Improving the ChinesePod Community Section

October 30, 2009, 03:48 AM posted in General Discussion

Hi guys!

I just put up a new post filling you in on what tech stuff we've been working on, and also asking for specific feedback on how we can improve the Community section of the site.  Please take a look, and if you have ideas, now is the time!

ChinesePod Development Updates, Community Discussion

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 04:29 AM

  • Create placement tests (replacement for the listening test)
  • Create level tests (how would you fare on a test of all Intermediate lessons, with content randomly selected?)

Testing does not excite everyone, but it does provide one very valuable piece of information: an indicator of progress. ChinesePod is working hard on a better system for organizing lessons, presenting courses, and tracking learner progress. The new system is much better equipped to handle the “testing” aspect.

Wow.This is fantastic news John.Thanks so much for listening.I can't wait to hear more on this...when available,more details etc.When there is talk of replacing the listening test ,I'm presuming there will still be a listening component but that testing will just be more rounded.It will also be helpful if testing identified a number of things,such as breakdown for how one does in the various one might be at Intermediate for listening comprehension,upper ellie for vocab,newbie for writing ability [if that is indeed tested..obviously a lower priority area for most].What would be even more helpful ,though I'm not sure how easy it would be,would be once holes in say vocab were identified ,if the feedback then formulated a suggested series of lessons to fill those holes.Gotta go.Thanks CPod. :)

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 09:00 AM

First of all, by asking questions users are making very valuable contributions. This is another reason it's not easy for me to relate to the hesitation.

If our teachers were not so busy I'm sure they would swoop down and give prompt answers to all our questions, but they obviously can't can they, there are just so many questions and too few hands free enough to take care of them.

If the more knowledgeable poddies can help and they offer to, isn't that welcomed? Sometimes we'll see trial-week native speakers kindly try to help and they often may not be familiar with the custom to use pinyin and English translations etc. in Newbie and Ele discussions. But I really only see considerate and thoughtful helpers around here.

Even if a user considers himself lower-level, if he has a thought to share (not a question), I really don't see why he should not share with us all. If he teaches us something we don't know, we gain knowledge.
If it is a misconception he has, chances are it is a common mistake that can be discussed and thus be very helpful to many poddies. There's no need for anybody to be embarrassed about that. In fact, since the podcasts couldn't cover all such points, a lesson would really only be complete with such discussion on the boards.

Uh Henning, wasn't Jenny like in middle school, in 1996?
(Ah you've corrected it now. But I'm leaving this up!)

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 04:49 AM

Thanks John !

Improved testing would be great.

Can the testing be expanded to include the other skill sets ?  The listening test gives the learner an approximate indication of their comprehension level.

But what about reading, writing and speaking ? I realize you have the flashcards, which give some feedback. But it doesn't really show the learner what level they are at or how much progress has been made.

Perhaps develop a "report card" section for poddies that tabulates a score for each area ? And is updated after each test.

Keep up the great work.




Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 04:53 AM


You said some people say this:

The discussions are too chaotic. We need threaded comment discussions like most forums have.

If by this they mean creating a way to single out (or filter out) questions, feedback and/or off-topic jibber-jabber, I am behind them 100%.  I firmly believe that CPod cannot effectively police comments, nor do I believe all commenters have the self-control to avoid going on tangets (i.e. me, amongst others).  It would really be great to have a reasonable system for users to fitler comments.  In this way we can say what we want to say and see what we want to see.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 05:12 AM

cpod might be evolving toward this idea anyway, but cpod could try a "platform" approach to the entire Community section. By that, I mean that the GUI would be user customizable, and would be set to individual user preferences upon user login.  Each user would be able to see a basic set of options, and would be able to "drag and drop" items like "favorite posts", "my other posts", "related conversations" and so on into the areas they designate.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 05:50 AM

I think you should make an official place for people seeking language exchange.  I have met some Chinese people through Chinesepod that I am glad I met, and it seems a fair number of Chinese people want to meet poddies.  So, I think this is a legitimate activity, but needs a place so that it doesn't interfere with other discussions.

2 bits

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 05:52 AM

testing might not excite everyone, but it surely does excite some of us - at least those of us who like games with personal high scores!

Cool stuff, looking forward to it.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 05:54 AM

hehe,in the Yahoo Reputation Pattern link you provided I thought the named levels was funny.I'm just glad it stopped at fanatic,and didn't add in a lunatic category,though given lunatic has a monthly implication,even that may have represented a stopping short.

But seriously,I like the above suggestions that offer a more customisable approach,including the ability for others to block viewing your posts.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 05:55 AM

Could someone who has seen the Community long enough to evaluate, point out roughly when it was that this "clique feel" emerged (assuming there were "better days" when no such thing existed, if we all accept that there is such a feel)? What factors could such a "change" be attributed to?

