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Grazing Etiquette at the CreativeCow forums

CreativeCOW presents Grazing Etiquette at the CreativeCow forums -- COWmunications feedback Editorial

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Toronto Ontario Canada All rights reserved.

In this article for, contributing editor and leader, David Battistella converses with other leaders in search of \'what constitutes good grazing\' or polite etiquette for being part of a fun and truly useful Creative community. Read on as David, Jerry Hoffman, Walter Biscardi, Tom Wolsky and Bob Zelin share their thoughts for keeping the pasture peaceful.

Grazing Etiquette at the CreativeCow forums
Good Grazing

David Battistella discusses Grazing Etiquette at the CreativeCow forums

David Battistella David Battistella

©2006 David Battistella and All Rights Reserved.

Article Focus:
In this article for, contributing editor and leader, David Battistella converses with other leaders in search of 'what constitutes good grazing' or polite etiquette for being part of a fun and truly useful Creative community. Read on as David, Jerry Hoffman, Walter Biscardi, Tom Wolsky and Bob Zelin share their thoughts for keeping the pasture peaceful.

With thousands of posts a week flying around the Creative Cow and the miles of comments, speculation and point-counterpoint going on, I thought I might tap into the experience of some of the most frequent grazers in the Cow's pasture to lend us their insight with what constitutes good grazing.

With a couple of thousand posts under my belt, I have seen my share of threads, but the panel of guests you'll be hearing from is impressive.

Many of you have seen a post from Jerry Hoffman, who has hit some gigantic milestone in the Apple FCP forum of 20,412 posts (and counting as of this writing). Walter Biscardi is a regular Cow contributor and forum leader as is Tom Wolsky. Bob Zelin rounds out the list of frequent grazers I asked to participate in this informal study of etiquette.

I have to be honest, I am a big proponent of the Cow's archive, which is thick with information. Was it an English scholar who determined that there are only 24 stories that mankind shares: each takes on many incarnations, with many characters and situations but every single story falls into one of the twenty four master stories. That is how I feel about the Cow's vast archive, it is awesome and it is easy to search.

I also was hoping to have a link handy to send new posters to this article to have a good, fun basic general guideline to what sorts of things to expect and effective ways to post into these forums and threads. After all, people using the Cow should have a good idea of how they can get the best out of it.

I asked each participant the following questions:
  1. What is the single mistake most new posters make?
  2. What examples of "bad behavior" have you seen on the cow?
  3. What are the limits to what posts should include?
  4. What makes for "good grazing" (online etiquette)?
  5. What makes for a great thread?
  6. What are the top questions a person should ask themselves before they post?
  7. What makes the Cow different from other forums (look, feel, tone, ease of use)?

So we were off to the races. First we tackled the question of "rookie mistakes". These are things that can affect how well your post will be received and how you can get your question answered. Surprisingly it was a pretty simple and unanimous answer. The top three problems the panel reported were similar. Posters generally do not fill in their profiles, which leads to the "what equipment are you running" type threads. This forces unnecessary correspondence in a thread. Posting system details in your user profile or signature is a must to be a good grazer. This will tell someone right away that you can not run uncompressed on a firewire drive or can catch very simple user oversights.

Bob Zelin has been frustrated by this more than a few times. "Many new posters do not state specifics about their system. A post that says 'I have a so-and-so, and it's just not working - any ideas?' -means nothing. It is critical to state exactly what equipment you have, and exactly what you are doing, for someone to diagnose your problem. Saying that your new AJA Kona 3 board does not work, means nothing, when we later find out that you are trying to install it in a MAC G3."

Also, the panel thinks it's a good idea to search the archive first before you post, and as Walter Biscardi states, "Creating multiple threads for the same question clogs up the boards and doesn't answer their questions any faster."

Tom Wolsky found that in the FCP forum, an inordinate number of people have a question about their graphics, "Not sure it's a mistake but the most common problem is the 'why do your graphics look bad?' question."

We have all seen a bunch of threads that get a bit nasty. This usually happens when people start insulting each other's equipment choices or just plain insults them. For this, I called on self proclaimed Cow Bad Boy, Bob Zelin, who states plainly, "Boy - you are asking the WRONG GUY these questions - David - I am a troublemaker, and my writing DEFINES 'bad behavior'."

Bob has been known to put people in their place on the Cow with a direct post generally aimed directly at the poster's wallet. "You cannot use quotes from me on this subject, because it is my opinion and my feeling that users that state 'I just bought this MAC two years ago, and now it's outdated, and I want a REFUND!' - well, these people deserve to be put in their place. This is not Kindergarten."

He has a point. There are invariably posters - or their producers - looking to do the most with the least - using the cheapest gear combo. Walter Biscardi tends to agree. "Then there are the posts that come from the classic consumer who feels they have been done wrong by the computer industry's constant and evolving technological advances, whining about how 'I just bought this and now they came out with a New One. I'm SO MAD they didn't tell me that was coming out.' I'm sure the company feels terrible about not giving you classified information. Everything gets replaced tomorrow, move on."

