Monday, 30 June 2014

Some Solutions

So after my big blow up, I've woken up this morning having read some comments. Thank you for all the expressions of support. I'm just one guy, but I want to suggest some solutions to the problems that I brought up. Feel free to chime in with your ideas.

Problem 1: A Better Forum?

This problem is very hard and very easy to solve at the same time. The reason why Head Fi is so dominant today is the very reason why there are issues with it in the first place.
Head Fi generates a huge amount of hype and activity, and this draws in search traffic and sponsors, which in turn generate huge amounts of hype and activity. Head Fi also has several features, such as integrated gear reviews, which optimise the site for search engine visibility.

Several people have suggested I start my own audio forum. I have no capacity or time to do that at the moment, but I would support any initiative to start a new forum that was community funded and organised. 

I think the following things are key aspects to any forum:

  • The forum's financial support should come from users. No sponsorship or advertising from companies related to the market. Or at the very least, the advertising department should be completely isolated from the administration.
  • The forum should be to a large part community moderated so that good posts rise to the top and bad posts sink below the visibility threshold, like Reddit. While this might run into the same groupthink problems Reddit has, I think that this is better than having a forum where the most visible posts are simply the ones that generate the most posting activity. This promotes spam.
  • Forum moderation should be transparent, liberal, and hopefully fairly unnecessary.

I actually think that Reddit and particularly the r/headphones/ subreddit is actually a fairly good community. The problem with Reddit at the moment is that it doesn't really lend itself to rich sticky content or any higher order of organisation for gear reviews, though there is an associated Wiki for that. The other issue is that r/headphones seems mostly concentrated on buying advice. I believe that overtime if there was more activity on the subreddit, naturally new subreddits would be spawned that addressed specific topics. My favourite I've found so far is r/audiojerk!

Problem 2: Review Units

I've already explained why I think review units are a problem and why I think crowdfunding is a good solution. But here is another solution. A kind of 'lending library' network for headphones. This was actually suggested by a fair number of people. Here's vaguely how I think it might work, though obviously the devil is in the details.

  • People put their hands up to lend out a piece of gear.
  • A centralised website / catalogue keeps track of what is on offer and who is loaning.
  • People pay a deposit or ongoing fee to access the library. This pool of money acts as a kind of insurance pool in cases of theft or fraud.
  • People pay a fee and/or a deposit to loan out a headphone. This fee is paid to the person loaning out the headphone to pay for postage, wear and tear, maintenance that needs to be done on the headphone, as well as generally to incentivise people to lend out headphones. Perhaps the catalogue should also take a cut of this fee so that the organisation scales with activity.
  • All participants in the lending library (both lenders and lendees) are rated and verified by other members.

Now obviously there are all kinds of problems with this model, including situations where a person might lend a headphone to a friend and then claims the headphone was stolen.

An alternative would be to kind of start a pseudo private headphone retailer with an extremely long return policy, low margins and no restocking fee (which would be ideal for reviewers). The retailer would also either take crowdfunding support or ongoing fees from buyers to support access to this resource. I think this could also be considered a buyers club?

Anyway these are just some ideas off the top of my head after yesterday's negativity. Chime in with your own!