I think this is worth analyzing objectively if we are going to address cliquey feels.
Not talking here about pointing fingers.

I have said repeatedly that I would like to see more diversity on the boards (many more "unique" participants).
I happen to be one of the most frequent posters, and do realize that a hard look at my own comments would show a great part of them not  describable as contributions to learning Chinese. Actually I am always concerned about hogging too much space on the boards (I know it doesn't look that way. I do edit and try to keep my comments as short as possible. Yes I know it doesn't look that way.). I feel apologetic for repeated appearances (but a little less so when talking about something I feel very strongly about). I do hold back. And I have experimented with holding back to see if more people felt more like commenting during those couple of days (result--not that I could see.).

I understand CPod is getting feedback from users (genuine I assume, as well as sock puppets) about a clique feel, and if anything is making people feel uncomfortable with participating we need to pay attention and address the problem. From my experiments with holding back and from my observation, to be honest I don't think we the most frequent posters are the problem.

However, if all the, say dozen most frequent non-staff posters held back at once, for a full day or two, then I guess we're likely to see different results, see new people come up to fill the space.
Shall we try that once, and see?

If filtering can be made to work I would be much more in favor of that, than limiting users to a max number of posts per lesson or otherwise trying to control user conduct.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 06:07 AM

Following the transition to the new AMS, we’ve been doing a lot of work to get our data in better order (which enables us to do more with it), and to improve and streamline the lesson creation process (which makes work more enjoyable and efficient for our hard-working staff).

One of the things Ken periodically says is that, "it's not how many words you know, but how to use the words you know in different contexts". In the future, i'd love to see cpod actually know how many contexts its taught us, so that it can stress the undertaught contexts in future lessons. The Qing Wens offer insight into this.  There are about 121 QWs, but maybe 100 of them are on separate topics.  It would be nice for cpod to get in the habit of teaching us the contexts in lessons over and over again, so that we could memorize correctly the form and format with different words.


Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 04:48 AM

great ideas on the blog.  some thoughts

  • A reminder that bodawei suggested renaming/relinking in some way the cpod blog to "cpod developments" "cpod announcements" so that these announcements stay current and relevant.  I also liked that idea.


  • Regarding the "clique" feel to some of the lesson discussions, Limit lesson posts to 2-3 per person, unless some way can be found to automate limiting off-topic discussions.


  • Regarding the "clique" feel to some of the lesson posts, maybe having one of the staff make a periodic entry into the lesson discussion to specifically ask for comments from people that haven't posted yet.  Some way needs to be found to automate this.  Much like during class when a professor/teacher would ask if there are other comments in the room, and then the frequent talkers can back off on their discussions without cpod being the "off-topic discussion police".


  • create a section just below the "john's other posts" section called, "Stuff/links I want to remember".  This can be the area where poddies can create their own links for display to themselves and not have stuff losts, like grammar discussions or so on. Cpod could possibly enable this by creating an internal bookmark capability on the cpod site to do this. Another option is to enable Firefox or IE bookmark capabilities to be exported to this section.


Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 07:02 AM

I think the way to get "how to use the words" is to get some method of studying entire sentences, not just words. John has previously said that's in the works, but there are some other vocabulary tool changes with priority (non-flash and SRS, as I recall). I for one am anticipating this, as I am now adding the sentences manually.

I'm just pulling stuff out of my derrière here, but here's an idea for keeping discussions focused while not clamping down on freedom of speech: Set up a checkbox for indicating that your post is off topic for the conversation. Then, at the top, have a simple button for deciding whether or not you want to display off-topic comments. This would allow off-topic jabber to continue while allowing people who just want the relevant info to get it without having to filter out a bunch of jibberjabber.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 07:14 AM

Henning, me? No. I never considered a group of heavy posting users negative. Apparently some people do (I personally have only seen sock-puppet types complain about that on the boards, but perhaps genuine users are giving that feedback to CPod staff privately?).

Like I've said elsewhere before, my wishing for more unique participants and more diversity does not mean I wish to see less of the most frequent posters.

I do not understand the reasons some people never post. With Japanese users I suspect it has a lot to do with confidence in their English ability (you guys should come post in Chinese then, in Intermediate and higher lesson discussions!). I do review my own behavior to see if there is anything I could be doing (this thinking is probably really Japanese of me) to make a difference. Like I said above, I don't think my presence makes any difference either way.

You know my "suggestion" of that experiment was a way of saying that the frequent posters are no 罪魁祸首.

And of course posting is not exclusive and anybody can join in.

I'm still not seeing a clique here!

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 07:36 AM

My apologies Henning, I read over a bit more carefully and see you weren't necessarily saying that I considered the presence of heavy using posters to be negative, only that you gathered there was that feeling from my post and pretzellogic's.

