The suggestion box is open: how can the FM site be improved?

This week the FM site hits some new milestones, as Internet sites are measured.  This is just a dot in the great Internet ocean, but has had modest success in the class of English-language sites featuring long and somewhat technical articles about geopolitics.

So let’s open the suggestion box!  How can the FM site be improved?   {Important note:  the software is provided for free by Wordpress, any tech ideas must be directed to them}

Keep in mind this is a hobby for the proprietor, who often wonders if building ships in a bottle would be a better use of time.  As background, the current version of the “About Fabius Maximus and this blog” page is reprinted below.

New milestones for the FM site, since opened in November 2007

  • 300 thousand visits, per Sitemeter. 
  • 500 thousand page views, per WordPress. 
  • Technorati “authority” of 220 (a measure of links to the FM site).
  • 500 posts
  • 4500 comments posted (perhaps the most important metric).

The first three of these metrics appear at the bottom of the right side menu bar.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Current version of the About Fabius Maximus and this blog page

Contents

  1. The focus of the FM blog
  2. Navigation tips
  3. Important notes about the operation of this blog
  4. Are blogs useful for America?
  5. Who was Fabius Maximus?
  6. Qualifications of the Author
  7. A thank you for the creator of this site

I.  The focus of the FM blog

We live in exciting times, when many things that have long remain fixed become unstuck.  America is changing.  The post-WWII geopolitical and financial regimes are ending.  The era of cheap energy is ending. And none can foretell what comes next.

This blog discusses geopolitics – broadly defined as economics, government, sociology and the military arts – from an American’s perspective.  This includes topics such as grand strategy, demographics, and peak oil.   Here we seek a perspective from which to better see events and trends — things on the edge of our available information, on the edge of known theory.

First person data is welcomed, but not considered definitive.  Both the on-the-spot observer and the analyst each have their role, and only by working together can we effectively seek the truth.

Are these things discussed here good or bad?  Please consult a priest or philosopher for answers to such questions.  This author only discusses what was, what is, and what might be.

The world is changed, I can feel it in the water, I can feel it in the earth, I can smell it in the air.
Said by Treebeard, leader of the Ents, from The Two Towers– part II of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

II.  Navigation tips

The site is thoroughly cross-linked, for easy navigation.  The menu bar on the right provides five ways to help you find material of interest.

  1. The FM Reference Library – These pages provide links to both my posts and valuable resources elsewhere on the Internet.
  2. The Search box.
  3. Archives – a drop-down menu showing articles by month.
  4. See posts about these subjects — Archives by category; shows the number of posts in each.
  5. Tag Cloud — click on the word to see all posts mentioning that tag; size shows relative frequency of those posts.

The pages in the reference library contain archives about declassified National Intelligence Estimates, reports about the Amry’s greatest threat, articles by top writers about modern warfare, about our various wars, about peak oil, about the end of the post-WWII geopolitical regime, and more.

III.  Important notes about the operation of this blog

  1. Read the posts of this blog as Dickens was read in the 19th century, a book delivered to you by installments. 
  2. Most of these posts discusses things on the edge of our knowledge and theory.  For clarity, forecasts are stated in somewhat black and white terms.  You can mentally insert the necessary qualifiers, the most important of which is “future is the unknown — all we can do is guess.”
  3. This is written for a general audience, hence you will see few abbreviations, jargon, and technical terminology.  Definitions follow the Dept of Defense Dictionary, JP 1-02, to the extent practical (click here to see the PDF of JP 1-02).
  4. Join the discussion by posting your comments and corrections!  Or email them to fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).  Please follow the comment policy:    make them brief, relevant to the post, civil, and legal.
  5. Unless you specify otherwise, emails may be posted to the appropriate comments section — anonymously, unless you explicitly give permission to cite you.
  6. Because of the emerging nature of copyright law on the Internet, we try to comply with the fair use provisions of Title 17, Section 107, U. S. Code. All extracts from copyrighted works are either quoted by permission or are intended solely for the purpose of commentary. Where possible, we have linked to the original source, or to the web site of the copyright holder.

IV.  Are blogs useful for America?

Do blogs provide any benefit to America, any social utility?  Some thoughts about this can be found here.

V.  Who was Fabius Maximus?

Fabius Maximus (280 – 203 BC) saved Rome from Hannibal by recognizing Rome’s weakness and therefore the need to conserve its strength. He turned from the easy path of macho “boldness” to the long, difficult task of rebuilding Rome’s power and greatness. His life holds profound lessons for 21st Century Americans.

VI.  Qualifications of the Author

There are two answers to this.

First, this site welcomes debate.  No censoring or banning critics, like even “best of breed” sites like the Small Wars Council and Realclimate (except for too-long, intemperate, or off-topic comments, per the comment policy).  The comments to many posts are many times longer than the post.  In debate are these things tested.  And this site is littered with “updates” correcting posts’ logic and facts.

