2017 Site Feedback and Planning Chat with Julia

Welcome, everyone! Great to have you here. Thanks in advance for participating! This is a different chat than the norm, as there's no guest involved - it's all about back-and-forth and give-and-take this week! I'd love to hear your feedback about the site! I'll also be asking you some very pointed questions about how things could be done differently to enhance everyone's experiences here!
To kick off, let me frame this conversation with some of my goals for 2017! After all, it's that time of year, right?!
As much as I love my time here on the site, one of my primary goals for 2017 is to find ways to make Cookie Connection less taxing on me while still delivering great content to each and every member. My work to support Cookie Connection has grown to nearly full-time, and that commitment is getting tough to swing with the ever-increasing demands of my paying work. While I want to encourage everyone here to dream big about new site features and content, I also want you to understand that our collective dreaming needs to be tempered with a dose of reality. Because Cookie Connection is fueled by volunteers (our wonderful contributors), I also need to be especially conscious of how site activities are prioritized. And because I don't charge for access to the site, I also have very real budget constraints. That all said, don't be surprised if I ask you to make some choices and trade-offs during this conversation!
So, let's dig in with feedback from you . . .
I would be interested in a section that promoted packaging ideas. Creative pictures of how others package and present a completed order would be helpful. It could include products links for bags, boxes, and trays.
I am looking to improve my cookie photography skills. Any resources for photos and or videos would be great.
Great ideas about packaging areas and photo skills development, Cookie Me This! Creating new content or content areas (and feeding them with material and managing them over time) is a very time-consuming proposition, so I'd need to find someone to lead the charge in developing these ideas, since my time is maxed out. . . this would be true for any new content we might add. I think we would need to do more than create a forum topic on these subjects, as we already have one on "packaging" and very few people contribute to it. That said, would you like to take the lead on developing these ideas, or do you know of someone who would be good?
Hi, Frost Me Beautiful! It's only you and me right now!
I'm still posting answers to questions that were asked earlier, but feel free to add your comments at any time.
Hi Julia!
In case I will not be available for the chat, I wanted to leave some comments for thought. My biggest concern on the site is the lack of feedback by the majority of cookiers who post, like a few cookies, and leave. How can we engage them to stay, leave a comment of encouragement, use the 24-hour chat room, or comment on a blog? I very often see posts on Facebook cookie sites for emergency help - I wish that everyone used Cookie Connection as their go-to for that. Personally, my biggest problem is time, and I am sure many others feel the same. I find stopping and commenting on every cookie I like to be too time consuming, even though I want to. I don't see a faster way except maybe to be able to like a cookie with a click, and maybe to be able to comment with a click without opening the cookie photo. It is just too time consuming otherwise, so I limit my comments and I am very sorry to admit it.
Tina, I agree; one of the biggest concerns I have with the site is that we have a vast array of resources here, that take a tremendous amount of time to maintain, and the photo areas still seem to be the primary draw. It's tough to get people to engage in forum dialogues and in the 24-7 chat room - heck, even in planned chats. I really don't know why that is, so I would be interested to hear the group's thoughts on that.
Any thoughts, Frost Me Beautiful or Manu, about how to get more engagement?
I mean, the chats here are a prime example. It's just three of us. Granted, the topic today is not as interesting as cookies, but our chat turnout is very low, and I think they are a great and very valuable resource.
I meant "very low in general even when the topic is cookies".
I'm afraid I dont have many suggestions but I want to participate more on this awesome site and its my go to for information on the boards. I really like the Practise Bakes Perfect challenges, and how its a competition against ourselves
I love the chats and the forums are my biggest resource!
Great - glad to hear that. Not too many comment on the forums, to be honest. But perhaps more people are reading them than I am aware. I don't have great visibility into the traffic into each forum, just the comments.
Christine Donnelly, aka Bakerloo Station, is responsible for the challenges . . .
and she does an awesome job.