Thanks for sharing your veteran observations.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 07:56 AM

Wow, so much productive discussion already!  This is great to see.

Regarding "cliques" and such, one possible solution is to do more with groups.  The internet has shown us a general trend in online communities: the bigger the group, the lower the percentage of active commenters.

You could view the individual user posts as a huge "general discussion" group.  What if this group was broken down by level, and users were able to join any and all relevant groups, then choose which groups display on the Community page (similar to xiaophil's and pretzellogic's ideas)?  All this is possible, and could do a lot to create smaller, more active sub-communities.

We're not looking to "punish" anyone, we're trying to find ways to make everyone comfortable, and make it possible to channel discussion toward those that need/want it.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 08:01 AM

Henning says:

If I look back, there has always been a group of heavy posters - although that group changed over time. In fact, the group that is most active now is totally different from that 3 years ago.

That's certainly the impression one gets when reading through old comments threads. And so, if I'm understanding this right, there's always been a "clique", but it's only recently that some people call it that and complain about it.

As for me, I'm a relative newcomer to Chinesepod. But when I first discovered it, I was inspired by and admired the regular gang on the comments threads. (changye, henning, bazza, mikeinewshot, auntie sue, etc. Of course at that time there also seems to have been much more personal interaction on the boards between poddies and staff. You'd see frequent posts from Jenny and John, and err... Amber of course. Since pete left staff participation on the boards is sparse to say the least. A deliberate policy no doubt.) I loved the community feeling, the warmth, the feeling of shared interest and enthusiasm. I wanted to be part of it, and it definitely spurred my learning. Just my own personal view of course.

Oh, I don't like the idea of 'grading' users in any kind of hierarchy.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 08:21 AM


I must say I really can't follow your last post.Several things confuse me about it.Perhaps the thing that confused me more than anything was:

"and could do a lot to create smaller, more active sub-communities."

..I may have the wrong take on this altogether,but to me that's sounding awfully like a clique.Compare this with the current situation where anyone can join in any conversation and they are encouraged to do so by one and all.I like the feel of one big community where all are welcome.The more the merrier to the one big party I say.


Oh, I don't like the idea of 'grading' users in any kind of hierarchy.

..completely agree [actually completely agree with your whole post tal;well said].Once again this to me seem to bring us closer to the thing you guys seem to want to avoid.

thanks Henning for your always valuable input.Well said and great to get the perspective of a veteran.


Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 08:33 AM

I think that the "clique" thing is something I've seen in every forum I've ever been part of. It's How the Internet Works. However, subdividing into different sections seems really good. If we get everyone to be active in the Community section, posts will fly by in a flurry. That won't work. But if there are several sections to contribute in, that might be better. Because I've got to admit, there's a pretty high percentage of posts in Newbie and Elementary lesson discussions made by people with very advanced Chinese abilities. Maybe these subgroups can be based on level?

Here's my thought: I think most of the users that are hesitant to post are Newbie and Elementary. And I think the reason they don't feel like posting is because they don't feel like they can contribute. Someone might pose a question, and besides the staff, there are lots of very proficient users who can answer it. Why should I, a mere Newbie, give my thoughts?

Of course, then you might sometimes see some advanced posters answering with examples that use lots of difficult characters and words, since they, unlike the staff, are unused to lowering the level of Chinese that they use to a suitable level.

Buh, that's a long rant. But there you go. Some things to consider, maybe.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 08:57 AM

Complaints about the group of heavy posters have been going on since the day I came here. I think that it was 2006 in the first or the second Saturday show (!) that Jenny complained that we always see the same names in the comments (during that Triassic era of CPod: Lantian, Bazza,...).

Several attempts have been made to explicitly hear the voices of the "lurkers", e.g. posts by Ken directed at senior business professionals or at the silent Newbie majority (in old times in the blog, later in the Community section). Guess who broke the silence in those threads.

Oh yes, everything used to be better. But that is an invariant that is applied regardless of context and epoche. I still prefer to live today.


BTW: There are also some indicators that show that splitting might be a bad idea. Once, there even was a different site set up for the advanced levels ( That really hurted the community and CPod as a whole.

Profile picture
October 30, 2009, 06:50 AM

zhenlijiang, pretzellogic
I figured from your posts that a group of heavy posting users is considered negative.

But is it really? Posting is not exclusive and anybody can join in (and the large number of contributing people supports this).

If I look back, there has always been a group of heavy posters - although that group changed over time. In fact, the group that is most active now is totally different from that 3 years ago.

I think that experiment zhenlijiang suggests will have a clear result: If the "clique" doesn't post, nobody will. The community section would become much more intimidating because it would evoke the impression that only high-level and well-prepared language questions are welcome. The community would be dead in no time.

Let's face it, the heart of the "community" is the "clique".