Last updated: 22 December 1999

This is my second editorial for Weasner's Mighty ETX Site. As noted in my first editorial, I've been asked many times over the three years this site has been online to do an "editorial page." Keep in mind that this EDITORIAL PAGE is just that. It is MY area to say whatever is on MY mind. Comments are welcome of course.

Many visitors have requested that I expand this site beyond just the Meade ETX telescope line. I have begun taking steps to do just that. If this site expansion continues, "Weasner's Mighty ETX Site" will evolve into "Weasner's Tremendous Small Telescope Site" early in the last year of the 20th Century (that is 2000, as the perfectionists know!). However, there are some risks in such an expansion of scope (no pun intended), just as there have been risks in expanding the site beyond the original ETX model, which is the only model ETX I actually own. In this editorial, I will be discussing some of the risks and ways to reduce the impacts of these risks. There may be other risks and solutions hiding out there, but we'll worry about those at another time. The risks I'll be covering here are in the areas of accuracy, credibility, site usability, time, and cost.

By the way, some of you may note that I have changed the proposed name. I think that "tremendous" is a more appropriate term than "massive" when talking about the type of small telescopes the expanded site will cover.

Accuracy of the Information Presented

One of the many benefits that this site has provided for over three years is the breadth of knowledge that both new and experienced ETX users have shared. Without their willingness to share what they learned as they used their ETX telescopes, the site would have just been a gallery of photos that I have taken with my original ETX. But many users stepped up and provided exhaustive and valuable tips, modifications, photos, guidance, and more. I thank them all for their efforts on behalf of visitors to this site.

The risk of expanding the site is that we will erode the signal-to-noise ratio in the information provided. Obviously, I can not be, will not be, and never have been a filter for information posted here. I have always assumed that the information submitted was accurate, and truthful and based upon the submitter's actual experience or knowledge. What little noise there has been in the information is significantly exceeded by the signal (i.e., "value") of the information. But as the site expands, there will likely be more opportunities for lower quality information to be posted. To mitigate this, we could have designated and recognized "experts" for each topic who would volunteer their time to review messages and prepare responses. Sort of like an "Ask the Experts" area. Their email address would be posted, email would be directed to them for action, they would then send the original email and response to me to post for all to see. For example, we could have an ETX-90EC expert, an ETX-125EC expert, an Autostar expert, a NexStar5 expert, etc. Their task would be to filter out the noise and increase the signal. As the site expands to more and more small telescope models, more and more experts would be needed to cover the new areas. The alternative is to continue as today: I receive email and post them on the appropriate Feedback page. Others then read the email, send me their responses, and I then post those responses. In either case, my replies to senders would likely become just a "thank you" note and indicate that I'll be posting their message.

Credibility of the Information Sources

This site has gained a great deal of credibility over the years. While there have been instances where some readers felt that the credibility was in jeopardy, others chimed in with many words of support. However, as with the accuracy of the information presented, the credibility of the information will likely be more frequently questioned. One reason that the credibility of the site may come into question is related to the cost issue discussed below. Another reason could be that as the scope of the site expands so do the "my telescope is better than yours" messages. As can already be seen on the various telescope newsgroups, responses come from all types of users, experienced and non-experienced. Sometimes the information on the newsgroups is good and sometimes it is not. From my standpoint, this site is only worthwhile if we collectively maintain its integrity. That is the responsbility of all of us, but we must all acknowledge that a danger to its integrity exists.

Site Usability

As long time visitors know, "Weasner's Mighty ETX Site" has grown dramatically during the last three years. Sometimes this growth has been at the expense of good web site design. Some changes may be required to better accommodate the expansion in scope. For example, some Feedback pages (like the ETX-90RA, ETX-90EC, and the ETX-125EC) could be combined into a single page. Or perhaps there could be Feedback pages by telescope size or manufacturer. Or perhaps even better, a general Feedback or Q&A page and other Feedback pages for specific telescope models. Tech Tips would likely also have to be by model. And then what about the Astrophotography pages? Should they be model specific? Obviously there are some redesign issues that will have to be addressed, either upfront or over time as new information is submitted and the site expands.