Jerry Hoffman has pretty much seen everything when it comes to online posts. What would Jerry love to see more of? Well it's just plain English: “Not thanking the responders for their input. Poor English used making the post very difficult to understand or longer to read. Wasting the time of the other posters with questions that have been answered over and over. Starting any post with OK, or 'So'. We are supposed to be professional communicators, and poor English just drives me nuts."

I have to say that a quick search through my posts will turn up about four hundred times that I had spelled "the: teh". So I am definitely guilty of poor grammar and spelling. My solution is going to be re-reads because I do not get all of the cow's quoting features on my Macs)

Jerry is also quick to point out one of the big faux pas of online. I'll call this the "hurry up and answer my post" post. Why is this a problem? Well, it asks people to read your posts more than once. It assumes that you are more important than anyone else posting.

"Posting the same question again if it wasn't answered the first time - or cross posting the same question in many forums."

Cross posting is using cut, copy paste to put your question into more than one forum at a time. I would say that two is the max if you tell people that you are cross posting and if the post is a legitimate "bubble post” one that could be answered by any of the two forums.

Jerry has also seen examples of other poor form like, "Hijacking a thread is also bad behavior. Starting another unrelated question from the first poster in the same thread."

Walter Biscardi extends this out in more specific terms, "Name calling and ridiculing by manufacturers' representatives against Cow users...
Manufacturers 'trolling' in competing forums to drum up threads of 'Us vs. Them'. Rude and snippy comments by posters towards other users. That's just not necessary at all. If you're annoyed by the person, just don't answer.

"Absolute Law posts where the writer insists that there is no other way than the way they describe. There are usually about 10 ways to do anything in production. Often I'll see the back and forth 'But that's not correct, this is correct' 'No, you're not correct, I'm correct' and back and forth we go around and around a topic when in reality, neither is right and neither is wrong. There are multiple ways to do everything, you do it your way and I'll do it my way. As long as the client and/or the broadcasters are happy with the work, we're both right."

Tom Wolsky adds, "Quite a bit of pointless profanity. People with anger issues venting."

This takes us to the question of what should be included in your posts.

Remember, you are posting for free help; so to me you should place your consciousness to a place of humility when you are posting. The people answering are freely giving you information based on experience and with a genuine willingness to share.

So Bob Zelin states that there is an approach one should take when posting, be succinct. "People in trouble have a tendency to go on and on about their problem, but this allows them to spout details about their problem. Simply stating 'this just sucks!' will not help us identify your problems."

Walter thinks that none of the following should be included in a post. "Nothing from Rumor Sites. Zero Speculation about 'what the next computer might have' 'what the next software might have', etc.... Stop these silly arguments and the one up-man ship 'See, I know more about this company and the technological mumbo jumbo than you' stuff. Really silly."

Jerry Hoffman's experience sort of sums it all up. "Posts should be about the problems with software/hardware that relate to the forum topics. Getting off topic is a waste of many readers' time. They should be complete, concise, and not just a rag on the manufacturer of the hardware/software involved. I've seen posts that don't get to the question right at the top of the post, forcing readers or would-be helpers to read through a bunch of opinion, or other information that isn't germane to the question they really have, wasting the time of the readers."

Creative Cow's Ron Lindeboom has a pet peeve of his own when it comes to posts that are a waste of time. "It's the classic 'I'll dump all my questions on you at once and write a tome that takes a week to read and would require weeks to answer,'" says Ron. "If you look around on some of the Cow's most-trafficked forums, you will see this kind of post from time to time. Thankfully, it doesn't happen all the time but it happens and when it does, it shows little respect for the leaders and members who could answer but probably won't because it would take them far too long. Break your questions into bite-sized pieces - use a 'bulleted' approach, not a 'shotgun' approach. People are far more likely to answer if you ask a single clearly defined question, than if you throw the Encyclopedia Productioniana at them and ask them to decipher it for you. Choose your most important question and get that answer. Then take the next question and so on, it will get you your answers far faster than a single post with 52 questions contained within it."

One of the most refreshing things I see on the Cow is a great thread. I come across a thread that has a good subject line and the discussion actually advances ideas. Tom Wolsky has a simple formula for a good thread. "Interesting discussion on working with the application, how people work, and how they would like the application to work." Good threads are many on the Cow and that is what makes it such a popular site with a good vibe.