I think they are well moderated and when they slip off topic I like how its directed into a relevant thread so its easy to find the information
Good to know - I try to keep them reasonably organized for that reason - so people can actually find answers to the question at the top!
I dont tend to comment as usually my questions are answered however one of my goals is to become more active on the site
Tell me, ladies, since I have you here . . . are there any things you think we could do away with (in the spirit of easing the time management demands on the site)? Or types of content we should have more of?
Yes she does a wonderful job. What would you like to see users doing more?
I'd love to see more users initiating content - since this is a community-based site, we are only as strong as our members' contributions.
People tend to mostly post photos, which is great. But anyone can submit a blog post or start a forum conversation or draft a survey.
We also have a 24-7 chat room (under the Chats area) for "emergency" Q&A, but no one uses it.
So, a burning question for me is: should I be spending valuable time maintaining all of these areas? Are people just not interested, or do they just not know that these features exist?
I've got more pre-answered questions in the hopper, so let me return to those for a bit.
I am not familiar with the entire site, so I dont know what to recommend things to cut back, but I know for photos I tend to use IG
The photo area is the most popular area of this site too.
I am also wondering if it could be at all possible to have a more consistent time for cookies to be spotlighted. Pick a time and day and the trending cookies then are the cookies highlighted in the subject you chose for the week. (Or at least as close to that as possible.) We know you travel and teach and things come up so everyone understands exceptions.
Tina, with respect to photo viewing and interaction with photos, you can already scroll through the photos on the main clips page and like photos without opening the photo detail pages. We have had this functionality at least since last November when the site was overhauled. Just go to this page (http://cookieconnection.juliausher.com/clips), and click on the heart icon under the photo to like it. Hopefully, this will make your viewing and liking faster from here on out!
Tina, I agree, it would be nice to also be able to comment on an image without opening it; this is a suggestion I've had into the site development team for several months now and they have not elected to implement it. As I alluded to at the start of the chat, I have very little budget to develop new software functionality on the site. Because Cookie Connection is free to members, I have to be very conscious of costs, of course. Hoop.la is also a shared platform, upon which many communities ride, so the best way to get SOFTWARE changes made at no cost to me is to make a suggestion to the entire Hoop.la community of communities (Hoop.la customers). If the idea appeals to enough Hoop.la customers, then Hoop.la will generally implement it across all of their customer-communities at no cost to any of us. Though this can take time. So, again, this idea is already in the hopper, just waiting for others to latch onto it. I'll be sure to press for it again after this chat is over, because I also think it's a great idea.
I think its awareness really
I've been trying to post more reminders of various features in the news flashes that pop up when you enter this site, and also in the forums. Been doing this for several months, but it doesn't seem to make a difference.
Tina, you've asked me before if I could pick a more specific time for posting the Spotlights, and my answer was no. And it remains no. Before I explain why, could you explain to me why it's important to you to have it released at the exact same time each week?
Tina's not here on the chat, so she can't answer the question I posed for her. So I'll ask you guys - is it important that the Spotlights be posted at the exact same time on Saturday each week?
I would like to read more about the clips posted when this is possible. I mean, I like stories behind cookies, I would like to know more.
I would too. I think one way to get that to happen is for members to ask those questions of those posting, to encourage more personal dialogue.
No it doesn't matter to me what time the Spotlights are posted
Also, the "leaders" of this community (i.e., the active posters, like Teri and Manu, who are also on this chat) could take the lead by explaining how they develop their work when they post. Maybe if some people lead the charge by posting brief explanatory comments under their photos, it will become more of the norm and culture to do so. What do you think of that idea, Teri and Manu?
I think the main takeaway is that we need more active participation from the members.
Yes, I was just encouraging to write more, to explain why a certain set was made. Usually when I am curios about it I just ask. the first collaboration with Ryoko @cookie_ave was born this way in the comments.
Yes, Julia, I usually do that
Yes, Manu you DO do that very well - especially in all of our challenges. I really appreciate that!