On another level, a work of intellectual analysis stands on its own logic, supported only by the author’s track record.  You can easily assess my record by using the dropdown calendar to read old articles.  After four or five years the dust settles and forecasts can be evaluated.  For example, here are my first four articles.  They were controversial at the time, like much of the work you will find at this site.

  1. Scorecard #1: How well are we doing in Iraq? How well is our opposition doing?  (22 September 2003)
  2. Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?  (31 October 2003)
  3. Scorecard #3: the Coalition’s Progress in Iraq  (9 November 2003)
  4. Scorecard #4: New developments in Iraq  (22 November 2003)

VII.  A thank you for the creator of this site

This blog was created by the Gina of the Defense and National Interest
editorial staff, whose skill and long effort are responsible for its design and smooth operation.

20 thoughts on “The suggestion box is open: how can the FM site be improved?

  1. I’d not worry about “improving” the site per se: Superficial changes don’t increase utility, indexing is by google these days, and the strength is the conversation.

    OK, one thing I’d change: I’d add a google search button underneath the wordpress search button: google search results can often be more useful and easier to browse.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The software is provided for free by WordPress. Any suggestions for technical changes must be directed to them!

  2. Agree with Weaver. The site is in the top tier of content and ease of navigation. Antyhing prettier, richer or more complicated with content (like book advertisements) or prominently displayed archive categories, would be distracting. I made the same comment about Helena Cobban’s site recently, and she changed it anyway!

  3. Adding google search sounds good.

    Maybe a separate quick way to suggest minor typo corrections?
    “somewhat technical auricles “
    since I often note them, I’d like to let you know, but it’s a little deal. I almost don’t want to use a comment; certainly not a full email.

    I’d be very interested in what you think are the strongest critiques AGAINST some of the folks, like Prof. Roubini, whom you mostly agree with.

    Your italic comments on comments are super.

  4. Big on text, light on graphics: good.
    Lots of links: good.
    Allows comments: good.
    Policy of responding to selected comments: good.
    Content: that’s why visitors drop by. We get much more than we pay for. Please continue. But please be alert to signs of growing frustration and the risk of burnout.

  5. Hmm… I must admit it I thought when I saw “somewhat technical auricles” I thought it was some sort of pun or archaic spelling of “oracles.”

    Since I’m new to the site, I can’t think of any improvements. One of the universal things I like in blogs, whatever their political stripe is a lack of mendacity, a lack of partisan blinders and a lack of sugar coating. I appreciate this blog for those reasons, so don’t change them.

  6. I agree with Celebau that formatting tools and perhaps some sort of a spellchecker would be nice. Other than that everything is great.

  7. 1. Symbolically this is exactly equivalent to building ships in bottles… it is a means of a sort of transport in a transparent container, on a small scale. The literal approach would benefit you and whoever saw them, as well, but improve your dexterity and their esthetics, whereas this benefits both you and they in different ways. But I digress and patronize, albeit with humorous intent.

    2. Proofread your stuff better, or have someone do it for you… spellcheck would help but one tires of reading about reigning in people who are out of control and the like.

    3. Like all technologies the Internet is value neutral and intensifies pre-existing phenomena in one or more dimensions. There is no free lunch, and no expenditure on any level that doesn’t yield some form of nutrition on some level.

    4. Invite Christopher Buckley aboard somehow. The overall mission here should be post-ideological, global, pragmatic, effective. We’re already in the plague years, let’s get right to the renaissance.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Proofing would be wonderful. But there is nobody to do it, and the time budget for running this site is always overdrawn.

  8. Articles come in thick and fast (not a complaint!), but personally I find it hard to keep track of which one links to which in a series. One of your strengths is laying things out in clear logical progression (military background I trow?). So one small suggestion I have is that there is a little index page or something that lists articles in a series rather than just being able to access a whole load of articles with a common tag which is not quite the same.

    I guess my sense is that there is a great wealth of material here but I find it a little like I am navigating through a forest and losing bearings; there is so much density in the immediate surroundings that all I can do is value each encounter as it arises even though I know it has antecedents and cross-references that would deepen such encounter.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Agreed! This is a common problem with blogs, given the primative state of free blogging software. Since few blogs grow in size or complexity sufficient to warrant better organizational tools, they are not provided at this time.

    As it is, the simple cross-indexing provided in the menu bar is done by hand — and requires quite a bit of time to maintain.

  9. Fab —

    Congratulations on your impending first anniversary. I remember when we kicked you off DNI, I mean, when we suggested that a blog format might be more suited to your unique talents, it was as if we’d prescribed root canal without novocaine. “But nobody will read me except my mother and my dog!” were, as I recall, your exact comments.