To Bob Zelin a great thread is about discovery and democracy. "A great thread is when someone asks a question, and then you realize that EVERYONE is having this problem. This can be seen when companies like Apple release new software updates, and then all kinds of hardware stops working. The BEST THREAD is when manufacturers deny anything is wrong, and then countless people post that they are having this exact problem. This was evident when AVID had multiple problems with AVID Xpress Pro, and denied any problems, and then everyone started posting the exact same errors. This to me defines the usefulness of these forums. Often, even 'experts' think that they have done something wrong. When you see that many people are experiencing the exact same issues, it takes the pressure off you, and allows you to redirect it towards the manufacturer."

Which brings us to being nice. Where did niceness go? There are several things that dictate good behavior on the cow. It seems so simple.

"Be friendly," says Walter Biscardi. "Say 'Thank You' from time to time. All the forum leaders and fellow grazers spend thousands of hours each month on the Cow just because we enjoy doing it ... so give a little thanks from time to time for all the free knowledge being shared."

Jerry Hoffman adds, "Kindness, thanking responders for their help. Spell checking their post. Making sure it's not only complete, but has a clear question posted, or a clear answer posted. Many times I've seen the correct answer posted early, but the original questioner simply doesn't try all of the suggested fixes before posting back, and also not giving the information about their system setup when asked for it." Bob Zelin was unavailable for comment on this subject. His agent released the following statement, "you are asking the wrong person."

Jerry suggests a great little tip that I love to follow. It's sort of a way of putting key information in your subject line, think about it as you'd have to search for it in the archive: "posting a title for what really relates to the question at hand, not just asking for help in that title."

Tom Wolsky emphasizes that it is always polite to add a bit more information. "Posting not only what the problem is; but what you've tried to do about it and what your system configuration and software is."

And being nice can pay off in big ways too, just as Walter says about that one, "There ARE so many professionals using the Cow. I owe my work on 'Good Eats' for the Food Network to the Cow. The D.P. of the show asked for some help with his Final Cut Pro system on the AJA Kona forum. I responded and after helping him out, found out who he worked for -- just my favorite show on TV! Long story short, within 3 months of helping him out, I was called in to create animated segments and about 6 months later was asked to help transition the show to high definition post."

So this takes us to the top questions the pros want to see you ask yourself BEFORE a post.


  • Did I perform a Search Posts for an answer first?
  • Have I looked in the product or online manual for the answer?
  • If I'm a beginner, should I post this in the Creative Calf instead?
  • When answering a question - Am I completely sure of my answer before I offer it?
  • Did I perform a Search Posts for an answer first?

Tom Wolsky

  • Have I searched for the answer?

Bob Zelin

  • Ask yourself - "did I try everything?" and "did I look at the manual?"

Jerry Hoffman

  • Have I read my own post before actually posting it?

David Battistella

  • Have I placed my questions in a list?
  • What precise information do I want?
  • Am I asking in a way that people would want to answer?
  • Have I thought through my problem?
  • Have I filled out my user profile?
  • Did I do a search?
  • AM I SHOUTING AT PEOPLE? Caps are a huge no-no.

These questions are all important ones. By and large, Cow users are working pros who need to troubleshoot and that is what makes it such a fascinating community.

These are the things that make it great according to Walter Biscardi, "The level of professionals using and sharing knowledge through the Cow is more impressive than any other forum I've seen out there. The participation of the manufacturers is tremendous and really an asset to the Cow. The Search feature is outstanding and I always recommend people try using that feature before every post because odds are, your answer is waiting for you only seconds away."

Jerry Hoffman just loves the interface, "It's easy to use, its tone is more professional than most forums, and its search functions are extremely fast."

Bob Zelin feels that more users can see how manufacturers treat their customers in an open worldwide forum. "What makes the Cow great is that so many manufacturers are on this forum. It is not controlled by the manufacturers, and the manufacturers can't pull off posts that they don't like. There is INCREDIBLE VALUE to having a group of people say 'this junk is not working', as opposed to one lone voice, who feels that he is alone. Many companies could not take the badgering, and withdrew from Creative Cow, as well as their own user forums. Other excellent companies, like G-Tech, take the heat (when they started up), and resolve these issues, and they show that they make their customers happy. This is to the credit of these companies, that are not afraid to deal with, and resolve their problems." He then adds, "Creative Cow puts the end users in control, and makes the manufacturers answer to them in a public forum. It allows users to see what kind of tech support a company offers, and what other users - just like them - have to deal with. It becomes obvious very rapidly which companies are responsive to their customers, and which ones are not. An independent forum like Creative Cow has much greater value than a company owned user forum, where negative posts can be deleted at will, to insure the company does not look bad in front of other users. In my opinion, companies that have stuck with Creative Cow are the great companies, and companies that have withdrawn their user forums have something to hide."

Tom Wolsky puts it about as plainly as you would want to see any post on the Cow. "I think it's the comprehensive array of forums. I'm only on a few, but there's something here for everybody involved in creative multimedia production."

So go on and use the Cow armed with a few details to help you be a good grazer in the finest of pastures on the net!

David Battistella

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