At Large : To-ing and fro-ing on the web
First, a word or two about what's working. We've added a Buy Photos feature to mvtimes.com that invites visitors to the site to buy copies of photographs that appear in the newspaper, either in the print or online editions. You'll find the link on the navigation bar below the masthead on our site. It's working very nicely and, I'm happy to report, you like it. Things are reasonably priced, which helps.
In the past, we often got calls from readers who wanted that picture of the daughter who won the kids trout derby, or the son who hit the home run or pitched the no-hitter. It was an awkward process to satisfy these requests. The new feature - you'll find a link on the opening page of the site - makes it easy, inexpensive, and quick. You order the photo, whatever size you like, even framed, and it will be mailed directly to you.
The webcams. The webcams are among the most frequently visited features of mvtimes.com. Readers use the webcam images as screensavers. They write to ask that we move the camera this way or that to change the view to suit their interests. They email friends on other continents to say that they'll be standing in the webcam view extending a birthday wish, so check it out. They look at the website and write to say that they can't wait to return for the summer. Webcams have been big winners since we added them to the site.
The site now features not only views of Vineyard Haven Harbor, Five Corners, South Beach (not much happening there in the off season), and the Oak Bluffs Harbor (courtesy of the harbormaster), but we've added views of Edgartown Harbor (courtesy of Edgartown Marine), and the construction work at the new Island hospital. Perhaps you have a location in mind over which you'd like to exercise some virtual oversight. Let us know.
As You See It, the feature which allows and encourages visitors to upload photos and videos of themselves or their favorite Vineyard places or activities, has also been a big hit. There are hundreds of categorized images on the site now, and more every day. By the way, we like the way you look.
The Real Estate part of the site has been enhanced, enlarged, and with its powerful search function, made more useful. And there's much more in the wings.
Now, on the other hand, we've struggled to strike the right note with the Comment feature on The Martha's Vineyard Times website. That's the feature that allows readers to immediately post comments on a news, feature, or opinion article they've just read. It's the work of a moment to let your voice be heard. Of course, as soon as your opinion airs, there's every chance that a contrary opinion will quickly follow. So, conversations begin and continue, as all sides have at it. It's been very popular, but it's also been gut wrenching at times. We began with few rules or limits, but that was a mistake. It turns out that civility and good nature are not universally embraced by an anonymous Comment-posting population. So we've changed and beefed up the rules, including review of every proposed comment. It's much better now.
The Comment features on mvtimes.com and other newspaper web sites exist at the wild frontier between newspapering and the Internet. It's that boundary between what we newsfolk like doing and know how to do and what makes us squirm unhappily. So, we adapt. We think our changes to the Comment feature have been successful, and for the most part, we're happy. The new system is working nicely. It's not carefree for the person - me - who must review each post before it goes up. The you've-got-mail dinger on my computer raises a fuss at all hours of the day and night, and wherever I happen to be. But, as we suspected, 98 percent of the posters are goodhearted, moderate sorts who wouldn't think of writing a lacerating post. I've trashed only a handful of aspiring posts since we've made the switch, though some I've allowed have been borderline, and someone else might have made a different decision. With time, we'll be able to refine the process. After all, we're adapting as fast as we can.
In fact, the experience with the Comment feature is a good example of our experience with the website over the years. We've built and rebuilt mvtimes.com many times during the past 10 or 15 years. We've tried something we thought would please readers, only to find they didn't give a damn. We've added a feature, then ripped it apart and rebuilt it so it would work right.
And - here's the bummer in the news - we're about to do some pruning with the Reader Forum and the Times Blogs. Both will shortly disappear. The future of the Reader Forum is in grave doubt, mainly because the Comment feature seems to have supplanted it. The future of the blogs is brighter, but our planning is in its earliest stages.
And - we appeal to you - in this effort to reinvigorate the Times Blogs, as in all our efforts to enhance mvtimes.com, your suggestions will be warmly welcomed.