I sometimes try to ask members about techniques when I am curious, to stimulate that sort of discussion and sharing, but I have so many other tasks on the site that I now barely have time to appreciate all of the photos.
I could do more of that myself.
Back to the Spotlight question from Tina - I had some explanations for why I post them when I do . . .
Tina and others, more about when I release Spotlights when I do . . . first, I do release Saturday Spotlights on a certain day - it's almost always Saturday (US time), with Sundays being the rare exception. I can't get any more precise than trying to release sometime on Saturday. The reasons are part practical and part very intentional. The practical reason is that Cookie Connection is my volunteer work. I have three other primary paying work activities - teaching, developing new projects for videos, and working on my product lines. That said, my paying jobs and family commitments must always come first. If I am behind on icing cookies for a video, then I will put that task before writing the Spotlight. Or if my husband wants me to go with him to the family farm on Saturday afternoon, I will, and I will write the Spotlight in the evening. If I am too wiped out from teaching all-day classes on Saturday, then I may post on a Sunday. But, generally, I do my very best to post at least three Saturdays of every month.
As for the intentional reason . . . I don't want to release at the exact same time each Saturday, because that then creates a greater incentive for people to game the system. If people know exactly when I post each week, then it wouldn't take too much calculating to figure out when activity needs to be highest on a photo to drive it into the Top 10. The vast majority of people would never think to game the system, but, I assure you, it has happened more often than you might think, and I do all in my power to prevent it, out of fairness to others. Mixing up posting times (on Saturday) is one way I do this. To be clear, when I write the post, I always take the Top 10 in the order it appears when I am writing the post. It's just that the Top 10 updates every few minutes - so the Spotlight order will never match the order in the galleries for very long unless there is absolutely no activity on the site, which is NEVER! . Typically, within minutes of me posting, the order in galleries changes, because people come to look at the photos I've spotlighted and that changes rankings.
Tina, Another BIG reason for the difference between what you see in the home page Top 10 gallery and the Spotlight is the trending time period for the calculation. The Top 10 gallery shows the DAY's Top 10 photos; I almost always show the WEEK's Top 10 photos. The latter photo gallery is shown in a widget on the side of every CLIPS page but not on the home page.
Back to the Chat rooms 24 hours, maybe they are hard to be used because people are not online at the same time
Yes, getting people on the same time to chat is definitely a challenge.
At one point I suggested that members "seed" their own chats there though. What do you think of that idea? Meaning that if a member wanted to host his/her own personal chat, s/he could . . .
Ok, deal
Thanks, Teri! People are mesmerized by your work, and would love to know more.
. . . announce an idea and time/date for a chat in the forums and in their social channels, and then hop on over to the 24/7 chat room to have it.
That room is not moderated the way this one is, so it would be more of a free-for-all. But that's also another way people could use that area.
Ill make a point of becoming more active. So many wonderful resources here
I appreciate all y
Thanks! More "old" questions coming up . . .
... But at the same time people leave questions about a technique or a cookie in the comments to the clip, so a kind of delayed chat not in real time is going on in the comments
Right - good point, Manu!
I like that chat room idea!
OK, I may push that chat idea again, and see if it flies this time.
Hi, Julia, please excuse me, as I am too sleepy to join the live chat at this time in Japan and so I leave what I think beforehand. I really hope what I write is not off point. If we can eliminate the language barrier, many more wonderful artists could join Cookie Connection. Even though we have an automatic translation system, it is still hard for foreigners to read everything here. So if Cookie Connection had an already translated page (just "rules" are fine enough), people who do not understand the culture or rules in the USA could understand, enjoy becoming members, and post their photos. Therefore, the translation should add the extra cautions for them to understand fully. I am sure you can find some volunteers who understand English and others languages and cultural differences. If this were to happen, it would be easy to invite more friends and artists to join Cookie Connection.
Ryoko, So glad you could make it, even though you're still asleep! I agree, there are often issues related to understanding on this site due to language barriers. And I'd love to find ways to break down those barriers. I'll definitely consider this idea, as I think it's a very good one. In the meantime, are there any volunteers?? Even translating just the Terms of Use could be a huge job, especially as the translations would have to be in more than one language. Help would definitely be needed!