    I’m happy to point out that for once, our intuition was better than yours.

    Now that you’re an internationally recognized “influential blogger,” we look forward to another year of acidic commentary on the inanities of the day. Unless, that is, the new administration offers you a high position in the Treasury or DoD, which they will do if they have any sense at all.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You were correct about this, as you usually are.

    However, my dog is as likely as I to obtain high office in the new Administration. Consensus thinking is the ticket to advancement in the US government, with some exceptions on the basis of personal relationships.

  10. You might consider developing this site into a new breed of think-tank, allocating ad space, and having a second forum where you don’t moderate. I admire the format of the comments, but wonder what would happen in an additional, differently-regulated venue — a Legislature, if you will, to the comments’ Judiciary.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Many or most of the “next generation” of significant websites have funding. I doubt it is possible to run a significant site for long without some source of support, except for folks of independent means. Some examples:

    Brad Setser at the Council on Foreign Relations. James Fallows at The Atlantic. Matthew Yglesias at Center for American Progress Action Fund. Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, at Pajamas Media (advertising-based).

  11. Dear Fabius,
    Really like the site, good content, very good links. Nice long term perspective.

    I do not, however, much care for the visual character of the site. I wish I could be more specific, but at times it looks hard to read. In particular, would you consider some format where each text line is shorter and centered. I wish I could articulate what I’m suggesting better.

    In terms of visual character of blogs, I rather like the way Suck.com used to do things. The format made the articles rather easy to read.

  12. I think this blog is excellent in many ways, and it is most interesting, readable/understandable, fresh, and open. I laugh heartily whenever I read a comment accusing the owner of bias. Such a remark is so irrelevant, or at best reflects a fear of honest discourse, or an inability to recognize it.

    The one comment I would make on format is that list of previous articles often included in multiple posts could be replaced by a single link called ‘background’ that could point to one of a set of posts that collect the links to articles of a type. It would streamline the most recent articles, so that a new post on say peak oil could point to a single peak oil article list (that could be kept up to date), while an article on Iraq could have a ‘background’ link that pointed to the Iraq article list.

    Anyone who could not cope with this or was too lazy to do so should be encouraged to click the red X.

  13. Change the comment architecture to allow indented cascading replies (I know my web lingo is probably off here) like TPMCafe, for example. When somebody spouts some BS (present company excepted) it ought to be followed directly by a counter (other than FM).

  14. From what little I have read of your blog I have been very impressed- it is indeed pretty unique & informative. Since I am still at a shallow level of understanding much of what’s here, my only suggestion would be from a design standpoint.

    On the page as I view it in MSIE 6.0, there is a light green border on the right side of the window. The text is supposed to go until it hits this light green border, and then wrap around to the left side of the window for the next line. I often find that what actually happens is, a line of text starting on the left side of the window will go until it hits the light green border on the right, and continue under the light green border, re-appearing at the extreme right edge of the window. Then it wraps. In this way, large portions of the comments are un-readable, and I have to copy them into Word or something similar. This bug seems to come and go. If you or your web designer could fix that it would be helpful.

  15. FM. Have you considered running a simple $70.00 per annum website on which you collect your articles and arrange them in a satisfactory manner (and which could be linked here in the blog). Most such websites also offer blog/forum options although I personally am not nearly technical enough to have explored them. This blog works great.

    But it really wouldn’t cost much to have a website with everything up there for people to read and it really isn’t all that hard to do technically if all you do is upload articles and arrange them in various menus. If you have Frontpage with Windows, as basic as it is, it is not much different from using a Word Processor once you learn a few basic routines. (You could even have one ad up there to pay for it, I am sure! )
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Interesting idea, but that would take more time than I have. Linking up with an existing site — as Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, did with PajamasMedia — probably would work better. Should the volume grow to warrant it.

  16. Apparently I was not clear about technical features.

    In this virtual world, think of WordPress as God. Like the great God above, WordPress gives the gift of blog-life without thought of reward. One can pray to either God or WordPress for new features or changes to the world, but should not expect quick results.

  17. My suggestion: start an Amazon wish list, provided that you can structure something with the requisite anonymity. You and your readers will both benefit. I will gladly make the first donation.

    Thank you for providing a valuable public service.

  18. Methinks havin’ a counter detailin’ exactly WHICH post & WHEN did said individual posted comment would be useful. I’m almost always zeroing on Greg Panfile’s, Duncan Kinder’s, Oldskeptic’s, along with Al L.’s. I missed out on the others’ ‘coz some posts have comments by the tens or HUNDRED (last I saw think ’twas the post ’bout McCain thinkin’ everyone’s stupid).

    Mr K. : have a nice weekend. Enjoyed our little duel. Apologies for havin’ pulled first. :)

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