I started TheChocolateLife back in January 2008 as an on-line community to share my passion for chocolate. That passion was ignited back in 1994, led to my starting chocophile.com back in May 2001 and to getting a book published in 2007, and to enabling me to travel to many interesting places and make a lot of very good friends.
But it almost didn't happen that way. Very early on, one of my first members (Casey Meshbesher of the now-shuttered The Chocolate Note), posted a review that did not meet "my guidelines." Casey pushed back saying that if I was going to try to control what people had to say - and how they said it - I would not be very successful in growing the community.
Very good advice, indeed, and I think that some of the success of the community - which is fast approaching 6000 members - is that I try to encourage a generally very positive and forward-thinking attitude in my writing and in members' discussions. Many members are surprised to find out that I spend more time behind the scenes corresponding with members than I do creating my own original content and contributing to others' discussions.
All of this came to a head over the past few days as a new member pushed back on some recent discussions I started. After taking the discussion off-line, it became apparent to me that I was at the kind of crossroads I was at back in early 2008 when Casey whacked me upside the head (metaphorically speaking).
As the community is now thousands (and not tens as it was back then), it makes sense for me to stand back and take stock of what my goals and mission are for the community. At the same time, it makes even more sense for me to ask you what you want to see in TheChocolateLife over the next four years.
So - tell me: What am I doing that you like (and don't like) and what would you like to see more of (and less of) on TheChocolateLife. I am constrained, somewhat, by the software platform, in what I can do and keep the site free for all to enjoy, but I will do what I can to learn from the spirit and intent of what you have to say - positive and not so positive - in order to help make the community work for ChocolateLife members around the world.
One option that is open to me on the Ning platform is to put some "premium" content and features behind a pay wall. I am not saying I am going to do this, just that I can - and I want community input on this as well as other ideas for providing new services and features to members.
1) What kind(s) of content would you be willing to pay for?
2) How much would you be willing to pay for it?
i have started following your website just about a year ago and i have really learned a lot. I also have shared my notes on beans, roasting and participated on a lot of discussion.
I found so interesting to contribute together with people from the 4 side of the world.
I understand you fear to loose control of the situation by someone pointing bad at your forum, but generally speaking this is a "open source" of knowledge: Someone like me will use to learn, someone will use to "spy" and someone just for the fun of accusing.
I like it, and i enjoyed discussions that are technically orientated.
I think Clay, you should still have input to the forum with your own discussion, opening up the forum to new ideas but also having a look at trends and political decision regarding chocolate (like the story about Fair trade)
Paying, not sure about... no one like to pay for sharing information.... and who will make the money? the Forum owner or the people that put the informations?
an online book library could be a cool idea.... small year fees, unlimited access and if i want to buy a Hard Copy of one of the books, a good discount should apply...
my 2 South African Rand of suggestions..
This is one of my favorite sites and I have also learned a great deal here. I enjoy reading about what people are doing around the world related to cacao production and appreciate all the expertise I have found among the members and Clay. I have no complaints.
Clay, this site is by far and away the site I visit the most, several times a day, I have learnt an incredible amount, made many contacts and contributed in kind, though I do tend to answer most of my own posts. I think the free and sharing nature of this site, a nature that you have fostered is an excellent one and hopefully it inspires others to do the same. I for one have met many growers from Australia's neighbouring countries and have consulted to them on many aspects of small scale chocolate making, roasting profiles, formulations, feedback on beans etc. I don't charge for this 'service', I taught myself chocolate making from this site and chocolatealchemy, from information provided freely and I pass that along. By doing this however, I get something much more valuable, I have built a up a wealth of knowledge and experience in local cacao and eaten a fair bit of it too!
As for paying for something on here, I don't know, I can't think of anything, maybe others can, I feel though it would impinge on the sharing nature of the site. Sure, though, people have to make money.
Actually, one thing I would pay for would be a 'Chocolate Life Magazine' (online) with well written and nicely edited stories. You do get that sort of thing on this site and from the blogs of chocolate makers etc but they are all a bit piece meal and you have to remember to go back for an update, and not all the info is in the one place in a easily digestible form. Editing an online magazine would be very time consuming though.
The free sharing nature of this site is what makes it so special. That fact that people from all over the globe can discuss their chocolate passion and share knowledge is remarkable and would be nice to remain as is.. Tom brings up an interesting concept of an online magazine. With all the travels you've done I'm sure you could create some great content as well as have contributors. I miss Cocoaroma Magazine and would be happy to purchase a subscription to read the kind of articles , see the pictures etc. That magazine had interesting historical content as well as visits to places around the equator. I loved the chocolate shop and store window photos as they gave me ideas for my own displays and packaging. I read it cover to cover and sold it in my store.