That said, we do have a Google Translate button on that page, and on every page of the site. I know it's imperfect, but it may be enough to get the majority of people started on the site??
An earlier comment from Manu, who is actually also here with us live . . .
I love everything about this site. I just like watching (and liking) the cookies posted everyday and reading the comments. The PBP Challenges are my favourite, because they are fun and they are always a learning experience, thanks to Christine. During this year (I became a member in Dec 2015), I explored almost every corner of the site and never got tired to read old blog posts, tutorials, old live chats or Cookier Close-ups. There is always something to learn. I loved to read the "How Did You Do That?" series and also "Dear Yankee Girl". (I would like to have again that kind of content, and I understand.) "Sweet Sharing" was another of my faves, and also "Toolbox Talk". Anyone who loves cookies and is willing to learn is in the right place. On top of that, this community is very open and I also met many cookie friends from all over the world and made a couple of projects with Ryoko @cookie_ave. So, only positive things . . . thank you!
Thanks, Manu! A question and a comment related to yours. First, "Toolbox Talk" still exists; it's just that it posts every other month and there has been a delay in the next post due to holiday "interference". Liesbet is planning another great one about forms of vanilla in baking that should post this month. Second, you mentioned you wanted to see more content like "How Did You Do That?" and "Dear Yankee Girl". We have a few people writing tutorials, and more starting soon, but what, specifically, about those two "tutorial-type" features did you like that you would hope to see again on the site?
While Manu answers that, I'll jump on over and post Teri's comment . . .
I appreciate all you do to make the site the success it is. We should be thankful day or night. I apologize that I am a person of few words, I will try harder to contribute more on my posts. I am always happy to answer questions when asked
Oh, Teri, so sorry! I did not mean to put anyone on the spot, and certainly don't want to guilt anyone into doing anything that's not comfortable for them to do . . . I just know how much people love your work.
I liked the short interview to a cookier andthat a particular set was spotlighted and info about technique were shared 9How did you do that)
Yeah, me too. Maybe I can find another contributor to pick up that theme again.
the cookier often was a member
Yes, thank you for all of your work Julia!
You're welcome.
Hi julia. m a great fan of ur work. recently hv gone thru ur recipes need ur guidance. what can we substitute egg with for an eggless recipe of sugar cookies? d recipes which i hv fr eggless cookies spreads a lot
Hi, Trupti P - Thanks! This chat is focused on site feedback today, so I'll take this question offline. Unless someone else has a quick answer.
and about "Dear Yankee Girl" I liked Kari's style
I'm out of advance questions and answers now, so if you've got more thoughts about the site, please keep them coming.
I've taken away a couple of to-dos so far: (1) try to get more engagement going in the 24/7 chat room by reminding people about how they can use that space to set up their own chats . . .
(2) encourage everyone to post a short how-to under photos they post, also to get more dialogue and learning going
As for translating pages of the site or adding features, those things represent bigger tasks that would require more money or contributors or time than I currently have . . . which brings me to another question for you . . .
Another option that would allow for building content even bigger and faster is charging for access to the site. I've never wanted to do, because I think there's great value in broad participation but . . . it would provide (more) funds to hire people to do the admin stuff that I hate doing and free up more time for my own content development. I could also hire and pay contributors to generate more content, provided I raised enough funds in membership fees. Right now, all of the ad revenue that the site generates goes to paying the hosting and maintenance fees for the site. So no one makes any money from it. Thoughts about this?
No, you didn't, Julia, I would like to do more. If we all did a little more maybe it would lighten the load a little on those who contribute so much.
oops yes i realised i jus now.sorry fr tht. i have suggestion. rgdng purchasing stencils and tools. can u add shipping these beautiful products to India as well?
