Keeping your conference well-pruned not only saves space on The WELL, but it can help keep the conference active and lively. Users are more enthusiastic about a conference when most of the topics they read have current responses in them rather than many conversations which, though they may contain interesting information, have long been inactive. In addition, a large conference takes longer for a new user to “join” on first entry even if the conference has only a few currently active topics.

As topic discussions reach their natural conclusions and time passes, a conference can amass a good many inactive topics — many of which may contain nothing worth archiving at all.

The first step, then, in pruning a conference of dead topics is to determine which topics have received no new activity in some specified amount of time. Perhaps you’d like to evaluate just those topics which haven’t had a new response made to them in over a year — or maybe any topic without activity in a month or more may become a candidate for your hostly kill command. The time element you wish to apply to topics will depend greatly on the nature of the conference you are hosting. A conference devoted to archiving material of a certain type, for instance, may want to keep certain topics open, regardless of activity, for quite a while. Conferences that are strictly conversational and ephemeral in nature might consider a month of silence to be a signal that a topic should be considered for pruning. Such decisions are entirely up to your discretion as host, with the overall constraint that disk space is not infinite, and some choices must be made.

16.1 Hitlist: A Utility for Inactive Topics

“Hitlist” is a menu-driven program designed primarily to help hosts identify inactive topics. It lets you find which topics in your conference are old so you can kill, freeze or retire them. You have the option to create different lists of topics that are saved to your home directory. These lists include the conference name, topic number and topic title for each topic. Other menu options then let you view and edit this list and, finally, process all topics on the list in one shot. You can also create additional topic list files from other utilities such as extract and use the hitlist menu to process them.

To use “hitlist”, give the following command at any OK prompt:

Type: !hitlist

You’ll be prompted for a conference name then presented with a menu of options.

                        HITLIST--HOST TOPIC MAINTENANCE

   1 - Create a list of topics with no responses for a given number of days
   2 - Create a list of all topics
   3 - Create a list of retired topics
   4 - View the topic list with pager
   5 - Edit the topic list
   6 - Kill the topics in the list
   7 - Retire the topics in the list
   8 - Freeze the topics in the list
   9 - Link the topics in the list to another conference

q=Quit this menu                                       p=turn Pager OFF
Select one of the above items (1-9 or a letter) ==>

The first three options create lists of topics, sorted in different ways. For example, the first menu option will prompt you for the number of days you wish, find the topics that have not had any new responses for at least that many days, then create and save the file for you. Other choices let you build lists of retired topics only or of all topics in the conference. The lists are named mesozoic.list by default (with mesozoic being replaced by the name of your conference).

Note: Each time you create a new list the !hitlist tool will overwrite the previous list.

The fourth and fifth options allow you to view and edit these lists to verify that you do indeed want to modify all of these topics.

The last four options let you either kill, retire, freeze or link all the topics on the current mesozoic.list in a batch. Linking the topics as a group is particularly helpful, for example, if you are archiving them. Remember that killing a topic will permanently delete it from the system, so make sure that your list doesn’t include any still-viable or priceless historical topics. (By the way, since cohosts have equal power to kill topics, if you are keeping track of topics you never wish to kill, be sure to coordinate with your cohosts, so they know which ones you’ve designated as classics.)

If you like, you can go back and select a different conference or number of days and overwrite your first attempt at a new current list without having to quit hitlist and start over.

Creating the topic lists themselves does not actually kill any topics and is a good way to take the pulse of your conference. For more information about this command, you can take a look at topic 408 in the WELL hosts conference. You may also wish to explore the topic handling tool, !topper, if you are comfortable with the full extract command, and want even more ways to find and handle batches of topics. See the !man topper information for further details.

16.2 Conference Archives

There comes a time in the life of every long-lived conference when it has so many old, dormant topics it becomes unweildy for conference members.

To get a feel for this, simply type  resign in your conference.

Next type:  leave

From the no conf prompt, go to your conference. Notice how long registration takes. This is dependent on how many long or linked topics there are. And finally, imagine you are a new user looking for good stuff:

Type: browse

Every Featured conference can have an archive zone where hosts can store topics that no longer generate discussion but that are worth saving because of their historic or reference value. A conference archive generally has the same name as the active conference, but with a .old appended.

If your conference doesn’t already have an archive zone, email confteam and ask to have one built. You (and your cohost, if you have one) will be the hosts of the .old archive as well as the active conference. Regular conference maintenance is part of hosting, so having a place to store valued topics that no longer need to reside in the active conference is important.

Once that is done, the host can link topics, in any order, from the old conference into the new conference. They will now appear (with new numbers) in the order in which they were linked.

We have reached the bottom of our Hosts’ Toolkit for now. Be sure to watch the hosts and backstage conferences for innovations and peer support. And feel free to email confteam with technical questions, for help with touchy situations, or to brainstorm creative ideas. The WELL Conferencing staff can be reached by phone at The WELL offices at (415) 343-5731, M-F, 9:00 to 1:00 Pacific Time or leave a voicemail.


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