's useful to search for groups with context terms like "group" "blog" "support" -- as in:
[ apraxia support groups ]
[ slickenside blog ]
[ learn Finnish discussion ]
In each case, you're looking for an active group of people who are willing, able, and competent to answer your questions.
As many readers noted, you still have to look at the blogs, groups, and forums that you find. Some aren't active, and you want to be sure the people in the groups are well-informed about the content you're looking for.
For example, many of the apraxia groups (e.g., hosted on Yahoo Groups or Google Groups) are inactive or closed. Others require that you join them (which can take a while) in order to read the postings. In any case, you can usually scan the topic headings quickly to figure out if the Group is still active and/or if posters are competent.
In the apraxia example, I found this query to be the most useful:
[ apraxia discussion OR forum OR group ]
It's worth commenting that blogs are typically one (or two) people writing about a topic. That is, they're usually not a "community" in the normal sense of that word, but people who have active blogs often also have a community of commenters. (See the comments on our SearchResearch blog--you're a community, no??)
So getting to ask that community usually means contacting the blog author(s) and asking them. If they don't know the answer, they'll often post it (as I do) to their blog and wait as their regular readers chime in with thoughts and comments.
I think of an active blog as a community with a single contact point person.
Reddit: One trick that Elizabeth pointed out is that Reddit can be thought of as a giant collection of communities. Unfortunately, the built-in Reddit search tool is pretty wonky. When I want to find a sub-Reddit (which is the Reddit sub-thread on a particular topic), I either do:
[ site:reddit.com apraxia ]
[ site:reddit.com inurl:apraxia ]
[ site:reddit.com intitle:slickenside ]
(All of these queries lead to quite interesting subreddits. It's a trick well-worth remembering.)
StackExchange: I'm very fond of the StackExchange network (Rosemary mentioned them in her comments). It's a QA (question answering) site that is very high quality; it's impressive how well this community works together. Using their own built in search tool, you can find "Exchanges" (i.e., places where people ask and answer questions). A search for apraxia in their search tool finds a few things, while a search for "slickenside" yields nothing.
However, if you go up one conceptual category (that is, to a description of the field or science in which slickensides are discussed) you can search for "geology" and find a very nice geology community whose entire reason-for-being is to answer your questions.
Here's what you see if you do a search for "geology" on StackExchange. You can see they call it "Earth Science"--and I'm sure they'd love to answer your questions about slickensides.
As an aside, see the little "powered by Google" note? That means they're using a Custom Search Engine, which basically is the same as using a site: operator on their site.
What's different between these topics?Most people found the "Finnish discussion group" a little harder than the others.
Just searching for "Finnish language" is WAAY too open-ended--you'll spend forever searching for the wheat among the chaff.
As Regular Reader Susan pointed out, one approach is to think about in-real-life communities. She changed her search to:
[ Finnish Language meet ups ]
and found that there’s one in Mountain View (near where my friend lives).
Perhaps the best approach here was to search for:
[ Finnish Language community ]
which leads to a number of online communities (e.g., Linq's Finnish Community, and GoVoluble's Finns, which connects native Finnish speakers with learners worldwide.
One of the big differences is that both the terms "apraxia" and "slickenside" are pretty rare (which we also call "low frequency"), so it's easy to search for them without confusing much of anything. Looking for "Finnish speakers," by contrast, leads to a bunch of audio gearheads who enjoy listening to the distinctively Finnish sound (??) of Finnish speakers, presumably while listening to authentic vinyl records at 33 & 1/3rd rpm.
Oddly, I found a LOT of dead groups (pity...) when searching on the apraxia topic. By contrast, I found very few dead geology groups when searching on the slickenside topic.
I have no idea why. I could speculate about geologist just lasting longer, but in truth, I don't know. It points out (once again) that you really have to read through these things to determine if they're any good or not.
I could go on... But go read the comments from last week's thread. They're all really good. Nice job, readers!
Last question: This week's post was delayed until Monday because I was travelling last Friday. This is probably going to be happening more and more this year.
And yet... maybe there's a bright side to this.
I've noticed that people seem to post additional comments over the weekend. Whenever I DON'T run the answer on Friday, we always pick up a few extra reader comments.
Should I run the Challenges from Wed - Mon? Thu - Mon?
Any thoughts on the topic? If you like the Challenge to be up over the weekend, say so in the comments below.
6/8/15 5:45PM -- Edited the post to note that Rosemary DID mention StackExchange. The previous version of this post said that nobody did; I just missed her comment totally!