What it Means to be Reader-Driven
This article is an abridged version of an e-mail I recently sent to the Big Trains mailing list, an e-mail listserver where people discuss Large Scale trains and Garden Railroading. Many of the people on that list have been in the hobby for 20 years or more, and many of them are active in regional clubs, contributors to Garden Railways magazine, and otherwise active in promoting the hobby. For more information about the Big Trains mailing list, click here.
Since I began participating on the Big Trains list in the 1990s, I've asked many questions and answered many questions. At first, there was more misinformation than information about Garden Railroading. One reason that the hobby has matured is that the Big Trains contributors, by sharing, and sometimes even by arguing, have sorted out the "wheat from the chaff" over the years. Several other forums have been started that are also called Big Trains. And many have helpful people who will answer beginner questions intelligently. But the original Big Trains list is the text-only mailing list forum that ends with cirr.com and is maintained by Eric Schnoebelen.
Most of the early articles on the Family Garden Trains web site actually started out as my responses to questions from people who knew even less than I. When I realized that I was answering the same questions again and again, I started putting together FAQs, then posting them as articles on my web site. By asking other Big Trains readers to check the facts in my FAQs, I was able to assemble a library of "peer-reviewed" articles worth publishing. If you see a name appear more than once in the "reader feedback" sections of my articles, chances are it's a Big Trains member.
Nowadays few people log onto the Big Trains list to ask questions like "What is a Garden Train?" So the list has assumed social functions as well as informational, but it's still a good place to ask a specific quesion you haven't seen a good answer to anywhere else.
In early July, another web site owner asked me (in so many words) to clarify the relationship between Family Garden Trains (maintained by Paul Race) and the Big Trains mailing list (maintained by Eric Schnoebelen). My response (edited to fix a couple of minor grammar and syntax problems) follows:
My response to that concern centers around the way Family Garden Trains(tm) works, the way it has always worked since I was a clueless newbie who could write up a storm but knew virtually nothing about the hobby. We are "reader-driven." That is, for the most part, we don't write about what we already know - we write about any topic that readers keep asking us about. As a result, as the editor and principle author, I am often on unsure ground when I start researching a subject, and I am never ashamed to ask for help. I generally get so much help that I can't help discussing most of the articles in Family Garden Trains in "first person plural," and "our" list of willing contributors keeps growing.
When I incorporate someone's contribution into an article, I give them credit. When the article is published, I let them know what I used and where, so they can check my work and attributions. (Since I started this resource in 1996, I have not had ONE complaint that I had misused or misrepresented a contributors' ideas, or used their input without their approval.)
In addition, when I receive a detailed reply from a person I know to be a published author, or even a potential published author, I always ask that person if he or she would rather save that material for a resource whose compensation is more "tangible." So far the universal response is that contributors want Family Garden Trains to publish the material to make it available free to beginners, even if they could get money for it somewhere else.
And Family Garden Trains is not the only resource that benefits from our combined contribution. Several regional Garden Railroading clubs have requested permission to reprint our articles in their newsletters, exposing them to hundreds of other active hobbyists, many of whom never get online, but who appreciate our help. The Southeast PA (www.sepgrs.com) and Miami Valley (www.mvgrs.com) clubs have been our biggest "customers" so far. In addition, those two sites make their newsletters available in free downloadable PDFs, so many people outside those clubs also have access.
By the way, we charge organized, legitimate clubs nothing to reuse our materials in their newsletters. If any of you are editing newsletters and would like to reprint our content, please get in touch and I'll work it out. [Note: This does not apply to other web sites, though. All reuse without prior written permission constitutes a violation of copyright.] In other words, once Family Garden Trains publishes content that Big Trains List members have helped us put together, that is not the end of it; it is often the beginning.
As a result of this totally transparent process, the members of the Big Trains list and many other contributors have helped Family Garden Trains educate tens of thousands of the "curious" about garden railroading and coaxed many of those folks off the recliner and into the back yard with a shovel and a starter set. Consequently, the hobby has unquestionably grown faster than it would have without us.
Eventually, many of the folks who "cut their teeth" on our "core," beginner-oriented articles have gone on to subscribe to other resources that offer many times the content that we can, including, ironically, resources that consider themselves in "competition" with us and seem to feel that the hobby would be better off without us.
However, I believe that the Big Trains List and Family Garden Trains have together become a "rising tide that lifts all boats" for the hobby. If Family Garden Trains went away suddenly (and there have been days when the rampant copying and copycatting caused me to consider it), traffic to so-called competing sites would not increase - it would decrease, and the hobby's growth overall would suffer.
My heartfelt thanks again to all the folks who have helped us help the hobby to grow.
Note: Family Garden Trains?, Garden Train Store?, Big Christmas Trains?, BIG Indoor Trains?, and BIG Train Store? are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications (www.btcomm.com). All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically
Family Garden Trains is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
For more information, please contact us