Trupti - Thanks again - yes, my stencils can be shipped anywhere; you just need to select "Other-non US" when you select the state on the site; then international shipping options will come up. But it's best to email about shipping costs for international orders, as the site does not compute them well. And they can be very high on a small stencil order. But back to the topic of the chat . . .
Thanks, Teri! So glad - you do a ton for the site in terms of your posting, BTW. Such a wealth of contributions every week - truly impressive and appreciated by all! THANK YOU!
About "to-dos #2" I suggest to post all the different close ups or angles of the same set/cookies within the same clip post. This way once someone opens a clip can find everything about those cookies.
Good idea - this may be tough to enforce (based on past experience, i.e., with getting challenge photos in the right spots), but I can suggest it.
If a membership fee is needed, I vote to do it.
Good idea Manu
yes charging some amt for a particular tutorial is a good way to curb d exps. also u cn also offer pkgs like monthly pkg yearly pkgs etc.
I am happy to help if needed, however I dont mind paying per month if its not too much. Being Canadian we get an extra 'ding' but if its around $5 a month I wouldn't think twice. What about even a donation option, like sponsoring the site, or even a small fee to enter Challenges?
So on the point of fees . . . Frost Me said what she'd be willing to pay. But what about the rest of you? How much would be too much per month?
I agree with Teri, if anyone does a little bit there won't be no need to charge the access
The big concern I have about transitioning to a fee-based system is expectation-setting. To start, I'm not sure the fees generated would be enough to afford to do anything substantially different (I have no way of knowing unless I do it), yet by charging, I set the expectation that the site will be bigger and better with more content, and that may end up not happening if not enough fees are generated.
I'd be willing to pay on top of a membership for Challenges etc, as well. What about a tiered membership, so if you only want to pay a certain amount, it would give you access to boards, next step up would add tutorials etc
Frost Me, a tiered membership is possible, as well as restricted access to certain areas depending on what people pay (or if they pay). All ideas I have thought about but not acted on.
Hmmm good point.
usd 5 to 10 is ok i guess. as for other sites we do pay these membership chgs on monthly basis.bt den u will have to check up on d pmt options bcoz receiving and transferring funds internationally at times gi big task
is a big task
The site is already set up to handle these sorts of transactions, so it is actually something that would be pretty easy to implement from a technical standpoint.
What about a tiered membership where those that pay in are eligible for other benefits - like access to more giveaways? So rather than taking away benefits from those that choose not to pay, we give a little something extra to those who opt-in to pay?
If its help thats needed to keep the site free, can you post positions needed to be filled and get volunteers?
Frost Me - I don't have time to manage any more volunteers on the site. I already have 5 and I'm maxed out on management time. That's really the crux of the issue - I can't take on anything more myself.
with ur fan followings here in India i am sure u will get good amt of students for online tutorials. and we all are always der to pay or arrange any fund raisers
Thats a great perk Julia
We already have so many features available in many ways. If we each contribute a little more and small fee we could make a difference. Other sites charge for much less. Also when people pay I believe they are more serious.
I appreciate the thoughts everyone, I really do. I haven't made any decisions about the fee structure at all, and may not for a while. But it's useful bouncing ideas off of people sometimes!
then if it becomes a burden to coordinate many volunteers and a fee could make the difference, let's go for it.
I think yoy
Frost Me, not sure if you had anything to add to the last post? Seems I only got a part of it.
Oops! Hit return too fast. I think its at the point of needing a membership cost. It will up active contributions and I agree with Teri that ppl will be more serious.
Well then, let me think about that point some more. Again, I really appreciate the input. As I think about the pricing stuff, I'll in the meantime get some chat room and posting recommendations (adding more technique detail under posted photos) up in the forums. I'll probably also broach the fee idea with everyone and see what the broader response is. Any other thoughts as chat time is winding down?
OK, then! Thanks for all of your input and contributions to the site every day of the week! You are all really important to me, and I value your thoughts immensely! Have a wonderful rest of the weekend!
Thank you, you too!
Bye now!
This chat has ended.