Time to Maintain the Site

I have prided myself on answering every email that is sent to me, many times within minutes of the original email actually being sent. This site already takes a lot of my time -- responding to individual messages with any information I have, as well as preparing actual site updates every two, three, or four days. As the site scope expands, so would my email. Individual responses from me would likely decrease, partly because I'm not familiar with what the user is asking and partly because of the time it takes to maintain a popular and high quality web site. Site updates might even happen less frequently, although I hope not. Of course, there are some alternatives to sending email to me or the recognized "experts" mentioned earlier; use the various newsgroups and mailing lists that already exist. These are read by a large number of experienced users, with the focused mailing lists (such as the ETX List) and MAPUG having a much higher signal-to-noise ratio than some newsgroups. The downside to the newsgroups and mailing lists is that once the information is posted, it is usually lost. One of the benefits of a web site like this one is that all the Feedback pages have been archived, although finding the information can be challenging at times.

To maintain the quality of this site, some things will have to change. Reducing the frequency of updates does not really reduce the time required to prepare the updates. Using our recognized "experts" would reduce my workload in responding directly to individuals, and that would help. But site maintenance is my responsibility and for three years I have done that without hesitation. My only hesitation now is over the amount of time it will take to expand the site, make it usable in its new form, and then maintain it and the information flow that goes along with it.

As in the past, I expect that I will still be reviewing products I receive and preparing those reviews for everyone's benefit. As many of you know, reviewing products can be a simple thing or a complex thing, depending upon the nature of the product. In my case, I have used and reviewed products that I would not normally have purchased just so others could benefit from the experiences. This takes even more of my time. When products are provided for evaluation and retained for long term usage or to be available to answer future questions on, such products should not be considered as payment for the time it takes for the evaluation and writeup. But there are costs to maintain this site beyond just my time.

Cost to Maintain the Site

Maintaining this site is not without cost. I have bought software and upgrades that I probably would not normally have purchased if I were not maintaining this site. I have traveled and continue to travel to some locations to support some of the activities of this site. In addition, there are costs to maintaining the server hardware, software, and ISDN communications line. None of these costs are being recovered. This "labor of love" can only go so far before it becomes a financial sinkhole.

There are two ways to begin to recover a portion of these costs. One is to charge a small "subscription fee" to allow access to the site. The other is to accept advertising. While I am not saying that either of these will definitely be implemented, they are ideas to consider. Of these, advertising has the higher probability. If implemented, such advertising would be "targeted," meaning that only ads from reliable and known sources would be solicited and accepted and then only from companies selling products related to the purpose of this site. For example, these could include "Amazon.com" for astronomy books and perhaps telescope dealers and equipment manufacturers whose names are well known to visitors. Currently, some see that certain dealers and manufacturers receive "free advertising" by having their names and products mentioned on this site. Accepting paid advertising would not grant any editorial or product review control to those companies. But there is the risk that some readers would believe that the site's content is being bought by advertisers. On the other hand, money received from advertising could be used to "blind purchase" products that are then evaluated and written up on this site without the knowledge of a dealer or manufacturer. I would hope that most visitors would not find fault with that.

This is the first public announcement that advertising may be used to offset some of the costs of this site. No dealer or manufacturer has been solicited for advertising as yet. And none will be contacted about this (other than by reading this editorial) until I gauge visitors' reactions.

I welcome your thoughts on each of these risks and ways to reduce them. Nothing is definite yet; but if the site expansion proceeds, some or all of the changes mentioned have to be seriously considered. I have enjoyed maintaining this site for the benefit of ETX users for over three years. I have gained many new friends and perhaps unintentionally a few enemies. I have learned a lot about the Mighty ETX and welcome learning more about other telescopes. I look forward to many more years of this site being your primary resource for information on using your small telescope, whether an ETX or other telescope.

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Copyright ©1999 Michael L. Weasner / etx@me.com
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