Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Spark into life

In this hobby, people often reinvent the wheel just because they can. Someone builds a transmitter or receiver from their own design, rather than copying someone else's, because they can learn from it, and because it is interesting. However, I'm not sure this approach makes sense for web-based projects.

This morning I saw a Ham Banner Exchange ad for Sparkgap.net - a ham community. I clicked on the link, and what I saw was a fledgeling site, still with a lot of bits to be implemented, where hams can chat to each other, upload photos, exchange files and so on.

It looks nice enough. But is there a need for it? We already have QRZ.com and eHam.net. There is Yahoo Groups, which hosts hundreds of ham-radio related mailing lists. Personally I hate Yahoo Groups, because I don't want my email box filling up with that stuff, and the web interface stinks. But most hams seem to be happy with it. Then there is 73s.org, which many object to just because of its name, but which seems to be doing what Sparkgap is seeking to do, and actually appears to be gaining popularity.

The trouble with web communities is that they need a critical mass in order to be successful. A year or so ago Thom K3HRN and I set up the Zerobeat Forum. We did actually have an excuse - it was originally meant to be just a demo of what a web forum alternative to the Elecraft email reflector could be like, though the Elecraft users, being a forward looking bunch, mostly shunned it. But since we had done the work, we decided to open some more general discussion boards and make it available as a more general ham radio forum. However, although there are nearly 400 members, the last post was more than two months ago. You need a lot more participation than that to keep people coming back, and when there are already active forums in existence, there is little incentive for people to visit another one.

It's probably time to pull the plug on the Zerobeat Forums. Whether Sparkgap.net will eventually suffer the same fate only time will tell.
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